A New Home

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How do you find ideas? How do ideas come to you?

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your precious ideas is to set up home somewhere beautiful and put a few great things and people in place there, so as to coax those thoughts out into the safe shelter they need to grow. We all have different versions of this – what are your favourite things to have around you while you work, and is there a place where you find it just magically happens?

In one of my very first posts on this blog, I wrote about the wallpaper around us, the importance of noticing what you’re surrounded by and how this can affect your take on things whether you realise it or not. I think this is vital – in our world of coming up with good, fresh ideas, it’s essential to be conscious of the visual signals posted around you and the influence these will have on your quality of thought, and ultimately, expression of that thought too. Don’t be blind to these things – they affect you more than you know!

With that in mind, this post is a little tribute really. I am so excited and thankful to have a new creative home at The Forge. What a gorgeous place to call my home now, with other accomplished designers and illustrators. Being in a place like this helps me have better ideas just by walking in the building. I knew the first time I visited that my horizons were already bigger, my breath was deeper, my vision clearer. What sort of magic is this?! What makes this happen? The old bricks, the clean, white surfaces, the sun coming in, care taken over the few favourite and well-worn focal points that already exist, and enough room to add one or two of my own.

This space is a very special thing in the name of ideas. This table top pictured, I suspect, will be the base station for some really life-bringing chats and problem-solving. I think all of us here want that, and are keen to make it happen.

Thinking about what helps the best ideas out, as I land, here are some of the practical things I appreciate about my new space. It’s not really complicated, but good to consider:

A clean, clear table top with a view. Spacious. Room to spread out.

Tools that are sharp, full of ink, ready for action. Analogue. Never neglect your tools. Don’t be afraid of them leaking on your fingers either – proves you’re still flesh and blood. 

Smooth, clean paper. Moleskine and Artefact cards? Come on, you know this drill!

Big windows. Fresh air. 

Good tunes – when you need them, not all the time. Sometimes it’s important be quiet because ideas, like animals, can be shy. 

A carefully assembled palette of colours and textures around you – a theme of serenity for me, with the occasional slice of colour. Probably inspired by nature, yet also some cool, clean lines. (My RPS photographer grandmother loved these things too, I discovered recently.)

Plants. They breathe, like us, and need care and love, like us. A good visual prompt to take care of yourself too.

Books. Don’t have shelves of books you never read. Just pick out the ones that you know work for you – the ones that simply looking at the spine remind you of something valuable. 

And pictures. I try to avoid sticking any old thing up on the wall for the sake of it. Imagine this, that the wall in front of you echoes the state of your mind. Or the other way up, that same wall says everything opposite to what’s really going on in your mind. You have the power to control that! I find that my head normally has so much pinging around inside it, I really need calm on the outside in order to beckon everything out safely. Like I said, ideas are like animals.

Obviously having good kit and internet connection is massively helpful too – streamline smart thinking with Wunderlist, Evernote, calendar, but how nice when this just works …

One final thing. I make the decision not to be isolated. As an independent, I won’t suffer on my own in silence, and there’s something about moving to this new space that’s signposting a world of inspired, creative connection I’ve been craving. Listen to those hunches, even if it’s bloody frightening to act on them first of all. 

Wherever you are, happy days my friends, and I hope your spaces are blessed with much wonderful inspiration and your ideas feel more excited than ever to come out of hiding.

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: Natalie Merchant – San Andreas Fault}

Spaces in Springtime

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There’s a hum in the air. It’s quite hard to sit still. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

Now Winter is wimpering, Spring sings its songs. They sound soft, gentle, a throat still warming up not yet ready for its full vocal throes until the chilly days have fully lost their final breath. After a winter of respecting frozen ground with nothing going in and nothing coming out, when Spring happens it’s not just seeds in the ground that start this wake-up hum. It’s us too, I think. It’s making regular things almost impossible, for me at least, and I hope you recognise the feeling.

The thing is, convenient as it would be to want no more than to sit patiently at a desk going through everything on that list, life has other ideas. Life does not revolve around a table top, however beautiful a space it is. However perfectly a space is arranged, neatly organised and elegantly coordinated, paperweight and pot plant perfectly positioned, this is only a glimmer of the real picture. However brilliant the playlist, good the coffee, ergonomic the chair…

Life—and what I can bring to that desk—is about all the things that happen when we respond to the wake-up hum and get out and behave in our creaturely ways, running about in big open spaces, facing each other, braving true conversations, putting our hands and feet to the work of walking it all together.

This Easter weekend I took M off to an old favourite place – St. Dogmaels in Cardigan, where I used to spend summers with one of my oldest friends and her family. No telly, crap phone signal, a wood burner and some booze. Gigantic skies and massive reflections in tide-soaked sands, and as I was losing count of the rainbows we clung to each other so as not to be blown away off tiny and wild little Mwnt, and talked about the things that both bring us here and beckon us on. It was a step aside and away and the view back on home life became clearer, more hopeful. We probably managed to chat in a way we don’t very often.

Sometimes sitting inside at our desks diligently, to patiently work through lists and ideas, is the most important thing and what amazing tools we have to help us do this.

But sometimes, when the sun comes after winter, maybe the only ‘right’ is to be outside, photosynthesising, facing the rays and warming up—come on freckles you remember what to do here!—and listen out for that soft hum of things waking up, and ever so gently, strike up with your own note and join in. Tune in to your songs again, find out where your harmony fits. Practice that, and then take it back inside again a better singer.

If you don’t feel much like sitting at your desk today, I reckon that’s okay.

 

{Today’s Soundtrack: PJ Harvey – We Float}

Halfway Down a Long Path

Now roughly half way through this 100 Days project, I want to take a moment to check in with some ideas that have occurred as I’ve progressed, and the reasons for taking a break before continuing.

As mentioned at some point in recent posts, rattling through 100 Days really is a long time to be rattling, and is rattling really a good use of my precious time? What am I learning here? What is better in the world as a result? It’s a long time to keep mechanically repeating a task or approach with either no critical judgement—”I’m just doing it for its own sake, and that is good enough.”—or with no sense of direction either.

I realise I want direction. 

I realise I want the wealth of all those days to add up to something significant.

I want that wealth of thought or effort to show either in a resolved, embedded attitude of mind, and/or better skills, and a rewarding body of work too.

Agreed – sometimes its important to just play as that’s when your mind can loosen up and become free enough to let new things happen.
Somewhere in here though is a neat point about the purpose of regular discipline and the benefit in forming a new habit. By definition, a new habit will not be so polished to begin with. Being accountable to the world by sharing all this online amplifies inevitable personal vulnerabilities, and maybe these last couple of weeks I just needed to take a breath and then here’s the next thing I realise:

I realise that being publicly accountable with the things you make day after day is a little nerve-wracking and slightly exhausting, and quite difficult to do unless you have the strength of a rhino, which I don’t

This began with the question, “What could you do with 100 days of making?”
I have a new question. Now I have glimpsed what’s possible and I know the effort involved, how can I make my next 50 days really count? 
 
{Today’s Soundtrack: Shivum Sharma – Flicker}

_navigating a ‘creative process’

Day 9 & 10 of #100Days project – Carol Ann Dufy & D.H.Lawrence

Anyone setting foot on the path of creating—making, inventing, imagining, developing—is saying ‘yes’ to the so-called creative process*. Inevitably, there will be mess, confusion, both silence and noise, and probably fear too.

You are a brave and adventurous soul, agreeing to this slightly frightening mystery, so how best to hang in when the above recipe seems too sticky to stir and you just need to get something done because you’re up against budget and deadline?

I don’t think it’s complicated.

I do think it’s about courage, and faith, and accepting the mystery for a while, and just getting better at recognising what’s going on when you hit those sticky points.

Simply:

Courage
In having the initial idea, there is something happening inside telling you that this thing could work. The sub-concious knows it, and is trying to get a message through to your cognitive, rational mind.

Have courage that there is sense in your hunch, and put that first step on the road. 

Faith
You have tools at your disposal to throw at this conundrum. You have gathered those through hours—years—of practice, so have a little faith that the practical tools in your kit are there because they work. Pick them up. Have a play. (What are those tools for you, by the way?)

Have faith that your tools serve a really useful purpose, and just pick them up! 

Mystery
Making ourselves accountable to journeys in which we have no idea what the outcome will be, it is all of the above (fear, mess etc) but it is also—in and of itself—a fantastic fact of life, and the better we can become at life, well, who’s not up for that?

I’ve been really inspired by a recent interview with artist Ella Luna on The Great Discontent. “What could you do with 100 days of making?” she asks. It’s a project she’s running for MoMA, inviting anyone to pick up a habit over 100 days, tweeting or posting on Instagram with the hashtag #100Days.

I have lots of ideas and couldn’t wait for the start date so just got on with my own version, without knowing what I expected out of it except a hunch that something new wanted to emerge. Absolutely miles out of my comfort zone here! My plan simply revolves around writing something positive everyday, and picturing that somehow. I post on twitter, Instagram and my Tumblr page, and to friends on Facebook, labelling the day number and some brief thoughts.

Now, ten days in, I realise what I’ve committed to – it’s a big, fat, juicy mystery. That’s it! But because I have faith and courage on my side, I reckon it’s worth putting one foot in front of the other on this mysterious path, knowing that all those steps along the way are going to take me somewhere.

Sharing each step so publicly can throw up raw and vulnerable feelings, no doubt. But it’s a kind of accountability, to myself, to my friends, communities. It is frightening; revealing.

But the mystery of a project unfolding is also exciting, surprising, and delightful, and that’s what to keep pursuing in tiny, incremental little steps.  

So how about you? What’s your project, or dream, or adventure, or risky business plan? Perhaps you can take some encouragement from these words along your journey, and share with us how you get on.

*
If any of this struck a chord, here are some more thoughts on the topic:

Another post on the creative process theme, looking at what resources we have in times of the mess.

And for when you’re just knackered and need a break, have a read of this post!

_you are not a machine

So here I sit, pondering as I do on the creative process.

Process. What a stupid word for the human condition and our expression of it, all beautifully messy and unpredictable. Who thought that one up?

Today, this post goes out to anyone who is stuck and feeling a bit brain dead, perhaps (like me) with a ‘wading through treacle’ feeling after a little while of working really hard and breathing life into lots of quite empty spaces. It’s really tiring work, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to find a ‘process’ here to rock you into even more action. You don’t need action. You need a break.

No, it’s not rocket science or brain surgery. But in the course of trying to make the world a better place, creating and making and doing in order to encourage dialogue can be a humbly noble thing in our complicated world.

A wise man once said that to reduce human experience to mere process is to render us as machines, or something like that. Machines, my friends, we are not.

We feel things, and we communicate out of our empathies.

Moved to fairly generous tears by sound and vision this week, I left a huge theatrical moment on Wednesday night—Joy Division Reworked—rocked by the emotional statements that had come soaring around our heads through the layers of music and projected images. A very powerful use of instruments and film with enough heart and empathy to sweep us off our feet. It was truly incredible; disarming, even.

I’m not sure our work with creating has anything at all to do with process. Sure, there’s a physical process to using tools, but they just serve the heart don’t they? So you have to work at staying connected and in tune with why you pick up those tools in the first place. Whether making or absorbing, this is about unique connections between lifelong experiences and poetic symbols we find in the world around us. Some connections resonate more than others, and some combinations—for no reason anyone could have known—shine particularly brightly, and cause the eyes to leak.

A creative person is not subject to process, as convenient as that would be. You are not a machine, and therefore, you have permission not to perform like one.

If the creative person in your world is being a bit slow on the draw at the moment, give them as much of a break as you can and encourage them to go and stare at a blank wall for a bit.

Or if it’s you, please, come and share my blank wall:

Winter in Coromandel

Winter in Coromandel

The most beautiful trip made many years ago now, to a shore as far away from troubles at home as I could go. I still dream of the perfect waves and wonder who turned this driftwood into a sculpture by adding a shell.

_stringing thoughts together

Thinking about our world and the people in it inspires most of us to action one way or another. When that action is carefully designed and visualised, things can get exciting because we all like to see evidence of really good ideas.

Thinking, made visual. Whether a lovely family moment, a brilliant gig or theatre piece, or immensely satisfying work collaborations, what thoughts do you have or experience right now that are turning into something physical, practical, real – visual?

Sometimes our thoughts are small and quiet, and are expressed as such. Amplified, they can become much more, and hold people’s gaze magnetically.
So for a few weeks this month, I travelled to Cambodia and Thailand to support a charity—Freedom Stones—through volunteering my photography skills to help them tell their own story of some hardcore thinking made beautifully visual.
That people have thoughts and do something about them is one of the simple reasons I decided to practise photography alongside my graphic design and illustration. Visual story-telling about people who make extraordinary things happen in our world can be very powerful, and its impact to inspire helps me appreciate how valuable a big, visual punch is in conveying really complex levels of thought.

Freedom Stones is a human rights charity which generates employment for young people in a jewellery-making business. This employment helps those young people avoid being trafficked illegally (where we were, from Cambodia across the border into to Thailand) into the sex industry, or as construction workers.

This project is a very good bit of thinking, and the outcome can be seen clearly, not just in the jewellery design, but in the faces of those involved in the programme who are working their way with dignity out of poverty. Hopefully, my photographs will help Freedom Stones tell the story of this work and generate support to make it sustainable.

Now back at my desk in Bristol, I have a bit of decompressing to do and eagerly return to our day-to-day thinking and visualising! Trips like this always make me even more fond of home, family, colleagues and all our collected plans and shared projects.

A small blue bead—like a tiny thought—threaded together with red beads and clear beads and black beads, to create a sort of visual evidence that our combined power to thread together our thinking and visualise that can put rich oil on the earth’s axis.

Good thinking in minds and hearts, turned visual.