What happens when you surround yourself with talented people working in an encouraging environment?

Something like this:

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled Identity – an exercise in patience, about my work for a forthcoming exhibition. I continued the theme of identity as I worked, and as you can see, the art is now finished and it has been handed in to the curators.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of working alongside a group of talented people. Seeing other people produce really good work has motivated me to push myself and be more adventurous, and the fact that people in the group have been so encouraging has been really helpful.

My adventures with stencils and spray paint began a little over a year ago, when I made a few designs to celebrate Record Store Day.

Record Store Day 2018

These initial works are pretty naive, made using very simple cuts, and erratic spray work. Even so – I like them, they represent the beginning of what has become my vinyl junkie project, something I enjoy very much. Although I still consider myself a novice when it comes to stencil art, it’s good to be able to look back over a period of time and see how my practice is developing. Cataloguing and showing your work is a very important part of working practice for me.

I can’t wait to see all the work under one roof, it’ll be quite a show. I’ll share more information on that once arrangements are finalised. For now though, I simply want to acknowledge the power of working in a talented group where encouragement and cooperation is high, competition is not emphasised, and when requested, advice is freely offered.

In my consulting experience – organisations frequently express a desire to collaborate across teams and departments, yet the way things are structured – reward, appraisals, hierarchy etc – often mitigates against this. I realise this group of artists I’m currently with are only loosely connected, but I wonder what the world of learning and development can learn from us, and how we work with each other?

Is This It?

Lead with what you love now, as there may not be a tomorrow.

It’s November 2018. A big company wants to experiment with communities of practice and other community aspects of learning and development. A good friend and I have just been asked to help out on the project. Initial signs are positive. Lots of enthusiasm, some clear, seemingly manageable deadlines, and an openness to new ideas. We agree to initial requests for us to respond quickly, and develop and propose a cocreated consultative approach to the work. The quick turnaround is noted by the client, who, upon receiving the proposal on 27 November 2018, promises to ‘revert this morning with any questions.’ Since then – despite several gentle reminders from us, we’ve heard nothing. It also took 70 days to get paid for the initial work we did.

It’s November 2018. An associate and I have just been booked to cocreate some art work and visual minutes at a conference in March 2019. We subsequently exchange regular correspondence with the client about the event. On 30 January 2019, the client changes their mind, apologises for messing us around, and says they no longer want us to do the work. There is currently a reluctance to pay our cancellation fee.

Time and effort has been spent securing this work, planning, helping to deliver, and managing our part in it. The unceremonious way in which work sometimes unravels, is depressing. I wasted time at the start of February 2019 worrying about the effects of such evaporation, and wondering if there are ways to get these things back on track.

It’s 11 February 2019. I run an art class for a group of older people. It’s a satisfying challenge, we have fun together, talking and trying out new things.

It’s 12 February 2019. I sell some art, and I facilitate an evening art workshop in a local pub. The work is full of enthusiasm, experimentation, and joy.

It’s 13 February 2019. I’m at Martin Couzins’s Bar Camp, and I’m live painting. I’m meeting good people, stretching my creative muscles, making art, and more.

It’s 14 February 2019. I’m volunteering at a careers fair, talking to school kids about why art matters, about doing things differently, and what it feels like to run your own business. Unbeknownst to me at the time, news is reaching people of the death of our good friend Cate. I meet a friend for lunch, we share an excellent conversation and he buys some art from me.

It’s 15 February 2019. Fridays start with counselling, a fabulous unhurried opportunity to talk. I prepare this week’s free art drop, a tribute to Cate.

It’s 18 February 2019. I sell some art, and prepare some art for shipping to an exhibition in Germany. I have a commission enquiry to deal with.

It’s 19 February 2019. I meet with someone who runs an interesting community space. We talk about art, and how it makes us think and feel, and reach an in principle agreement to pilot some community art sessions.

I am reflecting on recent events, and it is dawning on me that in recent days I invested time and effort in work that brings joy to me and others. I also learned of Cate’s death, sudden and unexpected. These things ground us. Too often I chase the seductive enthusiasm for new ideas in corporate land, only to find that enthusiasm is rarely followed by action. Perhaps Cate is teaching me that I need to lead with the art now, as there may not be a tomorrow.

Is this it?


As If To Fly

Live Painting

Working with uncertainty, going with the flow.

I attended Martin Couzins‘ excellent Bar Camp after day one of the Learning Technologies event last week. I often feel lost in big conferences, but I really enjoy the fringe events, the more conversational, interactive stuff around the edges. I was at the event to meet and catch up with good people, listen, and live paint.

One of the interesting things about live painting at an event, is the not knowing. How will things go? Where will inspiration arrive from? Will inspiration arrive at all? On the way to the event, I thought of the people gathering to meet each other, and as I sat on the train I drew and cut out a face in profile. I’ve used various facial profiles in the past for an occasional art project called Passing Strangers and it struck me I could start (or maybe I already had started?) with a new piece in that vein.

On arrival at the venue I set out my paints and other bits and pieces, and as people began to gather, I got to work using the stencil I’d already cut, and some metallic paints. The stencil allowed me to work fairly quickly, and before long, this started to emerge. The design represents the hurry and rush of people at a big conference as they move to a smaller space, slow down, and begin to talk.

I continued to fiddle with this piece of work for a while – touching in marks here and there. Doubt nagging in my mind about where to go next, a not uncommon sensation in these circumstances. I eventually abandoned the safety of the canvas and wandered the room, listening to the conversations.

The room was noisy. Nothing was coming to mind, and even though I knew that whatever happens next is OK (even if that is nothing), I felt a little nervous. A quick check in with Martin revealed that time was running out. That knowledge seemed to release something in me, and I picked up my second canvas and hurriedly applied a layer of paint to it. This is a canvas I’ve used and reused a few times, revealing then obscuring images over time. I often over paint many layers like this. I used a credit card to get the paint down in a hurry, then rubbed and wiped it over with my hand to rough the paint up a bit over the previous layers, and help it dry more quickly.

Artist at work. Photo by Martin Couzins

I continued to work at pace – this piece was becoming less about what was going on around me, more about my response to a sense of nervous urgency. In the moment, I decided to make a guardian. Normally, I lay larger guardian designs out very carefully, measuring, mapping and plotting. Before I commit the paint to the surface, I want to know the wings are equal in length, raised to the same height. Here are some studio photos to give you a sense of that structure.

Working on a guardian in the studio.

On this occasion – I threw all that precision out of the window. I estimated where the centre of the canvas was, guessed the angle and length of the wings, grabbed the credit card and began to attack the surface with paint. I scratched and scraped and scored out my design, barely stopping to look until it, and the conversations were finished.

I think this might be my favourite guardian yet. It emerged almost unthinkingly, it has the basic shape and design, yet it is completely different. It appears to me to have been in the wars, yet it’s made it through to the other side, bearing scars and a sense of fragility for all to see.

Both designs are a representation of working out loud, examples of what can happen when you just do the work, accepting that not knowing is OK. The Passing Strangers canvas is 30cm x 30cm, and the guardian is 30cm x 80cm. Both are available to purchase, email if you’d like further information.

Thanks to Martin Couzins for the kind invitation.