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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo: Clare Mulvany
Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?
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…
Who would you like to see interviewed here on Creative Islanders?
Got suggestions? Please leave a comment below.