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!

Michael Piano © Sharon Murphy

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 Islanders: Fiadh Durham

Fiadh Durham Lead Image

 

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.

There is such an allure in textile design and weaving for me. Seeing a manual loom in action seems like I am travelling back in time to something ancient and wise, and hearing the loom heave back and forth has a meditative lull for me. I’ve never studied weaving but have much admiration for those who can spin myriad treads into such wondrous patterns while making sense of the what looks like a complex piece of equipment.

It was with such lure I was drawn into Fiadh Durham’s shop in Dingle last summer. Fiadh had been mentioned to me by another friend but little did I realise that she had her looms on view and makes her beautiful textiles there also. Greeted with warmth, I was immediately impressed with Fiadh gentle touch and her passion for both business and weaving.

So it is with great pleasure that we head to West Kerry for this next instalment of the Creative Islanders series with weaver, maker, and creative entrepreneur, Fiadh Durham….

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What keeps you in Ireland? 

So much!  The people, the craic, the scenery, the towns, the clean air and of course it is home. I have always loved to travel. The list of places I want to see gets longer rather than shorter with each trip. When I was younger I had this idea that I would pursue my dreams as a designer abroad, somewhere much more exotic and different to Ireland but the more places I explore the more I appreciate living in Ireland. There are so many opportunities here, it is up to the individual to make it happen!

What makes you tick? What motivates you? 

It depends on what what element of my life or work I’m thinking about but in general I love a challenge, having something exciting to work towards. I love the idea of kind of custom designing ones own life, doing it your way, its not always easy but a major driving force for me is the thrill of the unknown. It keeps life interesting!

What do you do just for the love of it? 

One is listening to good tunes and another is being outdoors, whether it is running, surfing or just going for a creative ramble with my camera and headphones… soaking up ideas fresh air! I suppose we all have that thing we need to to get head space and these are mine. Growing up, I think we spent 90% outside and I think that has stayed with me.

What does the creative process teach you? 

Sometimes I might question the amount of time the creative process takes and I forget how important it really is in relation to my designs. For me, following a creative process teaches me patience, discipline and it allows for design development to happen naturally. I think good designers are problem solvers and you need time for that.

Why do you do what you do?

I love what I do. I don’t think it would be possible if I didn’t. I love designing and making (textiles especially) and I think in the back of my mind I always wanted to run my own business. Its only been in recent years that I have built up the confidence to realise that I can actually do it. The rewards of your worked being loved and appreciated outweigh the many headaches of running your own business.

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

Making the decision that I was in it 100%. Full time. It had to be done. Another thing for me was realising that I was in Dingle because I chose to be and not because I ended up here. It’s a dream place to live if you can do what you love.

I have been so inspired by successful creative artists and craftspeople over the years but funnily enough I’ve also been inspired by others who have not managed to make it work and if forces me to ask why and how will I do it differently.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools? 

A bit cliché but I’d say believe in yourself and what you love.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems? 

I am constantly being charmed by stunning colours and patterns around the Dingle peninsula especially but if you look hard enough I think you can find beautiful combinations in the most surprising places. I remember a speaker in art college once say that when you work as a designer that you see design in everything, everywhere you go, that doesn’t switch off. I wanted that to happen me and I think it has, so trick is catch the bug.

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

I try take a step back, get a bit of space from it all and then look at the bigger picture, it may be one bad day or week but things have a way of working out. Especially if you want it to, you just have to stay positive and keep going but be realistic about what is achievable too.

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

First thing for me is timekeeping; you need to be disciplined. Make out a plan and give yourself deadlines if someone else doesn’t. I’m not naturally organised so I have to really put the work in to these areas, it good to have what need to happen in the next day, week, month and so on.

I had to write a detailed business plan when applying for funding and I would advise anyone setting up a business to do this.

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

My routines always change but I do find it really helpful to have them, it keeps me grounded and healthier.

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

I do like to read books, especially when I’m on holidays but the things that really inspire me are more visual. My favourite weaving book is ‘Mastering Weave Structures: Transforming Ideas Into Great Cloth’  by Sharon D. Alderman

Designers and websites I am into at the moment:  margoselby.com, habutextiles.com, giveirishcraft.com, irishdesignshop.com, makersandbrothers.com

 

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

I would have liked to have more mentors in the beginning, so many things that would have been easier if I networked a bit more. You have to put yourself out there. In saying that, you have to have the confidence in your instinct. Take some advice but also know when its not right for you.

And what advice would you give to your future self? 

Find a way to have a good work/life balance. I am a hard worker but I feel that surely its only all worth if if you have a healthy personal and professional life.

What is coming up next for you? 

I feel that my business is at the brink of being properly launched so the next year will be all about getting Fiadh products to a much wider reach. I have big plans for online trading but the thing I’m most excited about is the new designs to come. I am investing in a multi-shaft computer aided hand loom and I will use this to create limited editions of more complex, dynamic designs. I’m so looking forward to getting stuck into that in the new year.

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Thank you so much Fiadh! I look forward to following the growth of your business and talent. Clare x

Fiadh’s website is over here. 

And her Etsy shop is over here. 

 

 

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Art & Auction : Badger & Robin

If you have been following along my blog this year, you will have see that I have been back painting again- with lots of little creatures and birds making an appearance. Many of these original paintings are available for purchase over on my Etsy shop, alongside an original limited edition print.

I also want to offer something back and have decided to auction two of my paintings for two organisations which I admire and which are very worthy causes.

Clare Mulvany Drawings-11

SO…

Mr. Robin is going to fly the flag for the Capuchin Day Care Centre for the Homeless in Dublin, which I have come to know a little better through the amazing work of my friend Brother Richard Hendrick who I first met through Trailblaze (you can see his talks here and here). There is a massive housing crisis in Ireland right now, and the centre is flat out serving the needs of those most in need. Their dedication is outstanding.

Mr. Robin is beautifully mounted and framed and measures 16 x 20 inches.  He is an original pen, ink and watercolour painting with gold acrylic and heavy, acid free watercolour paper.

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Next up…

Mr. Badger is going to try to raise some money for the second organisation is Gatoto Community Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya.  My connection with Gatoto goes back over 10 years now, to when we were sending volunteers there with the Suas Volunteer Programme. It was a wonderful school, working in very tough conditions, and run by one of the most resilient and tenacious women I have every met, Betty Nyagoha. It is a very special place offering a lot of hope and real educational benefits to children.

Mr Badger also comes beautifully mounted and framed, measuring 16.5 x 23 inches. He is an original pen, ink and watercolour on heavy, acid free watercolour paper.

How the auction will work. 

Bids will be taken on my blog and directly via email.

Please let me know what painting you are bidding for (Badger or Robin)

Submit bids via email to clare@claremulvany.ie or over leave a comment below with your bid, what painting you are bidding on and a way for me to contact you. If I receive a bid via email, I will put a comment in the blog with the amount, the time the bid was received and the initials of the bidder.

Starting bids at €100 (please note that my direct sale price for these is €275)

Deadline for bids is 12 noon on Wed 16th December.

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Shipping: If you are Dublin based, I can meet with you to deliver the image. If you are outside Dublin we can arrange shipping/ delivery. Depending on your location there may be an additional shipping fee- but we can chat about this.

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I am really excited about this and hope Mr. Robin and Mr. Badger will do some good work for some very good causes.

 

 


Creative Islander: Charmaine Kenny

 

Creative Islanders Char banner

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 first met Charmaine Kenny about 10 years ago when she volunteered for Suas in India (I was working with the charity at the time). She stood out then, as she stands out now; with a brilliant mind (she was a Scholar in Trinity), fiery ambition, and a big and beautiful heart which warms any encounter. One of her targets back then was to raise 3k for Suas. Charmaine raised at least 12k through a clever auction in her hometown of Athy, and by enlisting all the help she could from friends and family-  in abundance. For Charmaine is someone you just really want to support because no matter what she does, she does it with passion, intellect, charm, humour and a fine innate grace.

When her boyfriend, now husband, entered her into the Rose of Tralee a few years ago we all knew she would win. How could she not? And so she did, which led to a wild year of travel around the world representing Ireland. It was then that the seeds of her current project were planted. Since then she has coupled her experience with an MBA from Standford University and has now been led back to Ireland to develop her own business- The Irish Workshop, a new online marketplace to showcase, promote and sell Irish art and craft internationally in collaboration with her business partner Fearghal Mulvihill.

By her own admission Charmaine does not term herself ‘creative’. But if creativity is innovation, and if creativity is having an idea, surmounting challenges, finding ways around obstacles, and seeing that idea through to fruition, then Charmaine epitomises it. And I think it is so brilliant to see people like Charmaine taking root in Ireland. She is ridiculously smart and with a strong business focus and rooted values, I have no doubt her new venture will be successful and will open international doors for many more of the traditionally deemed ‘creatives’ in Ireland. It is early days yet for them (they just launched last month), but so great to see such platforms being developed and who knows where it may lead too…

As you can see, I am a huge Charmaine fan and so am delighted to introduce you to Creative Islander, Charmaine Kenny…

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What keeps you in Ireland? 

My grandfather calls me the wild bird. I fly off for periods of time but always find my way home. I’ve lived abroad in London and California, but Ireland always calls. The people call, the community calls, the humour calls, the outdoors call. I love that I can live close to the heart of a bustling city yet only be a 20 minute walk to the sea and a 20 minute bike ride to the mountains. I love that I can drive home to my hometown in an hour. I love that I bump into people I know randomly on Dublin’s streets.

What makes you tick? What motivates you? 

Steep learning curves. When I’m not learning, I’m bored. As child growing up, bored was a word that was banned from our home. The use of the phrase “I’m bored” was nearly considered worse than swearing! Our parents always said that bored meant that there is nothing to do, but went on to explain that that’s impossible, because there is always something to do and if we couldn’t think of something to do, they’d give us something to do (this usually involved picking stones off the lawn, mowing the grass, or working the bog). And so, I’ve learned to make sure that I don’t get bored – maybe out of fear of someone else giving me a job to do! When my learning curve begins to flatten, it’s time to make a change.

Real Turf Fire Candle by The Bearded Candle Makers

Real Turf Fire Candle by The Bearded Candle Makers

What do you do just for the love of it? 

Walking for miles and miles. Sending nice greeting cards. Wednesday date nights with my husband. Working on The Irish Workshop (genuinely).

What does the creative process teach you? 

This is where I begin to feel an imposter. The truth is that I am surrounded by people who live, breathe, and exude creativity – that is the 60 makers that are our partners on The Irish Workshop. But I don’t necessarily associate the word “creative” with myself. I suppose building The Irish Workshop has pulled us through a creative process, and this has taught me to unearth talents I didn’t know I had, accept that it’s ok to lean on the people around me for support, and to become more patient for results.

Why do you do what you do?

I’m passionate about craft and about Ireland – I get real energy from discovering and seeing the incredible work the makers, designers and artists of Ireland are producing. I’m fascinated by consumer psychology and using data to guide how we can influence shoppers. And I’m rooted to a core value of fairness. The Irish Workshop pulls these three things together: we are creating a fairer way for small creative Irish businesses to get their work into the hands of shoppers.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools? 

I usually get unstuck by emptying my head of all its noise. And the only way I’ve found to do this is by doing high intensity cardio exercise;  exercise that requires so much energy that I have to give it everything, concentrating so much on moving my body, that I let go of what’s in my noisey head. A series of good spinning classes usually does the trick. But of course, when I’m stuck, going to a spin class is the last thing that I want to do!

Blue Rose Collar by Aine McConnell

Blue Rose Collar by Aine McConnell

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems? 

I find a lot of inspiration from other people – hearing their stories often makes me realise that they aren’t too different to me and that I can also achieve. My old classmates from Stanford University are a source of inspiration for sure. It is an incredible bunch of people and I felt like a fraud in their midst for the two years that we did our MBA. There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the class, and in the last year many of them have launched companies ranging from biowearable sensors for athletes, a subscription of artisanal teas from around the world, back-office operations for dental practices, and smarter mobile deep linking technology. Only yesterday I received an email from another classmate who is creating a line of dolls whose characters are smart, ambitious, and opinionated. I love their drive, their ambition, but most of all their sincere attitude of believing that they can change the world.

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

A Stanford professor once said to us that “regret for what you’ve done is tempered with time, but regret for what you have not done is inconsolable”. This deeply resonated with me. I know that if I didn’t try my hand at creating a business, a piece of my soul would mourn forever. It is during the tough times that doubt can creep in and make you question why we’re doing what it is that we’re doing. Reminding myself of this quote helps me get through the tough times, and when I get a more permanent office this quote will be framed above my desk – currently I have the quote scribbled on a sticky note stuck to my computer screen!

 

James Joyce by Vincent Keeling

James Joyce by Vincent Keeling

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 used to get really disappointed when a maker I was excited about didn’t want to list on The Irish Workshop. I found it difficult to understand why because if they sold through us they retained 80% of the sales price (versus <50% in ordinary retail), we don’t charge signup or listing fess (so no financial risk) and we are giving them a window into international markets where they didn’t have a presence at all. In my head, it was a no-brainer. Now, I view it differently – the disappointment gets replaced with energy. It’s as if they have thrown down the gauntlet to us to prove ourselves worthy of their time and their work. I am happy to take on that challenge!

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

I listen to the radio. I like how efficient it is; I can get up to speed on world news as I brush my teeth. I don’t like to leave the house without having a fresh smoothie. I can be a bit of a workaholic so I have a little mantra that says “do two nice things for your body every day” –  these things can be having that fresh smoothie in the morning, getting some exercise, eating extra healthily. They can be little things like walking further to get my lunch so that I can just move. The little mantra makes me measure albeit in a pretty crude way if I’m taking care of myself.

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

I’m a natural introvert so I’m happy in my own company but I wish that someone had told me how lonely starting out can be unless you consciously check that you have daily human interaction. I remember when I first kicked off research from which The Irish Workshop was born; my husband would arrive home in the evening to be greeted with a 20 minute burst of non-stop chatter because I may not have spoken to anyone else that day!

And what advice would you give to your future self? 

I sometimes look back at things I have done and things I have achieved and think “how the hell did I do that?”. I think that as we get older we become more risk averse and that can put constraints on our dreams. I advise my future self to not only assess the practical/logical risks but to also assess the risks in giving up dreams.

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Peek a Mooh by Kelly Hood

What is coming up next for you? 

The Irish Workshop has my 100% attention for now. Working closely with my business partner, Fearghal Mulvihill, we will continue to focus on building out our community of makers to offer shoppers a richer product range. We will continue to partner with makers who take pride in their work, who are ambitious to grow their creative businesses, and whose products have a strong Irish narrative. In parallel, we will put considerable efforts into building up our customer base and experiment with different marketing channels – so many ideas, so little time!

 

Lynchmob Aran Hats by Davina Lynch

Lynchmob Hats by Davina Lynch

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And again, the link to The Irish Workshop – just in time for Christmas! Thank you Charmaine  x


The Curious Incident of the ‘Almost’ Dog and the Stranger. 

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There are moments in life which stop you in your tracks. This was one of them.

A couple of weeks ago I was driving to Wexford with Finn (my housemate’s dog, or as above). The car was my housemates too.

I had decided to buy my own dog. For weeks and weeks I had been looking online for little doggies, searching for the one. And then, there on the website was this little face, all too cute, looking back at me. This was to be the one. She happened to live in Wexford.

When I got to Enniscorthy, I called the owner and was on my way.  I was excited, a little nervous, thinking about how my life was about to change with my own dog. It is a big commitment and one I don’t take lightly. However, life was about to change in another direction, with a bit of drama in the mix too.

About five minutes from the owner’s house the car engine literally blew. There was steam and ruckus and more steam. Thankfully no flames, but I was clearly not going anywhere. It was getting late and would soon be dark. What on earth was I to do? Little Finn’s big eyes were staring back at me.

‘I’m no mechanic’, he said, ‘but an avid enthusiast- can I take a look?’ I turned around to see that a stranger had pulled over to help. The news was not good. He suspected the head gasket had blown, and that indeed I wouldn’t be going anyway. But then he looked at me and with the kindest of gestures said, ‘You can trust me. I am not in a hurry. I will not leave you stranded here on the side of the road. We will get this sorted and you will be safe’.

In those moments you have got to trust.

Within minutes he had figured out a solution- calling friends, arranging support, arranging to borrow a trailer, offering to tow the car, offering a space to leave the car while we arranged to get it back to Dublin.

Meanwhile I had also phoned my housemate, who was trying also to find a local mechanic to help- she did, and before I knew it that mechanic had arrived, the car was towed to Enniscorthy, the other man was on his way too, and I was dropped to the train station with little Finn.

All this kindness, all the generosity and all this support.

On the train I texted the first man to thank him. He had given me his number in case anything else happened and I needed help. His reply, ‘It was my pleasure, I wish more people would do the same so it wouldn’t seem like it was such a gesture’.

That first man’s name is Gareth and he happens to run a restaurant in Gorey called The Pig’s Tail. If his food is anything as generous as his kindness or impeccable as his manners, it will be spectacular.

As for the dog? Well it turns out I am still looking for the one. I’m going to wait a little while though, as if ever there was a sign to pause, this was one. In the meantime Finn is in her element, lapping up all the love and plotting how she can put a spell on the next engine too!  One thing is for sure however, we are both ever grateful for the kindness of strangers and the momentum of trust.

 

 

………….

And a little reminder…

Living Seasonally starts tomorrow, Wednesday 4th Nov. More details including registration info is over here… I’ll leave registration open until Thursday. Hope you will consider joining. Clare xx


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….

….

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetPhoto: Katie Sanderson


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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