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Learning to reflect - my own journey.

Blog post August 2022

As you may have seen, I am running a back-to-school edition of the Creative Re-set course I ran in January. I never thought I would end up running courses, but they say that inventions are born of necessity, and I feel like the Creative Re-set was always going to come about for me.

I’ve always been a do-er - I like to keep busy, and am not great at sitting still. It can mean that I create a lot, and when I did the MA, I was surprised by how often people commented on how much I made. But it felt normal to me, and I didn’t see it as a benefit. Whenever people commented on the quantity, I used to think, ‘yeeesss, but often it is the same thing repeated over and over again, or me trying to grasp something by just stubbornly making’, and it sometimes didn’t feel like I was making much progress.

I have slowly learned that although there is some benefit to working that way (and I think for better or worse, it is my default setting) and I have made it work for me - I do eventually find the breakthroughs I need, via repetition and producing a lot of experimental work. But the big game changer for me was bringing reflection into the process.

I remember when I first started to consider illustration as possible for me, and I was having some tutorials with Orange Beak, Maisie Paradise Shearring said to me that I needed to learn to focus. I remember literally not being able to understand what she meant! I was baffled. How could I focus? Over the course of the next three years doing the MA, I slowly started to understand that what she meant was I was missing was time spent reflecting and learning from what I had made.

I wanted to use this post to talk about three times self reflection has helped me take a leap forward in my life and creative journey.

One - leaving work

Being brave enough to hand in my notice at work was a pivotal point in my life - I honestly don’t know if I ever thought I would be brave enough. First of all, I loved my job, (in children’s publishing where I had worked for 20 years); it was creative, exciting, and inspiring, and I felt fortunate to work in a world where my role was to create books for children every day. But… as time went on, I moved through my thirties, and as my child grew up, I began to realise that by getting caught up in a career that I loved, I had neglected my own creative desires. I had grown up assuming I would become an artist, one way or another, but somehow I had got distracted in my early twenties, started working as a stop-gap, and it ended up lasting 20 years! For the last few years of work, every holiday, with a bit of time and space to reflect on what I was doing with my life, I would suddenly remember my desire to become an artist! What was I doing? Why was I using all my energy working for someone else and not on my own creative work!? It would hit me like a slap in the face, but then, as the holiday finished, and I went back to the office, I would get caught up in the deadlines, the books to be completed, the illustrators to brief, and my resolve would slowly fade away.

On holiday - probably having creative revelations!

But one year, I picked up The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and started doing the Morning Pages every day. It was then that I first created enough space to allow my desires and thoughts to emerge - I was beginning to reflect. I realised I didn’t want to wait any longer. It wasn’t as easy as that of course - but it awoke something in me. I then started reflecting in a big way - I read as many books on going freelance (as a creative) as I could, about dreaming big, and visualising what I wanted. I began to feel it was possible. And in 2019 I finally plucked up the courage to leave! It’s not all been a Hollywood ending. I’ve worked harder than ever since leaving, and more than once questioned my decision, but ultimately, I am so happy I have given myself the chance to live my dream. To at least try

Two - During the MA

It’s hard to pinpoint a moment when this began to sink in. I began the MA in the manner I was accustomed, and made: with a frantic energy, not questioning, with an obsessive, relentless energy to keep making. To keep learning; keep going. I remember Pam Smy saying to me that I needed to learn to look back over my sketchbooks, and I knew that I should, but the drive to keep looking only forward was very strong. The MA was structured so that we were constantly looking back and reflecting, both on our own work, and on each other’s, in tutorials and workshops. And I’m sure I was subconsciously learning how to reflect. But the time that stands out is during the Masters Stage project. It is the final module on the MA, and worth double the marks of the rest, so it was a big ‘un! It was the summer, and we were encouraged to keep making work over the holiday period. I decided that the best way for me was to do a #100dayproject, as it didn’t involve too much planning, and I could incorporate it into a busy summer. The first big thing I did was to set an intention for the project. I knew I wanted to screen-print my final project (spoiler, I didn’t end up screen-printing it!!) and a little way into the project, I realised that it would be good to practice working in layers of single colour, like you would in a screen-print. I didn’t follow this every day, but for at least half the project I worked that way.

Sketches from my #100dayproject

The end of summer came and I went back to college to complete the last module, and I felt, thanks to the #100dayproject that I was in a flow of painting in a way that felt loose, but considered. I understood what I was trying to do when working that way, and I guess you could say I was painting intentionally. But…! For a while, I was determined to continue to work in screen-print. I started to do digital screen-prints, and was all set to make my book that way, when in a tutorial, Martin Salisbury said to me: why are you going to screen-print, when you have developed this visual language over the summer that is working so well? I think the truthful answer was: I was scared. I didn’t know how I could translate observational sketches into illustrations. But I spent a few weeks practicing. Creating, reflecting on what I had made - what was working, what wasn’t, and trying again - until I suddenly had what felt like my breakthrough piece! Allowing the space to work, reflect, and then continuing that work was huge, and a personal breakthrough for me.

My two breakthrough pieces

Three - Patreon and Courses

I decided to start a Patreon channel sometime in the first year of the MA. I had always wanted to blog when it was first becoming a thing, but I never actually did it, and I didn’t want to miss out on Patreon, which felt like the next version of blogging - at least, the next version I was interested in. In retrospect, it was ambitious, but at the time I just saw it as something I was drawn to, a bit of fun and a creative outlet. Little did I know I was inadvertently creating the ultimate tool for self-reflection. Each time I did a sketchbook video, I was looking back at my own work, reflecting on what was working, how I felt about it, and taking lessons from it. By doing material deep dives, I was taking the time to explore art materials in a way that, if I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have been so methodical about doing without Patreon! Since then I have made a Mark-Making workshop and I have started a Projects Tier, which is designed to help people manage projects, create accountability and support for them. And guess what - I have learned a ton too!

Last January I ran a Creative Re-Set course, which is all designed around reflection. During the course you look back at your own work, work you admire, and at your life, using reflection to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your creative practice, and by doing that forge a path ahead for yourself. You could say I designed it for me - and, let’s face it, I probably did! It was a privilege to guide a group of talented artists through a process of self-reflection, and see the breakthroughs and ah-ha moments happening for them. We all bonded hugely and it felt like a really special month.

During this time of quiet thoughtfulness, recovering from my operation, I have found myself in another period of reflection, and I’ve realised that an end-of-summer-holiday version of the Re-Set would be perfect! So I have created a Back-to-School Creative Re-set!

It starts in September, and will run for a month. I have created three tiers, starting with Bronze, for those of you on a budget, to VIP Gold with extra bonus content for those of you that want to fully immerse. There is also an option to pay over three installments. Here is a full breakdown of the course content and tiers.

I’d love it if you wanted to join me in September for a month of reflection and take your creative practice to the next level! There are only 30 spaces, so if you don’t want to miss out, sign up today.

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