Live Painting at Workplace Trends : Psychological Safety

Last week I was at the Workplace Trends Research Spring Summit. I was there to learn, to do some live painting, and to give a talk on creative practice at work. This is a short blog post about a piece of art I made on the day.

Early on in the presentations, I listened to Nicola Gillen and Charlotte Hermans talking about how AECOM is undertaking new research to investigate predictors of wellbeing and performance in populations of office workers.

AECOM is testing to identify the most influential factors of work (e.g., job design, management, culture) vs. workplace (e.g., quality of work settings, noise, air quality) in predicting physical, mental, social, intellectual, spiritual and material dimensions of wellbeing, performance and satisfaction. Something which caught my attention was Nicola’s observation of the importance of psychological safety. In particular she spoke of the idea of being your ‘whole self’ at work, and how potentially harmful it can be in a workplace where this doesn’t feel possible.

I know from personal experience and from listening to many stories, how tricky it can be in some places to be yourself, to be open and honest about what you see, and how it’s making you think and feel. As I considered how I might get over that sense of reluctance when things are a little unclear, I began to paint. The blurred background indicates uncertainty, things moving at speed, not being quite sure what’s going on. The winged creature indicates a guardian within – open arms encouraging that sense of being sufficiently confident to speak truth to power, to be myself at work. I chose to title the piece ‘Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again.’

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Above are photographs of the piece as it was finished and displayed in conference, and a couple of close ups so you can see some of the detail. It took me all morning and some of the lunch break to paint this, each line on the wings is a single free hand brush stroke. Patience was required to complete the piece, and at times during the making, I felt like quitting and starting again on something easier. I’m glad I persisted, people gave me lots of positive feedback on the finished piece and it sits well alongside some of my other recent works.

I’ll share more live painting from the event soon, and some slides and speaker notes too. For now, thank you Nicola for the spark of an idea which brought the art into being.

The Art of Resilience : Kintsugi

I’ve agreed to give a short talk on resilience at a conference in London on Wednesday. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to say yes to something when you don’t think about it first? Gulp! I want to approach the subject using a mixture of art and the experience of myself and others. It is tempting to see resilience as a kind of armour – something off which life’s projectiles can bounce. I prefer to see resilience as something more flexible, adapting to the challenge rather than resisting it.

I hopped onto Facebook and Twitter yesterday to ask ‘I say resilience, you say…?’. I received a load of responses, at one point I felt overwhelmed by everything coming at me. I may, if I can find the time, curate the stream of replies. Time is pressing and I’m currently settling on three things to explore tomorrow.

  • Responses to bereavement
  • The need for creativity
  • The beauty in impermanence, imperfection, incompletion

For this post I’m focussing on the last point, and connecting with that fact that most of my visual backdrop for the talk will be my art..

Wabi sabi is a Japanese concept, beauty that is impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. Wabi sabi has a connection to a practice known as kintsugi, or kintsukuroi, the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The idea being that the cracks are now a part of the imperfect work, not something to be hidden away, or covered.

I am finding the preparation for this talk quite stressful. I am recalling bereavement and other tough times, and I can only stand to absorb so much of this stuff. I need a release.

I draw a pot – using pencils and a small watercolour brush. I then draw a crack into the pot which I fill with gold.

I found it hard to know when to stop, not very wabi sabi of me! I’ve settled now – it’s good enough. I can see imperfections, incompletions – so to that extent – the art represents my current work well.I’ve titled the piece, ‘You Broke My Heart. I Tried To Fix It, And You Can Still See The Cracks’, and I will hold onto this piece for the Carshalton Artists Open Studios event this summer, which I am excited to be taking part in. I’ll let you know how the Art of Resilience talk goes soon, too.

This post is adapted from one originally published on the Art Sensorium. Ironically – this version really tested my own resilience today, as it has taken two hours of managing various web site crashes and fallovers behind the scenes, prior to pressing publish!

Through The Looking Glass

I was heading into London last week when I spotted this on Twitter:

Can Anyone Help?

I knew I would be passing by the Moleskine store in Covent Garden so I offered to take a look. That branch had sold out and the staff directed me to another outlet in Regents Street which was also close to where I was travelling. I headed off, and voila!

Through The Looking Glass

The notebook has been purchased and has since arrived at its destination. What did I learn?

If you don’t ask (preferably nicely – which Ed did), you don’t get, and…
it’s a pleasure to be of service.

I since found out that two other people offered help to Ed, even though he’s not (yet) met them in person. In the overall scheme of things – a story like this is tiny, and sometimes, small things make big differences.