So you don’t know what your niche is

IMG_3819Recently, I’ve been feeling the pressure to have a “niche” or a “thing”. It feels like there’s a constant stream of messages asking “what’s your calling?” and “what is the unique contribution to the world that you make that no one else can offer?” I think we’ve begun to believe the lie that there is just one lone and solitary role or activity that we need to find in order to fulfil these questions. When we do this, we limit what we’ve been made for and constrain the potential that God has put in us.

Late last year when I was in Italy, I learned a little about Michelangelo. As I stared up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and took selfies next to his statue of David, I realised just how versatile Michelangelo was as an artist. He was a sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer. He didn’t limit himself to just one stream of art but branched out to engage in many practices. I also love that he thought very little of painting as an art form but still managed to produce one of the most famous frescos in Renaissance art, that’s just not fair!

I’ve often beaten myself up about not having a “thing”. I like drawing and writing and painting and leading groups and teaching and making and cooking and planning and strategizing and dreaming. I don’t fit neatly into a box and will flick from project to project. But I wonder if it’s actually a good thing to have a variety of passions. To have a number of passions that you don’t have to pick and choose between. Those projects that I play with and just mess about on, when I flick from venture to venture – they all matter.

I don’t want to limit myself or remove any part of my interests. Let’s not stress about the grander vision or how it all links up. Lets be released from the worry of the overall picture or unity. What unifies your work is the fact that you made it. Perhaps your calling is many things. To be a painter and banker and father and writer. To teach children all day and to write music at night. To work in marketing 9-5 and at 8pm, to mock up a website or 2. Perhaps it’s not either/or. Perhaps we really can have both.

Boring Mondays

unnamedWhen I was a child, I remember numerous times moaning to my Mum that I was bored. She’d always answer with the same thing – “that’s nice” or “go and find something to do then”. So we did. My siblings and I would go and play teachers with pens and paper. Claire and I would play stables in the garden being horses. We published a fairy newspaper and created weekly matinees of musical versions of Aladdin. I’d play interior designers and create a dream house I’d want to live in. The boys would choreograph some new fighting scene with Kung Foo kicks off the sofa (often to the demise of various household ornaments). When we were bored, it turned out that we could be quite resourceful.

We can fear boredom and see it as a negative thing. When we’re bored, we reach for some kind of entertainment to see us through – a TV screen, or a mobile device or a slew of other devices to fill us with amusement and fill the void. We consume avidly to erase boredom. But boredom is the impetus to creativity.

The creator of Gilbert, the U.S. Comic Strip, wrote this “I make a living being creative and have always assumed that my potential was inherited from my parents. But for allowing my creativity to flourish, I have to credit the soul-crushing boredom of my childhood.”

My best ideas and thoughts and notions come when I’m bored; an idea for my work, a project at home, a creative piece for a Sunday. When I’m in the shower or running or lying in bed trying to get to sleep, when my mind isn’t stimulated by the constant stream of our technology soaked culture.

But do I like being bored? No. I’m all “go, go, go! don’t dilly dally, get a move on!”. If I’m standing in line or waiting for a meeting, I’ll reach for my phone to check emails or swipe through social media. If I’m driving the car, I’ll put on some music or a podcast. Erase the boredom, only boring people get bored.

 

I Still Love Calligraphy

10734031_10204414470594735_5603430516819942575_nFor as long as I can remember, I’ve loved getting to learn about lettering and fonts. I used to be all about bubble writing titles and outlining words in chunky black felt pen in my “topics” book when I was in school. I’d add flourishes to title when I underlined, did a circle as the i and try to add my own style (until the teacher told me off and told me to write properly). Then it moved onto the computer with curlz and comic sans and selecting the most unique and interesting fonts I could find, whilst still just about being readable. Even now, I’m particular about the fonts I choose. I like experimenting with combinations and exploring shapes of lettering that are interesting and unique. I find it fascinating how you can create a mood or a style through a typeface. I’ve never had the neatest handwriting so have always tended to rely on digital tools when it comes to creative lettering.

However, for my birthday, Ben bought me a course by Melissa Esplin called “I Still Love Calligraphy”. Melissa is a Calligrapher who has created some beautiful pieces. It’s a course for beginners to show you the basics of Copperplate Calligraphy, how to use the tools and it teaches the anatomy of letters. It looks at the traditional methods and techniques of Copperplate Calligraphy but gives you freedom to develop a more contemporary style.

I’ve learnt different strokes, different letters and have graduated onto words. I’m on style and flourishes. Here are some of the exercises that I’ve done so far, hopefully you can spot a vague improvement!:

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I could not speak highly enough of this course. I’ve found the rhythm and flow of drawing letters beautifully therapeutic after a day at work. Melissa has been really encouraging and helpful in her feedback and the exercises and videos are clear, concise and easy to follow along with. If you’re into fonts and always cooing over the beautifully drawn envelopes and quotes that you see on pinterest, have a go!

What I’m Making: Crumpets

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Ever since I was little, I really liked baking bread. I’m more of a savoury person than a sweet one so bread is always my preference to turn to when I bake. The first bread I ever made were those hedgehog rolls with little cloves for eyes when I was in infant school or nursery, I did a whole project on bread when I hit secondary school making banana breads and Italian plaits, and ever since, I’ve been experimenting in the kitchen with different flavours and flours and shapes.

Last year, I spent many weekends playing about with making English muffins and croissants, but this year I got given some chef rings for Christmas so I’ve turned to try out the traditional crumpet. It’s been really cold weather recently so the idea of buttery warm crumpets was very appealing.

Crumpet’s use plain flour so you don’t need any fancy types or flour, just a couple of chef rings in to griddle the batter in. It’s also more of a batter than a dough so you knead it instead of whisk it, but here’s what I did (based on the River Cottage recipe).

Makes about 12 (although I made 10 due to an incident where the bowl got knocked from its proving position across the carpet…)

  • 450g plain flour
  • 350ml milk
  • 350ml warm water
  • 5g instant dried yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • Oil for griddling

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  1. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, milk, water and yeast. You’ll end up with a frothy batter. Cover it with cling film (or a shower cap) and leave somewhere warm until really bubbly (anywhere between 1-4 hours is fine).IMG_4362
  2. After the mixture has proved, whisk in the baking powder and salt.
  3. Heat a frying pan or flat griddle over a medium-high heat and grease your pan and crumpet rings ready for the batter.
  4. IMG_4364First test the batter with a trial crumpet. Put a crumpet ring in the pan, and pour batter in until ¾ full. The batter expands when baking so don’t overfill it. The batter should be thick enough to stay inside the ring and not run out, but thin enough that the top fills with lots of bubbles and holes on the surface within the first few minutes. If the mixture is too runny, it will seep under the crumpet rings so whisk in some more flour. If it’s too thick, bubbles won’t appear on the top so whisk in a little more water.
  5. IMG_4370After 5-10 minutes once the surface is just set, flip the crumpet over and griddle the top for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. If the base of the crumpet is too dark, turn the heat down. You can butter them straight away to eat or leave them to cool for toasting later.IMG_4371IMG_4375

On Collecting Inspiration

I am a collector.

I’m inquisitive. I collect all information – articles, ideas, stories, words, facts, books, quotations. I collect images – pictures, graphics, design ideas, decoration ideas, photographs. Our bookcase is overflowing. My bedside table is crammed full of catalogue pages, printed articles, pages ripped from magazines and notebooks full of notes from all sorts of places. I collect because it interests me. One of my top strengths in Gallups StrengthsFinders test is “Input”. I read a lot to add and archive information, tips, strategies, processes – I never know when I’ll need it but it might be useful one day. So I keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away.

I don’t collect rubbish. I’m really quite choosy and particular and only collect things that I’m drawn to. I care about that random post it with the quote on or that doodle on the back of a receipt that my husband’s thrown away. I am all about collecting in various different fashions:

  1. Pen and Paper

I carry a notebook and a pen wherever I go. I am forever pulling it out and scribbling down notes and lists and diagrams and doodles. If I don’t have paper and pen, it’ll go on my notes pages or drawing app on my phone or tablet. I heard that Artist David Hockney had all the inside pockets of his suit jackets tailored to fit a sketchbook. The musician Arthur Russell liked to wear shirts with two front pockets so he could fill them with scraps of score sheets. Pen and Paper are perfect for collections.

  1. Pinterest

As a huge advocate of “pinning is winning”, I believe Pinterest is the ultimate solution for collectors and creatives.  No longer do I need to print it off and file it away. I can store everything onto digital pinboards. I have different categories: recipes, DIY ideas, gift ideas, useful stuff for church, travel, books I want to read, ideas for conferences, creative ideas, useful articles. The upside (and downside) to Pinterest is that there will always be more to collect and a precursor to all users – my inquisitiveness can lead me to spend a lot of time down very intriguing (but often distracting) avenues.

  1. Website Bookmarks

For those of you that find Pinterest too girly/ confusing/ Ryan-Gosling themed, you can also just bookmark tabs. Soon after meeting my friend, I opened my computer, he noticed the seven thousand tabs that I had open, cue him saying “so you’re a new tab kind of girl huh?”. I think it’s a girl thing as I know lots of women who like lots of tabs but men tend to prefer a new window…I digress. Anyway, I like to remember the useful sites that I’ve come across and the good things that I’ve found in case I want to come back to them later. I agree that keeping them open in a separate tab is a bit ridiculous when you can just bookmark them. My mum is the ultimate bookmarker that I know and keeps all her online collections neatly bookmarked away (FYI. Don’t mess with my Mum’s system, I made that mistake once and accidentally deleted them all…).

  1. A camera

There have been so many times that I’ve taken photos of a brilliant passage in a book, an excellent window display we could use for stage design, a brand or designer I come across in a shop I want to look at or a colour combination in a shop that I really like. Capturing visual images are a quick way of capturing information and sharing ideas.

Collecting keeps my mind fresh. I love to review my boards for inspiration or ideas. It keeps my creative levels topped up. It gets me out of a rut when I’m bored.

So I encourage you, keep a place for your collections, digital or analog, scrapbook or storage box. Keep a place to store your inspirations. A place to go to to be inspired.  Collect in a way that works for you.

you are an explorer

Steal Like an Artist – Where do you get ideas from?

A while ago, I read a great book called “Steal like an Artist”. The author Austin Kleon is a poet who also writes books about creativity and speaks to organizations such as Pixar, Google, TED talks, and The Economist.

His whole concept of collecting ideas and inspiration can be summed up in 2 stages:

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His method of writing poems reflects this. He takes someone else’s artwork, the piece of writing that they’ve produced, selects the most interesting and compelling words in a newspaper article and crosses out the rest with a marker pen to form single line poetry. Picture2

Austin makes the case that every new idea is effectively a mash up or a remix of previous ideas. Every potential lyric that you could dream up has already been written. Every chord progression already used. Every film shot has been captured before.

At first, I thought this was quite a pessimistic view and in a world that’s so concerned with plagiarism, questioned the ethics of such an approach, but I began to think about this and even the bible points to this:

Ecclesiastes 1:9

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

We learn to develop our style through imitation and taking aspects of artwork from other artists. The way we learn and improve in an instrument is through playing other peoples pieces. Our church worship team plays songs that other people have written. Our drama team perform scripts that others have scripted. I learn different styles of calligraphy through imitating other calligraphers lettering. We can get better and improve our technique by using and producing our own versions of other people’s artwork. And this helps us to develop our own style, producing our own versions of others artwork.

TS Eliot says “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.” —T. S. Eliot.

If our motivation is to create something meaningful and of influence, then you can remove the burden of the blank page and pressure of making something “original” and you can embrace influences instead of trying to hide them.

Looking back at our projects at church, some of our best ideas have been inspired by other’s artwork.

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I believe that each artist is a collector, selecting the beautiful, the captivating and compelling. The more ideas you collect, the greater the pool is that you can pick from and be influenced by.

 

“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”

(Jim Jarmusch – Film Director)

7 Favourite Christmas Traditions

IMG_3953Christmas is coming and our fourth Christmas into our marriage, we have established a tradition or two. Now depending on how enthusiastic I feel in the run up to Christmas will dictate how much attention I’ll put into all the festivities. This year, I feel really drawn to all the carol concerts at church so lots of my creative energy is going into those (more on that later) but there are a few traditions at home this Christmas that are making me smile. Some of these are inherited from my time in Finland and some are blended family traditions. Here’s a quick round up.

1) Our Advent Calendar

Every year, this is my husband’s pride and joy. He’s written out a bible verse for each day, put a minstrel for each of us in every pocket (I’ve been informed that from the 20th December, we get 2 minstrels each) and he’s also thought  24 Christmas activities to do, one each day. I think this was inherited from his sister who also does a similar thing with her children. These activities range from, “wrap presents”, “make Christmas sweets”, “Sleep under the Christmas Tree” to “Host a carol concert” and “Go to a Christmas Comedy”. He even stamped the numbers on each day – that, my friends, is how dedicated my husband is to the Christmas cause.

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2) Oreo Truffles

Oreo goodness in a creamy, chocolaty truffle. I have no idea why these became a Christmas thing, I started making these about ten years ago but nonetheless we’ve made them each year at Christmas and forget they exist for the other 11 months. They’re insanely easy and oh so yummy – a crowd pleaser at parties if you need one!2013-12-16 11.07.54-1

3) Letters to Father Christmas from Lapland

When Ben and I went to Lapland, my favourite souvenir was a pack of envelopes that children had posted to Father Christmas. The letters are taken out and given to charity and then the envelopes are sold to raise money for Unicef. Letters to Santa from all over the world end up at Santa’s Post Office in Rovaniemi in Finland.  Each envelope was beautifully decorated in lovely, neat handwriting from children in countries all over the world. I love looking at the different names for Father Christmas – “Père Noël” or “Joulupukki” or “Sinterklaas” – and all the effort that’s gone into decorating them, some with the barest of addresses (a UK one just saying “Santa” but ended up in The North Pole) and others with imaginary addresses for Father Christmas.

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4) That Time we met Father Christmas.

In our twenties, we definitely weren’t over having our photo taken with Father Christmas so obviously when we were in Lapland we sneaked in a photo with him (for the small price of an arm and a leg obviously.) It takes pride of place replacing our wedding photo on the wall every December and reminds of our little escapade to the North Pole. (Ben says it also reminds him not to remove his hat in photos or he’ll get hat hair too…).IMG_3928

5) Glögi

You may have seen this in IKEA along with the rows of pretty shaped Pepparkakor (gingerbread) labelled as “glogg”. In Finland, hot glasses of glögi are handed out at Christmas markets, after playtime at school, to warm up after coming in from the snow or gathered round the fire in a cabin in the forest. It’s a traditional type of mulled fruit juice inspired by berries and nuts you’d find in the finnish forest, you can perk it up with wine or vodka too. We’ll either make it from scratch every year or get some at IKEA. It goes particularly well with some gingerbread biscuits on the side.

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6) Our Wedding Bauble

My lovely sister in law made us a sweet little bauble filled aspects of our wedding: strips of our wedding invitation, ribbon, material from one of the bridesmaids dresses. It’s a gorgeous decoration and one of my favourites on the tree.

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7) New Year Place cards

Every year at New year’s, I make a little place card and we take time to celebrate the previous year, commemorating our last season and looking forward to the next. We scribble down our favourite parts of the past year, talk through our highs and lows and share our hopes for the coming year. We have a box that is kept under the Christmas tree that they’re all stored in and it’s fun to look through old place cards and laugh at what did and didn’t happen and what you’ve hoped and achieved. They’re a reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness and of the road that we’ve walked. We also snap a picture of us that year and put it in the box with them.

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To be honest, those are just a handful of my favourites, I could put lots more. In the busyness of this season, I’m taking time to savour the small moments and allowing myself to take the easy route this Christmas (store bought glögi, no Christmas cards this year). If you enjoy them and these things aren’t a stress then by all means, make and primp and cook and create but be free from the pressure of perfection if perfection comes at the cost of delight. Christ came to give Joy to the world – not a to do list, or burden or stress. These are some of the areas that I find delight at Christmas and I’ll put up baubles and photos and hang envelopes and share treats because it brings me pleasure and I relish the charm and allure of some of these traditions.

Delight over duty. Present over perfect. Stillness over stress.

 

Promiscuous Sowing

things-make-happy--large-msg-133969503356Recently I read Seth Godin’s book “Poke the Box”. It’s a short, snappy book that’s a kick up the behind for people like me who have lots of ideas, designs and dreams but never get round to actually doing them; that business I wanted to start, that book I wanted write, that house I dreamed of building . It’s all about starting; how we wait for someone to pick us or invite us to start a project; how real wins are getting projects shipped, not in getting the credit when it does. When success is in the shipping, as long as we finish the project, we can’t fail.

One of the illustrations I found so engaging was his depiction of a dandelion:

“Take the dandelion: a single dandelion may produce 2,000 seeds per year, indiscriminately firing them off into the sky at the slightest breeze, without any care for where the seeds are heading and whether they’ll get an hospitable reception when they touch down. And indeed, most of those thousands of seeds will likely fall on hard, unyielding pavement, there to lie fallow and unconsummated, a failure in the genetic race to survive and copy. But the disposition of each—or even most—of the seeds [isn’t] the important thing, from a dandelion’s point of view. The important thing is that every spring, every crack in every pavement is filled with dandelions.”

Artists and innovators need to constantly, relentlessly, unceasingly create. To promiscuously sow their ideas, each perfect and beautiful, filling every crack and available space with them. True pioneers spread their ideas like dandelion seeds. Most of those ideas will fall and die but, inevitably, many will find soil in which to grow and flourish and be fruitful.

The challenge is getting into the habit of starting.

 

The Hesitant Blogger

I have been a frequent reader of blogs for the last 6 years. I’ve learnt a lot from blogs, picked up tips, been inspired, completed tutorials, sat crying in front of a screen, been compelled to action and turned up to events all from reading a blog.

I have been an infrequent blogger for about 5 years. Look at my archive. I’m a hesitant blogger. I start and then I stop. There are a lot of blogs out there why do you need another one? Blogging is something I’ve always liked the idea of doing but never really got round to. I keep personal journals and write regularly in those but publicly? Not so much.

But not one to give up easily and after various encouragement and conversations with friends, I’ve felt prompted to start blogging again. So here goes.

This blog is foremost and firstly for me. It’s a space to store my memories, stories, photos, collections and clarify my thinking.

I’m writing to play. I love to create and craft things. This isn’t limited just to writing. I enjoy the process of writing and crafting sentences together but on a blog, I can combine my hobbies; sharing photography and recipes, logging creative projects, DIY, books I’ve read, food, exploring and travel. I believe we were all made to invent and innovate, to craft and create and a blog provides blank pages to sketch and scribble on.

I’m writing to learn. At university I studied Reflective Learning; if you take the time to think about your experiences and what you’re learning, you increase your understanding. The nuggets of wisdom you pick up sink deeper into your being. My personality type will always cause me to rush onto the next thing and “do” all the time. In my experience, journaling and reflecting helps to steer me away from scattered and fragmented living. My hope is that writing will give me more clarity and focus, will increase my self-awareness and help me live intentionally.

I’m writing to practice. I’m an achiever at heart and I believe that everyone should seek to better themselves and live up to the potential that’s within them. I am no exceptional wordsmith, but perhaps I have it in me to be an adequate one. My writing is a work in progress, but I’m confident that the more I write, the better I’ll become.

I’m writing to collect – I collect things. Like a LOT of things. Pictures. Articles. Books. Photos. Useful and useless information. Ask my husband about the piles of bits of paper that we have in our house. On here, I can collect them all in one place (though I’m not likely to give up my random bits of paper anytime soon also…)

I’m writing to share. I’ve learnt a lot of helpful and practical stuff in my life through reading. I’ve been greedy in my consumption so it seems only fair that I share it – God loves a generous giver.

I hope it will be beautiful and that other people may find it meaningful also, but the rewarding part for me will be in the process of crafting this blog. It might be a way to connect with others who love Jesus and want to soak up the life he offers, or to collaborate with new friends looking for creative ideas and inspiration. But for me it will be my sketchpad. My notebook. My travel journal of the path I’ve walked. And that’s why I’m blogging again…hesitant but hopeful.