I’ve been working with the brilliant coach Sarah Fox for the last few months, trying to pin down exactly what it is that I want to do with my freelance / consultancy practice. One of the issues of building this side of my work is that I don’t talk about it online very much so people don’t know that I do it! Working with Sarah has helped me define what it is that I do now and what I want to do more of, focussing on supporting individual artists and creative businesses and working with organisations to do this too. So look out for more on this!
I recorded this podcast with Sarah back in early December when I was recovering from Covid and am pleasantly surprised to find that I could string a coherent sentence together! We talk about freelancing and changing careers, about finance and selling our work, about not working for free, about different business models and about my business model based on sharing and collaborating. This conversation was incredibly useful to me in starting to articulate what I want to achieve and what my purpose is. I talked about my Money Manifesto that I was working on… that’s fallen a bit by the wayside with ongoing family things happening this winter but I will get back to it soon.
We talk about how to create and sustain a business built on sharing and being generous, about the challenge of selling our creative ideas, about working for free or not and about the issues of pay in the creative freelance world. You can listen to the podcast below or find and follow the series on your own podcast app. I would love to know what you think. You can also watch the recording on YouTube here too (or below), if you would like to see us both.
The world is pretty distracting at the moment isn’t it? Creative practice is pretty distracting too. Confusing as well. It’s all too common to find ourselves wading through too many ideas and not knowing which to concentrate on, or struggling to know what ideas are worth pursuing. Running a business and keeping moving forwards with creative practice is even more complicated. There are so many potential projects, ideas, collaborators, ways of marketing, types of selling, different products and oooh that new shiny thing over there that is tempting us away from the stuff we’ve already started.
Do you struggle to find the right focus for your creative energy? Keep trying different things in the hope that this is the ‘right’ one? Want to do all the things and not concentrate on just one at a time? I really do understand. My early years in creative practice were pretty messy. I wanted to do everything even though I didn’t remotely have the time. I wanted to experiment and try new things but I also wanted, desperately, to be proficient and skilled and really expert in one thing. It’s all a bit much.
What I’ve learned in the 17 years I’ve been doing this is that focus is absolutely vital in making a success of a creative practice or business. You can’t do everything. And the thing(s) you focus on have to be the things that are most important to you, not what someone else told you should do.
That’s really what Find Your Focus is all about, honing in on the things that really matter, the stuff you love and want to put all your energy into, not what distracts you and that you think you ought to be doing instead.
I’ve created Find Your Focus from my Gentle Goal Setting course, workbook and live workshops over the last couple of years. After working with lots of people and doing the gentle goal setting process myself three times, I have refined and expanded it into a wider course looking at identifying your focus points or guiding lights for the year to come.
Over five weeks of online video courses, plus two workbooks, we will look at your creative core values, review the year in a realistic and gentle way, dig into what matters to you most, why you do what you do and how to single out those areas of focus that will be taking you forwards into the new year.
You’ll work at your own pace through the video lessons and workbooks but with accountability and reminders through the weekly course emails. There are two workbooks to download and keep too which you can refer back to whenever you start to lose your way. They include printable sheets of your key focus points and help you break down each focus into achievable goals and action steps.
I honestly find this process so valuable and have loved sharing it with many of you over the last few years. I hope this version of Gentle Goal Setting – now Find Your Focus will help many more in being gentle with ourselves and our plans while also achieving the things that really matter.
Find Your Focus starts on 3rd January with a pre-recorded video lesson and four more each week until 31st January. You can join any time.
If you find you want more support there will be a discount code for subscribers of the course to book 3 or 6 sessions of 1:1 mentoring with me.
If you are feeling a bit at sea with your creative practice, I’m here to help. I’ve created my mentoring programmes after years of working with and supporting artists and really understanding the challenges of creative life. I’m on your side to help you figure out the meanings and the reasons behind your creative practice and how to move forwards. Find out more here.
If you are looking for a creative community with ongoing support and resources to challenge your thinking and take your creative practice further, have a look at my Maker Membership. It’s a monthly rolling membership that you can join any time. I create workbooks, blog posts and videos about all kinds of things including research, creative development and reflection. There’s also a lively community who share their work and their thoughts via the members chat and we meet monthly on Zoom for a group mentoring session which is always really inspiring and encouraging. It’s £25 per month to join with no minimum term. Find out more here.
One of the most useful habits I have developed over the last couple of years is to review my work & life every month. It’s such a simple thing to do at the end of each month but for me it has really helped me focus on what is and isn’t working in my business (and life) and has empowered me to make the changes I need to. It’s a little like having a mentor or coach to check in with every so often. It reminds me to think about what I’m doing and why I am doing it, rather than just getting on with the things I have always done or the things I feel I ought to do. I’ve used other people’s monthly review documents and found them really helpful in asking some difficult questions, and above all, giving myself a little bit of time to think and reflect before just ploughing on with the endless to-do list. Late last year I decided to create my own reflection sheet with questions that were specific to me and the way I work & live – so there’s a question about health and balance which I can so easily forget about until I’m ill and it’s too late.
This kind of reflection and writing about how things are going is fundamental to a lot of the mentoring, membership and courses that I run including Gentle Goal Setting which starts on Monday 10th January. I find it an incredibly powerful tool in my own growth and in supporting others to find their way and I want you to be able to use this to help your business or creative practice grow this month too so there’s a link to download the file for free below.
This is just a taster of what my Gentle Goal Setting workshop covers. The workbook for the course includes a thorough but empathetic review of what has been going on for you over the last year. There’s no judgement and no right and wrong, just reflection on what you have learned about yourself through what did and didn’t happen. From that review I encourage you to look at what success really means for you, not what society or your own self-criticism expects. We consider what is really important to you in making you feel good and how to make those things part of your goals. The goals we then create are more like guiding lights, principles of how you want to be, live, work and create, not hard, target-based things that you must push yourself towards, no matter what. There’s no setting yourself up to fail here, just creating gentle goals that empower you to feel expansive and excited about what you do, whether that’s a creative business or an art practice that’s just for yourself.
When you download the Monthly Reflection, you will get a discount code for the Gentle Goal Setting workshop and for mentoring too. Find out more about Gentle Goal Setting too here.
Mentoring for artists, makers and creative business owners
Recently my friend and mentor Melody Vaughan shared a series of blog posts about mentoring / coaching within a craft context. She has generously included me in one of her posts, as well as Sharon Adams who is also an artist-mentor. Melody reflected on the importance of mentoring and also the relevance of a mentor who is in the same or similar field and understands the content of craft.
I work with makers in all materials and also those outside of making – I’ve worked outside of craft as well as inside for over 25 years now and have a lot of experience of supporting others including the last year running the Establish part of the WebinArt professional development programme for 28 professional artists. I’ve written more about mentoring here so you can find out what it is all about.
I also recommend reading all Melody’s posts about mentoring and coaching in general if you are thinking that it would be something useful for you. I am sure it would be useful for everyone, but I know it depends on your situation and finances and if you feel ready for that kind of self-reflection.
I completely understand that not everyone is ready for the commitment, cost and time of 1:1 mentoring, so I am developing a group mentoring programme which will run first in the autumn – winter (for those who aren’t makers focussed on Christmas selling) and again in in the new year. This will be a great way of experiencing mentoring without the intensity of 1:1 and also experience the benefits of sharing with others, making connections within the creative world and learning about how others work to apply to your own practice, in a supportive, facilitated space. This will be online so accessible to as many as possible (in UK timezone!).
If this sounds like something you are interested in being part of this, please drop me a line and I’ll put you on the list to hear about it first.
Last week I shared my process of reviewing my year and then developing the Gentle Goal Setting Workshop alongside it. This week I’m sharing the goals I have come up with following my review, and a little more about how I got there. Leading up to writing the workbook, I had done quite a a lot of thinking and planning and reviewing and contemplating, partly so I could use my own examples in the workbook. Feedback from the participants in that programme included some clear examples of how I got from review to goals, so I am going to try and share that here. Welcome to the inside of my head!
My approach is to create goals that don’t have a fixed completion, necessarily. This is counter to most goal-setting advice which recommends giving yourself a schedule, a reward, a stick to beat yourself with if you fail. I think this approach of targets just sets us up to fail. I had lots of plans for 2020 and almost all of them didn’t or couldn’t happen, not through any fault of my own. Stuff happens. Even in a more normal year. So I now set goals that I can work on even if the world isn’t back to normal, that I have some element of control over.
Step 1. Reviewing the past year.
I created a number of different ways to frame my view of the previous 12 months. I did a calendar-based review of what I had done in each month / quarter of the year including work achievements, failures, visiting friends then pandemic starting, getting my cat, having a weekend away (amazing!) and employing a virtual assistant. This covers the stuff that had an impact on my life, things I got done and things that happened, as well as the things that didn’t quite happen such as interviews for things I didn’t get, funding applications turned down and work I started but didn’t get finished. I try to do this with no judgement. The point of gentle goal setting is to be kind to oneself and just see what happened in my life and work over the last year.
My Gentle Goal Setting Workbook includes exercises and journalling questions for personal and business reflection, asking questions about confidence and skills, about what you missed and what went better than expected. When working through these reflections I could see patterns emerging showing what I felt was important, what was having a big impact on me and what I needed to build in for 2021.
Step 2. Creating your own version of success.
We all come up against the feeling that there’s something we should be doing in our business. That person over there is doing public art! That person over there is curating exhibitions! That person over there is writing a book! Should I be doing all of these things too? We can too easily get stuck in what we think we ought to be doing rather than what we want to be doing. I worked out that my own criteria for success in my working life is: not getting ill, connecting with people, making work with meaning and making conscious, proactive choices not reactive to what others’ want.
Step 3. Turning all this into goals.
From these I was able to make a series of goals, most of which are open and expansive, rather than tight time-bound, achievement-focussed. My goals are feelings and ways of working that I want to achieve, things I want to build more of into my life. I have a couple which are more specific such as finishing my book, but that is actually a stepping stone or building block towards some of my broader goals about getting my work out in the world and connecting with people. I would also class “Do more funding applications” as a gentler goal, as I’ve not set myself a number, a deadline nor am I assuming success. I just have to keep trying. As long as I am working towards these things, I am making progress, and that’s what it’s all about.
I’ve created the diagram showing how I’ve made goals from the Things That Are Important To Me list.
Step 4. Building blocks towards your goals.
I am dead-set against the timetabling of tasks weeks and months ahead, setting ourselves unrealistic To Do lists and constantly feeling behind in what we are trying to get done. In working towards these broad and expansive goals, I have created a set of building blocks or steps towards the goals and do one, some or a bit of each every week or month when I can and pick up later if I can’t. There’s no judgement or self-flagellation if I don’t ‘achieve’ my goals when something else happens or I just don’t feel like working on that thing this week. Of course there are deadlines and dates when things have to be done because other people are waiting for them but my goals are things to be working on, steadily all year.
Some examples of building blocks towards my goals:
Goal: Decluttering and selling more of my work. Building blocks for this include creating a photo area in my house, setting myself a reminder to take photos when the weather is suitable and upgrading my online shop. Some of those are short-term goals such as setting up a photo space and some are ongoing like taking photos. I have a lot of lists of all the things I want to deal with, photograph, share and sell. I might set myself a challenge or focus for each month, but whatever I do, every small step is progress.
Goal: Connecting with others. This covers so much of my work and what I want to do more of. It links to many of my other goals. The overall purpose of this goal is to feel more connected at the end of the year than I did at the start. There’s no assessment or criteria for this, it is a feeling and I’ll know if I am making progress. Some of the building blocks for this are to create more workshops for other creative people, to launch a podcast where I talk to other artists who I admire, to do some more Instagram live chats, to revamp and develop my Patreon membership group… there are so many ways I will build connection into my working and personal life. Within each of these broader building blocks are smaller steps and specific tasks which I build into my work plan every week. My other goal of mentoring programmes is very closely linked in with this, as is my creativity goal as talking to others inspires me.
Goal: Integrating social justice into my work. I have struggled to know how to do this for the last year or so, but volunteering for the foodbank and working right in the midst of community activism has helped clarify things for me. My building blocks are : talking more about this in everything I do (such as mentioning it here!), look for funding sources, continue to make work based on the foodbank, work with others to create projects, talk and write more. Again, many of these overlap with my other goals, which is why I think this approach will work for me this year.
Step 5. Motivation and keeping moving towards your goals.
This one can be hard. It is all too easy to write a load of challenging and exciting goals in January and then close the notebook and never look at it again. This year I am trying the Goals Planner diary to help me keep track. This has a section at the front with short and long term goals and then space to review and plan each month referring back to the bigger goals. A visual and practical reminder which seems to work for me. The goal-setting advice in the planner is not my approach (obviously!) and I don’t use the milestones and targets bit, I just make lists. Then each month I review and plan what I am going to do next month. If I don’t get all the things done that’s ok. As long as I am making a little progress I am happy. That’s why my goal setting is gentle.
Would you like to try Gentle Goal Setting yourself?
If you would like to try out my review and goal setting journey, the workbook is now available as a stand alone download. It also includes a bonus section on exploring your values and purpose, using my own template around creative business. This will help guide you through everything you do in work and life, hopefully! I’m also working on some new plans including a monthly creative business reflection and journalling ‘club’, group mentoring programmes and more workshops on specific creative business topics like project planning and refining your practice, all part of my connecting and mentoring goals! Please do feel free to share your thoughts about this and your gentle goals for 2021 in the comments.
This summer I marked (but not really celebrated) 15 years of running my own creative business. I was hoping to bring out a new book this year covering what I’ve done in those years but this year has of course not gone remotely according to plan! I should have it ready next year. In the meantime, every month, I share a 10 page PDF letter / mini magazine with my Patreon supporters which covers a lot of the same behind-the-scenes studio insider stories as the book eventually will. The September issue is a focus on those 15 years of working as an artist /maker. I love writing my Patreon letters and twice-monthly blog posts as I selfishly get to focus on my own practice and share behind the scenes in my studio (and often my office) life. If you would like to delve more into my life and practice, Patreon is the place to do it. Over the last 6 months I’ve written about creative collaborations, fabric manipulation, my 2019 solo exhibition work, self-publishing, work in progress, behind the scenes at a photo shoot and much more. Every subscriber gets a discount for my online shop too and over the summer I gave away tickets to my online Criminal Quilts talk. All the previous content is free for new subscribers too, so there’s masses to explore which should keep you going until my new book is finally ready!
I’ve just started Mastered ecourse on the Business of Embroidery taught by the amazing Karen Nicol. I’ve been looking for a while for an ecourse to take as research towards developing my own ecourses and had been pondering one of the Mastered embroidery courses, though I knew they weren’t quite right for me. It has been at the back of my mind for a while that I want to explore designing embroidery and embellishment commercially, so this course was just the right thing at the right time.
Apron – Trowel detail
Detail of Metamorphosis
Criminal Quilts 2
I’m really just getting started with the course, although I’ve read through all the course materials and watched most of the videos already. One of the first exercises is to choose a theme from one of five suggested and create a sketchbook. I don’t often work in this way and it is good discipline for me to try it, so the course is definitely working already! The themes suggested were:
The city at night
Myths, legends and fairytales
Extraordinary texture mixes
My first instinct was to go with extraordinary texture mixes because that immediately sounds like my kind of thing, but of course the point is to explore new ideas, so I opted for myths, legends and fairytales. Since my own work is very narrative-based, this is hardly a massive departure, though I haven’t done any work on myths before. Ideas were sparked immediately, running off in many different directions, many of them wildly ambitious or just plain weird. Of course, I am having to think around this topic in terms of commercial design rather than my own art textiles practice, which is a very different thing indeed. I’ve already had to park the idea of sewing dried mushrooms onto fabric – I don’t see that going down well in John Lewis cushion department…
I’ve chosen to work around the theme of fairytale forests, the dark, dark woods full of faeries, goblins, monsters, witches and my beloved trees. The first image that came to mind was one of Ivan Bilibin’s illustrations of Russian fairy tales which I remember from my childhood. My mum recently gave me her copy and it is in my pile of prints to frame.
As usual these ideas came to me while I was out walking, fortuitously, in the woods. I often walk to gather my thoughts. As I walked around and around the woods, various ideas floated in and out, including the idea of dried mushrooms (see above) and then feathers. A moment later I found this…
Magical fairytale forest in action.
I’m gathering images on Pinterest and have started my sketchbook, although as yet it is a little sparse. I am enjoying forcing myself to do the research properly and not start putting needle to fabric just yet. I’ll post more images as the work develops.
One of the pleasures of being a more established maker (over seven years!) is that I can share some of what I have learned with other makers. I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from mentoring over the years, and am now on the other side, providing mentoring. I’m currently working with Elizabeth Dyer of Feel More Love Boutique on developing her skills and knowledge of delivering workshops to adults, specifically for parties.
After our first meeting, we decided that she ought to run a trial party with friends as a practice, which I would attend and then give feedback. This seems like a good deal to me – I get to make things! I haven’t used polymer clay for at least 20 years, possibly a lot longer than that. I had a fantastic time! Liz taught us very well and demonstrated clearly. I took some clay home to make some more beads and burnt them in my oven… I’ll stick with fabric I think…
Liz demonstrating the technique
My beads in progress
Beads in progress
Beads before firing
In recent years I’ve also mentored Lucy Andrews and Sewed Souls, and both were thoroughly enjoyable and taught me a lot too.
In 2013 I am going to be offering mentoring on developing creative practice, making and selling work, craft writing and publishing, running workshops and demonstrations – and anything else that I am asked to do and can realistically help with. Please get in touch if you are interested in discussing this.