My review of the year through the brilliant people I’ve worked with.
I’ve been thinking about lots of different ideas or lenses to review of 2022. I don’t want to just write a list of things that I have done, or even to list the things I have made. Celebrating success is important but also I don’t want to be one of those people who just proclaims about how well they have done as that’s neither realistic or inspiring for anyone else. Nor do I want to be someone who focusses on the negatives, because however positive a spin I put on it, it’s just gloomy and I don’t like to dwell. I have made a list of failures and successes for my own private contemplation but I am not going to subject you to them!
In order to work out what angle to use to review my year, I turned to my coaching group for their thoughts. The simple fact that I chose to discuss it with other people gave me the answer – I should review the year through the lens of the brilliant people I have worked with!
Collaboration and working with other people has been a really vital part of my work for years, although it’s only fairly recently that I’ve noticed and celebrated that. The 2020 lockdown was of course a reminder to me of just how much I enjoy and get energy from creative work with others, alongside my own solitary studio practice. I was used to working with groups, spending time in other artists studios, giving talks, going to events, teaching and mentoring in person. I found the lack of conversation and connection around creative practice really hard. I was lucky in that I had ongoing and new projects that enabled me to work with other people remotely in 2020 (on WebinArt and on Textiles in Lockdown) which really made a huge difference to how I felt and what new work I could created. I pursued artist mentoring via Zoom which has become a major part of my work and something that I love, and eventually this also led to my Maker Membership where I get to work with lots of different people and support their creative practice over a long period. I also first created Gentle Goal Setting in the autumn of 2020 and ran it for the first time that winter. (It’s now revitalised into Find Your Focus which is starting this week and open for the whole of January). One of the most important goals I set for myself for 2021 was to connect and collaborate, and it has continued to be one of my guiding lights in how to develop my work.
Once I started gathering the people I’ve worked with this year, I realised it is potentially quite huge, so this is actually a snapshot of the connections and collaborations of the year rather than a detailed list, and I hope one that will be interesting for you to connect with too.
Podcast & Making Meaning Live Gathering
The most exciting bringing-together of people that I’ve done in a long time was Making Meaning Live which ran online in July and involved three days of presentations and conversations between the artists and creatives and an audience of about 100 people from around the world in each session. It was utterly exhausting and completely wonderful. The recordings of the sessions are still available for free and there are three podcast episodes with edited highlights and the full programme here.
This year I’ve produced the second series of Making Meaning Podcast which has been a joy to make and I’ve had the pleasure of conversations with Helen Hallows, Sharon Adams, Claire Wellesley-Smith, Alice Fox, Michaela McMillan, Mandeep Dhadialla and Gillian Lee Smith, as well as a solo episode, one about my Maker Membership and three highlight shows from Making Meaning Live. Making the podcast is fantastic, I really do love getting to talk to brilliant, creative people about what they do and why they do it. The admin is less enjoyable, but really it’s worth it to have these chats and to share them with so many – which brings me on to podcast listeners as another group of people I have connected with. Podcast audience numbers this year has exceeded all expectations. There have been over 100,000 downloads this year and some episodes have hit 8000 downloads. This is really incredible and I am so honoured that this small, low-budget podcast is having such a great impact. I will be chasing for donations to make another series very soon so I hope many of those listeners will be able to contribute to making more episodes this year as I have some great people lined up.
I’m writing this during one of my regular Tuesday co-working groups with three freelance friends, Emma King, Claire Wellesley-Smith and Wendy Ward (all of whom have appeared on my Making Meaning Podcast in one form or another). I think I started this in 2021 but whenever it was, it has worked out brilliantly. We meet on Zoom, have a chat and then quietly on our own projects for 30-40 minute bursts before breaking for more chat and repeat. Sometimes it’s more chat than work, but we all acknowledge how important it is to have space to talk about issues in freelancing – problematic employers, funding issues and even stuff in our personal lives which impact our ability to do the work we love. The group has been so valuable to me, both in terms of having work buddies to chat to and the accountability of co-working time so I get stuff done! I’ve made a shift this year so the sessions are focussing on writing, so here I am doing the thing, on the first day back to work. That’s the power of connecting and working with others.
I also have a great mini group of other artist mentors & coaches with Melody Vaughan and Sharon Adams. This was Melody’s innovation, because she recognised how challenging it can be to both support others and to run a business supporting others and that sharing with others who really understand both aspects is vital. We meet roughly quarterly and talk about all kinds of practical issues, new offers we are thinking about, bounce around problems and ideas and also explore some of the bigger picture stuff about supporting others and the things we would like to learn and develop.
Sharon is also a member of another group which started working together early this year. At the end of 2021 I applied for funding called Four Nations which aims to bring together partners from the four UK nations and others from overseas. I created a project of artists coming together to talk about artist support and also to be that mutual support group for each other. We meet online across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Sweden and The Netherlands and decided to call our project Artist Support Recipes, based on the idea of recipe books which bring ingredients and methods together. The group includes Sharon Adams, Gillian McFarland, Collette Rayner and Liz Nilsson. It’s turned into a supportive and fun collective of brilliant women with great ideas and innovations about how we can be supported as artists, how we can offer support to others and how we think organisations should go about supporting artists. We have also become highly expert in creating food & cooking-related metaphors for artist support! The funding for this project comes to an end soon but the learning and the connections will undoubtedly continue and we hope to offer our findings to organisations and others who want to do better in supporting artists. Working with this group is one of the many things that has helped to cement my decision to focus on supporting artists as my main freelance / consultancy work for this year and beyond.
I also have the pleasure of monthly chats with my European business friends: coach Elin Lööw, artist Gesche Santen and jeweller Daphne van ver Meulen about business and personal development. We met through a group programme in 2020 and have kept in touch since, and share a lot of the ups and downs of running a business and trying to fit in a life around it. These connections are so valuable and beneficial that I am even prepared to meet at 8am !
Working with artists
I made a decision in 2021 that I needed to be working with other artists on my various projects both to share the load and to have a creative collaboration to make it all more fun. I invited Mandeep Dhadialla to work with me on Woodgate Wellbeing last winter and then included her in my funding application for Community Spirit in the Spring / Summer. We had a great time collaborating on this project and then managed to follow it almost immediately with another one in the late summer. I supported Mandeep’s project with ArtReach in project producer role, as well as running one workshop. It was a really enjoyable collaboration and we are looking at other similar partnerships for this year. I’ve written about the project here. All of these projects have really made me think about who I work with an on what basis. Supporting artists with projects is something I really enjoy so I am formalising that work now – so if you need a producer to support an artist-led project, please do get in touch.
I’ve also had the pleasure of spending time in person with Kathryn Parsons this year, as well as seeing her new moths work on display. We had a mini retreat together in the summer to talk about art and landscape and making a living out of a research-led practice. We are planning another retreat before too long to continue to cook up ideas for another artists group (it seems that I cannot have enough!).
I’ve also been co-mentoring with Gillian McFarland, who I collaborate with a lot, and we took a really inspiring week’s retreat in the autumn, which you can read about here. Conversations with other artists who get what I do are worth their weight in gold (if you can weigh a conversation?!) and I am really lucky to have so many creative friends to talk to.
Other People and connections
Alongside many brilliant artists, I’ve also had the pleasure of working with other professionals this year, firstly at the start of the year, Louise Jones-Williams, Director of Llantarnam Grange where I showed my Criminal Quilts exhibition for the last time in the Spring. Louise has been fantastically supportive of my work for a number of years and it is always a pleasure to spend time with her. We had a live-streamed conversation for the exhibition launch in February and then in March we recorded in person for my Making Meaning Podcast which you can listen to here.
In the Spring I also worked with Josslyn and Evelyn of Peace of Green on the Woodgate Wellbeing project and we’ve been talking about doing more together in the local countryside in the coming year, which will be great. I also got to have a long chat with Jemma Bagley and see the Loughborough Wellbeing Centre which is really inspiring and another place I hope to work with before too long. I also had some great, supportive and inspiring connections with volunteers, library and venue staff and volunteer co-ordinators during my Community Spirit project in the summer. It’s a shame that was only a short project as I made some really positive connections, but that’s often how things work in the community arts field. I’ve reflected on my volunteering experience here.
I also did a great bit of research and facilitation with ArtQuest earlier this Spring, working with a group to discuss ideas about improving the equity of open call artist opportunities. I loved doing this work and working with ArtQuest and the experts they brought into the discussions, and it’s really inspired me focus on more artist support consultancy work.
I didn’t end up working with Clore Leadership this year, as I wasn’t selected for their visual arts fellowship, one of the disappointments of the year for me, although I was pleased to get through to interview. Instead I decided to work with the fantastic coach Sarah Fox to help me work out the next steps I want take in my consultant / producer / freelancer work. I started Sarah’s Lasting Impact programme in September and it’s been fantastic. With her support, and the others in the group, I have started writing more about things that matter to me and sharing my thoughts more widely. I’ve written this autumn about textiles and having something to say (which seems to have created a project!) and the start of a series about artists and money which I will continue this year. I’ve also really clarified the kind of consultancy work I want to do in the future and started making steps towards making this happen.
As always, I have loved supporting others through mentoring and it’s such a privilege to be part of the creative journey and hear about all the exciting projects happening with my mentees. Some of the people I’ve supported this year include: Jennie McCall, Tzipporah Johnston, Carol-Ann Savage, Lucie Bea Dutton, Carole Miles, Phiona Richards, Jenny Beattie and Sarah Trowsdale, and Mandeep Dhadialla whose feedback I have shared here.
And last, but not at all least, I have the pleasure all year round to work with the wonderful humans in my Maker Membership, some of whom appear in podcast episodes 17 and 24. We’ve had some great online sessions over the year as well as a small group of stitchers getting together in the spring to create work and have conversations about our feelings about the invasion of Ukraine. The group continues to be a wonderful community and such a great space to connect and share. I am so happy that I created this space and that it supports so many in their creative journey.
If you would like to spend some time reviewing your year and thinking about what you really want to do next, my Find Your Focus course is open now. The five week course begins with a holistic and mindful review of the year to help you plan what you want more of in the coming year. The course is open for the whole of January, with new lessons released each week. Find out more here.