Sunday, 22 April 2012

La la la (Challenge: April 2012 - 'Language')

The  challenge for the month of April is Language. 

I love learning new languages (still determined to learn Spanish this year) so my initial thought was to do a piece about translation. However, another idea then came to me - the confusion that can arise in text messaging, as you never really know exactly how a message is meant. So, I am now working on a piece about what can be between the lines in text messages. I think it will be a sewn piece, but I'm still working on the design at the moment!

"The world is a book..." - March challenge

A bit late on the update, but this is the finished product from the March challenge "Mixed Media".

It started with painting blue waves on a canvas, then I stuck various selections from a world map - countries I have visited and ones I wish to travel to in the near future.

The map is a out of proportion as there are large areas missing and I wanted to include a quote. I found the following by St Augustine: "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page".

Once the paint had dried I sewed the routes I have travelled in red. I intended to sew planned routes in green, but the wooden frame of the canvas made it quite difficult to do so I left it with just the red.

Now I'm getting on with April's challenge: "Language" - watch this space!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Fun, Fun, Fun!

It sounds obvious, but if a project is fun, I'm much more likely to work hard and dedicate myself to finishing it. The great thing about creative projects is that they tend to be fun from start to finish purely for the fact that they are creative - I'm currently working on my March piece for the Creative Every Day Challenge (details here) and after having my head stuck in books and journal articles for the last few weeks whilst finishing some assignments, I'm really enjoying cutting, pasting, painting and generally behaving like a five-year-old in playschool!

However, can such fun be implemented in a place of work?
Fortunately, my experiences suggest that yes, it can (surprising really as I used to work in accountancy and am currently working in a safety office - neither places instantly shout "fun" do they?!) Only today, whilst attempting to create handouts about a 'manual handling' course, I was giggling away with my colleagues (I cannot remember why now, but it was funny at the time) and yet at the same time, the task was completed quickly.

Barbara Corcoran, founder and CEO of The Corcoran Group states that creating a fun environment for employees is "the most underutilized tool in the tool belt" and her leadership style has encouraged employees to stay with the company for 10, 20 and even 30 years.

I know that the chances of me lasting in an environment that is dull and routine are pretty slim, to none. So when the job-hunt begins again, I know I'll be on the lookout for a place in which I will feel comfortable and relaxed so that I can do the best work of my ability.

On a separate note, a friend showed me this video, which really made me giggle. It's an amalgamation of various newsclips from the BBC in January 2012, editted by Cassette Boy - very creative! (Apologies for the occasional rude comments!)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Suffering for your Art : The Daemon Genius Outside Us

Where does our creativity come from?
Is there something inside us, or is it sent to us from an external force?

I came across a video on the TED website, where Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talks of creativity, creative individuals and the creative process. The full video can be seen on YouTube here or on the TED website here.

In this talk, she makes a valid point; does success, and the pursuit of success, (however an individual defines it) act as a precursor to anxiety and stress?

How many times have you thrown away pieces of work, or hit writer's block? Is the anticipation of what others may think a huge influence on your own views of your work?

And is she right that by thinking of creativity as an external power, are we able to push some of that negativity away?

Elizabeth refers to what the Ancient Greeks called the 'daemon' and the Ancient Romans referred to as 'genius' - both external forces that visited a person for a specific period of time in order to inspire something. Creativity was not seen as an inherent part of personality, but as a gift from a superior being/God.

I particularly liked the section of the talk when Elizabeth talked about the poet Ruth Stone:

I have mulled over this for a little while, and come to the conclusion that I love the idea of creativity being an external part of us; something that I can share the burden and priviliges with. In some ways, I see it as quite therapeutic to externalise something I thought was internal (and makes me feel better about talking to the walls!) This is not to say that it should not be valued, or that creative individuals are lacking in ability; I believe that certain individuals (in this case, creatives) are more open and susceptible to hearing/seeing/feeling the inspiration and therefore use it to be creative. It is just refreshing to think about things differently, and as creatives we should be open to doing so.
"Maybe [artistry] doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished … it starts to change everything." Elizabeth Gilbert, February 2009.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Perception, Perseption, Persepshun

I am now going to ask the dreaded question "What Is Art?"
This question cropped into my mind whilst finishing a piece inspired by the February challenge. As I wondered whether the figure was watching a new day dawn or an old day sleep, I began thinking about how perception influences art and creativity.

I confess that I am not, in any way, a fan of "contemporary art". To make a sweeping generalisation, on the whole I find it uninspiring and borderline lazy (the piece that jumps to mind is a canvas painted blue that hit the news several years ago. Just plain blue. One colour over a large blank canvas... I could have done that, and I am not an artist). Whilst I appreciate there will be a meaning/message in the artwork, I simply have lost any enthusiasm to find out what it is. I like to be drawn in to a piece, to wonder at its complexity or marvel at its simplicity.

But there are others who pay millions of pounds for something that I wouldn't buy as an image on a bookmark.

Surely this varied perception though is what makes debate around art so interesting?

For example, is graffiti art? Years ago I would have said 'no', but whilst living in Brighton I saw some fantastic pieces of graffiti, my favourite of which is:

There was also the infamous Banksy piece of the two policemen kissing:

I have come to the conclusion that these pieces, possibly because they can be captured as a consumable image, have now crossed the line into what I perceive to be 'art'. (More on consumerism another day!)

So what about this?:

I took this photo in "graffiti street" in Melbourne, Australia (I forget the real name!) In the middle of the city centre there is a tiny lane, full of graffiti. It is ever-changing as new artists add their own tags and images and take over the space once dominated by another piece. Looking at this photo, my gut reaction is "what a mess!" but at the same time something draws me in. I took several photos of the bins, as the 'TG' tag was written out as The Ghetto/Train Game/The Gang and various other slogans - every bin had something different etched on it.

If we assume that graffiti is art, would I be able to call myself creative if I had scrawled something on one of the bins? Would that have made me an artist (or criminal!)? After all, there is a saying "imitation is the highest form of flattery" - would I have been honouring the original artists by copying their work? On that note, what is creative about copying another idea? Or is it about the interpretation of the idea? Would I have been more creative if I had not used a standardised graffiti font? How do we measure the value of anything as a piece of art?

I do not identify myself as an 'artist' (in the fine art sense). To me, art is something that I cannot recreate; not a bucket of paint thrown at a wall (oh, how many times I have wanted to do that!), nor an unmade bed (just a daily occurence), nor a pile of bricks (that would be my genuine attempt at bricklaying). But then, if everybody thought/felt the same about art and its creation, the world would be a rather dull place.

And by no longer dragging my heels through contemporary art galleries I am freeing up that space for those that really want to be there.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Mixing It Up! (Challenge: March 2012 - 'Mixed Media')

I finally completed my piece inspired by the February theme 'Night'. After some appalling scribbling, I settled on using watercolours to create a sky scene with the sun just visible over a horizon. Then I added the figure of someone looking towards the horizon. The piece is titled 'Perception: Sunrise, Sunset' as I am unsure which part of the day it resembles - or whether it resembles the beginning of something or the end of it... I'll let you come to your own conclusions.

The end result is not quite how I saw it in my mind, but I think I need a bit more practice with a paintbrush before my hand-mind co-ordination improves!

The new theme in the challenge is 'mixed media'.

My gut instinct is to create a 3D map of my travels in 2010-2011... Watch this space!

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Challenge of Music! Blog hop - 29th Feb 2012: ALTER BRIDGE "I KNOW IT HURTS"

I found this challenge on the blog Treasures Found: Inspiration is Everywhere and a huge thank you to Erin for organising it! The task was to select a song which means something to you and explain its importance and use the song to inspire the creation of an accessory of your choice.

I selected 'I Know it Hurts' by Alter Bridge. This song resonates with me for a number of reasons and was the first song that came to mind when I read about the challenge.
I first heard Myles Kennedy sing in Melbourne. He was performing with Slash at the music festival Soundwave. I've always been a sucker for a guy that can sing, and I was mesmerised by Myles' voice. The moment I remember most clear was as he began to sing 'Sweet Child O' Mine'. That song was played at my friend's funeral in 2008 (he apparently had 16 versions of it on his laptop so it seemed appropriate!) and so it holds a special place in my heart. At that moment I was actually walking away from the stage to see another act, but I stopped in my tracks as the intro played. I simply stood still and watched them perform the entire song.
Back in the UK I found out that Myles is the lead singer of Alter Bridge and bought their album ABIII without hesitation. I was even fortunate to see them perform in November 2012 and they are incredible live.
The lyrics to this track state "We all fall sometimes, you're not the first, But I know it hurts, I know it hurts" and whenever I listen to it I find some solace in the idea that despite any knockbacks, no matter how painful, it's important to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on.
For years I've told people my motto is 'Life goes on' - my best friend even has it tattooed on her wrist as I've said it to her so many times when times got tough. No matter how dark the tunnel, there will be an end to it, "You must carry on...There's still tomorrow, hold on, hold on..."

This track, and even this band are relatively new in my life. But they remind me of several things. Firstly, of how fantastic the festival in Melbourne was - one of my favourite travel memories. Secondly, that life has its ups and downs - and that's ok. 
And finally, how music has the power to take you out of your self, it can transport you to another realm where all that matters is the melody. I'm sure in years to come this track will still remind me of the here and now - and that I can look back fondly on that.

As my arts and craft supplies are minimal at the moment, I decided to keep my accessory simple -based on the form of an embroidery friendship bracelet. I added in mini black beads to symbolise the struggles we encounter and chose the colour black to resemble the darkness we sometimes find ourselves in, red for the struggle and white for the hope of a better future.


In some ways it was quite difficult to select a single song, but I try to go with my gut instincts and this is it. I hope you enjoy it!

The others participating in the blog hop are listed below, so check out the other song choices and maybe find some new tunes to add to your music library!

Erin Prais-Hintz

Monday, 27 February 2012

Once in a lifetime...

The BBC recently broadcast a series detailing the history of musical theatre. Having fallen in love with musical theatre after seeing 'Starlight Express' at the age of 11, I was intrigued to see behind-the-scene snippets of various productions that I have seen on stage.

The first episode looked at British playwrights trying to "make it" on Broadway and the history of theatre in the 1960s/1970s. One milestone in theatre came with the arrival of the "American Tribal Love Rock Musical" - HAIR - a show which pushed the boundaries of censorship in various ways.

In 2004 I participated in a production of HAIR in a cast of only 19 people. All members of the cast were on stage for every song and in on all the "in jokes". It genuinely was like one large family.

Still to this day I get shivers when I hear the music, in particular the part in 'flesh failures' where the company sing under Claude:

 Claude                                                                                Company

Manchester England England
Manchester England England                                         Eyes look your last
Across the Atlantic Sea                                                 
Arms take your last embrace
And I'm a genius genius                                                And lips oh you the doors of breath
I believe in God                                                            Seal with a righteous kiss
And I believe that God believes in Claude                       Seal with a righteous kiss
That's me, that's me, that's me                                      The rest is silence
                                                                                   The rest is silence
                                                                                   The rest is silence

©Jim Rado and Jerry Ragni
Every so often, when the old cast discuss upcoming shows/projects, we reminisce about the unique experience of being involved in HAIR. In such a small cast, we became very close and there had to be respect and trust amongst the cast in order to perform the nude scene with the required dignity, humanity and innocence. There was occasional talk about doing a revival - but on the condition that the same cast was involved. Drunk on nostalgia we talk about how rare the experience was and how we would love to re-live it.
But can such an experience ever truly be recreated?
Sadly, I think not. It was what it was because of who we were as people at the time and inevitably, we all have changed over the years. Therefore, an attempt to recreate that unique rapport between castmembers could be difficult, and should it not fulfil expectation our memories would be tarnished rather than filled with the recollection of the extraordinary bond we shared at the time.
Despite performing in several other productions over the years, HAIR still holds a special place in my heart and memory. In many ways, it's impossible to put into words how it affected me.

It was a 'once in a lifetime' production... And maybe, that's how it should be.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

What Disney, Microsoft and Burger King have in common: Making something from not-a-lot

A few days ago I watched the following video: The Daily Politics on BBC iPlayer. Just after 20 minutes into the programme (20m 17s to be exact) the issue of businesses having to be innovative in the current climate is brought up. In a challenging environment businesses often have to rethink their strategies as consumer behaviour is affected by a tightening of the purse-strings.

But rather than merely survive, some companies have grown and thrived by refocussing, being creative and spotting opportunities missed by competitors. The world-famous companies listed below are just a few examples (more details available here):

Walt Disney Productions - reincorporated during the Great Depression (1929)
Burger King - began in a recession (1954)
Microsoft - began in a recession (1975)
MTV - began during an economic downturn (1981)
CNN - began in a recession (1980)
FedEx - began in a recession (1973)
Hewlett-Packard - founded at the end of the Great Depression (1939)
So does this mean that creative people can lead the way?
After all, artists (in the broadest sense of the word) often work with limited materials and finances and yet can produce works of value - J K Rowling and the Harry Potter series springs to mind.
Just a thought...

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Solitude vs. Collaboration

Keith Sawyer, a psychology and education professor in the USA, writes an intriguing blog regarding creativity. A recent post critiqued an article in the New York Times, written by Susan Cain, which stated that "people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption". It has caused quite a stir and I've come across more criticisms of her article than support. It is worth noting that both Sawyer and Cain agree that a balance between the two is necessary - but then Cain appears to disregard this completely by writing a one-sided pro-solitude piece which Sawyer then neatly pulls apart.

The online debates surrounding the subject of 'introvert vs. extravert'/ 'solitude vs. collaboration' got me thinking about where I would position myself in the argument.

My instinct would say I prefer solitude. But rather than due to the peace of being alone, it is through fear that my ideas could be taken by someone else before I have had time to fully develop them! (Yes, I need to work on calming my paranoia!)

Then I thought about the things I have done so far this year and considered if they were truly independent paths I had taken or not. The result is a resounding "NO".

Through interaction on blogs/websites, particularly, I have delved more into creative work than I had previously done in years! Although the shading of a drawing was done alone, the stimulus came from ideas presented by others (such as the themes in Challenge 2012) or discussions with friends and colleagues.

Looking back I think my negative view of collaboration stems from doing group projects at varying levels of education and feeling like the driving force a lot of the time. If I believed in an idea I would be behind it 100%, which sometimes lead to, or at least felt like, me doing all the work that others got credit for.

So the trick to it is to strike a balance, and the web can help achieve this. Having an online facade allows people to engage with others, but not necessarily give away all the details about what they are doing. It is a blogger's choice what to upload/ discuss, how much to divulge or keep hidden, and with that - to an extent - collaboration with others is possibly manipulated to suit individual needs. Nonetheless, individual work and teamwork seem to go hand-in-hand when it comes to creativity.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


Have you ever heard of "T-Shaped People"?
Me neither.

There is a lot of discussion concerning collaboration as a tool to enhance creativity. (I will return to that subject another day). Earlier I stumbled upon this interesting blog. I believe that the idea of "T-Shaped People" is a fantastic way to consider group dynamics - in any teamwork situation. I have copied the final part of the blog below:

  • Specialists are “I-Shaped People” – people who have depth of expertise, without breadth of skills

  • Generalists are “Minus-Shaped People” – people who have a breadth of skills, but no depth of expertise.

  • Specializing Generalists are “T-Shaped People” – people who have depth of expertise in one area, combined with a breadth of skills across many areas.

  • What an interesting way to think about teamwork!

    Sunday, 12 February 2012

    I don't want (your) freedom...

    Firstly, apologies for the reference to the Wham! song to non-Wham! fans - I hear the word 'freedom' and the lyrics instantly come to mind. However, this lyric is somewhat apt for this subject area.

    As a creative I have always strongly believed that freedom is vital. The freedom to explore, to go beyond a design brief, to allow flourishes of creativity to take off as and when they occur. That is, until today.

    There is one magazine I read cover-to-cover - Psychologies - and a competition is currently running, asking readers to submit a 500 word story about a journey. It can be real or imaginary and presented in any format.

    As the closing date is tomorrow I decided to give it a go and recounted my eight-month travels around Australia last year. The initial challenge came in condensing the material - eight months in 500 words at first seemed impossible. However, this constraint in fact focussed my writing. Instead of waffling on for thousands of words (as I am prone to do) I kept everything short. I only selected the humorous anecdotes, which has made me realise just what an adventure the whole experience was. Reflecting back on the trip has made me appreciate just how much I actually achieved in that space of time and how the small dramas (for example, getting stuck in sand in a dodgy side road on the first night of a road trip in a campervan) made the biggest impression on me.

    Of course, I do not suggest that all creativity should be restricted to deadlines and design briefs, but the occasional boundary is not necessarily a negative thing. It can, in fact, aid creativity.

    Chris Bilton claims "Constraints...[are]...the boundaries within which the creative effort can be channelled and against which the edges of possibility can be tested." (Bilton, C., 2007, Management and Creativity, Blackwell, Oxford. Pg.85)

    I'm beginning to agree.

    Wednesday, 1 February 2012

    Night Owl (Challenge: February 2012 - 'Night')

    I am a night owl - no shadow of a doubt!

    Continuing my challenge with  this month the stimulus is 'night' which I find rather exciting as I appear to be mostly nocturnal.

    Rather than allocate time to create, however, I have decided to aim to create a full piece by the end of the month. I want to finish a sketch/painting about the night - and I must admit that I am no painter - (sadly my hands do not appear capable of replicating what I see in my mind). But I shall take on this challenge and see what I come up with...

    Wednesday, 18 January 2012

    Challenge: January 2012 - 'New'

    I recently signed up to the "Creative Every Day Challenge" on the following website: 

    The theme for January is "New".
    I was a little late starting this challenge, but every month from now on I intend to follow the stimulus and blog about it.

    At first I thought 'I could learn a new skill - maybe to crochet, or sign up for a photography course....' etc. In essence, I was thinking of adding to the skills I already have (or think I have!).

    But then somebody showed me the following article:

    It really struck a chord with me.

    In 2010 I left the UK to go travelling for a while - I ended up being away for eight months in total. Only a handful of people in the UK had my international/Aussie phone number and I deliberately did not go online every single day - once a week was probably my average. I loved being away from it all - I could not understand how so many people had a laptop in their rucksack and had the need to Skype home every day. What was the point in being on the other side of the world?!
    I chose that time to focus on other things - I read an average of 1.3 books a week in those eight months and listened to more music than I can remember! I also kept journals/scrapbooks detailing the sights I had seen, the people I had met and the highs and lows of being on my own, exploring other countries and cultures.

    I often miss the simplicity that my travelling alter-ego enjoyed.

    The challenge I have chosen for January is in fact not all that new, but more of a step towards how it used to be... simpler.

    Every day for at least one hour I will switch off from everything - no phone, no TV, no iTunes, no e-mail, no facebook, no internet... Just me, the quiet, my thoughts and maybe a pen and paper. And who knows, maybe (or should I say, hopefully,) something creative will emerge... Maybe I'll finally finish the synopsis for a novel that has been whirring in my mind over the last year or so, or even design the costumes for the show I want to produce...

    One hour.
    Every day.

    Let the challenge begin...

    Saturday, 14 January 2012

    To be an intern or not to be an intern...?

    A friend of mine showed me this article and I think it raises some interesting concerns about internships:

    I must confess to knowing little, if anything, about the fashion industry (you should see my wardrobe!) but having friends who have studied fashion/textile design I have heard countless stories of searching for/taking on several stints of unpaid work in the sector.

    Whilst I can understand the need to "get in there" with designers and (hopefully) gain paid employment, the concerns raised in the article ring too true when I think of those that have undertaken months of unpaid work... and gained nothing except an extra couple of lines on their CV.

    This is also true of other creative industries:

    A few years ago I took an internship at a theatre company to assist with the premier of a new show. I told myself it was a valuable (albeit long) lesson but was excited at the prospect of putting "assistant producer" on my CV - the Arts Council would have to fund my debut theatre project after that, surely?!

    In hindsight the only thing that I really remember from the experience was to add 10% contingency to any budget. Did I really need to work one day a week unpaid for nine months to learn that? Or is that in fact common sense? Timetabling rehearsals, writing to local businessess for financial support and selling tickets were all necessary parts of putting the show on, but by the end of the process I began questioning my role. I was putting address labels on letters and taking them to the post office. What did that teach me about running a theatre company? Where was my creativity being stretched - or even acknowledged? How was the company benefiting from my creative skills?

    The end point came for me after the show had finished when I was asked to do an additional day in order to envelope generic "thank you" letters to contributors and participants. Clearly my envelope-stuffing skills were highly regarded, but I felt that my time as "assistant producer" had come to a natural end.

    Three years later the paragraph regarding the internship is slipping further down my CV and has not lead to any other creative projects. It has, however, stopped me from giving away my time for free again... maybe that was the truest lesson to learn.

    As the article suggests, internships can be productive at times, but both sides need to benefit. Creative individuals are surely going to be inspired by other creative people.

    So now I shall endeavour to follow the parting advice given in the article - get on and do it! Find the people to work with/for and just go for it!

    Saturday, 7 January 2012

    Creativity: So many questions, but how many answers?

    The word 'creative' appears to be popping up all over the place at the moment and with it an array of questions:

    What is creativity? And how can a person describe themself as creative?
    Is creativity a skill someone is born with or can it be learned? If so, how?
    Does education in fact kill creativity?
    If an idea is merely a reinterpretation of an existing idea is it truly creative?
    How can creativity be protected?

    These are just some of the questions that float through my mind and so I have joined the blogging world in an attempt to try to find some answers. As a self-confessed techno-phobe this (hopefully) will be an interesting journey!

    So please leave comments or share links to interesting articles/sites/blogs to help me on this quest!