As I was made redundant nearly four months ago, from my dream job working as Arts and Events Manager for an independent arts charity and venue – The LOT – which closed down due to lack of funding, I have spent the majority of 2011 focussing on where I go next.
What will I do? How will I be employed? Do I have any choice in the matter? How do I use the time I have at the moment?
For, whilst a lot of my time is spent filling in job applications, scouring job websites, getting more intimately acquainted with Leith Jobcentre – ‘Plus’! and attending interviews, I am no longer working long hours and late nights managing gigs, arranging art exhibitions, writing website updates for the charity or attending management meetings. I have more time on my hands to be reflective, and to fulfil some of my other ambitions.
This ‘time to be reflective’ is a double-edged sword for someone like me – there is such a thing as thinking too much and shades of my Welsh melancholic ancestry can come through when I’m sitting on my own at home, opening another rejection letter (then automatically proof-reading all their typos and thinking that they really could do with me on the team).
Constructive reflection is an essential tool for growth, however; career-wise, yes, but also in terms of assessing where I am at in terms of creative fulfilment. I have always been someone who values creativity and art very highly and I have found various ways of expressing my creativity over the years – music, writing, acting, film-making, photography, dress-making, sewing… you name it, I have probably tried it at some point. I would not say I was an all-rounder. More of a dabbler.
Working at The LOT was fantastic in that I was surrounded by artists of many different disciplines; painters, poets, musicians, actors, comedians and so on. I loved my job as I was involved in the process of enabling art and music events to take place and supporting the artists to get their work out there. I enjoyed listening to the stories behind each exhibition, the inspiration behind the songs and the banter between the Front of House staff. I was heartbroken when The LOT closed down and I’m still getting over it.
Even whilst I was still working at The LOT, however, I was aware that I have a lot of observations, creations and imagination that I have been carrying around with me for years and that I needed to find a way of expressing this that was more focussed than the hopping in and out of different creative mediums that I have been doing for years.
Happily, the week that I entered the world of unemployment, a course on ‘The Artist’s Way’ started up in Leith, run by Mary Gordon (her website is www.creativevoyage.co.uk). This 12 week course explored the book , ‘The Artist’s Way’, by Julia Cameron. The timing was an example of the synchronicity that Julia Cameron teaches you will find if you go looking for it! One of the main premises of the book is that, if you move towards dedicating your time and your self to becoming an artist, then the ‘Universe’ or ‘God’ or ‘circumstances’ (depending on how you look at it) will throw things in your way to help you along towards your aim. You could also call these examples of synchronicity coincidences. I think that is perhaps a little cynical, but however you want to look at it, being open to and more aware of the world around you will increase the options and opportunities you are confronted with, and since doing the course, many more creative opportunities have come my way.
At the start of the course, Mary asked us what we hoped to get out of it by the end of it. My almost immediate, gut reaction was ‘focus’. Creativity for me, is emotionally linked with both aspiration and frustration. I love to immerse myself in the creative work of others – visiting craft fairs, art galleries, bookshops, vintage shops and watching films, theatre and tv dramas are how I relax and gain inspiration. I aspire to create work that other people will also appreciate, and that I will be proud of. I aspire to give people enjoyment through my creativity and to feel a sense of fulfilment at completing artistic projects. I aspire to make a contribution that is worth something and says something useful. Yet I realised that I have so many different ideas buzzing around and I start so many different projects that I lack the focus that my most successful creative friends have.
My husband is a very talented screenwriter (www.mrchriswrites.blogspot.com) – he is also very driven and focussed about what he does. He loves writing and so he writes. He has thrown all of his energies into this over the last few years and it is an inspiration to me to find my own craft and work at it. Similarly, the visual artists I really admire tend to be the ones who have spent a lot of time honing their craft… whilst having something to say and making a point through art is also very important, I struggle with the some of the empty statements and lack of effort that seems to have gone into some modern art.
I don’t want to restrict myself to one creative medium, as I don’t think that that is how I’m built. But I think I need to start to work on more defined projects, with more specific goals and timescales in mind, to help me to focus and achieve my creative aspirations.
I have always loved taking photos, and took the step of buying a digital slr a couple of years ago, and doing a couple of courses in photography at Stills (Scotland’s Centre For Photography). I have been focussing on this a lot more over the last weeks and months and am now also getting to grips with lomography. I see ‘photos’ everywhere I go, and always end up regretting it if I don’t have a camera on me. Fortunately the camera on my phone is also pretty good! I want to spend more time honing my craft and technical skills and I am starting to explore new ways of doing this.
I hope to share some of my photos on this blog, and also on my flickr page, both of which I have very recently set up, as part of my response to Cameo Curio‘s ‘Month of Marks’ (a month-long creativity challenge from Tammy and Hannah at Cameo Curio to themselves and the good creative folk of Edinburgh and the interweb to ‘make a mark’ through a creative act each day) . As the Artist’s Way course finished in mid-April, and I have had a sense of impending birthday doom (I’m another year older on the 31st May), the fact that they chose May as the Month of Marks was again good timing for me, as it has made me consider how I move my ambition into action. Procrastination is one of the big enemies of my creativity, so I decided that during the month of May I would finally get around to properly setting up that flickr page I’d signed up for months ago, set up a blog and start regularly writing again and start shooting more events. I am pleased to say that I have managed to do all of these things and have been asked to take photos at a couple of exciting events in the near future…
One of my other major creative outlets over the last year has been crafting – most of the time with a focus on cross-stitch. As a child, my Mum taught myself and my sisters how to cross-stitch, along with many other crafts. I’d not done any for years until I picked up a cross-stitch bookmark kit at the Grassmarket Embroidery Shop. Since then I have made several more bookmarks, a couple of samplers, and I am now starting to adapt designs and create my own cross-stitch designs.
I have also been experimenting with other new crafts – such as knitting, crochet (that one was a bit of a non-starter!) and felting – mostly via Granny Green’s Big Night Out , the weekly craft drop-in that I helped to set up last September. We initially met up at The LOT every Monday night, but since the closure we have moved to Fredericks Cafe on Frederick Street – which does a very addictive white mocha and a well-balanced menu of cakes and salads. Being one of the organisers of Granny Green’s Big Night Out has also kept me busy – and inspired by all of the projects that people bring along with them to work on.
Granny Greens is a free event and open to anyone who wants to come along, anytime between 6pm and 830pm on Mondays. We have a programme of workshops and discussion groups, including book, film and photography groups and knitting and social media surgeries. In essence, however, we are a craft drop-in and so every week, whether there’s a workshop or discussion on or not, people will also bring in their knitting, cross-stitch or whatever other project they have going. Its a friendly atmosphere and there’s a lot of swapping of ideas, collective knowledge pooling and opportunities to learn new skills. Another of my aims for the ‘Month of Marks’ was to learn a new craft skill and, a few weeks ago at Granny Greens, I was taught how to knit by the very patient Jane . I’ve been click-clacking away ever since, producing a probably unwearable pink scarf, but with the confidence that I could make a very pretty cushion I have seen a design for.
The ‘Month of Marks’ is drawing to a close, but I feel hopeful for the community of creatives in Edinburgh – it feels to me like there is a current common longing for more collaborative ways of working. Too often creatives can get competitive with one another – its tough in the arts, particularly at the moment; there are only so many opportunities, so many bursaries, so many paid jobs. It has encouraged me, therefore, to read and take part in the Month of Marks, the 48 hour film project and Granny Greens Big Night Out. All of these are about the spirit of collaboration and sharing skills and challenging each other to imagine and create, and celebrate each other’s achievements. I want to continue to live out my creativity in dialogue and community.