Detail of the mural I painted for the reception area of the Blue Chip company Imagem (now Concord Music Group) : October 2017 - Jan 2018
Through the years I've undertaken many (mainly design related) roles:
Paint a mural:
That was the brief that was sitting on my desk.
Luckily I felt I could create a piece of art that:
My appetite for taking managed risks is fairly low. I've undertaken many roles through my career (see below) - many of which are responding to complex challenges: I'm used to getting my teeth sunk into a new brief!
The opportunity also arrived across my lap at a time when I was starting to explore the question:
How can I bring 15 years experience in
design and innovation to the world of art?
Challenge to pitch for the mural :: accepted!
In this article (part 1) I cover:
1. Project context
2. Mural brief
In Part Two of this blog post I'll cover:
3. Designing three 'inspirations'
4. Creating the mural
In Part Three of this blog post I'll cover:
5. Finishing the mural
6. Creating a post-care package for the mural
1. Project Context:
Imagem (Now Concord Music Group) is one of the largest publishing music businesses in the world - responsible for managing 400,000 pieces of music for musicians including Madonna, Radiohead and Theatre productions such as the Sound of Music.
As part of a new office fit-out they wanted a mural artwork that was beautiful, inspirational and most importantly related to their business for their London corporate HQ. They were moving into larger offices and their plan was to incorporate a new artwork that would add the sizzle to the wider office design.
A friend and fellow artist Anne-Laure Carruth recommended me for the job.
I went to meet them and saw the space and heard about their plans for the look, feel and function of the new office.
Brief: the artwork was to be painted on top of these service doors.
2. Mural brief:
This included 3 core components:
The client asked me to develop and present 3 art ‘Inspirations’: high level ‘starting-points’ from which to develop a full artistic concept. If they liked one: they'd consider commissioning me to paint the mural.
The gauntlet was thrown down.
Coming next... Part 2 - find out how I created the three 'inspirations'
Above: me paragliding in the French Alps in September 2017
Last year I took up the sport of paragliding.
After 2.5 weeks of intensive training in the Sussex Downs with Fly Sussex I qualified as a Club Pilot (meaning I can fly solo without instruction at designated Paragliding Club Sites).
Training was amazing, but tough.
For all the highs - pun intended - there were many trials too: I was dragged along the floor by the glider and gusty winds, had cuts on my legs from thistles, accidentally flew into and through thorny gorse bushes and did somersaults over the ground whilst being twisted in the strings.
Like an episode of Faulty Towers, but on the top of (or down the side of) a hill.
After you fly down to the bottom of the hill (A 'top to bottom') you have to trek back up. The hills are 200 - 1000ft and if you do this 5 or 6 times a day you're climbing about 2000-3000ft in a day, weighed down with a MASSIVE, heavy flying machine strapped to your back. All so you can repeat the process and fly back down for a few seconds.
This is a sport which at the beginning is absolutely knackering: but the little wins propel you on: The first time you take off nicely. The first great landing. The first time you ridge soar (that was what hooked me in)...
The exiting bit is when you reach a level when you can 'top land' (land back on the top of the hill) - which means you don't have the trek back up!
A training day typically began at 8.30am, which meant a 5.00am start and a two - three hour journey from Hackney, London to Glynde in Sussex. My schlep there included two 20 minute walks, a bus journey, a tube journey and two train journeys.
There and back.
Every time my alarm clock shook me awake from my slumber, I would hate myself for choosing to learn this particular sport.
However, as I blinked my eyes open and stepped out into the early morning light, I would start to see how beautiful the city can be at that early hour.
The feel of leaving the city - with all it chaos, grime and neatness - as the birds sing in chorus, is pretty damn epic.
I would appreciate my first sip of tea more whilst winding out of the city past the Victorian terraces and enthusiastic dog walkers.
I would arrive in the middle of nowhere - in a tiny village whose name I can’t pronounce - and walk past rows of cottages and allotments where people tend their prize marrows and design jaunty looking scarecrows.
Before training started, I would meet other wannabe paragliding pilots and share a ride to the designated training site for the day.
The nerves I feel when stood at the top of the hill were real - but looking out at the view over the hills to the sea twinkling in the distance was soothing.
And then it was my turn to fly!
"Wait a minute, you want me to run off this hill and FLY over there? That's 600bloody feet. The height of 10 average sized UK houses."
And all I have to rely on is that bit of refined plastic, some string and my common sense / training. Errrrrmmmm ok... [Insert expletive....!!!!!]
BUT...... Flying off the hill and into the air for the first time is pretty damn exhilarating: a mixture of total terror and sheer excitement.
One day I flew above (YES ABOVE) a hawk. One day I'll fly alongside them (yes, you CAN actually do that in Nepal).
On a tandom ride with another #paraglidinggirl (incidentally a British Champion) we flew 1200ft (20 houses high) above other colourful paragliders circling below us, before doing a spin dive down to a safe landing spot.
So WHY are you doing this? I hear you ask.
For me, It's about a resurrection of 'wildness' in my life.
The feeling of being out IN nature.
And being part OF nature.
The wind in your face, the breath in your lungs and the sun in the air. Exploring the world we live in from different perspectives.
AND Inhabiting the landscape as fully as possible - emotionally, physically and visually.
I want to learn the language of the skies and the systems of the earth.
And it's informing my art practice.... (I paint Cities from Space at night).
But most of all its about meeting new people, having a blast! And the dizzying heights of nature really are such a delight.
Image: Chiharu Shiota
One of the great things about freelancing/contracting is that I get to choose who I work with - generally my criteria is to work with talented and inspiring people, who I learn from, on game-changing projects which we all bring something to the table.
Over the past few months I've been reflecting on areas of interest I'd like to explore further in my art and design practice.
I'm looking to meet with interesting folks for coffee or tea over April and May to share thoughts, experiences and ideas in the following areas:
Areas of interest:
Questions I'm exploring or considering at the moment:
Through my art and/or design practice
Nature // cities
Empathy // tech
Design // art
If you're interested in meeting for a coffee, know someone who might be or can think of anything else that might be of interest please don't hesitate to drop me a line!
Above: Charcoal drawing interpreting the emotional experience of Paragliding
Mostly everything that has ever been made started with a drawing.
Yet drawing often seems like the poor cousin of painting. Even for me - with my background as an industrial designer: I've not always given drawing the respect that it deserves. In the past I've seen drawing as a ‘separate’ activity, one that was beneficial and worthwhile, but as an activity that didn't impact the rest of my art practice.
More recently I've been reflecting on the benefit of drawing on my wider art practice. I've found there are 4 key benefits:
1. Getting into creative flow:
In most aspects of my day to day life I operate in ‘head’ mode: making logical and rational decisions that often require analytical and academic thought. Often, I find it hard to switch from ‘head’ mode to ‘creative’ mode. Drawing fast-tracks the transition: the concentration and focus needed to translate my observations into form quickly helps me alter my natural state and frees up creative expression.
2 . Building observational skills:
Building my observational skills is a cornerstone of my developing art practice. Drawing helps me to observe and question the world around me and translate my observations into the creation of something that represents my personal interpretation. Observing what works well compositionally helps me gain an intuitive feel for proportions and space as well as layers and depth, within the context of a decided boundary. Being a naturally visual and tactile person observation comes in many forms and using various senses, including sight, sound and touch.
3. Practicing patience:
I am not naturally a patient person. In the context of a society where everything is immediate and on-demand drawing helps me to work on this life skill that is often forgotten or undervalued. For me, patience takes many forms: short-term patience means being at ease through all aspects of immediate creation. Longer-term, strategic patience requires feeling at ease with my individual and changing learning journey, being open to learning what I don’t know and embracing the period of time and ambiguity that comes when ideas and concepts are naturally percolating. Finally drawing reminds me of the need to acknowledge that if I continue to work on my practice the answers will likely come after a period of time.
4. Building confidence in mark making:
I often draw with a permanent marker - this helps me to get into a difference state of creative flow: one where I have to get to a point of feeling confident about the lines and marks I am about to make. I find this approach helps me experiment and explore various forms of drawing, fail fast and learn from those failures, helping to more quickly build my confidence over time.
Nemawashi is a Japanese term that literally translates to "going around the roots."
Photo taken of beautiful tree roots in Hampstead Heath, London - post edited.
The concept of Nemawashi is so ingrained in the Japanese culture that it's challenging to translate into English, but mostly it's referred to as 'laying the groundwork.'
Nemawashi as an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for a change or - in the Western world we might see it as getting ‘buy-in’. The primary difference is that Nemawashi is done quietly - almost covertly - before the idea or desired future state is formed. The process includes talking to others who are related or interested in your idea and gathering their support, thoughts and feedback before any formal steps are taken.
Nemawashi can be used in various ways but in a commercial sense it can be useful for gathering information about your new industry and identifying ways you might work with and add value to people already in it, or navigate it more effectively once you're in it.
I only learnt about Nemawashi recently and I’m writing about it because it resonates with me.
My personal take on the concept is to build upon it: for me getting ‘buy-in’ is only one aspect of a move into something new - I see it as the wider approach or process someone can take when stepping out of their comfort zone and into the unknown.
With that in mind here’s three things I did when stepping out of my comfort zone - the world of design - and into something new - the world of art:
1. I made changes quietly:
At first, I didn’t tell many people about my idea to venture into and explore my passion for art. I kept away from social media and I chose to tell only a few of my friends and family that I’d gone back to Art College as a mature student. People love to try to help and rightly have their own opinions - which are important to listen to. Sometimes though, those opinions can turn into white noise that pollutes your mind and takes you away from your gut instinct about what’s actually right for you. I wanted to discover for myself, quietly and without the views of many others to influence any decisions about whether art was the right path for me. This was a huge decision, especially as it meant quitting the job of my dreams.
Hopes, dreams and ideas are fragile. Sometimes they need time to germinate and grow to a position of strength on their own. Choosing who you tell, or not tell at the beginning of a new journey is critical - be careful who to trust with this information - they are more influential than you probably think.
2. I dipped my toe in slowly
Opening the door to something different and new can be intimidating.
Making a change slowly and carefully is a great way to test the water: it gives you time to embrace feeling vulnerable, stupid and excited. Quite often when exploring something new you have to learn a new language, new way of thinking, or new way of doing things. Existing thoughts and habits don’t change overnight - usually they seed and grow over time.
Dipping my toe in slowly helped me to acclimatise to a new culture and gave me time to both reflect and choose the starting point for my new journey.
3. I embraced curiosity
To learn about the world of art and discover what the arts bring to us, as individuals and culturally I’ve embraced a curious approach. This included:
Although I believe Nemaswashi is crucial at the beginning of a journey or at a point of change, I also wholeheartedly believe that you need to continue asking critical questions about the norms in an industry, the existing culture within it and the systems and beliefs that support it. Learning should never stop and if you want to create change or navigate a sector fully and successfully then my belief is that 'ongoing Nemawashi' is critical.
The starting point for changing my career happened when I was working at Sense Worldwide - an innovation and insights agency. One dark, gloomy February afternoon the CEO announced that he would be offering a new employee benefit: a budget of £1,000 that each person in the team could spend on whatever learning activities or cultural experiences they wanted.
The thinking behind this was twofold: firstly, it would help keep the team happy and therefore would help retain valuable employees - and secondly, as an agency that relied on the creative, cultural and strategic thinking of employees it would help bring fresh thinking into the business.
One of my colleagues spent his budget going to a new dance music festival in Eastern Europe. Another spent her budget learning to practice yoga. I spent my £1,000 budget on a ticket to South by Southwest (SXSW) - an innovation conference in the US, and a 10-week watercolour class at Chelsea College of Arts.
It was this class that would reignite my interest in art and ultimately change my life. Over the years prior to attending the watercolour class, the amount of art I created had been dwindling to practically nothing. The desire to be creative had been satisfied through my career: for example - co-founding and running businesses (such as Zest Innovation - the first Service Design Consultancy in the North of England) and designing and delivering workplace courses such as ‘Doodle Club’ - to encourage better creative thinking in the workplace.
Although these were outlets for my creativity, they were ‘clean’ creative activities. I missed getting my hands dirty and seeing what I could craft given the time and freedom.
Fast forward to my course at Chelsea. It started at an unearthly hour on Saturday mornings and required a weekly pilgrimage each way of 1.5 hours.
The people attending the class were all pensioners - I was the youngest by at least 35 years. They were old money, but didn’t have much money. They were at the point in their life where they didn’t care much about anything - except having fun. They were both old school and open-minded - and exuded the type of confidence and ‘so what’ behaviour that comes along with that. The women smelt of perfume that had probably seen the height of its popularity in the 1960s. They had painted faces and wore bright red or pink lipstick, usually smeared enthusiastically past the edges of their mouths. The guys came laden with freshly made cheese and pickle sandwiches.
I was immersed into another world and I loved it.
So I opened the door. I took baby steps at first: practicing and learning how to paint again in my spare time. Visiting galleries and art shows whenever possible and taking a 3 month sabbatical from work to travel around and live in Oaxaca - one of the most beautiful creative hubs in Mexico. I spent my time writing, painting and immersing myself in the local culture.
Painting set-up from my sabattical in Oaxaca, Mexico
Over the next few years I gained confidence in my artistic abilities - I developed a technique of painting with inks and bleach, started to understand the world of art and learnt how to navigate some of the commercial challenges in promoting and selling my work.
It's amazing how much my life has changed since - I quit my job and started contracting, so I could go back to art college and focus more time and attention on my art practice.
Sometimes making a huge change in life it can feel scary - especially if it's completely different from what you’ve been doing and have always done. BUT, there are also a lot of advantages to changing career, especially if you've got a few years career experience under your belt. As the saying goes ‘when one door closes another one opens’ - and you can always choose to go back to what you were doing before - it's never a failure.
So here’s 3 pieces of advice to anyone thinking of trying something completely new, or changing career:
1. Don't think too hard about the decision - sometimes the ability to choose well isn't about comparing the logical pros and cons about the changes, instead it can be about listening to your gut. Naivety is a great asset at this stage - embrace it. Decision anxiety can cause paralysis and allow your fears to bubble up to the surface and grow. If you’re driven to make a change in your life there’s nothing more destructive and frustrating than being paralysed enough by fear to end up doing nothing at all.
2. Create networks of support: you'll need it! Friends, family, mentors, colleagues and clients can all provide you with advice and support. Build whatever you need into your life that will help you to remain sane: it’s important to share your successes and laugh about your failures with others - this can help relieve the anxiety that comes with doing something new.
3. Trust yourself - resilience and belief in your abilities is critical if you’re going to navigate the ups and downs of doing something new.
4. Bonus extra! Take small steps: great things can happen from trying something new. What have you got to lose?
12 months ago I made the decision to go back to art college.
My journey in the arts began 20 years ago when I undertook a Foundation Course in Art and Design leading to an academic background in 3D and Industrial Design. This led to a colourful career spanning 15 years working in the creative industries across systems and service design, futures, innovation and business strategy. I have used creative approaches to design and improve everything from foot care to funerals to financial services.
My journey has come full-circle: I am now studying - part time - a Diploma in Fine Art at the Art Academy in London, developing my art practice alongside selling my artworks internationally.
Image courtesy of the Art Academy
Prior to making the decision to go back to College, I’d been experimenting with making art for a few years. For years I balanced a hectic career whilst suppressing a growing instinct to create. Outside of work I’d spent an increasing amount of time going to life-drawing classes, even dragging family members and friends along to taste the heady delights of representing these beautiful forms. Increasingly, I had a growing sense of discontent inside of me and finally I made the plunge to become a freelance contractor, so that I could spend more time exploring and developing my art practice. For 9 months I tried to spend time on my practice, however without the discipline or rigour of a course to get me into a flow and repetition I struggled.
And so I made the decision to go back to College.
Going back to College was a huge decision, on many levels:
It’s not just the cost of the course fees, it’s the time taken off work where you’re not charging a daily rate. Plus the cost of art materials - the true cost is probably much more than what you'd initially expect.
Committing to something new requires a leap of faith. Both the highs and lows that everyone faces when they embark on a new journey can feel unsettling and uncomfortable, but ultimately are there to test your resolve, commitment and ability to find new and creative solutions to hurdles.
3. Personal Identity:
That dreaded question from strangers: ‘so, what do you do?’. The continual insecurity of your own questions: what am I? An artist? A design and business consultant? A freelancer? Most people tend to like to put people in boxes - they find it easier to relate and often feel more secure. But when you're embarking on a portfolio career notions of identity can become more muddled - especially for those who are on more linear and straightforward career-paths.
12 months on I can say that over the past year I've experienced everything from the highest-highs to extreme moments of doubt. Opening a door to a new world and a new life path can be scary and frustrating, yet also exhilarating. I will be writing more about my experiences from both my first year in college and in the art world in future posts.