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.

Running Into Resistance

Getting stuck, and trying not to worry about it.

I’ve stopped. It’s probably just a pause, and for several weeks now I’ve not picked up a paint brush, a pen, or a pencil – much less created anything artistic. I feel stuck. I have a sense I know what I want to do – but I’m not currently able to make it happen.

Back in 2017 I made a series of ‘blindfold’ drawings, and my current stuckness has reminded me of these artworks. I can’t see what’s right in front of me?

The last time my creativity got seriously stuck, someone recommended I read The War of Art by Steve Pressfield. It’s an interesting book – exploring the notion of resistance, why we resist, and how we can get going again. I enjoyed the book at the time and once I’d read it – I felt more confident to get back to working. As we know: ‘Inspiration will always find you working’ (quote adapted from Pablo Picasso), so I’m going to read The War of Art again – and I’m going to stop worrying about this current drought in my creative practice. Maybe I’ll try enjoying it instead.

I’m not currently planning any creative practice sessions – but once my work starts to flow again, I’ll organise something and let you know when it’s taking place. In the meantime – you can follow along with any emergent creative practice (assuming there is any!) on my Facebook Page and my Instagram feed.

I used to write a lot – and I’m conscious that as my artistic practice developed, my writing tailed off. Maybe it’s time to switch things around again for a while, we’ll see. While I decide what to do next, have a good summer, stay safe, and please – feel free to get in touch if there’s anything I can do for you, and if you’ve any creative stuff you want to share, please do. 

Take care – Doug

March Meet The Maker : Phase One

I recently found out about March Meet The Maker – a month long creative practice diary hosted primarily on Instagram, started by Joanne Hawker. I am enjoying rising to the challenges of the daily creative prompts, and I’ve decided to record these creative snippets in batches here on the blog, so I have a longer term record of them. Are you sitting comfortably?

Day One : Story

‘Just Create’. Beginning my #MarchMeetTheMaker, telling part of my story. This is a piece of art, made and given away four years ago, as part of LeapDay 2016. It symbolises letting go and it encapsulates the creative essence of Leap Day and the free art project I started, shortly after this art was made and hidden. Letting go is a life’s work, and it’s partly why I became an artist. After my Dad died in 2012 I struggled to deal with my grief. In subsequent years I experienced anxiety and depression and worthlessness in ways I didn’t know were possible, even though I’m fortunate to be part of a loving family. Through this time, my art has helped me see things differently, given me some purpose and enabled me to connect with the wider community. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that art helped to save my life, along with Carole, Keira, and some fantastic counselling too. Note: I didn’t make this piece, I wish I could recall who did, as it contains much joy and wisdom for me. Thank you.

Day Two : Hands at Work

Hand drawn hand. Oh come on, it’s been a long day!! ? I work with all kinds of materials- on any other day this photo could show clay, spray paint, watercolour, acrylic – pretty much anything! 

Day Three : Time

Today’s #MarchMeetTheMaker is all about time. A good friend recently told me ‘Life is short, live it well’. I wish I’d started arting sooner but hey, I’ll make what I can while I can. In the words of the late great Neil Peart :
‘The arrow flies while you breathe, The hours tick away the cells tick away, The watchmaker has time up his sleeve, The hours tick away, they tick away.

Day Four : Branding

I don’t currently have a logo for my creative work, but my artistic identity is strongly associated with stencil art, spray paint, and frequently features sheet music. When people spot my work I want them to see a contemporary artist working with a mix of new materials and ideas, on older, repurposed surfaces. Something like that anyway. What do you think my ‘brand’ says? I received some very interesting, useful replies to this question on LinkedIn.

Day Five : Close Up

This is work in progress on a carefully crafted guardian – a 00 sized brush drags acrylic paint across rough watercolour paper. Maybe not the best tool for the job but I love the texture on the wing of the finished piece. An exercise in patience.

Day Six : Reducing Waste

Lots of my work is new art on old surfaces. Sheet music, maps, and money all feature in my work, and my Vinyl Junkie project uses old LP records. All these surfaces were unwanted, destined for the bin. Transforming them from junk into new works of art is one small way of reducing waste, which is what today’s #MarchMeetTheMaker is all about. 

Day Seven : You

I’m not often in front of the camera, I prefer to let my work do the talking ?. Here I am working on some stencil art at a conference in Berlin. This was part of a three day visual exploration of creativity and innovation with a client. When I’m not doing this, I paint from home, I rent shop space in a lovely pop up shop in Reigate, I run community art workshops, and I make and hide art in my neighbourhood. My free art project will be four years old soon – watch this space and help me celebrate this anniversary.

More to follow…