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Friday, 31 December 2010

That was the year that was...

2010 was the year...
- I started a blog and discovered this incredible online creative community
- We moved into our new home
- I started a new business venture

I also travelled to three continents and got serendipitously stuck in Paris (yippee!).  It has been a happy year, with a rollercoaster of emotions in places, but mostly filled with adventure, fun, and new friendships.  Here is my year in blog posts, featuring the most 'significant' from each month.


- I started the year sat on a sand dune in the Sahara Desert with my man

- I didn't even know what a blog was (must have been walking around with my eyes shut, and just think what I was missing!).  127 blog posts later I am still loving it...

- I went to California for an art retreat, was inspired to start a blog and discovered a whole new world, to which I felt like I had belonged all along

'Tribal Gathering' posted Tuesday 27 February

I had a 'wow' Mondo Beyondo dreaming moment

Did that just happen?  posted Monday 15 March

- I had a wonderful piece of bad luck when the ash cloud from an erupting Icelandic volcano stranded me in Geneva, giving me little choice but to hop on a train to Paris for an impromptu long weekend

- My 33rd birthday gave me a great opportunity to look back over the many big changes of the past few years, and look forward to a new chapter in my life

image: Francois d'Elbee (taken in Zambia)

... and posted the first Do What You Love interview, which was followed by a further 15 over the course of the year, with people like writer Danielle LaPorte and artist Claudine Hellmuth.  More to come next year! 

- My man and I spent three dreamy weeks island hopping round Greece

'Barefoot in Greece' posted Saturday 19 June

- All the wishing worked and we moved into our new home

'We got our dreamy little new home!' posted Thursday 22 July

- I celebrated my six month blogiversary!

- I was lucky to be chosen as one of Britain's most exciting young entrepreneurs, and secured a place on a ground breaking business mentoring scheme run by a leading national magazine, pairing me with entrepreneur extraordinaire Kanya King, founder of the Mobo awards

'Exciting creative business news' posted Friday 3 September

Kanya King (image courtesy of Mobo)

 ... I went back to the US for another art retreat - bliss
'Reflections on Squam - I dreamed a dream' posted Friday 24 September
... and I was published on mega-design blog design*sponge
'Stop press! Published on design*sponge (eek!)' posted Wednesday 29 September


- I launched the second Great Big Stitched Postcard swap, which attracted 85 women from 13 countries on 5 continents, and forged many new connections across the creative world

posted Tuesday October 19

- I launched my new business venture, running art and creative enterprise retreats in the stunning English countryside

- I met Prince William (what a charmer).  Incidentally I also met David Beckham again that day, mmm...!

... and I indulged in all the delights of Christmas preparations, and have loved every festive minute

Thank you for sharing this road with me.


How was your 2010?  Are you looking forward to 2011? 

I can't wait, it is going to be a big year! See you there!


Friday, 24 December 2010

It's Christmas Eve!

Christmas is nearly upon us, when anticipation and preparation gives way to celebration!  I love Christmas Eve - there is snow on the ground and magic in the air.  I am spending it at my parents' house, with young nephew and niece as the perfect little Christmas helpers.  Today will go something like this...

- wrapping up warm to go last minute shopping for new christmas cake decorations (the old santa has last year's icing stuck on his boot, and the collection of little green fir trees we have used since I was a child has dwindled to just two trees - we need a few more tree friends to make a snowy forest)

- cake decorating with the help of some little people

- watching 'Miracle on 34th Street'

- taking my parents' dog for a walk in the frosty park

- posting the neighbours' christmas cards

- gathering round a huge tree for a candlelit children's carol service

- cooking up hot mince pies and mulled wine

- putting out some sherry for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph

- reading 'The Night Before Christmas' to the little ones before they fall asleep 'with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads'

- putting out all the presents under our tree

- trying to get to sleep, which is as hard now as it was when I was five...

Merry Christmas to you all!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Do What You Love interview: Rachael Taylor

Voted ‘Happiest Person in Britain’, this really is a girl doing what she loves. Rachael Taylor’s bright and fun designs caught my eye some time ago, and I bought an original piece of her work for my studio. As a surface pattern designer and illustrator, Rachel has clients all over the world, and next year she will be bringing out her own line of stationery with US-based Teneues publishing.

(image courtesy of Rachael Taylor)

Rachel graduated in 2005 with a BA (Hons) in Textile in Fashion Design. After working in industry for three years, she set up her own design studio in 2008. Now specialising in surface pattern design and illustration, Rachel works as a freelance designer for clients like WH Smith, Target and Graham and Brown, and runs her own design label, Rachael Taylor Designs. Rachel’s international collaborations include a signature collection with Seascape Lamps USA. I talked to Rachel about loosening up, setting up on her own and getting known.

(image courtesy of Rachael Taylor)

1. For those new to ‘surface pattern design’ can you explain what it involves?
Working as a surface designer is great fun and never dull.  Surface pattern covers so many areas and products in the market, so my work is very varied and every day is a new challenge. I've designed for magazine covers, greeting cards, packaging, fashion and homewares, so it keeps me on my toes.
If I'm working for a client on a freelance commission I tend to work from a direct brief but if I'm designing for my own label, I try not to have a plan. I just let my designs and ideas flow naturally. I also create surface designs and illustration that I license out to companies.  They tend to use them exactly as they are but sometimes I re-colour them to tie in with their collections.

2. How would you describe your signature style and how did it come about?
I'd say my signature style is free, quirky & spontaneous.  It normally involves elements of freehand drawing, bright accent colours, textures and layering. Sometimes I combine all of these things together. I think it stems from my student days. I studied Textile and Fashion design at Leeds but our tutors were really keen on mark-making, drawing, painting and working more freely.
My portfolio was more fine art based rather than your typical design portfolio. It took me ages to loosen up my work, then in my final year whilst creating my screen printed collection something just clicked and it all fell into place. That's when I started to really have fun with it and take risks. I'm never afraid to experiment as quite often my mistakes turn out to be my best pieces.

(image courtesy of Rachael Taylor)
3. You have had great success getting your work out across the country and internationally. Can you talk us through the steps of getting one of your designs into a shop as a product?
I think a few factors helped in getting my own label out. I work as a freelance designer for other companies in the UK, USA & Europe so I think that raised my profile and people were aware of my style already. Being featured in books and magazines and on blogs really helped too, as people became more aware of me. When I first started my own line (launched in Sept 2009) I just started very small. I opened a notonthehighstreet store, and planned to just planned to sell online. Then when I started to see there was interest in it. I decided to approach a few local shops and it just went from there really. I rang up the British Craft Trade Fair about exhibiting at their 2011 show and they said someone had pulled out the 2010 show. There was just one week to go before the show so they offered me discounted space. It was a crazy idea and at first I said no, as I thought I couldn't pull it off. But then something clicked and I just thought “I'm going to take the risk and go for it”. It paid off - this really got me out there and now I have number of stockists in the UK.

4. What made you take the leap from working for someone else to setting up your own design studio?I just decided it would be nice to have a few small things that I could call my own and put my name to. Then from I decided to have a signature range that I'd license out with my name on as a brand. It's really nice having the freelance and my own stuff - I feel very lucky that I have the best of both worlds.  It can be crazy, non-stop juggling sometimes, but that's what I love. I wouldn't have it any other way!

5. What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome in setting it up?
I've found it hard managing the admin side of things - there are just never enough hours in the day. I've had to become quite business-minded so that's been a learning curve too! I find it hard that some days the business things eat away into my creative time.  I've had a fair few time delays with product development too, which has been a bit stressful. More recently I had a designer blatantly copy my work too, so that was an awful situation to deal with.

(image courtesy of Rachael Taylor)
6. What do you wish you had known when you were starting out?
I wish there was a guide to prepare you for setbacks you may have, every day I learn something new! I never knew I'd have to become so business savvy that would have scared me off!

7. How much of a role does technology play in your business? (in terms of actually creating your designs, managing your business, promoting yourself etc)
Technology plays a huge part. I create my designs on my mac using a graphic tablet. I still use traditional methods but everything has to be developed on the computer in the end. I use twitter, my blog, my website, facebook to promote my work on the internet. It really does work – I have had a fair few overseas clients find me via twitter!

8. What makes you ‘the happiest person in Britain’?
That was a bit bizarre receiving that title,but wonderful too! I feel very honoured. I'm just a regular girl who rambles on a bit. I think I'm quite an upbeat and positive person. My tweets (on Twitter) come across that way. I'm just so grateful that people have received my work really well, so I think that shows as it makes me really enjoy what I do even more. Little things keep me happy like my family, great friends, my lovely dog, music… I love music! My work is really influenced by it as pieces are created depending what mood I'm in. My work keeps me happy, I'm extremely passionate about what I do.

9. Where will you take your business next?
I'm hoping to continue expanding my own line and develop further homewares products. I also want to continue freelancing as I think it keeps my work fresh and I love working with new products and challenges. I've also started receiving regular bookings in schools and colleges for workshops and talks. I want to continue with that too as I really love doing it.
 You can see Rachel’s lovely designs on her website and blog, or connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.


(image courtesy of Rachael Taylor)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

What would happen if...?

This quirky little slide show won best creative/offbeat presentation in the World's Best Presentation contest 2010 - it is all about a very powerful little question...

Have you asked yourself this question lately?

Friday, 17 December 2010

Countdown to Christmas #5: Throwing a Christmas dinner party

The house was filled with merry laughter, chinking glasses, and christmas songs from bygone days.

We were dressed up all sparkly and festive*

We dined by candlelight in my studio, transformed into a winter wonderland of silver and white.

We feasted on a roast, sweet mince pies, handmade truffles and pints of steaming mulled wine.

We shared stories and secret santa presents by the open fire.

There's nothing quite as cosy as a Christmas dinner party with friends and festive fun on a cold winter's night.

How are you keeping warm this winter?

*see, I'm working on self-portrait bravery!


For more Christmassy fun see other 'Countdown to Christmas' posts

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Do What You Love interview: Mark McGuinness

Rain falls with twilight –
the city’s fingers drumming
on our umbrella

Rain haiku by poet and creative coach Mark McGuinness
(Image courtesy of Mark McGuinness)

This Do What You Love interview features Mark McGuinness, a poet, creative coach and trainer and creative entrepreneur. He has been coaching artists and creatives since 1996, when he noticed a high proportion of them turning up in his psychotherapy consulting room. He has also consulted for organisations including the BBC, Channel 4, Arts and Business, the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (UK) and many creative agencies and studios. Since 2006 he has been blogging about creativity and business at Wishful Thinking. In 2008 he launched Lateral Action  with Brian Clark and Tony Clark, developing the site as a resource for creative entrepreneurs - first a blog and later the Lateral Action Entrepreneur Roadmap.  . Mark's latest course is the Creative Pathfinder, a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional.  I caught up with Mark to find out what gems he could share from his many years of working with creatives (and find out a bit about poetry too).

- Can you remember the first time you referred to yourself as a poet?  What made you do that for the first time?
I can't remember, to be honest. Robert Graves said 'poet' is a courtesy title - there are very few real poets, the ones with the genuine magic in their words. On the other hand, the original meaning of the word 'poet' is simply 'maker', so maybe it's just the equivalent of the modern 'creative'.

- Do you see life differently as a poet?
Wow that's a big question. I think that what we call poetry is something inherent in life, which we can all see, if we look carefully, or sometimes it catches us off-guard and we can't help seeing it. Poets make a habit of looking out for it, and trying to capture it in words, but every true artist is after the same thing. And having spent a little time with Buddhist monks, I think they are on the lookout for the same thing, they're just not so worried about capturing it!

- You are also a coach for people in the creative industries. Why is coaching important for artists?
Coaching allows me to work one-to-one with creatives, so I can take account of their individual - often idiosyncratic - talent. There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to creativity - what works for one person won't work for another, and sometimes the hardest part is recognising where your own inspiration is leading you. I often hear from clients that one of the biggest benefits they get from coaching is simply validation of who they are and how they do things, as they sometimes go through life feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

- How did Lateral Action come about and what kind of impact has it had?
It came about through discussions between Brian Clark, Tony Clark and me. Towards the end of 2007 I released an ebook titled Time Management for Creative People - little did I know Brian and Tony were thinking about launching a site about creativity and productivity, so when I sent it to them, they said it was 'bang on target' and the conversation went from there.
In terms of the impact... well I'm maybe not the one to judge, but we've had a terrific response, both to the blog, the Entrepreneur Roadmap, and now the Creative Pathfinder. Every week I hear from people who tell me it has helped them in their creative work, their career, or their business, so it feels like I'm making some difference, but there's always plenty more to do...

- What question are you asked most often by your consulting clients, and how do you respond?
I can't really narrow it down to one question. Maybe four:
1. How can I find a way to do my real creative work, in the midst of interruptions (from the outside) and distractions (from the inside)?
2. How can I get others to notice my work (and buy it)?
3. How can I deal with person X, who's in my working life and not at all easy to work with?
4. How can I motivate myself to keep going, in spite of rejections, criticisms, disappointments and the rest of it?

I generally respond by doing a lot of listening and asking questions - first to clarify the situation, and then to unlock their own ideas about how they could approach the situation differently. Sometimes I'll also 'put in' some ideas and advice around specialist topics, e.g. productivity systems, stress management techniques, internet marketing strategies. Either way, the idea is to get clients to be able to learn new approaches for themselves, that they can put into practice in future.

- What is the best thing about working with creatives?Partly it's inspiring to be around interesting, creative people doing amazing work. And partly because I'm a creative myself, so I feel an affinity with them. It's a tribal thing. :-)

- When you get stuck in your own creative endeavours nowadays, do you deal with yourself as you would a client, or do you turn to others for support?
Sometimes I can get myself unstuck, having seen most of the usual pitfalls in myself and others over the years. I don't necessarily deal with myself as I would a client, but hopefully there's an occasional flicker of self-awareness that comes into play! And sometimes I work with a coach, or a teacher who knows a lot more than me about what I'm trying to do. Mimi Khalvati at the Poetry School is a particular source of inspiration.

- What is the next big dream for your business?
I'm really excited about several new products I have in the pipeline that will be released over the next year or so. Plus I'd like to travel more, so I'm working to move as much of my business online as possible. E.g. I'm doing more and more e-learning and coaching via Skype, as well as live workshops and face-to-face sessions.


You can find Mark on his Wishful Thinking blog, on his poetry blog, or for bite-sized inspiration you can follow him on Twitter


See here for more interviews with inspiring people doing what they love


Are you an artist wanting to make more money from your talent?  Are you a budding creative entrepreneur?  Have you heard about the Do What You Love art and creative enterprise retreat, to be held in a stunning countryside venue in England next May?  Sign up for the newsletter (on the right) to be the first to hear when registration opens!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

To tweet or not to tweet

So tell me, is it worth it? 
Is Twitter all it is cracked up to be? 
As I decide whether or not to open myself up to yet another social media channel,
I'd love to hear your thoughts. 
Are you on Twitter? 
What do you like about it? 
Any advice for a newbie?

Big Dreams, Small Wonders

Although it can be hard to find time amongst all the holiday preparations, December is a great month for looking back, to create the time and space to spend January looking forward.  It is so easy for time to fly past without acknowledging both the big things and little things that have happened along the way, so this month I am taking time to reflect on the 2010 journey.  More of that to follow soon...

In terms of looking forward, I have treated myself to spending some time in January dreaming, planning and setting an action plan to make the most of the exciting year ahead in 2011.  I have signed up for Louise Gale's shiny new e-course, 'Big Dreams, Small Wonders', to help me do this.  Won't you join me?

Find out more on the Big Dreams Small Wonders website here, or in this great interview with Louise, by the ever-inspiring Danielle Fraser.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Countdown to Christmas #4: Christmas cake - how do you make yours?

My grandma always used to make our Christmas pudding and cake.  I could never understand why she would make it so far in advance (the Christmas before!) and how it didn't go mouldy.  She said "good things are worth waiting for" and she was so right. 

When I lived in Japan I remember being so shocked that people at sponge cake decorated with strawberries on Christmas Day.  I have no idea where that tradition came from!

This year I made a very special Christmas cake to celebrate a very special Christmas - one when a close friend's dad just got the all clear from cancer.  The best present anyone could hope for.  So I made the cake, and I have sent it off to Cornwall to be iced by his two little granddaughters.

This is a lovely old recipe, best made about six weeks in advance, but if you make it now and feed it brandy each day it should still be delicious come Christmas day.  Enjoy!


200g each of raisins & currants
50g glace cherries
200g chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts)
150g butter
2 large eggs
100g dark brown sugar
zest of half a lemon
150g plain flour
half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
quarter teaspoon each of ground cloves & ground ginger
sprinkle of nutmeg
200ml of brandy (or maybe more if you are anything like me...)

Advance preparation
1) Put all the dried fruit in a saucepan with the brandy, bring it to the boil and then take it off the heat. Cover it and leave it overnight to soak up all the lovely brandy goodness.
2) Take your eggs and butter out of the fridge so they warm to room temperature
3) Prepare your tin (see below)

How to make your delicious cake
1) Put some nice Christmas music on in the background and pour yourself a large sherry!
2) Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C / gas mark 2
3) Cream the butter and sugar, then mix in the lemon zest
4) Add the eggs and beat well
5) Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, then add to the mixture, alternating with adding the soaked fruit (which should smell amazing by now)
6) Add the chopped nuts and fold in
7) Put into prepared tin (see below) and bake at 150 degrees C (gas mark 2) for around 2 hours
8) Once the cake is cooked, wrap it in foil straight away (still in its tin) to keep the top of the cake soft as it cools
9) Once it is cooled, remove it from the tin and wrap it in a double layer of greaseproof paper and a double layer of foil.  This version of Christmas cake will easily keep for up to six weeks in an airtight container, if you store it in a cool dry place.
10) Every couple of days add a bit more brandy to the cake and by Christmas day it will be moist and delicious!

How to prepare your tin
Prepare your tin by cutting out two circles of greaseproof paper the same size as the base of your tin, and two long rectangles that are slightly longer than the circumference of your tin, and 12cm wider than the height of the tin. Fold each of the rectangles in along one length, about 2cm from the edge, and then snip small triangles out of the folded section (as if you are making a frill). Hold the two rectangles together (to make a double layer) and use them to line the tin, with the frill side at the bottom of the tin. The triangles you cut out should allow the frill to sit on the bottom of the tin. The circles then go on top of the frill to line the base, and your cake mixture will sit on top of this. The lining should be sticking out about 10cm above the rim of the cake tin. (See photo above).

All ready to send off to be iced by my young friends...

Icing your cake
If you want to ice your own, first spread a layer of apricot jam over the whole cake, cover it in marzipan, then royal icing and whatever decorations you fancy. 
Then tuck in!


What's in your christmas cake this year?


More Christmas goodness here in the Countdown to Christmas

Friday, 10 December 2010

Do What You Love interview: Abigail Borg

Multi award winning young surface pattern designer and illustrator Abigail Borg is riding high, having just been awarded 'Best British Pattern Design 2010' by Elle Decoration at The British Design Awards.

(image courtesy of Abigail Borg)

Just two years since winning New Designer of the Year 2008 award for her collection of hand-drawn and digitally-printed wallpapers, Abigail’s wallpapers, cushions and fabrics are now stocked in Liberty of London and in stores across the world. She also has freelance illustration clients like Laura Ashley Home. I talked to Abigail about her phenomenal success, and how she is managing her rapidly growing creative business.

(images courtesy of Abigail Borg)

Ever since you graduated from Leeds College of Art your feet haven’t touched the ground – what has been the most exciting thing about your journey so far?  I think just being able to do what you want to do, and feeling happy with that is the most exciting thing. No restrictions, trends to adhere to, colour palette to work with. If what I design looks nice and people who I show like it, I'll go ahead with it. This formula has worked for me so far, so I'm happy to carry on working like that. I am also very excited to move into a brand new studio in the New Year – it's in an old Victorian hall, surrounded by woods in the Worcestershire countryside. I went for a viewing the other day and there was a deer, squirrels and a pheasant in the courtyard! That totally won me over.

When did you first realise that surface pattern design was your thing?
From an early age I was always drawing and painting for friends, of course then it was just something to do to get out of doing maths and biology homework. As I got older I decided I wanted to go to University so took a surface pattern degree. For the first year and a half I didn't know what I was doing and felt uncomfortable, until we had a brief set by Graham & Brown to design a collection of wallpapers. I think this was the turning point for me, and I knew from then on I wanted to design for the interiors market.

How would you describe your personal style?
I like classic looking things with lots of colour and pattern to them - that goes for in the home and clothes. I especially like mid-century design, as well as late Victorian – there was no compromise in colour or density, and the designers really went for it.

(image courtesy of Abigail Borg) 

Did it take long for your particular design style to develop? Was that evolution organic or did you specifically try to design with certain inspiration in mind?
I've always loved flowers, nature, anything organic. We were encouraged to set away from florals during University, as everybody designed with them and we were told to develop our own individual styles. I've always loved vintage and Arts & Crafts design, so on designing my final collection decided to delve deeper into the workings of archival designs. This was when I decided to hand draw all of my work, and concentrate mostly, but not exclusively, on florals.

You set up in business on your own this year, just 18 months out of college. Can you tell us a bit about the learning curve you faced to get where you are now?
I have been on a massive ongoing learning curve since graduating. This has mostly being the business side of things, marketing, sales… All the things you weren’t told very much about at Art School. I was really lucky to be involved in the New Designers exhibition on graduating, as I think it opened a lot of doors for me. As for Liberty and Laura Ashley, they both got in contact with me – who knows where they saw my work! I think a major part of learning is being nice to people and listening to what people have to say. You may not like or agree with some things, but if you try and take something from everyone you meet on your way this can only be a good thing.

Abigail's wallpaper sells for £295 for a 10m roll
(image courtesy of Abigail Borg)

What do you wish you had known when you first started your business?  That you shouldn't take what everyone says as gospel, and that you don't have to be in London to be a designer. I think I put some pressure on myself in thinking this to begin with, but when I was working there for four months I didn't feel at anymore of an advantage, just paying twice as much for the privilege.

What is the ratio of time you spend designing vs marketing and managing your business?
I definitely do not spend as much time designing as I would like, I'd say probably 30% on an average day.

(image courtesy of Abigail Borg) 

And what about your life outside the business? What else do you like to do?
I like visiting friends around the country as well as friends at home I've known since I was in first school, also cooking, going to gigs, car boot rummaging, going for walks in big gardens in the summer.

What is the big dream for the business in the next five years?  As I said I will be moving into my new studio in the New Year, so I would like to be based here with a small team of people around me taking care of the business side of things leaving me more time to do what I love. I would also dream of having a shop front somewhere, selling my homewares which I would also like to expand. Finally I'd love to do some more big commission work, maybe designing a range of 'Abigail Borg' patterns for a big design house.

You can see more of Abigail’s gorgeous work on her website, along with her first foray into letterpress card design with this Christmas card:

(image courtesy of Abigail Borg)


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