Creative Islanders: Miceal Murray

Miceal Murray Creative Islanders

The Creative Islanders is a blog series showcasing creative and social entrepreneurs and practitioners in Ireland who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and passions and choosing to do ‘business as unusual’ while being based in Ireland. The series aims to be a ‘behind the scenes’ look into their creative practices, process, motivations and mindsets, shining light of what makes people tick, and how, collectively Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

Next up in the series is Miceal Murray, a forager and cook who has recently founded ‘Taking A Leaf’, a new business running creative food events with a focus on wild and local foods. Inspired by the celtic cycles, Miceal has created a series of seasonal dining experiences and coupling them with music and art. With over 25 years in the cafe and restaurant business it was time for him to step onto his own path, combining his passion for sustainable enterprise with his love of nature and the wild. Miceal is also a Thrive School participant. And so with great pleasure I hand over to his lovely and kind self…

What keeps you in Ireland?

What keeps me in Ireland is the sense of home I get from here. It’s in my bones. Being from the country the connection is strongest felt from the landscape and the wild. And it is specifically the Irish landscape and whatever magic emanates from it. It seems to hold a mystery and a richness that I can’t find elsewhere. Obviously there is beauty all over the world but I find something else here; something hard to put into words. It is a distillation of many things, history, stories, art, music and memory. And of course my husband, family and friends.

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

A deep and heartfelt desire to live more in tune with the natural rhythms of nature and self, and to express these in a creative and meaningful way.  It is also the desire to live in a way that is more connected to nature in an urban setting.

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Why do you do what you do?

I think that part of me might shrivel up and die if I didn’t. It keeps me vital.

What do you do just for the love of it?

Discovering new things, be it music, food, books, magazines or places. Plus, jumping over a wall or crawling under a hedge to get to a new patch of land.

What does the creative process teach you?

Be open to change. I can visualise an idea or concept but to actualise it I must be open to change. Ideas can change or they can grow into something completely new, or they can be shelved and returned to at a more appropriate time.

What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

I learned so much from a wonderful lady called Judith Hoad. She is a teacher, healer and author and she introduced me to so many plants and explained their medicinal and edible properties. She inspired me to think differently.

DSCF4056Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places. I recently watched a film called “Juliette of the Herbs” it stayed with me for days, as did “Embrace of the Serpent”. Although the content doesn’t directly inspire me the magic of the characters involved does. But you can’t beat a good walk to get you out and get the juices flowing.

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

It is pretty simple really: get outside and walk the dogs.

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

It is strengthening to know that everything changes and nothing is constant. Whatever you are going through, whether good or bad, it will come to an end and change into something else.

Do you have a morning routine? 

Ideally I like to do an early Astanga class. It really sets my day up and I am more determined to get on and get stuff done. I have an on/ off relationship with meditation but this too helps. But most of all walking the dogs first thing through the very wild Liffey Valley park gets me going.

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What books have inspired you?

The Global Forest by Diana Beresford Kroger

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

Make lists. And then make more lists.

Be kind to yourself if mistakes are made. I am learning all the time and am very new at this game so I have a long way to go and many mistakes to make.

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Work less, garden more.

What is coming up next for you?

On the 13th of August I am completing a cycle of dinners inspired by and connecting with the ancient celtic festivals. So this time it will be Lughnasa and the beginning of harvest. Simple local food with foraged elements. After that I will be collaborating with the composer Hilary Mullaney to create an immersive dining experience. Also a series of walks to get people out and introduce them to some plants.

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All photos by Vivienne O’Brien.

Find out more anout Taking A Leaf over here on the website and also over on Facebook here.


Creative Islanders: Michael Gallen

Creative Islander Michael Gallen

(Headshot Photo: Daire Hall)

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.

Michael Gallen is next up in the Creative Islanders Series, the first of 2016. A composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer and maker, Michael exudes many layers of  brilliant talent.

I first came across him through the band, Ana Gog, for which is pianist and lead vocalist. I simply love the richness and lightness of their work, its breath and depth too.  Since then it has been wonderful to follow his other compositional work for film and theatre, equally rich and even more diverse. It seems like things are just about to take a leap for Michael, with a new large scale compositional work for the National Concert Hall in the pipeline and with 2016 seeing him being awarded the Trinity College Long Hub residency.

Plus, beyond his music, he is also a gent as his words below so evidence.

So over now to Michael Gallen, and when you are finished reading I highly recommend diving in his music and videos. You will find links below.

What keeps you in Ireland? 

The answer to this question keeps changing. I lived in France for a few years and I moved home primarily to be closer to family and to the band. Returning to that intimate space made some aspects of life and work more difficult, in that there’s less of a sense of freedom, but it also brought so much richness into my everyday life. When I got back to Dublin I was very taken with becoming a part of the arts scene here – but in truth I think that I’d probably get that feeling in any city if surrounded by people whom I admire and whose work I enjoy. I think that I feel closest to Ireland when out in the countryside, away from it all. I tend to do most of my composition work in quiet, isolated places, and I get a lovely sense of belonging when I’m out for a ramble and stumble across some ruin or sacred site – or even just a beautiful view.

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

Once I’ve managed to get started on some music (which is definitely the hard part), I think I’m only really motivated by the next note, bringing the idea to life and doing it justice. I tend not to be able to think of anything else. I love performing and it’s amazing to imagine how other people might feel when listening to my music – but everything grows from that itch when I feel like I have the beginning of something in my head and life won’t be right until I get it made.

What do you do just for the love of it? 

I’ve been doing a lot of driving over the past year, and one of my favourite things is to take random turn-offs when I see a sign for a holy well or wedge tomb or the like. They’re never as close to the main road as you hope and I invariably end up trudging through several fields or spending ages trying to turn the van when a road unexpectedly just ends. I love the spontaneity of it, not knowing what you’ll find, if anything. I also love swimming in the sea – this was my first year swimming all the way through winter.

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(Ana Gog)

What does the creative process teach you? 

That there are parts of myself to which my everyday, conscious thought doesn’t have access. I am always surprised by the way that music sometimes pours out of me, and I often look back on periods of creation in a bit of a daze and wonder where it all came from. I know that so many aspects of the piece are shaped by my decisions, but the substance of the work seems to come from a part of myself that is much wiser than the one that regularly botches things up – burns the toast, forgets the keys, etc!

Why do you do what you do?

I have no idea. I love music, and both listening and writing have been hugely important to me from a very young age but I never made a decision to become a musician – it’s always felt like something that was already decided. I couldn’t come up with reasons for it without sounding cheesy, and because I honestly never thought about it – there was never any question of why, it was just already what I was doing.

What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

Ah, so so many. I’ve been very lucky in terms of some of the people I have met quite randomly who have given me direction and support – beginning with the fact that I was born into a very musical family. I remember being given some minidisks of Arvo Part and John Adams’ music by my physics teacher at secondary school-  hard music to come across in pre-Youtube Monaghan – and that was definitely around a time when music became bound up with all my ideas about adulthood and work. Meeting the band was a massive moment of course;  they’ve been by far the biggest influence on my musical life. And then all of the times when things didn’t go according to plan, when I didn’t get certain opportunities or commissions that I was sure I would; those are always the times when I’ve had to figure out whether success is necessary to why I make music. Each time I’ve gotten back to finding joy in the work itself has been a key moment.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools? 

I go to the quietest place imaginable and wait!

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(Photo from theatre production TARDIGARDE)

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

In the past I’ve found inspiration in a multitude of places, – other people’s music, books, nature. For the most part it in happens in solitude – I think that it’s probably just that I’m more observant when I’m off on my own, or that I’m able to devote more of my awareness to the world around me. I’m a bit of an extremist in that regard; when I’m working I shut off from the internet completely for a few weeks and ideally go off to some hideaway where I can have space. With larger work, like the orchestral piece that I’m finishing at the moment, I find that it takes a few days of silence before my mind becomes capable of hearing what it needs to or slowing down to the pace of thought that the composition requires.

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

I try my best not to let myself become stagnant. I don’t think that I can say anything meaningful about sad events such as the loss of love or loved ones, in that each of those situations has been so unique in itself, and I don’t think that any of my experience of dealing with them will make me any better prepared for the next one. I have a wonderful group of friends, and they’ve been the biggest support in times like those. But I know that in terms of depression or periods of low mood, the big thing for me is to try to keep moving, to stave off the feeling of total inertia. I have one of those overactive minds that can start to turn in on itself if not kept active, so if I can, I try to weed out the tiny bad habits that I know can eventually turn into more substantial thought-knots.

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

As I mentioned above, I think that the moments where things haven’t worked out as planned have probably been the times when I developed a proper sense of vocation. I love meeting older artists who have lived entire lives of those ups and downs, and who, despite the madness of choosing so unstable a career, have also fallen in love, had families, found a myriad of different roads to happiness and still maintained a healthy relationship with their creative work.

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

No, I’ve never been good at keeping routines, much as I’d love to. Every now and again I make out a timetable that has me up early and keeping regular hours, and then two nights later I’ll end up staying up til 5am working on something and it all falls apart! I make big maps of all of my pieces before starting to score them out – that’s about my only regular creative habit.

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

I read quite a lot, so it’s hard to whittle them down – The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Roberto Bolanos Savage Detectives, The Lover by Marguerite Duras – I don’t know whether I’d say they inspired me but I remember the reading of each of those (and a few others) as  types of events, similar to things that happened to me in “real” life. I love poetry too – starting from an obsession with Patrick Kavanagh and leading everywhere from Sylvia Plath to Rilke to Shakespeare. Actually, Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet were quite inspirational in the way that they spoke about the creative life and the challenges that it might present. I’m not really a website person I’m afraid!

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Photo: Sharon Murphy

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

Practical advice, about how best to balance a life where your work is unstructured and self-disciplined. Not to worry too much about the future, and to enjoy little successes for themselves and not as pit-stops on the way to bigger things.

And what advice would you give to your future self? 

Just the same – to enjoy all things, including work, for themselves. Not to let the stuff of life pass by without being fully experienced.

What is coming up next for you? 

At the moment I’m finishing a piece for the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and Cór na nÓg inspired by Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales called Wilde Stories – that’ll be recorded in April and broadcast on Lyric FM in May, with some live performances on the cards for later this year. Over the next few months I’ll be working on a new choral commission, an installation and two dance collaborations – it’ll be fun to work with a team again for a while! We’re also mixing Ana Gog’s second album at the moment, with a view to a release either late this year or early in 2017. So lots on the cards…

Thank you so much Michael for your contribution to this series.

Here are LINKS below: 

You can read more about Michael over on his website here

And listen to some of Ana Gog’s music over here

There is also a selection of Michael’s own compositions over on SoundCloud. Here is a sample, ‘Difference in Clouds’ from TARDIGRADE. 


Creative Islander: Naomi Fein

Naomi Fein Creative Islanders lead image

Photo: Clare Mulvany

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 first met Naomi about five years ago at a dinner in Cork. I remember her telling me about her move to Ireland from Israel and her love for animation. At the time she was teaching animations skills to kids. Next time I met her, she spoke to me about an idea for a business, and boom, before I knew it Think Visual was born and booming. Naomi Fein is certainly one to run with an idea, but as she will say herself, it has taken passion, perseverance and a whole lot of trial and error.

Think Visual, based in Cork, is a visual design consultancy offering graphic recording, harvesting, and visual tools for making knowledge actionable, shareable and memorable. In a world of so much data and stimuli, Naomi is always seeking ways to make information more accessible and meaningful. How can complex problems be solved when the information about those issues is presented in complex ways?. It is questions like this which drive her business.

One of the many things I admire about Naomi is her willingness to try things out and learn by doing.  So while she has this natural instinct for creative entrepreneurship, she also knows that the skills can be developed and all the more when you surround yourself with excellent mentors and colleagues.

A couple of weeks ago Naomi and I met in The National Gallery of Ireland. She talked, I took notes, and together this interview was born….

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What keeps you in Ireland? 

Space. It is the outside space; the fact that I can lift my head and see green and sky. I did not have this in Israel. And it is the personal space which people give you. In Israel people do not give each other so much internal space- so people enter into each other’s mental space/ emotional space all the time, and I think in Ireland we give more room to each other.

And the friendliness here. Simply put, the people are nice, and it is a pleasant experience to interact.

 

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Graphic by Naomi Fein

What makes you tick? What motivates you? 

Seeing my colleagues grow- I get so much energy from that. So when you see someone take a confident step and own their learning is inspiring and motivating. Like Gracie, who came to Think Visual as an admin, and is now designing and delivering programmes, and is proud of her work. It is mindblowing, and something I am proud of too.

Think Visual is where I am focusing me creative energy at the moment, and it is building connections, real connection, with people. That motivates me too. I love supporting people to find their potential and clarity. When people have clarity of vision, you can see results in their outlook and actions- I love that. I just want to use all my skills and gifts and try to have a positive impact on the world. I suppose that it the true motivation.

What do you do just for the love of it? 

I draw. I actually can’t stop. Like right now, I am on the iPad. I draw a lot! I listen to stories too- podcasts. And I talk business. I absolutely love it- chatting to people about what they really want. I want to hear their dreams.

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Image: Naomi Fein on Paper App from Studi0 53

What does the creative process teach you? 

Slowing down is really important, and if you build a good base it comes. So for example, asking a lot of questions in the beginning and not jumping into the making too fast is so important. There is always the urge to jump into an idea, but the creative process has taught me to ask the right questions, poke around in the corners and then let things fall into place naturally and effortlessly.

Listening to yourself and the feedback which is coming back to you is also really important. There are many signs which are very subtle but if you know how to listen to them you get a feeling of when you are off or when it needs refining. So it is working with your whole experience- a body sensation, or feeling, or a word which keeps coming back to you. It can even be the breathing of the person next to you. So constantly listening to the feedback which is coming can teach you so much.

How does taking a creative approach to running your own business influence you? 

I am a fan of the collaborative approach. Creativity is not exclusive. There is magic when you celebrate that creativity to come from all people- whether they are labelled ‘creative’ or not. So, the engineer in a meeting, or the accountant, may come up with the best solution- but you need to be willing to listen for that. So it is a partnership approach. People are intrinsically creative.

I always wanted to play in a band, and now this is how work feels for me. We are all the instruments and the music or magic is in the interaction between all the diverse elements.

Why do you do what you do?

I want to have global influence. It is a feeling I have had since childhood. I live in the big picture, and have a global perspective. I really want to play my part and have a good time on the way. I love connecting with like minded people and people who want to use their power and passion and gifts.  Connecting to people who feel powerful and working together- it just feels so right.

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What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

The things which come to my mind are the darkest moments. Feeling totally isolated, being in a severe depressed and anxious place but finding that I could find my way out of it. So there are not specific moments, but  I have had this mental shift to know that I can survive. I found a way to get out of that dark place.

I did have one moment which really informed this though. I was 21. I was in India and suddenly I felt that everything is OK and I don’t need to do anything. I realised that I did not have to fix the problem, instead I was able to just feel that there is a bigger picture, bigger than my personal story. That is a base or foundational moment that I go back to. Interestingly I was not practicing meditation at the time- it was quite spontaneous and I was not looking for it. In fact I felt that I had been working really hard up that moment, but in that moment it was effortless. It was not passive but I knew that if I let the reins go, I can be part of whatever is happening without stressing about it. I had a sense of flow and the kind of energy it takes to sustain it. It does not mean I can’t work hard- I am working very hard- but it not in a forceful way. If I feel I have to push something, I know it is just not the way it should be.

So, in essence, if you are not enjoying it- find another way to do it!

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools? 

I talk! I am extroverted thinker and I need to hear myself talk about the issues or the stuckness. So I look for people I can learn from. Who has done it before? Who has connected to this? If the problem is a visual thing, I look at other people’s work. I look for something that has inspired me. Pinterest boards, google searches, Paper App. I assume that someone has tried to solve that problem before and then I ask for help.

I start with ‘What am I really looking to do?’. If I am stuck, there is something lacking clarity. I use this approach with my clients or colleagues too, asking, ‘What part of the process are you stuck on? Are you jumping steps?’ So it helps to reflect on the process and ask if you are missing information or starting at the right point.

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Photo: Clare Mulvany

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Pinterest. 

Ira Glass! (Oh my god!)

I really love Anna Sale from Death, Sex and Money podcast. 

Visual wise- paper app of Studio 53

I have really good colleagues. Eleanor, Gracie, Alfreod, the Georges (we have two!) and Carol are an endless source of inspiration, each one in their unique way.

My brother and my sister.

I also love a Mexican artist Ado Crusher I found recently online.

Carol Dwek (Mindset)

Dan & Chip Heath – they write about business books, they talk about what makes stories stick and how you make sustainable change with people and decision making.

The 5th Discipline with Peter Senge. 

And my grandma – she is remarkable. She is an artist and creative person. She is 95 – she can’t really see or hear well but she just redesigned the guest room. She re-painted the door to suit the new design, the mattress was too big for the room for bed, so she cut it. There was a hole in the wall so she got cement and fixed it. She is an innovator – and even though she is house bound, she always finds a way. She has such a positive outlooks.

There’s inspiration all around us! Having a positive outlook is a thread linking all these…

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

So many! That is a whole new blog.

I just gave a talk on it!

The biggest learning in the business is managing people. I have had to let go of so many people because it just wasn’t working out. But I have been learning to take small successful steps. Small successful steps- they are key.

As a creative person I can see an idea, and people invest their emotions and energy into that idea.  But I have learned that you need to test the ground, and do it in a safe way so that you take calculated risks together… so small and successful steps. Then you build on each small successful step and evaluate as you go. Is it working for you? What are you learning? How can we do better? Are we each taking responsibility for our actions? I believe in supporting people in the right place so that they can set goals which are attainable and build upon that.

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

I am bad in routine! I think it is because I live a lot in my head. But when I am more in my body I am more inclined to keep a routine. But I do walk with my dog every morning in nature. Most of the time I will listen to a podcast and get my dose of stories for the day.

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

Be kind to yourself. It means slowing down. It doesn’t have to be painful. If it started with ‘I have to scratch my wounds, I have to bleed, you have to be a starving artist’. That is bullshit! It is not true… we can enjoy the process and it does not have to be all pain.

What is coming up next for you? 

This year has been about finding the team- finding my colleagues.

What’s coming us is taking us as a group to the next stage. It is interesting place because I don’t have a strong vision for the company but it feels so full of opportunity but we are going on a journey together. We are planning our first big party! I am really looking forward to seeing what will come for us.

There is something that became more quite for me personally too, and I am meeting people at a deeper place. I am settling. I don’t have itchy feet. I don’t know exactly what is emerging, but I am looking forward to  finding out. It feels good quality so I am not worried. I know I am attracting the right people around me, and what they bring is good.. and everything else will be OK.

Although recently winning the Business Woman of The Year award was great! We are getting good feedback… and people have been so kind and heartwarming and supportive. It is empowering! Very empowering…

 

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Who would you like to see interviewed here on Creative Islanders? 

Got suggestions? Please leave a comment below. 

Clare. x


Creative Islanders: Katie Sanderson

 

Creative Islanders Katie Sanderson

Photo: Shantanu Starick

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.

Katie Sanderson is part magician, part chameleon.  I mean this metaphorically of course, based on her ability to transform food into rare treasure and the dexterous navigation of her own career path. She lets curiousity and passion direct her, and placing creativity at the helm, she leads others down wonderous journeys too- not just through their taste buds, but through creative experiences which all follow a love and respect for food, community and the land which they inhabit. These journeys have involved the creation of a pop-up restaurant- Dillisk, food workshops, raw food events and communal dinners. Within them all is that extra bit of magic; alchemy for the senses and the soul.

Last week Katie and I sat down in The Fumbally Cafe, tossing around these questions and capturing her responses – first verbally, and then seeing which words wanted to land here. She also shared an abundance of amazing images- taken by both herself, and the talent of Shantanu Starick of The Pixel Trade.

With pleasure, I introduce you to chef and creative islander Katie Sanderson…

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What keeps you in Ireland?

It is the people and the land, but also the amazing group of friends and the community that I am lucky to be surrounded by. Ireland as a place has become more ‘home’. At one stage I thought I didn’t want to be here because I kept leaving, but I realise now that I was going away to learn things, expand my experience and then bring them back. Ireland is as much a launchpad as it is a base for me.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

When I feel like people are getting something out of what I do- that they are enjoying it or are inspired by it. (I find this question hard)

What do you do just for the love of it?

Tea with friends. Picking seaweed. I love to go to the shore and look at all the rock pools. And I cook even though sometimes I forget to do it for myself. But at the end of the day I’m one of those  lucky people who loves what I do (most of the time)

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What does the creative process teach you?

It teaches me that more is possible. We are super capable of creating anything. It can be difficult but it becomes easier over time. The creative process facilitates a place where you are able to think in a different way. The more you do, the more you are able to do.

It tells me to follow my curiosity. As soon as something comes up which I want to follow, I try not to hesitate. I just go for it. This is when I take off and travel. For example, I recently started exploring different methods of fermentation after a meal in San Francisco in Bar Tartine blew my little socks off. It wasn’t that it was the best meal I’d ever eaten it but it was that I could taste the creativity and the originality beaming from the kitchen, and that was super exciting. A few months later I went for two months to work alongside them and soak in as much as I could. Then I came back to Dublin, the stars somehow aligned and Ash and Luca of the Fumbally asked me to help establish the homemade drinks and ferments which are now available. The Fumbally tends to be there for me one way or another when I need my stars to get in order.

When the journey is a creative journey you can’t really go wrong. There is no failing. Once you start to work in this way it builds its own momentum and everything including the supposed “failing” is part of that journey.

(This question is easier!)

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

Why do you do what you do?

I love it. I did think maybe I would like to be a forensic scientist too.

What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

When I was a child on Saturday nights in Hong Kong we ate our dinner on a picnic rug watching movies on Laser Discs (records with movies- I don’t think they ever became popular outside of Asia). My papa would bring them home on Fridays and we would have family meetings about which order we might watch them in. We generally wouldn’t see very much of him during the week and the excitement of him and the movies was huge. Somehow at a very early stage (8yrs)  I got the role of making dinner. I think it was a cunning plan of my mother’s to free time for Cilla Black. We called them ‘naughty nights’. In a city with so many people and not much freedom, I got this space to go to the shops and pick what I wanted my family to have for dinner, and make a big mess in the process. Only summers in the West of Ireland with blackberries all over my face has topped the freedom of these nights for me.

Later (about four years ago) back in Dublin, I worked for a family as a private chef. It was the opposite experience! The money was good and for a very short while that sustained me, but I was really restricted and had many parameters on what I could do. I noticed my love starting to dwindle and I knew I had to reclaim it. With absolutely no knowledge of the subject and on a bit of a whim I booked a raw food course, and found myself in Oklahoma of all places…

Then, with an increased knowledge and inspired by new aspects of food creation, I kinda made a promise to not let myself get into a position where I don’t have creative freedom.  This has helped to guide me forward.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I think that naturally when you are feeling stuck, you end up not wanting to move physically. You can get stuck on the internet and in your head and I think that moving your body, whether that be yoga or a walk with some trees, or whatever it is you do. It’s so important to make yourself do it, and to do a lot of it.

And then to speak- don’t let your voice get stuck too. Talk to your friends, family anyone who will listen and see if anyone has any insight or a different perspective.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

Nature and travel.

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

You need to be confident in what you are offering or your products. I believe in helping people out, but you also need to be able to charge for what you do and not be taken for granted.

Obviously you are going to be influenced by other people and things that you see, but if you try to come up with original ideas, and do something for the right reason- I believe it is always going to succeed. It may take you in a different direction but it will take you somewhere.

I have also learned that I have the most amazing generous friends who help each other out all the time. With Dillisk project we built a small restaurant in a loosely converted boat shed in the middle of connemara. It was a dream my partner Jasper and I had. It was only possible by the amount of friends that came down to help us. Some weekends we had 18 people down there and we would cook big lunches and everyone would be helping us all day long-  it’s remarkable to think of how much they gave and continue to support us.  The restaurant was done on a shoestring, only made possible by collaboration. There is such beauty in working in this way.  

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Photo: Katie Sanderson

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

Not really.  Well…. the thing is I have been trying to be one of those people who get out of bed early and move slowly. But it takes me ages to get out of bed and then I spend most of the day chasing my tail.

In so far as creative habits, I take photos. I find words difficult (like this interview!) but I have always enjoyed imagery and can showcase my work and express myself through this medium.

Ginger and lemon tea too! I have it when I need to focus.

 

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Photos: Katie Sanderson

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

The Pixel Trade website (my friend Shantanu who has been travelling the world and documenting trades for three years. Sometimes I forget how giddy his project makes me but a short time on his website puts it all back into perspective)

Fool Magazine.

The Bar Tartine Cookbook.

Podcasts- On Being.

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

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

That it is not weak to ask for help.

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Don’t forget to have the craic!

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Photo: Shantanu Starick

What is coming up next for you?

It is evolving. I am in a transition period and working things out. To be honest I’m a bit stuck and at some crossroads. But that’s OK too.  I’m going to Kenya for a bit of the winter, and will be Staging (interning) in London for a few months afterwards (Lyles). I think i’ll be back in Connemara for summer but not sure in what guise. It will all evolve…

Connect withKatie: Her website is here and more on Dillisk Project here

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Photo: Katie Sanderson

Watch this beautiful video of Dillisk, made by Ben McDonald…

Dillisk_V1 from Ben McDonald on Vimeo.

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Creative Islanders: Alison Ospina


Alison Ospina

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.

….

Back in August I went on some gallivants around the South West of Ireland. I had travelled in search of the wildness of ocean but in going I also had an ear out for innovative talent and creativity which had not previously been on my radar. It doesn’t take long in West Cork to find it for it seems to be flowing out of its very sinews. Within hours I was already being invited to exhibition openings and into artist’s homes. Fortune continued to favour me, for I got invited along to a series of short talks by makers in the region who were hosting a showcase exhibition called ‘Seven Hands’. And it was there I met Alison.

Hearing Alison talk about her work was a pure joy. She radiates enthusiasm, knowledge and a pure love of her craft. I have never met anyone more excited about chairs in all my life!

Alison is no ordinary chair maker however. She brings such respect to her material (hazelwood), that one could also describe her as a diviner of chairs- asking the wood how it wants to be shaped, what form it wants to take as she selects pieces for the legs, arms and back, and honouring the soul or essence of the tree from which it originated. That connection to source is carried right through to the final product. With some of the bark stripped and some left raw, it makes for tactile, textured and strikingly characterful chairs which are a delight look at, touch and sit on. The hazelwood Alison uses is all grown locally and sustainably. Plus, because of its growing cycle it means that the winter months are quite for her. During those times she writes. She is the author of two books, with a third on the way. She is a teacher too, sharing her craft and passion in workshops in her West Cork studio.

So, it turns out that I already knew Alison’s husband, who I met through Social Entrepreneurs Ireland. Mmm… small world Ireland indeed!

With pleasure, I hand you over to Alison Ospina. In doing so, I wish you could sit on one of her chairs as you read this. You’ll just have to enlist your imagination and pay a visit to West Cork soon…

 

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What makes you tick? What motivates you?

I love trees and I love wood, I love working with it, polishing it, touching it, looking at it. I also have a major obsession with chairs!

What keeps you in ireland?

I moved to West Cork almost 20 years ago and it was here that I started making Green Wood Chairs. Here I learnt to make elegant, sculptural chairs that reflect the grace and beauty of the trees they come from. All my materials are grown in my immediate locality – my chairs and I are rooted in the West Cork countryside.

What do you do just for the love of it? 

All of my work is done for the love of it – I can’t stop, it makes me feel so good!

What does the creative process teach you? 

Initially I was so excited about making chairs from hazel that I rushed at it with only the final result in mind. Over the years I have learned to enjoy the process. I am methodical, I take my time, correct mistakes and focus on getting it as close to perfect as possible – that’s where the real satisfaction lies –  I guess it teaches me self- discipline.

Why do you do what you do?

I used to work in psychiatry – I’m fascinated by people and what makes them tick. I have discovered that there is nothing more therapeutic than working with your hands to create useful, beautiful things. I enjoy the making and the learning processes and I enjoy the feel of developing skills – it is satisfying and makes me feel fulfilled.

What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

When I started teaching in adult education I had to write a module descriptor for Green Wood Furniture Making. I was forced to really pick apart every process and describe it in writing. It was so hard to do but ultimately really useful.

The next key moment was writing my first book  “Green Wood Chairs.”  Writing down all my methods and techniques turned my practice into something accessible to others. I now find that people who see the book, get inspired and have a go at green wood chairmaking themselves.

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How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools? 

If I do not feel inspired for a while, I do something completely different and unrelated. I read a lot of fiction and I write (non fiction) books. My work schedule is dictated by my materials to a large extent:  Hazel is coppiced in December/January, it is left to stand until April/May, I make chairs and teach courses from May to September and I write books and teach in college from September to May.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems? 

Much of my inspiration comes from seeing the bare branches of trees in Winter silhouetted against the clear grey sky. The shapes of the negative spaces intrigue me, these are the shapes I want to incorporate into next year’s chairs.

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

Through the tough times I am sustained by my husband (who says, “It doesn’t matter if you have made a loss this year – you are an artist – look at Van Gogh, he never sold any paintings in his lifetime”, my family and my dog who loves me unconditionally!

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 learned that it is very difficult earning a crust as a creative practitioner. I have done a few courses for entrepreneurs and read lots of business books and come to the conclusion that with marketing, advertising and selling there is no “one answer.” Everything works a little bit, so you have to do everything. I have also learnt that self-employed people are generally very resourceful, reliable and hard working. I have learned (from my many failures) to never participate in craft fairs – people do not buy chairs from craft fairs!! In the early years, when my work did not sell, I got disheartened and felt that I should not be making chairs that nobody wanted. However I could not stop and after 20 years I have developed a high level of skill and now at last people are buying my work. In my case it has been a long, long game.

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

I do not have a morning routine but after finishing work I always sweep the floor and put my tools away because nothing makes me want to work more than a tidy workshop!

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

After trees, books are my main source of inspiration. I have books about Wharton Escerick (Studio and Collection)  Sam Maloof (The Furniture of Sam Maloof) and George Nakashima (The Soul of a Tree). The book that started me off in furniture making is “The Complete Book of Shaker Furniture”.  I love big, shiny, hardback books – I even like the smell of them!

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

“Keep at it, believe in yourself “- I know it sounds corny but it is true.

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And what advice would you give to your future self? 

“Keep an open mind, keep designing and innovating –  look for ways to help yourself progress and develop”

“Listen to your students – they know nothing and they know everything” (cryptic –  but teachers will know what I mean)

What is coming up next for you? 

I am working in collaboration with Kerry Woollen Mills to make a Limited Edition Winter Collection of upholstered chairs. They have dyed a batch of woollen fabric especially for Green Wood Chairs.The Collection will be shown at an exhibition at the RIAI in 8 Merrion Square, Dublin November 17th – 27th.

Green Wood Chairs will be profiled on an RTE programme entitled “Designing Ireland” due to be aired this month.

I am writing a new companion book to “Green Wood Chairs” called “Green Wood Stools” due to be published in September 2016.

Visit Alison’s website Green Wood Chairs

Thank you so much Alison- such a delight to learn more about your work and process. – Clare x


Creative Islanders: Emily Archer

Creative Islanders Emily Archer

 

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.

………

Artist, activist, shining human, Emily Robyn Archer exudes creative flair. She brings passion and purpose to her interactions, coupled with a curiosity which takes them ever deeper. A graduate from The School for Social Entrepreneurs, Emily is the founder of Cre8 Sustainability, working in schools to marry art practice with environmental awareness. She is known for her large scale installations, incorporating reclaimed and recycled materials as well as her hydroponic window installations, a method she uses for growing plants in water without the need for soil. With a love of wild nature running through to her, Emily’s work is an embodiment of this love and respect. It also acts as an exploration of how to engage humans with their environment in creative, educational, and mutually beneficial ways.

There are many things I love about Emily- her zest for living, her commitment to friendship but mostly her simple presence, for never do you leave Emily’s company without a renewed sense of hope and a reclaimed sense of possibility. Quite simply, she glows.

With pleasure, I introduce you to Emily Robyn Archer… 

 

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 What makes you tick? What motivates you?

I’ve always been motivated by our relationship to the environment. Nothing gets me like environmental injustice -I know there are many, many other hugely important issues; how we treat each other for instance, poverty, war hunger- the list is long. And I don’t see these things as isolated either. But for some reason since I was a little girl I connected with this idea that we could be living in our environment in a better way- in harmony with the planet and all the creatures that roam its surface with us. I spent so much time as a kid making drawings about it, trying to raise money, even staging my own protests! Nowadays my art practice is centered on environmental themes (not much has changed!) I work with issues like water, waste and especially climate change. I don’t know why I’m so focused on this I just always have been and I’m pretty sure I always will be in one way or another.

I suppose if I peel back the layers I’m motivated simply by the natural world. It’s a difficult one because it sounds cliched. But I really am totally in awe, inspired and stirred-up by what I see growing through the cracks in the pavement, or soaring over my head everyday. I can’t look at a tree in passing without delighting in it. 

What keeps you in Ireland?

That’s easy-  my community here. Old friends, new friends and of course family- I treasure them all. I also love living here- it’s my home. I grew up here and that connection is really important to me. When I was a teenager my family lived abroad in Kenya for years so I got an idea of what its like to be foreigner in a foreign land. Being in Africa was an amazing experience in a so many different ways, and it made me value my own home place; that piece of land that I felt connected to. I was always sure that I wanted to live here.

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What do you do just for the love of it?

Spending time hanging out with my family and friends. They are the stuff of life. It may be that unexpected pop around for tea, surprise visit and a long meandering conversation or all of the above if I’m lucky.

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What does the creative process teach you?

My first creative coaches were my Mum and Dad. They’re both very creative in their own way- my Mum is a dancer and my Dad is a business man always coming up with new ideas. Mum instilled in us to never waste anything, every little thing has value and can be used again in a creative way. My Dad gave me my first official art lesson- the table was set with paints, brushes and paper and we both sat down to paint together. The very first thing he taught me was that there was no such thing as a mistake, in fact you have to make mistakes to learn and make new and interesting things.

I’ve really held on to these ideas in my own practice: I don’t get put off by what I don’t know yet or all the ‘mistakes’ I could potentially make while learning- I try to look at it as part of the process. I have a sort of ‘fortune favours the brave’ approach and usually find that if you put yourself out there and go for it- all sorts of wonderful things happen. My mum is probably happy that I work mainly with salvaged materials and am always trying to work out how to reuse and re-invent commonly undervalued or discarded materials.

So 3 things I learnt from my creative process and am still learning today are

  • That there is no such thing as mistakes. 
  • Limits and parameters are sometimes great creative catalysts
  • That there is a magic to opening up to possibilities

I take these learnings into other areas of my work: I run an initiative called Cre8 Sustainability that delivers environmental education and awareness raising projects with a creative edge. This can vary from teaching a group of city kids about urban growing by creating an upcycled hydroponic system with them for their school or getting teenagers interested in biodiversity by making seed bombs and teaching guerilla gardening tactics. Basically I feel that the creativity and its process are a really important part of the environmental movement and I’ve learnt from my work with Cre8 how powerful it can be in terms of getting people engaged, inspired and finally motivated.

 

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How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

Tidy my spaces: that’s a big one. I get stifled with too much stuff and mess around me. I take some time to remove whats not necessary, do some recycling or giving away and organize my living and work spaces. Then I sit down with a pen and notebook and go back to and reconnect with my core vision and mission.

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

I have found meditation really helpful in the past in terms of recognising and sitting with different emotions. Yoga helps me link mind and body too. But probably most of all- people- being with friends and family. I always delay sharing my feelings but when I do level with a friend and share what is going on I always feel better and have a different perspective on things. Another thing that really nourishes me or gets me through tough bouts of the blues is just being in nature: going on a wild walk, getting blasted by a bit of wind, looking at some amazing trees and realising that I am and we all are ‘only human’ at the end of the day.

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Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

  1. Walk out the door and bring the natural world into focus again
  2. The wonderful work and vision of my friends and people in our community.
  3. Books & publications & podcasts
  4. Talking with my partner Sam! He’s always got an interesting perspective up his sleeve.

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

Key lessons: 

  1. Find a vision that enlivens you
  2. Keep doing what you are uniquely doing
  3. Charge a proper fee for your work

Failures are of course all marvelous life lessons in disguise. I always think of Beckett’s words, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’  

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

I can be counted on to use a steaming hot facecloth with essential oil to wake up myself up gently. I’d like to say I walk or do yoga every morning but it doesn’t happen that regularly. I do try and stretch and be mindful and gentle in the morning. In fact I can definitely say that I’m a believer in ‘gentle mornings’. This means taking it easy, not rushing, enjoying some good food and generally appreciating the morning that’s in it. If that also happens to involve a cup of tea in bed then even better!

As for other rituals: I keep an online day planner- it includes priorities/focus for the week ahead, daily tasks and deadlines and also a ‘long finger’ list that I tackle when I get a quiet day, things can stay on this list for a long time but having them written down and organised in priority really helps me not to get overwhelmed by having ‘a million things to do’. I really enjoy being able to say to myself- ‘there’s going to be time for that.’

It is hard to really pinpoint a particular creative habit. I know I work best at night when everyone has gone to bed. I know I sometimes have to go on an aimless cycle or walk to let a creative solution or idea to spring up. Sometimes you can try and try and try sitting at a studio desk, and then the creative vision comes as you’re watching the ducks!   

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

Most recently Burning Ice-Art and Climate Change. A collection of essays and artworks undertaken on an arctic expedition ‘Cape Farewell’ including insights from artists, writers. scientists.

Art & Ecology Now, Thames & Hudson

This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein

Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird

My favourite podcast is ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippett. One of my special pastimes, when I know I have the house to myself for a couple of hours, is to listen to this while cooking a lovely meal.

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

Do exactly what you want to do, don’t worry about what others are doing or what other’s think you should be doing. Following your own interests and passions- they will fulfill you and excite you. Don’t limit yourself either- dream big. Oh and thanks to my friend Shrine who did say to me years ago “Give up your day job and go for it!”

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Grab a seat one of those solar powered airplanes and go on an adventure!

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………..

 Emily’s work is currently on show in Paris as part of an exhibition in the Centre Culturel Irlandais. The exhibition titled Et si on s’était trompé ? (What if we got it wrong ?) runs until November 4th.

Link here to Emily’s website

And more on Cre8 Sustainability in this lovely video.

Cre8 Sustainability from Ishka Films on Vimeo.


This Creative Island…

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So folks, I don’t have a Creative Islanders interview for you this week but I do have a series of photos and a writing extract from my recent travels around this very creative island, when I was fueling myself with inspiration and lining up some more interviews for future editions…

Travelling around the South West and West coast I was reminded over, and over, of how amazingly beautiful this country is, how fortunate I am to call this home and how much more there is to discover. This land is charged with potential and possibility. This land is alive with story and myth.

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Here a little extract from my journal while on my travels, offering a sense of what is on offer.

I needed time, away from words and screens. Instead this happened…

I got birds, in abundance- blackbirds, swallows, herons, egrets, greytits, cormorants, crows, wrens, gulls, moorhens, swifts and a whole number of little finches whose names I do not know. They potter and swoop, telling tales of distant lands and the ever wonderous majesty of flight.

Instead I got the sea. Inhaling and exhaling, offering a slower pace; a steady inevitabilty of change. There was the necessary meeting of cold salty water on my skin and unapologetic mud between my toes, marking trails of adventure.

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Instead I got hedgerows, their edges all fired up with mombrisia and behind, the budding blackberries- some still in bloom, some just ripening, some ready to pick. Then the ferns- at various stages of unfurl. And the moss and the fushia, and the little yellow flowers in bloom, unnamed in me also, and those purple too. Their beauty is name enough.

Then the sunsets, cliched in magnificance, defiant of words, interjected only with the sounds of flapping sails, birdsong and the music from another peninsula.

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Instead I got time with little Finn. Her first sea swim. Her claiming of empty crab claws, and dried seaweed fronds and abandoned sea clams. And the hours and hours of shore wandering and exploration of headlands. And the time we saw dolphins. And the boats we took. And the days we lost track of time.

I needed time away to come towards. Towards the natural life, the one which does not need to be switched on or plugged in but consequently plugs you in and switches you on.

The sun is out now, and we are off again with no agenda but to wander, with no aspiration but to be. Me and my four legged friend.

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Creative Islanders: Aoife Mc Elwain

Aoife McElwain Headshot by Julia Dunin Creative IslandersPhoto: Julia Dunin

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.

…..

A bundle of life and talent, Aoife McElwain, food stylist, recipe writer, and a creative force behind Forkful is next up in the Creative Islanders series. Her food writing brings an elegance and charm to even the simplest of dishes, offering unusual twists on classic dishes. Teamed up with photographer and videographer Mark Duggan, Aoife has a knack of peeling back a recipe to its basic structure and revealing, step by step, the sheer delight of cooking it. That it will be tasty is unquestionable.

Beyond food writing, one of the things I admire about Aoife is her honesty about the creative process and what it really means to be a creative practitioner, speaking candidly about the highs, the lows and the dogged determination it can take to keep our internal critics at bay. We spoke together last weekend at the Creative Islanders event at Another Love Story but for those not able to attend, I hand you now over to the lovely Aoife McElwain…

All imagery below: Recipes and food styling: Aoife McElwain / Photography: Mark Duggan

What keeps you in Ireland?

My community keeps me in Ireland. That includes my close community of family and friends, as well as the wider community of taxi drivers who talk about metaphysics on a Monday, old ladies who love a chat at bus stops, event enthusiasts who strive to create happenings that increase the happiness of people around them… I think the size of Ireland and our openness for craic and banter lend itself well to making connections which can help make good things happen.

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

Cold, hard cash. Hah! Just kidding. I’m motivated by creating things for people to enjoy. Making yummy food for people is one of the ways I say “I love you and think you are wonderful.” Though I have no problems saying those types of things without cake, too. I go to extra effort when setting a table for dinner so that it feels like a special occasion that my guests will remember. I spend days planning and organising treasure hunts so people have fun discovering a new place. I’m also motivated by newness and connections. I like learning new things and meeting new people.

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What do you do just for the love of it?

It’s interesting because I love a lot of what I do. I’ve been really lucky in the last few years to have put myself in a position where I’m doing things I love all the time. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get stressed or I don’t procrastinate… but even when I’m wrecked after writing, cooking and styling ten recipes in one day for a photoshoot, I feel very grateful for the opportunity to get to work at doing stuff that makes me proud of what I’ve achieved, and the funny little diverse career I’m starting to carve out for myself.

What does the creative process teach you?

To me, the creative process goes like this: “Aaarrrrgghhhhhh oh CRAP I can’t do this, there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to do this arrrrgghhhhhh…. Oh! Wait. I think I have it. Oh, yeah, that’s actually pretty good.” The more I go through this process the more I trust myself at the outset, and the better able I am to deal with fear of failure and the anxiety that surrounds putting yourself out there creatively.

Why do you do what you do?

My aim is to lead a life where I keep learning. I really do believe that every person you meet has something to teach you, even if it’s something mundane like the name of their local football hero or something profound like their thoughts on the meaning of life. I like to push myself to try new things, whether it’s horse-riding or a recipe for shortcrust pastry, even though change and newness can a bit scary sometimes. It can be hard to keep up the momentum of discovery however, and, as I get older, I’m better at allowing myself breaks from activity to make room for rest and renewal. Chilling out is so important.

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What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

When I met Niall (my husband) ten years ago, I didn’t really know what a blog was. He helped me get set up with my first food blog (I Can Has Cook? www.icanhascook.com) which led to my columns in Totally Dublin, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times. At that time, I had been trying for a few years to break into radio (I had a show for five years on Dublin City FM interviewing Irish bands) and I was feeling pretty rubbish at how little success I was having. So when I started the blog for the fun of it, it was an amazing thing to have it turn into a career of sorts. When I met Mark Duggan in 2012 and we started working on forkful (www.forkful.tv) together, it also brought opportunities to work more full-time in food, which I’m really grateful for. It’s allowed me to develop my skills as a food stylist, which is a fun and challenging job wherein I have to use my creative wits to make challenging vegetables like celeraic look gorgeous.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I very often suffer from procrastination paralysis when it comes to writing features. I’m grand with recipe writing but when I have to articulate my own opinion about something, I start to hear the voices of the world’s best writers in my head saying “Oh… so you call that writing? Wow. Scarleh for yer ma.” Sometimes the voices get so loud I have to take to bed with bowls of cocoa pops for company. This is not a nice place. If this happens in the late afternoon or early evening, I’ve learned to indulge it. I let myself take the time off and then I wake up very, very early the next day. I’m talking 5am early, when the foxes still own the streets and twitter hasn’t woken up yet. My inner critic only seems to wake up at around noon (she’s lazy as well as mean) so if I can get a good few hours in before that, then I’ve already had a productive day. Productivity really spurns me on too, so once I get one job done, the rest can often follow.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

For recipes and food styling ideas, I look to my peers like Imen McDonnell, Cliodhna Prendergast and Jette Virdi. I also follow a load of great people on Instagram for inspiration from folks like Beth Kirby (@local_milk) and publications like Root + Bone (@rootandbone), Lucky Peach (@luckypeach) and Fool Magazine (@foolmagazine) who are doing something a little different in their approach to food journalism. For personal inspiration, I often find myself looking to comedy for answers. I adore Amy Schumer, Louis CK, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham. I read their books and tweets, and watch their TV shows. They make me laugh and help me understand the world.

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

I do try to go easy on myself. Though I have found it really hard to learn this, it’s ok that life isn’t all ice-cream sundaes and sunshine. I’m getting better at listening to myself. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I take a break (if deadlines allow it – and usually, they do). Hanging out with my dog Daffodil can be a great release. Apart from the times she bullies other dogs in the park – she can be quite the terrier. But she thinks I’m absolutely brilliant, in every way, and is completely blind to my flaws. When I’m feeling low, hers is a good energy to have around. She mirrors my mood and will snuggle up to me quietly when I’m taking time out of the world, just so I know she’s there, if I need her. Apart from my canine companion, my husband Niall always has my back, as I do his. We’re a good team. He makes amazing sandwiches which is a crucial skill to call on in a crisis.

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

That you don’t have to get things right straight away. That you can will your life to be slow and conscious, rather than too fast and stressy; you just have to work quite hard on your own self to achieve that. Taking time to slowly evaluate problems rather than emotionally reacting to things is a good pattern to try to live to. I’m only beginning to wake up to this and to see it as a possibility of a way to work and live. Some slow, gradual early success living and working to a more mindful beat makes me hopeful for the future.

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

My favourite morning habit is to take my dog Daffodil to the park first thing in the morning. Then I like to come home and have a proper breakfast (the best is boiled eggs sprinkled with ground cumin and sea salt, with sourdough for dunking) and a coffee, brewed by my husband Niall. But I’m not going to pretend that routine happens every morning. Mostly I wake up later than I’d like and spend the rest of the morning catching up. I try not to get too angry at myself when this happens because that adds insult to injury. When I do get my ideal morning though, it sets me up for a happy and productive day.

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

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit is the most thumbed and food splattered book in my kitchen. It’s an absolute must for cooks who are ready to start finding their own creativity in the kitchen. I really enjoy reading memoirs by chefs, including the classic Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (a lovable rogue) and Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. I’ve also been inspired by the work of Michael Pollan, an American food journalist and writer whose work has taught me a lot about the basics and history of food.

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

You don’t have to be good at everything and you certainly don’t have to be perfect at doing something straight away. And you don’t have to tell everyone you don’t know what you’re doing. Most of the time, this actually isn’t as endearing as you think.

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And what advice would you give to your future self?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and think about the other times you thought you were going to make a total mess of things and then actually did a pretty good job. You’re not a total dumdum, McElwain. And stop comparing your productivity levels to those of Michelle Obama! She has a team of, like, ten people. Of course she’s super productive!

What is coming up next for you?

Myself and Mark Duggan are releasing some new forkful videos this autumn, which I’m really excited about. We have been focusing on refining our still photography skills, as well as working with brands on video and photography content for their websites. I’m also working as a copywriter helping small brands develop their messages and identity. I’ll continue to work on my recipe columns and restaurant reviews for The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and Totally Dublin, and I’d like to flex my non-food writing muscles too. My current passion project is to develop a treasure hunt design agency. I recently organised an island-wide treasure hunt on Inishturk island which 35 visitors and islanders took part in. I designed it so they would not only bond with their team members but also discover the island, in a historical and physical way. I think there’s great potential to design place-specific treasure hunts around the country to enable people to embark on adventures of discovery. And I’m ready to start doing it.

 

Video credits: 

Recipes and food styling: Aoife McElwain / Photography and Direction: Mark Duggan / Editing: Killian Broderick / Music Supervision: Niall Byrne


Creative Islanders: Martin Dyar

Martin Dyar by Fran Marshall High Res Creative Islanders

Photo: Frances Marshall

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.

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I think it is fair to say that Martin Dyar has a way with words. His poems pack powerfully gentle punches,  turning you to cadences and verbal connections which you may never have experienced before. They become particularly alive when read aloud; his own renditions doing them the best justice. For a while I hosted a poetry evening in my home (soon to be reactivated!). On the occasions when Martin would come, he made the whole experience into treasure- his knowledge of poetry, and beyond it, his passion for poetry, would fill any room with light.

Martin’s debut collection of poems Maiden Names (Arleen House, 2013) was a book of the year selection in both the Guardian and The Irish Times, and was shortlisted for both the Pigott Poetry Prize and the Shine/ Strong Awards. He has also written a play, Tom Loves a Lord, about the Irish poet Thomas Moore. He won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2009, and the Strokestown International Award in 2001. He is currently working on his first novel.

I am delighted to bring you Creative Islander… Martin Dyar:

What keeps you in Ireland?

A strong sense of home, a sense of possibility, and maybe from time to time the special historical sense of this being a writer’s island. Ireland is an endless, beautifully eccentric subject.

What makes you tick? 

I am motivated by the curious optimism of the instinct to pursue a writing life. It kicked in early, with its own meaning, and I am following and responding as best I can.

What do you do just for the love of it?

I sometimes get up from my desk and dance. It mortifies my dog. Recent songs that have got me to my feet are ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ by Van Morrison, and even mellower things, like ‘Caught a Long Wind’ by Feist. The American novelist Johnathan Franzen made a very memorable remark about creative commitment, along the lines of: ‘In order to be relentless, first you must love the thing.’ It is hard to be in love with the whole experience of writing. But the good days are full of amazement, and they can be magically restorative.

M Dyar Strokestown Poetry Fest 2012 by Clare Mulvany

Photos: Clare Mulvany

What does the creative process teach you?

My learned process has taught me the skill of expressing before thinking. A central concern is to parry the shadows of perfectionism and self-criticism. I don’t believe in writer’s block. There is some truth in the idea that if you can speak you can write. I prefer to generate looser improvised material and then accept a longer process of finalisation than to sit there invoking inspiration and begging the page to reveal a single path. I’m debunking the muse a bit perhaps, but there is also the sense of the artist as a channel, and there are certain experiences which are best explained by that term. Neil Young once said, ‘When the songs are coming, it’s my job to get out of the way.’ That’s a massively idealistic remark, but then Neil Young may well have been born with a cosmic tap inside his head.

Why do you do what you do?

I don’t know why I started. But I keep going to honour the special echoes that still reach me from the beginning. Also, I believe in poetry and fiction as essential forms of communication. A good poem can stop time. The poem ‘Reuben Bright’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson can stop time when read aloud. The novel ‘The Member of the Wedding’ by Carson McCullers stopped time for me recently.

What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

I played Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady in secondary school in Swinford in County Mayo. I was thirteen, and my mother and I somehow made easy work of memorising the lines. I recall being asked to write a poem in an English class around the same time, and lifting my head after about twenty minutes in a crazed peace and satisfaction. In 2000 I spent a year in the creative writing program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. I was hungry to learn and to get my writing dream off the ground. It seemed that all of the faculty and graduate students in Carbondale were going around saying vatic and pithy things about what stories and poems were and where they came from. ‘Go back to your story,’ the fiction writer Beth Lordan, a powerful mentor, used to say, ‘Your story will tell you what she needs.’

I won the Stokestown International Poetry Award in 2001, and that depth-charge of encouragement, and the localised thrill of the Strokestown festival, and the people I met through that experience, helped me to get serious and perhaps through the lastingness of those happy memories, to stay serious about my work. I was quite young, but terribly hungry to proceed. I would also say that the process of doing a PhD in Trinity was a great help, both in terms of the people I met, and the discipline that had to be mustered. I was an Assistant Warden in Trinity Hall, the university’s off-campus accommodation facility on Dartry road, during that time. A formative, and very happy period. I was subsequently a lecturer in the School of Medicine in Trinity, teaching ethics and literature. That exposure to the language of medical education, the privilege of teaching medical students, and the experience of hunting for the poetry of science with them, has branded my writing mind entirely. More recently, a year spent at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa was like following the pied piper into the mountain and then discovering a tumult of generosity and inspiration.

Martin Dyar in his one man show Tom Loves a Lord 2011

Photo: Performing in Tom Loves a Lord

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I swim every day, I walk the dog three times a day. These are tools and ways to retreat, and maybe amulets of a kind. But the only way unfortunately to get unstuck is to write. Maybe allowing oneself to write badly is the best way to get unstuck.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

I can find inspiration in stories, poems and plays. When something really grabs me, really excites me, I will sometimes begin to hatch new dreams of writing. Recently, I was spellbound and boosted by Edna O’Brien’s story Baby Blue. I’ll always remember seeing Declan Conlon play John Proctor in The Crucible at the Abbey. And I feel I’m still recovering from the glory of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, also in the Abbey. John McGahern’s story ‘The Country Funeral’, whenever I go it, draws me right in, and then makes me want to roll up my sleeves.

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

I’m a talker, a social person, and yet my work has always been solitary. Tough times I’ve learned require buckets of language, delivered face to face. But writing is a healing activity too, and a way to say something about the inevitability of darkness.

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

I’m thinking of Johnathan Franzen’s ‘First you must love the thing’ line again. Failure educates of course, but the springs of perseverance abide in a simple, private commitment to the act that is the centre of your art form. A new inscription: ‘First you must love the early night.’ My writing experience has also taught me that doubt is a dynamic force.

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

I like to set up my desk before going to bed. And I like to write early in the morning. It’s the most productive time, or maybe the best time to trap a bit of timelessness.

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

Timebends, Arthur Miller’s autobiography.

The plays of Conor McPherson.

The novel Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.

The short stories of Edna O’Brien and John Cheever.

John McGahern’s novels, especially The Pornographer, and That They May Face the Rising Sun.

The poems of Bernard O’Donoghue, Paul Durcan, Michael Hartnett, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Wallace Stevens, and Richard Wilbur.

The novel The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers.

Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, and Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

The story ‘What Kind of Day Did You Have?’ by Saul Bellow.

W.B. Yeats’s poems ‘Her Praise’ and ‘Ego Dominus Tuus.’

The novel Wiseblood by Flannery O’Connor

The Lifelong Season by Keith Duggan

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

I feel I had a very good start. But nothing can reduce the difficulty or the fearfulness of choosing a creative path. I recall feeling a sense of trepidation when I told my father that I wanted to be a writer. I felt I was confessing that I wasn’t going to be able to knuckle down with a real career. I also understood it as a promise of trouble. “I want to be a writer, Dad,” I said. “And nothing else.” My father thought for a moment, and then replied, “Well, you have plenty of paper.”

And what advice would you give to your future self?

I’d have to say something like ‘Don’t look back.’ There’s a wonderful moment in Rilke’s poem ‘Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes.’ Orpheus has chanted his way into the underworld and bargained for his love Eurydice’s release. Now he has the task of hiking back up to the surface, with the messenger god Hermes leading Eurydice along behind him in the darkness. It has been agreed that they will have another life together if Orpheus manages not to look back during the ascent. He succeeds in the challenge for a time, but then, tormented by the fear that she is no longer following him, he turns around. Here Rilke adds a magnificently poignant touch to the original myth. The poem portrays Eurydice as too deep in her death for revival, suggesting that if Orpheus had fulfilled the task their reunion might still have been doomed. When Hermes sees that Orpheus has looked back, he officiously raises his cloak and turns to lead Eurydice away from the light. By way of instructing her to return to the belly of the earth with him, he tells her simply: ‘He has turned around.’ Rilke puts one word in drowzy Eurydice’s mouth. She asks, “Who?”

I’m thinking that I am powerless to reach my future self, and that he might not remember me. I’m writing for him maybe. But I hope he won’t be living in the past. My favourite closing lines of any book are in John Banville’s novel Athena. The lines are: “‘Write to me,’ she said. ‘Write to me.’ I have written.”

Listen to a few readings here:

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Delighted to announce that Martin will be joining the live session of Creative Islanders at Another Love Story this coming weekend (Saturday 3-4pm) , and also giving his own reading (Sunday 12-1pm) as part of the ‘That’s Another Story’ session.

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Thank you so much Martin for your time and your eloquent insights-  So very much appreciated, and I have no doubt that readers will appreciate them too.- Clare. 

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PS:

Have you spotted my new online course? Living Seasonally is a 5 day journey to dive into your dreams and visions, and create plans of action in tune with your energy. It start this coming Monday 24th August.  There is still time to sign up. Head on over here to find out more.

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Gone Fishing

gone fishing

Well, not actually fishing, but you get the idea.

I am excited to be heading off to the beautiful South West coast of Ireland for a couple of weeks- myself, yoga mat, camera, tent, art supplies, a zillions books and, importantly, doggie Finn are off on an adventure to see where the wind (and hopefully not the rain) will take us.

So, I am pressing pause on the blog and my business while I am away (because being my own boss means I get to do things like that!) It is an energetic thing. Over the last few months I have built two new websites, launched a new business, developed lots of new content, worked on a art exhibition and got through the challenge of learning to drive and then passing my driving test! It has been a big time in my life which took lots of energy, and a particular kind of creative energy. Now I need to refill the creative fuel tank.

The creative process works in cycles. Ebb and flow is as natural as a river running its course or the seasons turning. And so it is time to power off for a little while to allow the ebb to give rise to a fuller flow to take me through the Autumn. It is time to turn off social media and all the electronic chatter, and tune inwards to my own voice to really listen to where it is calling me next.

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So there won’t be any Creative Islanders interviews for a few weeks (much as I am loving them), but I am very glad to report that it will be popping up in real time at Another Love Story, where I will be bringing together four amazing creative entrepreneurs and artists in a live session of ‘Creative Islanders’. We will be exploring our practices, sharing our processes and I have no doubt enjoying some great conversation together. We will be in the library of the amazing Killyon Manor on the afternoon of Saturday 22nd August.

Until soon my friends, happy creative adventuring, through your ebb and your flow.

Clare x