Limits & Liberation: On learning to push the comfort zone.

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‘Yes, of course I will do that’, I said, receiving the phone call.

I put down the phone and immediately wondered, ‘Why on earth did I just say yes to that?’

In the past, ‘yes’ has been a brilliant tool for enabling opportunities but on this occasion it nearly pushed me right over an edge; the edge of my comfort zone.

‘Yes’ felt scary, big, and I didn’t feel ready for it.

It? Well it was an opportunity to paint at a festival alongside a musical score by Jim Moginie (formerly of Midnight Oil) with his electric guitar orchestra to a piece called ‘The Colour Wheel’. The idea is beautiful- live performance, live audience and painting in response to the music. However, whether I could actualise that beauty was an entirely different conversation…

My challenge was that I had never done anything like this before. In saying ‘yes’ the critical voice raised a very loud roar, bringing up so many of my vulnerabilities. ‘Me? Painting in front of an audience? In response to music? With everyone looking at me? What if the painting just looks like mud? What it someone starts to heckle? What it I f**k it up? What if… ‘

I have known these voices before; they visit frequently. Thankfully, with experience, I have learned to name them and have figured out that we can reposition to critic too: ‘This is fear speaking, how can I help you?’

Fear can teach us many things. When we lean into it, fear can expand our capacity to act by gradually, gradually, pushing our comfort zone into new territories and calling us to investigate our edges further.

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On this occasion the fear was dense. About five days before the festival I was on the brink of ringing up Cornelia, the event organiser, to say that I was not able to do it. I had started to make excuses in my head. One of those excuses even went so far as, ‘Well, I’m only five foot tall- how on earth will I be able to paint at scale?’ Seriously! Fear really can make the most comical of augments.

Luckily I realised that indeed this was fear speaking. So, I asked myself, ‘What can I do to minimise the fear and bring it back to ‘yes’?’

Two main solutions presented themselves. Firstly, the idea of boundaries– ‘Simplify and reduce your options; create restrictions’. And secondly, an understanding that this is not going to be an exercise in perfection but an experiment with process.

I rang an artist friend for advice too (thank you Eimear). Her kind words of friendship were a balm.

So, with the solutions in mind, and Eimear’s friendly cheerleading, I decided to limit my colour palate and choose a motif to work with- in this case circles (since the piece was called the colour wheel). In setting some ground rules for myself, suddenly came freedom. ‘With those parameters, what can I do? What patterns can emerge? And how can I push the motif to create something new?’

Over the next few evenings I experimented a bit at home- first making small quick drawings in my sketchbook, then larger colour experiments to test my palate, and then creating large scale drawings while playing Jim’s music in the background. On the third evening a pattern or idea began to emerge, one which I knew I could transfer to the real event, and a sense of the possible emerged again. We were back to yes.

As in art, so in life.

The whole experience served a huge reminder to me: when we place some boundaries and restrictions, creativity can flourish and freedom arises.

It seems contradictory to limit ourselves to liberate ourselves, but somehow it works.

 

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It was a reminder too of why I continue my own practices- that daily route back to my yoga mat, whether I am in the mood or not, if only for a few minutes. The practice is a boundary to create the freedom and is an enabler for creativity to flow. Practice, you come to realise, does not make perfect. But practice does lead to a place beyond it all, where there is no such thing as perfect, which is in fact perfect in and of itself. This is the circle of things.

So there I was on Sunday, painting in front of an audience. What I produced was no masterpiece, in my mind it was far from ‘perfect’, but it was me showing up with all my vulnerable and stepping right up to the edge of my comfort zone. In doing so I stepped across it and will, I hope,  have forever expanded it, with fear and imperfection at my five foot nothing side.

I’ll raise my hand and confess that I don’t love what I created but I loved the experience, and I love too that I did not let fear take me over. Rather I let fear have its own rightful place, as an aid and an ally.

Plus I got collected that day by a rock star. And I’m pretty cool with that too! Merci Jim.

(Special thanks to Jim Moginie and Cornelia Mc Carthy for facilitating this experience- my edges are grateful and my comfort zone is relishing in its new found sense of space!)

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Photos by Cornelia Mc Carthy.


Creative Islanders: Sharon Green

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(Photo: Andreas Pettersson- Queens of Neon for Body and Soul Festival)

 

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

……….

I am delighted to bring you this interview with Sharon Green, creative spark behind the creative collective The Queens of Neon and co-founder of the fabulous Dublin Flea Market. I have long admired Sharon’s zest for life, her keen eye combining beauty and quirk, and her ability to create magic whatever she lays her hands upon. From festivals to weddings, from street parties to space transformations, I think of Sharon as someone who can bring fairytales to life and a reminder of why we must dream big, in bold and brilliant colour. Plus she has a brilliant dog called Lola- what more can I add!

Over to Sharon …

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What keeps you in Ireland?

Sure there is no place like it. I feel lucky to call it my home. It is magical and spiritual and has so much potential. My family and friends are here and it is bubbling with creativity. I know there is a lot of surface gripes, which I have regarding the way it is run and managed- the bureaucracy and politics- but I believe the positives outweigh the negatives. I believe in getting on with things so that is what I do- carry on regardless.

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

New experiences. Doing, making or creating things I have never done or tried before. Working in collaborations with other creative people, so you are seeing things in a different way and learning new skills. Travelling abroad and around Ireland, connecting with people of all walks of life and hearing their stories.

What do you do just for the love of it?

Mostly everything. My business The Queens of Neon is a labour of love. I only take on work that I really want to do. I could make a lot more money if I said yes to everything. I also put so much effort into the projects that sometimes it exhausts me. The Dublin Flea Market is also a non-profit driven Social Enterprise so that is another labour of love. I don’t think I could put energy into something for purely a monetary return. Easier to say when you don’t have kids or big financial responsibilities. I’d say if I had creche/school fees my perspective would alter and I would be taking on all sorts of jobs that I possibly wouldn’t think of taking on now.

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(Photo: The Little House of Lost Toys. Collaboration with Amo Downey, Body & Soul Festival)

What does the creative process teach you?

That if you believe in yourself and the people that work with you, you can pretty much achieve anything. I have seen ideas in my head manifest quite literally into reality with little change from the initial vision. But in saying that, if you are not open to something changing you will get tied up in knots. I have learned to trust myself- that if you go with the flow and know that you will never walk away from a project until you are 100% happy, it will always work out.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

My mantra for work, especially on site, is ‘there is no such thing as a problem only a solution’. It seems to have worked for me thus far. In terms of coming up with ideas, taking the pressure off and doing some enjoyable background research can usually give you inspiration. I also collaborate with very talented designers and artists so the brainstorming process and sharing of ideas is always great for getting your own creativity unstuck.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

I find inspiration everywhere; my memories; my past career (I was a building conservation consultant for 8 years); movies; internet; people; stories; art exhibitions; theatre; travel. I re-appropriate different elements from different places and experiences and merge them together.

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(Photo: Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival)

How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

The people around me. We have been working in Mill Street for the last five years and I am surrounded by creative industry freelancers. We all find it hard and we all support each other. We are being moved on now due to redevelopment and we are trying to set up a creative industry hub with a shared workshop and exhibitions space surrounded by studios and offices. Negotiations just fell through with a city centre plot we were trying to get a ten year lease on. I don’t think I would survive if I worked from home or was isolated like I used to be.

Getting away to quiet and shutting down all communication and hanging out with family and friends is also an essential part of keeping me going.

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way ? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

I have learnt that sometimes it is worth paying somebody to help you with the things you are not good at- that you can’t do everything. I just got a bookkeeper to help me out this year and it has changed my life.

That pitching for bigger jobs you are often dealing with very different creatures. I am passionate and creative and sometimes corporate people are scared of that and you need to contain your excitement to a point and your disappointment if they do not like every element of your idea.

I am slowly learning that failure is part of the learning process and that while my high standards are great because it makes my work stand out, it also means I am very hard on myself if something is not perfect. But I am learning to be a bit kinder to myself.

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(Photo: Private wedding function at Lisnavagh)

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

Well I aim to wake up at 6.30 to meditate for 20 minutes (I see such a difference to my energy when I do this) but often I roll over and get out of bed at 7. Then I shower, dress, walk my dog Lola who is a super pal over to the Iveagh Gardens or along the canal and come back and we have our breakfast before heading down to Mill Street or to some location where I will be working for the day.

What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to?

I am really inspired by events such as OFFSET every year more than individual books. I love hearing about peoples experiences, successes and failures and how they got to do what they are doing.

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(Photo: Private Party- Andy Warhol Theme)

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

I read a quote a while back that said ‘If you are uncertain – you are on the right path. Uncertainty fuels creativity, while certainty suppresses it’. It would have been handy if somebody had said this to me at the start because for years I was bothered by my uncertainty about what Queens of Neon exactly was and where it was going. When I read this I understood more that the continuously evolving and changing nature of the business is the essence of its creativity.

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Simplify things, make more room for downtime and enjoy the ride.

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Thank you Sharon! – Clare x

 

Sharon’s Links: 

The Queens of Neon

The Dublin Flea Market 

 

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(Photo: Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival)


The One Touch Productivity Method

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Any creative and entrepreneurial people I know have many projects on the go. Juggling them all without letting balls fall is a constant challenge.

This is me too, with many projects happening simultaneously, with ideas swirling and with the distraction of phone/ internet/ social media (and dog!), how to stay focused and productive while delivering on projects and keeping my friendships alive and the doggie happy is something I am consistently working on. I have days where things flow and days when I am less focused. So when there is flow, I ask myself ‘What worked? What made the difference? And what can I repeat to continue the flow and productivity pattern?

A very simple trick I have come across recently is called ‘The One Touch Method’. I’d like to attribute where I came across this first, but can’t remember- on a blog or in a book. But to whoever it was- thank you.

The method is very simple and the premise is this: If you touch it, finish it.

 

So for example, if I begin an email to someone, finish it there and then. If I need to send a birthday card to someone, buy, write and post it, treating the task as a chunk. If I pick up a dirty cup, wash it there and then. Finish what you start.

Like now, when starting to write this post I set myself the target of finishing before starting into another task. To do so, I have disabled the internet and turned off my phone so that it is less likely I will be distracted (or tempted even by the thought of distraction). Having chunks of time to focus allows my brain to zone in on that one task and when it is complete it feels like closing a tab in my brain which I had been spending mental energy trying to keep open. I try to close as many tabs I can during the day, within the time allotted! (I use my creative planners to plot out my day and weeks)

As mentioned, there are days when I do this and things flow, while other days when I forget and inevitably I am less focused. Focus is as much a practice as a technique; it takes time to embed until these techniques become habit. So a dose of patience is good to add to the mix too.

So, that is my one touch method. Complete.

Have you any productivity tips you would like to share? If so, leave a comment below- I would love to hear them.

Clare x

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Interested in getting access to my creative planners? Available for download free when you sign up to my mailing list, which you can do so on this page. Enjoy!


‘Mindless’ Photography

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I’ve fallen in love, and out of love, many times. With my camera that is. (The other love is another story- or many!)

Last weekend it took a lake and a quiet moment to turn the love back on. At the best of times my camera and I feel as one – showing up to each other to capture something special, if just for a moment. And last weekend it felt like the best of times again.

The weekend took me to the shores of Lough Derg where my friends Kieron & Sue were hosting a party. They live on the lake shore. It being a full house, I opted for camping, excited that the lake would be the first thing I would see in the morning and the last thing at night. I had spent some chunks of my childhood on that lake, boating with parents and hopping in for swims. The memories were back as reminders of the best of times too.

Early morning, the light was rising. The party goers were still snoozing but the birds had me up with their cheer and dawn insistence. So me and camera went to the lake for a while, first to swim and then just to be.

Then came the click, physically and metaphorically.

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There are moments as a photographer where meditation and that very moment merge. The image is all absorbing and the camera merely becomes a vessel through which that moment is amplified and, by virtue of grace, you happen to be there to capture it.

It can take you elsewhere in an instant.

First you are separate and in a click you are one- you, the object, the light, nature, the breath, the presence and the mystery of it all. In a way, the image captured is irrelevant- you aim for beauty but if the moment is beautiful then that is art in itself. The image is icing.

Which is where the love comes back. Some call it mindful photography. But it could equally be called heartful and mindless photography, for when you can allow the moment to arrive and swell the heart with love, the mind is elsewhere, absorbed into the expanse and otherness, the nothingness; that meditative place which can sometimes seem so illusive when trying to get there sitting on a cushion or stretching in a yoga pose.

Click.

Just that moment is enough to give a taste of what art opens. My camera forever changes me, for the heart remains swelled, expanded and more capable of capturing it again, experiencing that sense of openness, and timelessness, and love.

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My camera teaches me many things: to sit, to be, to listen, to wait, to observe, to sense, to intuit, to investigate, to be open, if only for that moment, to the magic of it all. But perhaps most importantly it teaches me to love, breaking the heart open again, and again, and again, for an expanded sense of presence and expanded sense of being, mindlessly. Click. Click. Click.

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Creative Islanders: Aoibheann McNamara

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The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how collectively Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

……….

Next up in the series we have some short, snappy and sweet responses from Aoibheann Mc Namera- mother, restauranteur, entrepreneur, art lover, and one of Ireland’s treasures.

No visit to Galway City is complete for me without a visit to Ard Bia Restaurant, founded by Aoibheann. Set on the harbour shore overlooking The Claddagh, Ard Bia is a hub of great food, friendship, art, connections and always a warm and vibrant welcome. 

More recently Aoibheann has also teamed up with Triona Lillis to bring The Tweed Project to life. Inspired the native fabrics of tweed and linen in Ireland, Aoibheann and Triona set about trying to revitalise the craft, creating contemporary handmade weaves and wears, while honouring the tradition and land from which they come.

Beyond that Aoibheann has recently renovated an old warehouse in Galway city as her and her son Oni’s home, and has opened it up to guests and even spoken word events.

With creativity and entrepreneurship coursing through her veins, I hand over to the lovely Aoibheann…

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

Opening my inbox every day and seeing the opportunities I am lucky enough to be offered and exploring them, and then seeing what happens. Travel. Aesthetic life.

What keeps you in Ireland?

My son, my work, my love of the country.

What do you do just for the love of it?

Put people together and help make things happen.

What does the creative process teach you?

I know no other process, so it just the way I live.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Everything- travel, publications, people- too many things.

How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

A good Scary Mary party normally re aligns everything! (- note- Scary Mary is Mary Mc Nally- who is known for her wild and wonderful parties, and is a fine creative entrepreneur too- must be something in that Galway water)

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What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

Have a core belief and develop that, listen to it and if you are really in tune with it there is no such thing as failure.

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

I jog by the sea, do emails, drink green juice and then see what happens…

What books have inspired you?  Or what websites do you turn to?

Its Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want To Be – Paul Asture

Any Saturday edition of the Financial Times.

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

Get a good accountant! Out source this.

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Have a nice sofa and sit on it from time to time!

 

Find out more: 

Ard Bia

The Tweed Project

Aoibheann’s home on Air BnB

 

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Creative Islanders: Emmet Condon

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The Creative Islanders is an new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

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Next up is Emmet Condon– DJ, Founder of Homebeats, Another Love Story and Fading Light festival organiser, avid tea drinker, surfer and dog lover.

Having jumped ship on a career path in physiotherapy, for the last number of years Emmet has been popping up in people’s homes and quirky spaces, bringing beats to unlikely venues. He has also collaborated to bring Another Love Story boutique festival to life, initiated the Fading Light Festival in West Kerry and most recently had a dream come true when he hosted his own stage Tree Haus at Body & Soul Festival.  But beyond the music, it is the way Emmet operates which has been part of the appeal and growth of his ventures- with an open heart, a collaborative spirit and a sense of adventure, bringing community together in meaningful, musical ways. He can certainly get a crowd dancing too.

Now over to Emmet…

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What makes you tick? What motivates you?

In terms of motivation, to be honest, a sense of lost time. It took me a long time to find the courage to go after what was in my heart, so I’m still keenly aware of making up for a lot of time spent not persuing the right thing.

What makes me tick? Attention to detail and commitment to a small but perfect vision. That, and the want to present music and spaces in a way that opens them up to the audience and the artists. Following on from that the incredible buzz of seeing it all come together and people being happy.

Last week’s adventure on our Tree Haus stage at Body & Soul Festival was perhaps the ultimate experience of this so far – Avril Stanley & co’s dedication to making Ballinlough a wonderland sets the bar high for anyone producing something there, especially for the first time. I can honestly say that the Homebeat team that worked on every facet of it put their hearts and souls into it. To see the stage in full flight at the woods at 3am in the morning was something that might never leave me. There are many difficult parts to being involved in the events industry, but the ability to truly create magic with friends in a place like that is just an incredible buzz- and that’s the feeling that you keep looking for and that keeps driving you to do it the right way.

What does the creative process teach you?

I think mostly it has thought me the hard won value of patience. When I was younger I was sure that people created art without any effort; that great artists, no matter the medium, simply exhaled a piece of art in one perfect, concise breath. Learning that everyone has and needs exactly that – a process, was a very profound thing for me.

What keeps you in Ireland?

I’m really glad to say, so many things. First and foremost the incredible bunch of creative people I’m blessed to know here, and especially so in Dublin. It’s a community that seems to be growing closer and denser over the past number of years and the genuine inspirational innovation and support amongst that group is something that would take years to encounter and foster somewhere larger and less connected like London or New York or even the hallowed ground of Berlin.

Secondly, I suppose it’s the feeling of growing something with Homebeat. It took me a long time to find my way in terms of a career, and though I would be hard pressed to legitimise the adventures I’m having at the moment as a “career”, I’m certainly invested in it enough to feel like it’s the vehicle for my dreams here and I suppose a lot of work has gone into even getting it to this lowly level. I would hate to leave that behind right now.

Beyond those two things, obviously friends and family, but also the incredible little island that we live on itself. Dublin town, my adopted home, is nestled twixt mountains and sea, and if one manages to escape the heady attractions of incredible music, art, pubs and clubs of a Friday night, not to mention the incredible burgeoning coffee and food culture every day of the week here, you can be walking next to a giant red lighthouse, or flying down a mountain bike trail in under a half hour from your kitchen. And that only begins to explain the wonder of getting up even a little bit earlier on that Saturday morning, jumping in a van and finding yourself surfing in Sligo, Clare or Kerry by mid-morning, amongst friends in uncrowded waves, and in the most beautiful setting possible.

Festivals, music, Guinness, our natural humility- I could go on and on. I travelled for a long time to find the day that I decided this was undoubtably the place for me on this planet, and I’ve never looked back since.

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Photo: Chequerboard at Fading Light (Ruthless Imagery)

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I don’t know if I feel I get necessarily stuck, more fatigued from having a few projects on the go all at once. If you are working in the field that you are most interested in, it’s hard not to be inspired. Certainly I’m someone who feels like he’s completely making it up as he goes along so talking to peers helps a lot in terms of advice and reassurance. But if genuinely stuck for want of headspace, it’s time to pack the van, head west and jump in the sea for a few days.

What do you do just for the love of it?

I’d say DJ but there’s definitely an element of ambition in that, so purely for the love of it –  surf, snowboard, read the sports pages, golf, drink tea, make it my business to talk to most dogs I meet on the street.

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Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Most certainly in what’s happening here at the moment. I truly believe we are living through a golden age of Irish music and culture, not only this, but my generation has been paradoxically empowered by the recession I think – the drop in commercial rent prices during the recession meant places like The Fumbally Café, and our beloved Mabos sprung up. These spaces are real hubs of incubation and inspiration – at the end of the day it’s all about the realisation that people and their interactions is what make it all happen – and most of all it’s people who are true to their voice and their passion (stand up Donal Dineen & co.) who inspire me continuously.

But outside of people:  good design – be it a pair of runners or a café, nature, and a gazillion websites / instagram accounts / blogs / magazines. I actually find Instagram a really handy source of visual inspiration.

Great music obviously is something that brings me to a different place, though that might be more emotional inspiration rather than a creative one (usually it makes me feel creatively stupid!!)

How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

Sitting myself down and breaking things into small bits. Lists. Lots of lists. Once I do that I feel like I’m in control of the situation and the panic tends to subside a little. This and tea. Gallons of tea (this is probably the substance that sustains me also). I’ve learned the hard way that I’m not someone who can leave their troubles behind readily, so I’ve got to face them and break them down or I end up driving around the country trying to run away from them but not being able to escape!

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Photo: Ruthless Imagery at Another Love Story

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

Trust your own artistic vision – it’s the only thing you have that makes you stand out.

Trust if you do it well, more work will follow, if not immediately, then soon after.

Always over deliver and follow through to the very end – the extra attention to detail is what people remember.

Say yes often, say no sometimes.

Always go!

In terms of failures, often (as in most things in life) you already know in your heart if it’s not going to work.

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

Wake, tea, check mails / facebook for anything new that has been announced or popped up. MORE TEA. Generally I need a space to be pretty tidy to think, so there’s a lot of straightening magazine / notebook edges involved.

What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to?

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Crossings – Michel Kew (the best travel book I have ever read)

Grapes of Wrath – John Stienbeck

Vernon God Little – DBC Pierre.

Websites – Monsters Children | Resident Advisor (brilliant podcast series on djs and promoters) | Soundcould

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

As I said earlier, that I had realised very few get it 100% right immediately, and that the confidence you get from the very simple act of just trying is huge.

And what advice would you give to your future self?
Try to stay patient. If you do it right, trust that the work will come. Always be grateful! Trust yourself!

 

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Emmet’s links: 

Homebeats

Another Love Story (in collaboration with Happenings)

Fading Light

Thank you Emmet- see you on a dance floor soon! 


A Culture of Ships

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I am interested in ships. Not tall ships necessarily- although some of my best journeys have been on floating vessels- but entrepreneurship, leadership and at the root of it all, friendship and fellowship. If I was to coin a word right now and add it too the fleet, it would also be creativeship (the discipline of creative being). The ship here is important for many reasons, namely because it connotes a culture of this particular thing and not a rarified merit or accolade. Let me elaborate…

Over the next number of years we will witness a radical change in social contexts and labour markets. This will be the era of the freelancer and the creative. This will be the era of rapid automation of what was previously done by manual labour and the subsequent rise of niche markets, specialists skills and a whole new breed of worker. Gone are the days of permanent and pensionable. Instead we are seeing a rise in hybrid work and life, blended careers across sectors and continents, and people seeking flexibility over predictability. As a consequence will need a whole advanced set of skills to go with it, with creativity, innovation and solution mindsets placed centrally. Plus we will need a new system and ground rules for collaboration and engagement. This indeed will be business as unusual.

This too is an era of unstable economic and social tides. We only have to look at the (mis)fortunes of Greece today to see how systems which were once thought to sustain us are in fact destabilising us. There is universal systemic mistrust across politics and power structures, traditional institutions and the very fabric of society which once we lay our trust upon. It feels like shaky ground.

And so to navigate this change, economically on the one hand and socially on the other, we need also to be an era of rapid prototyping, experimentation, innovation, risk taking, openness, and collaboration. We need to be able to forecast, plan, design and execute new social initiatives and political agendas with a maturity which I believe can only come when we excavate our inner landscape and call on our collective compassion, solidarity and trust. We need to essentially learn to raise our conscience and then evolve and design our operating principles based on a new order of values.

Wishful thinking? Idealistic? Maybe- but wasn’t it ideals which built democracy in the first place, and wasn’t it ideals which got us to the moon, and back.

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As it has been said many times over, where there is crisis there is also opportunity. I believe that the opportunity resides deep within in each of us, if we frame the questions right.

At this stage, you may be wondering, where on earth do the ships come into all of this?

Well right here.

You see, we need to broaden the questions and the scope of our inquiries. Currently we don’t ask enough questions about how to cultivate a culture of the right kind of ‘ships’. What if instead of asking how we educate people for the current system, we really asked, how can we build a culture of entrepreneurship, of leadership, and equally of friendship and fellowship, so that we can equip ourselves with the essential skills we need as a collective to navigate these altering tides and not just survive, but thrive in the future- economically and socially. What would our education systems look like then? And our political system? And our economies? And our future?

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do know that how we frame the initial question is critical.

Leadership and entrepreneurship have been heralded as the merits of a few. But this need not be the case. With the right training, and embedded within a culture of these traits, we each can express our own leadership and evolve our own innovative means to solve problems- we are fundamentally creative beings, and our creative intelligence is like our life raft.

We have our hearts to help us too, for with each of us there is the capacity for universal friendship and fellowship (as this is the stuff of hearts). Fear can mask it, and mistrust, but I believe the capacity to unearth and rediscover our essential nature is within each of us. Sometimes it just means we have to slow down, listen and really see each other, and ourselves, for the beauty that we are.

It is not easy, it requires dedication and deep inner work as well as outer work. But it is possible. We can thrive, if only we have the right mindset and the will to make it so.

So yes, it is idealistic, and could even be called naive. But what other choice do we have? I would rather set sail on that ship, trusting many others will jump on board too, in friendship, and in hope.


Creative Islanders: Superfolk

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The Creative Islanders is an new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

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Next up in the series is Superfolk founded by partners in life and business Jo Anne Bulter and Gearóid Muldowney. Based in Westport, in the wild west of Ireland, Superfolk design and craft exquisite homewares. Inspired by the outdoors and with respect to the raw and rugged landscape and materials which surround them, both Jo Anne and Gearóid’s work exude craftsmanship with comes with much patience, practice and a deeply rooted passion for elegance and beauty. I greatly admire their decision to move out west, working to create a business in tune with the landscape while generating employment and opportunities for the region.

Jo Anne also inspired me recently to take up lino cutting again, and gave me some very useful tips and hints (thank you!) I also love popping into their Instagram feed to have a visual dose of the west… they take some stunning images.

Now over to some words from Jo Anne & Gearóid..

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Photo Credit:Henrietta Williams

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

Jo Anne: I love to understand the relationships and connections between things and am curious about simple things in nature, animals, our weather and our environment. In designing I always want to try to understand the core or the essence of a material, a process or a problem. I want to always be proud of the work that we do and I love sharing that with others. Some people connect in a very emotional way to the sensibility of what we make and really get it and that’s very rewarding. We want to build a business where we will be creating employment in the west of Ireland.

Gearoid: I like to identify problems and rectifying them. I enjoy fixing things. But at some point its best to start afresh and thats why I design new things. Being able to understand your built/designed/made environment helps orientate a person. Being able to tell a story through our products is normal; materials have a history, objects are created in a context, keeping that context part of the product is an integral part of what we do.

What keeps you in Ireland?

Jo Anne: Our families – My father passed away in 2006 and Gearoid’s father died in 2012. The sense of sadness and loss is profound, but, bereavement also brought a deepening appreciation for our family, our friends and the feeling of ‘at home’ we have with living in the west of Ireland.

Gearoid: I love Ireland. My upbringing and my education has given me a wonderful appreciation for this island. My parents and my primary school teachers introduced me to the rich cultural heritage that is ours to discover. Ireland’s geography, natural history and culture fascinates me. With Superfolk, we are trying our best to use all of these elements to our advantage. We don’t want to leave.

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What do you do just for the love of it?

Jo Anne: I love learning about what I am seeing around me and anything that involves fresh air and being outside – walking, hiking, climbing, kayking, snorkelling, camping. I love trying to identify wild flowers and plants. I want to understand how a single plant can tell the story of its habitat – the relationship between the climate, topography and geology of a place. I want to know not just the name of everything that grows in the wild but why it chooses to grow where and when it grows – the wider inter-connected story of habitat. And I love watching Homeland. And Vikings.

Gearoid: I like being outside. I use fly fishing as a legitimate excuse to roam the countryside, study maps jump fences and talk to strangers. Fly fishing gives me the license to stand in rivers in silence, whilst water rushes all around you. I can stand motionless in a ditch listening for a plop of a trouts lip as it sips in flies trapped in the water surface film. I like the silence of big open spaces. Hiking in the hills of Mayo energises me. We have a large dog, ‘Woody’, a Wiemaraner and he demands plenty of exercise, so he’s another excuse to be in forests and hills and beaches.

What does the creative process teach you?

Jo Anne: Good work will not be forced. We might push really long and hard trying to make something work and eventually have to admit defeat. Good work is more instinctive, more fluid and truer to ourselves. When we are slogging at something it can be hard to stop and accept that what is more easy, free and simple is the better work. The slog is an important part of the creative process but its not the work. I think this is described best in the phrase ‘the simplicity on the other side of complexity’.

Gearoid. How to be honest. Well made things are honest. There are no tricks, if you want to make something that will last, and function well there are no short cuts. Use good materials and do them justice.

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How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

Jo Anne: Turn it upside down. In my foundation art course my tutor Robin Jones would tell us to frequently turn the page of a drawing upside down to make us look at the drawing with fresh eyes. So I try to find similar ways to keep fresh eyes and perspective on whatever I am working on. Turn the page upside down, take a step back, take a break, go for a walk. Learn to change your position relative to your work and learn to see with fresh eyes.

Gearoid: I don’t get stuck much these days. When I was younger I might have been more precious about my  ideas and less willing to give up on something that wasn’t working. I’ve gotten better at scrapping something that isn’t working, ideas are two a penny.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Jo Anne: We are designers but it is really important to us that we are always looking outside of ‘design’. When Gearoid and I travel to new places we always look out for the folk museum, the natural history museum, the odd strange decorative arts museum.  I really love any outdoor folk museums even really touristy ones. I love ‘Den Gamle By’, the outdoor folk life museum in Arhus in Denmark.

Gearoid: Humans have been designing and problem solving for thousands of years. Its only in the last few hundred years that we have begun to document some of these results. My interest in vernacualr life tools is endless. I love folk museums especially if they have an outdoor element and archaeology, you cant beat digging in the ground and speculating.

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How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

Jo Anne: The memory of that first feeling of Spring in the air – at any time of year. And anything William Wegman ever made. Walking and listening to podcasts.

Gearoid: I used to smoke, rolling tobacco and I really enjoyed the peaceful time it gave. It allowed me time to meditate on things. It turns out smoking kills you, so I walk the dog now or go fishing.

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way?

Jo Anne: Don’t take criticism personally. Listen and understand criticism as subjective insight.

Gearoid: Play the long game. Make good work. Don’t rush things. Give yourself time to do a good job. Be nice to people and don’t waste time on negative thoughts.

What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

Jo Anne: Never be afraid to cut your losses. Don’t keep going with something that in your gut doesn’t feel right because you are too afraid of losing what you have already invested.

Gearoid: Not to give up. Move on quickly and regroup. Moving forward and not dwelling in the past is important. Keep moving forward.

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Do you have a morning routine?

Jo Anne: Roughly along the lines of …Feed the dog, go for a walk, come back have porridge and coffee and have a short meeting about what work is needed to be done that day.

Gearoid: Porridge. Clean and tidy, start work as soon as possible. Morning is the best time to have clear thoughts and energy.

Or other creative habits or rituals?

Jo Anne: Walking meetings – when we are figuring something out together rather than a sit-down brainstorm we take walking meetings where we walk and talk through our ideas. For some reason when we are more active, walking, you can be more insightful and make big decisions more confidently.

Gearoid: I like to have a place for everything so I’m constantly trying to put my life in order or de clutter my life. It is a struggle, the world wants me to have so much stuff.

What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to? 

Jo Anne: The Wild Flowers of Ireland by Carsten Krieger and Declan Doogue – It tells the story of wildflowers and wild plant life from the point of view of habitat – I love to think about the inter-relationship of factors that create an amenable habitat for plantlife– in a funny way it is really quite relevant to home-wares designing. Also ‘The Way That I Went’ by the naturalist Robert Lloyd Preager. When I’m drawing I listen to podcasts like ‘On Being’ and podcasts about slow food movement and plant life on ‘Heritage Radio Network’.

Gearoid: I have referred to the SAS survival handbook since I was a child. Its a guide to doing everything a human needs to do to stay alive, it has nothing superfluous of luxurious in it its a stripped back guide to living. Its not a bad place to begin if you are designing lifestyle or homeware goods.

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

Jo Anne: Trust your gut. Don’t wait to be perfect (because there’s no such thing)

Gearoid: Be brave.

 

 

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Find out more over on their website Superfolk 

Follow them on Instagram here. 

Thank you so much Superfolk. You are, indeed, super folk. Clare x 


Press Play

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It is mid-summer here in the northern hemisphere. Dublin has been a delight with lingering summer evenings and awash with blooming roses and fresh colour. It is one of my favourite times of the year, as the light invites us out to play.

The Power of Play

Play, I have come to remember, is an integral part of learning and leadership, yet is all to often dismissed as ‘silly’, ‘a waste of time’, ‘unfocused’, ‘misguided’ or ‘unprofessional’. But play is where we make connections, get our brains and bodies moving in new ways, engage our imaginations, nurture the senses, allow our inner child to be given an airing, and invite in fun and laughter. Play is a rich field, ripe for learning.

When times are busy, play is often the thing which we push back on first (or at least I do!). ‘I’m too busy now’, ‘Just a few more hours at the computer…’ But have you ever noticed how much more enriched your thinking and learning is after you take a break, and even more so, after you play?

I say ‘I have come to remember‘ intentionally. No child needs to be convinced about the power of play. I wonder now instead, how did we forget? To ‘re-member’ is to recall the experience back into our bones- to literally reconnect it to our members. Our bodies never really forget. 

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Living with an 11 month old dog has taught me a lot about play. Little Finn insists on it. When I have been sitting for too long and ignoring her, she literally drops toys at my feet. Play is a non-negotiable for how she engages with the world and is an integral part of how she expresses her being. I am not sure what is happening in her doggie brain when she is at play, but I have a sense of what is happening in mine- an enlivening and an enrichment of the intimacy in which I engage with the present moment, which in turn shifts my neurology. When I return to my work after some time playing, I am more focused, re-invigorated and generally more productive.

But play is not just important for the fun or the productivity, but also because of its ability to connect disparate things. 

Over the years I have been fortunate to work with and interview hundreds of creative and social entrepreneurs- people who are stepping up to make a difference in the world- from social activists, to artists, to medics, to designers, to writers, to sustainable farmers – all people who have a vision and are working to actualise their leadership in their own unique ways.

I asked myself, ‘What behaviours do all these people have in common and can these be learned over time?’

In examining their traits I started to see a pattern emerging- a set of learned skills and practices that can be reinforced and augmented. These are what I call the 12 Paradigms of Creative Leadership and together they not only help people launch new ventures and develop creative processes, but vitally help to sustain them. These paradigms include presence, purpose, perameters, pattern recognition, power, perspective and centrally, play**

Play is like the weave through it all; a way to deeply connect us to our imagination, intuition and inner insights. Importantly, it also acts like our very own personal labororatory, giving us permission to experiment, fail, try again, test new ground and alter our moves. Common to all the creative and social entrepreneurs I have met, it is through play that some of their best innovations and ideas happened, often unplanned or previously unassociated. It was when playing that their ‘a-ha moments’ landed.  Play was the prism for insight.

Play as a Gateway…

As a photographer, many of my favourite images have been taken because of play. When I travel I carry a  colourful hand puppet with me. Often when waiting in queues or travelling on buses, and when there are children around, the hand puppet will pop out and together with the kids, we start to play. That hand puppet has led to the most amazing encounters with children, their parents, and their communities- crossing cultural and language barriers and immediately breaking down any tension or fear. Through it I learned to count to ten in Hindi, Bengali, Swahili, Xhosa and Malayalam and taught many children how to count to ten in English, Irish and Mandarin!  I have been invited into people’s homes as a result of that puppet, which in turn led to conversations and many opportunties as a photographer which I would not have had otherwise. Play has been a gateway and a saviour.

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Having play as one of our central paradigms can re-orientate our priorities , quickly shift perspective and lighten the load when we need it the most. Play can revitalise and re-energise, sparking new connections and generating insights. Play can open doorways and opportunities. Play can be just for the fun of it too. But maybe we need to remember to do it more often, insistent dog or no dog at our side.

So, as the summer lingers and the light cheers us on, let these words be that familiar knock on the  front door when you were a child, uttering some welcome words: Are you coming out to play?

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** Come October 5th I will be launching a new online course, See Deeper, Act Bolder, in which I will be faciliating learning through the 12 Paradigms of Creative Leadership. Each week we will cover one or more of the paradigms, engaging creatively with each theme. Our cameras, journals, paint brushes, and blank pages will be used as learning tools, taking us on a journey into our own inner vision and possibilities, so that we can each see deeper and act bolder.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

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Creative Islanders: Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh

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The Creative Islanders is an new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life.

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

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First up is Caoimhín Ó’Raghallaigh– a masterful musician and I am very happy to say, a very dear friend and someone who I draw consistant inspiration from. Caoimhín makes his music on a 10 string fiddle called the hardanger d’amore, exploring the region where traditional music begins to disintegrate. He is a member of The Gloaming and This is How we Fly, touring internationally to some of the most beautiful stages in the world, including The Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall and the Lincoln Centre.

Over to the wonderful words and insights from Caoimhín…

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

Creating something new makes my brain light up like the fireworks on New Year’s Eve – every time I make something new, something that didn’t exist before that moment, however humble it might be, I actually feel my brain rewarding me, telling me “Yes! This is it! This is the right stuff! Yes! Yes!”. Making new things makes me insanely happy, like a little kid.

What keeps you in Ireland?

It’s my home, it’s where I’m from, and on account of that it’s where I feel I belong, it’s where I understand people the best, it’s where I find the richest level of communication with others by dint of our shared background, culture and history.

What does the creative process teach you?

That we’re built to evolve, and that any effort to create new information by us, in any field, is hugely appreciated and rewarded by our deep selves, the part that is invested in the million year outlook for humanity. Access to that point at which information comes into existence is possible for anyone. Stepping off a cliff into the unknown darkness is immensely productive and rewarding.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

Mostly I wait, and trust that there’s no reason to panic. Two secret tools: one, a blank sheet, or two, a deadline! I’ve found that if you force yourself to make a mark on a blank sheet, be it ink on paper or sound on time, that something WILL come out. The hardest thing is actually taking out that blank sheet, making the time for it when it’s the last thing in the world you feel like doing.

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What do you do just for the love of it?

Hurling in the park, walking in the mountains, hanging out with friends and family.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Visual art often enriches me, and will sink deep into the marrow of my bones and inform some fundamental change in what I want to create. Space and texture are two things that I love to learn about in this way. In creating, I try to embrace a lack of control. The unknown and uncontrolled gives rise to far more interesting results than anything I could come up with myself.

How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

I feel pretty fortunate to be able to keep the light at the end of the tunnel in sight, extraordinarily lucky that no matter how dark the day, I retain the knowledge that what goes down must come up. The philosophy, too, that things that happen to us aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’: there’s no knowing what a specific happening will lead to in the future, what horror or joy was missed on account of its occurence.

What key lessons have your learned about being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

Trust yourself and your feelings. Be brave. Focus on the positives and put your energy into those, rather than fretting about the negatives: prune off the rotten branches – you are doing nobody a favour by persevering with something that you know is fundamentally doomed. Find balance. You are the only person who can prioritise other things in life: family, friends, your own wellbeing.

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

I tend to write in big clumps, I’ll go away for a week or a month or longer, and write a whole load of material, rather than a regular daily approach, and then figure out a routine for that particular spell of time. On days where I have a performance, I’ll generally try to keep it as empty as possible, and do my best to ensure my head is clear and worry-free when performance time comes. A little nap right before the concert, or a nice lazy bath in the middle of the day, for instance. I’ll try to find a great place for coffee in the morning, and a wonderful place to eat a few hours before the gig. The aim is to have a totally calm and clear mind when I walk out and begin to play.

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

Believe in yourself and don’t take any shit from anybody, don’t let anyone walk all over you. What you have is worthwhile, special and beautiful, go out there, shine, feed love and passion and enthusiasm into what you do. Trust that such things will be returned a hundred-fold to you, and be glad and happy: you are immensely fortunate and ridiculously lucky. You lead a charmed existence that you are obliged to delight in to the absolute limit of your being.

What books have inspired you?

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, all of Samuel Beckett’s work, Wabi-Sabi by Leonard Koren, Andy Goldsworthy’s books, those by Oliver Sacks.

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Be curious, learn, be open. Be kind. Take a holiday!

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Thank you so much Caoimhín- so grateful for your music, you insights, your humour and your friendship!  xx 

Find our more about Caoimhín on his website here,

Some of his collaborations include: The Gloaming. This is How We Fly. Dan Truman- listen in below for a performance.

Photo Credits: Con Kelleher

 

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh & Dan Trueman -:-:- Laghdú from IrishMusic on Vimeo.