Andy Swann: An Excellent Adventurer

I found out this week that Andy Swann has died, a really sad shock. I hadn’t seen Andy for a while but I think of him often, reminded to do so by a kind note fixed to my wall, which he gave me after a piece of excellent work we did together in 2016.

I can’t quite remember how we came into each others orbit – and I do know he was a kind, generous, encouraging person – very easy to gravitate towards. He and I enjoyed some excellent adventures together, and I want to share some of those with you in tribute to Andy.


My friend Neil Usher organised a pop up event within an event. Workstock was staged in 2014 nestled within an excellent conference called Workplace Trends. Several speakers, myself included, were invited to deliver short talks in a format known as Pecha Kucha. Andy delivered a poignant tale about John – unwilling production manager. John was literally a cardboard cut out figure and Andy’s talk was supported by photos of John and his seemingly pointless work. The talk was at times hilarious and at times sad. You can see Andy’s slides here (slides 179 to 200. They’re even funnier out of context).

A guy named Francisco Vazquez Medem was at the event, and he subsequently invited Andy and me to speak at a series of workplace conferences he was organising in Europe. We both responded positively – it was hard not to be positive around Andy.

Safe European Home

Our mini tour took Andy and I to Lisbon, Barcelona, and Madrid. Andy spoke passionately about ways to make work better, and I blethered about art. We had a total blast.

I’d previously visited Lisbon and toured Andy around the old town, which between day and night becomes two completely different places. As we journeyed to the venue to speak – the heavens opened. We had a long walk from the bus stop to the venue and we arrived absolutely wet through. Andy thought this was hilarious – and our grand sopping wet entrance was a great way to break the ice and show we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. During the after show drinks, Nelson Paciencia, one of our audience members shared his notes from my talk. We were incredibly well looked after by Francisco’s colleagues and the night went on, until it became morning.

Our next stop was Barcelona – I remember both Andy and I struggling a bit with the idea that people would be translating us live as we spoke. I think we went down well, and we had a fabulous time exploring the city, once again being well looked after.

Last stop on the tour was Madrid. We both pulled out all the stops, and we were fortunate to have the essence of our sessions beautifully captured as sets of visual minutes.

The Biggest Prize In Sport

Much later in the evening….or was it morning, I told Andy a story about my late Mum. In the early 80s she bought me a birthday present, an LP by 999 titled ‘The Biggest Prize In Sport’. It’s an excellent piece of work, and it was not a surprise gift as I came home a few days before my birthday to find Mum listening to it. My Mum died in 1984 and this LP was one of the last things she gave to me. Sadly – I lost it many years ago, and I don’t know why but the story of its loss surfaced that day with Andy.

Several months after our European adventure, this dropped through the letterbox.

Andy had spotted the LP was due to be rereleased for Record Store Day so he went out, queued, and bought me a copy. What a kind thing to do. I played it loud this morning.

All About People

In 2016 Andy organised a hugely ambitious event in Bournemouth called All About People. Andy involved me in it right from the start, and asked if I would open proceedings. I’m no ‘keynote’ speaker – and this was a lovely trusting offer from Andy which I happily accepted.

Andy was attentive to everyone’s needs – he curated and led an outstanding gathering. We made space for people to offer their own artistic reflections, and you can see some of there here, including Mark Catchlove‘s famous ‘Love In A Spreadsheet’.

I have other positive experiences of time spent with Andy too – and I hope these few snippets help to show what excellent company he was. A lovely friend, much missed.

Rust Never Sleeps: A Renaissance

The challenges and joys of restarting

After a pause which began in February 2020, Art In The Sun restarted last night. There have been plenty of times in that pause where I thought the art would never come back – and right now, I must want to pay thanks to the good people at The Sun for their gentle, repeated encouragement. Thank you.

The day started with a rush of nerves, and doubt. What if I have forgotten how to do this (at no point did I stop to ponder what ‘this’ might actually be). I pottered around at home – putting off going to the studio to prepare.

I eventually headed to the studio to get ready – opting to go a little out of my way to queue for petrol – whoever thought that would be preferable to doing the work? At the studio I packed the kit, unpacked the kit, faffed about, repacked the kit, worked on a piece of art, wandered in the woods, unpacked the kit, repacked it, went home, realised I’d forgotten stuff, went back, repacked, and came home.

Early evening arrives, Carole is home from work and I confessed my nerves to her. Calmly – Carole spoke with me about those first day back at school feelings she experiences at the start of each and every term. They happen, you do the work, they pass. I headed off to work – a little reassured but honestly -still not 100% convinced.

Setting things up before people arrived – I still feel a bit scratchy, uncertain about what to do. Then guests start to appear – familiar faces and new ones. Conversation beings to flow, and from that, come pencil marks, ink, paint, rollers, mess, laughter – and we’re there. Doing the work.

Some of the results were expected, some not so. Some we liked, others, not so much. We had a good time, and in so doing, I remembered that curiosity and experimentation sit right at at the heart of Art In The Sun. Someone who hadn’t joined us previously said they did so because of the offer to try new and different things. How lovely. We parted in good spirits – looking forward to next time. Thank you to everyone who joined in.

I guess that if you are super confident, these feelings I’ve described won’t mean much to you – but I now realise they are simply (and importantly) part of the process. We took a long break and now we’re back. Doing the work enables the confidence to return. Rust never sleeps.

The Joy of Writing About Walking To Work

A cocreated poetry experiment

Two farthings, one polished, the other naturally tarnished

I recently facilitated a creative practice session for the GameShift community, titled The Art of Poetry : For Better or Verse. Most of my creative practice is visual and I thought it might be fun to gently challenge myself and the community to play with something I know little about. We had about 90 minutes together, and I had nothing more than the vaguest idea of how the session might take shape. My vague idea was shaped and refined through discussion with my colleagues, and we talked, drew, and composed – building poems by first making lists and doodles. I may write up the whole experience as it offered lots of learning and laughter and more. For now though, here’s my poem, written with my colleagues, and tweaked in the studio after we finished the session.

Walking to Work

A farthing’s charm
Recently rubbed bright and gleaming
Over days, months, weeks, years
Time patinates everything

The well-worn tracks
Telegraph the sound of seasons
The chiffchaff and dunnock
Chatter as they fly

Over farmland, parkland, woodland
Approaching the studio door
Behind the flaky paint
To the work beyond
To the work beyond

Doug Shaw 2021


A charm is the collective noun for a group of goldfinches. I nearly always see a charm on my walk to work, and I often hear the wren calling too.

One of the tracks I walk along to get to work is named Telegraph Track.