Wednesday, 9 April 2014


From 'Making Change Happen' by Jane Northcote
Illustration ©Lizzie Everard 

Some people love change, thriving on realising new visions. Others really don't like it. Some of us become quite good at it out of excitement or necessity, or both. Too much unexpected change can drive a person beyond nuts.

I think the paralysing fear within times of big change—and the thing that stops many of us even going there—is that saying 'yes' to this change means a previous vision that guided you will be lost forever, and a future vision as yet unknown will never materialise.

A threshold; cast adrift from what was, not yet anchored in the next harbour, and land not quite in clear view in any direction. Terrified of making a wrong decision, of just drifting... quite frightened.

If this resonates at all, you are not alone! You are really not alone.

So, from right in the middle of my own fiercely unsettling changes at the moment, me and my wringing-wet hanky are forming an idea and want to share it with you here. Seeing something take shape in visual form, tracked, charted, recorded, for all to see, can be such a help. In this vein, for six years on and off, I kept my Lightbox habit, posting on all kinds of soul-searching and adventures and planting and uprooting and people, driven by everyday photography and a love of words. I reckon picking up this habit again could really help navigate unknown waters, but what form this new habit takes, not sure yet.

Some questions for you, and I'd love your thoughts on this if you'd like to share:

  • What are the helpful things you pin up around you at work or home, which you look at to keep you on track each day? Or is there an object?
  • What reminds you of where you've come from, to see just how far you've travelled? 
  • Have you ever had a 'visual ritual' that you held consistently to help you keep moving (eg. morning pages or a daily sketchbook)? What worked about this? 
  • What—if anything—is stuck onto your fridge (or other nearest magnetic surface? We have a tartan sheep in our office!) Does it help?!
  • What pair of shoes could sum up the miles you've walked / run / danced? (These are my running shoes – the hundreds of miles they've come with me and I'm still curvy round the edges!) 

Do share your thoughts and projects. It's not just me is it?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

_what to do with what you've done

So, welcome to the new year. How are you doing? Fancy taking a moment to draw breath and gather good strength for the year ahead?

Standing at a turning new year, I can't help but get a little reflective – come on, you know me well enough by now! Walking around on sunny (yes, really) English beaches over the winter break and enjoying the big views, I felt really grateful for a year of hard work and great achievements. I also felt strongly that I didn't want to waste those accomplishments, but build on them as we push ahead into the coming months with new ideas.

I think lots of us forget, when setting new plans in motion, to really appreciate the foundations we've worked hard to build. I think that's one reason why lots of resolutions don't stick, because we throw baby out with bathwater and assume new plans are all about starting from scratch.

Instead, let's ask, "What's really helpful about what's already happened?"

Translating big dreams into tangible goals can feel unwieldy, so, I thought I'd share a useful help with you by way of this simple exercise. Based on David Kolb's experiential learning theory, I came across this 'reflective cycle' in my post-grad studies and have often found it helpful since. Even if not writing things out explicitly, doing this exercise a number of times can form a habit of mind, and now I naturally find better motivation to get on and act, reflect, imagine, plot, see great things happen, and keep moving – act, reflect on that action, imagine how it could be improved, and practically plan your next move.

The picture above is postcard-quality size – feel free to print it off and stick it somewhere helpful so you can easily refer to the stages:

Write down:

1: WHAT? What act did you do? What experience was it? Just describe facts.
2: SO WHAT? Reflect on what you learnt, or discovered. 
3: WHAT NOW? What could you do to build on this, and improve that action next time?
4: & HOW? Given this revelation, make some practical plans for your next 'WHAT' experience.

If this is your year to explore new ways of communicating and using good design to get your message across, this reflective cycle could prove really helpful in keeping track as you try things out and refine your visual language. If someone else is helping you with that, I think this could be a good way to practically reflect on stuff that often seems difficult to get a handle on.

I hope you have a really great year with some brave moves, rich experiences, and cracking results – a really happy new year folks!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

_why we want you to be yourself

Have you ever had that nagging worry that you are not coming across as you want to? (I mean visually speaking, obviously, although we can talk about the rest of life too if you like!)

Sometimes I have such doubts about being able to get my words out properly that it stops me saying anything at all (yes, believe it). Wouldn't it be great to feel more confident about telling my side of things well, about my story being heard, and in a way that truly engaged people so they were totally up for the chat?

Connection? Space to be real? Permission to give a sh*t? 
Yes please!

If you could grow more confident and honest in your story-telling and communicating, it would probably help you figure out better who you want to talk to and work with day-to-day. It would also help us all get on and have those meaningful conversations in a better way – a much more authentic and real way.

It takes immense courage to put true personality into your visual communication, but if you do, your working life will be richer for it.

There's a lot of talk at the moment about business becoming more 'authentic', involving real personality and truth, people being open and vulnerable with each other in order to get things done. We want humanity, not slick gloss that pretends everything's fine.

For those of us running our own businesses and trying to sort our visual communication out, this can feel terrifying, but it doesn't have to be. It doesn't have to be terrifying, if you know that the sort of people you will then connect with each day will connect because they know it too, and appreciate your courage. In time it just becomes The Way We Do It.

Who's in?


A friend tipped me off about this BrenĂ© Brown TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability. It's not about design, but it is about being 'wholehearted'. I found it hugely encouraging:

Friday, 27 September 2013

_you are not a machine

So here I sit, pondering as I do on the creative process.

Process. What a stupid word for the human condition and our expression of it, all beautifully messy and unpredictable. Who thought that one up?

Today, this post goes out to anyone who is stuck and feeling a bit brain dead, perhaps (like me) with a 'wading through treacle' feeling after a little while of working really hard and breathing life into lots of quite empty spaces. It's really tiring work, so don't beat yourself up if you're struggling to find a 'process' here to rock you into even more action. You don't need action. You need a break.

No, it's not rocket science or brain surgery. But in the course of trying to make the world a better place, creating and making and doing in order to encourage dialogue can be a humbly noble thing in our complicated world.

A wise man once said that to reduce human experience to mere process is to render us as machines, or something like that. Machines, my friends, we are not.

We feel things, and we communicate out of our empathies.

Moved to fairly generous tears by sound and vision this week, I left a huge theatrical moment on Wednesday night—Joy Division Reworked—rocked by the emotional statements that had come soaring around our heads through the layers of music and projected images. A very powerful use of instruments and film with enough heart and empathy to sweep us off our feet. It was truly incredible; disarming, even.

I'm not sure our work with creating has anything at all to do with process. Sure, there's a physical process to using tools, but they just serve the heart don't they? So you have to work at staying connected and in tune with why you pick up those tools in the first place. Whether making or absorbing, this is about unique connections between lifelong experiences and poetic symbols we find in the world around us. Some connections resonate more than others, and some combinations—for no reason anyone could have known—shine particularly brightly, and cause the eyes to leak.

A creative person is not subject to process, as convenient as that would be. You are not a machine, and therefore, you have permission not to perform like one.

If the creative person in your world is being a bit slow on the draw at the moment, give them as much of a break as you can and encourage them to go and stare at a blank wall for a bit.

Or if it's you, please, come and share my blank wall:

Monday, 16 September 2013

_going out on a limb

Midday, sometime during our July heatwave in a beautiful barn in Somerset.

The only brief was that there was no brief.

"Okay then," I thought, biting my lip and scratching a not-itchy head, gazing at the over-heated cows out of the window.

At first, an open brief is totally exciting – a whole universe of possibility! Then within minutes paralysis sets in, in a strange parabolic curve where increase in creative freedom links to a decrease in ability to narrow down an eternity of all the ideas that could ever be. Know how that feels?

I just figured that you have to be prepared to go out on a limb for anything extraordinary to happen.

"Do not be afraid to go out on a limb; that's where the fruit is."

So I let this encouragement flow, and set to work on a short film based on these very words. I think I found fruit here.

Okay, so here's how it happened:

When the team at Sparkol invited me to get involved with their adventures in Videoscribe, it was really about coming up with anything I wanted that would explore new horizons with their software and how far it could go.

After a little panic and a lot of scribbling, the words of this proverb seemed so apt. I decided to concentrate on making a beautiful typographic piece as an encouragement for all of us ideas-filled adventurers, and which would stand as a lovely piece of cinematic movement too.

One of the great things about Videoscribe is that it mesmerises you as you anticipate a line appearing, not knowing which way it will go next. That's what adventure and risk-taking is all about – following a line, not sure where it will take you but convinced it's worth it.

So I wanted to really push Videoscribe and my use of Illustrator with it - which is really the core of Sparkol's technique. There are technical tricks I've learnt over nearly 20 years in the industry that I wanted to try, some of which were in Illustrator, and after hours of crafting my Scribe I also exported it into After Effects and pushed some depth into it through layering. You can achieve an awful lot by doing this, introducing photographic stills for texture, and playing with all the settings and various layer modes. If this is your bag, just open it up and get stuck in! Don't be afraid to really mess around. That's how I've discovered lots of ridiculous nerdy tricks. (Hard fought, precious personal wins after a years as a young designer at the BBC, holed up in a small, dark edit suite!)

Talking of going out on a limb though, this project has been a neat opportunity to celebrate some of what Jon and his Sparkol team have achieved and push it to new heights. They are trying new things out all the time, with the motive of making this type of visual communication accessible to everyone regardless of illustration experience. 

I like this very much, because they make good communication between humans more possible. 

Now that's fruit. 

How about you? Have you ever gone out on a limb to create something to encourage people or get them communicating?


(If you have more questions about how the film was made please submit them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. You may like to see some short films on Videoscribe's YouTube channel too.)

Monday, 29 July 2013

_and wisdom comes

How do you find a handle in the middle of a big, explosive dose of inspiration and channel it towards anything useful, floundering?

I'll be honest with you, I'm so inspired by company Hiut Denim on themes of wisdom, craft and their motto to do one thing well that I haven't a clue which one thing to begin with here. But then this is the way with inspiration – it's like an explosion going off, and by definition ideas fly without restraint.

Well, this is one of the big reasons I love what Hiut Denim are doing, and how they are doing it. It's the story of a couple of lovely, soulful individuals who got really excited about resurrecting small town Cardigan's jeans-making industry, which met severe setbacks in recent years. They were determined that humans working together and for each other would create something good out of rubbish:

Hiut Denim built a workshop, they sourced fabric, thread and machines, and a talented bunch of workers. 
Inspiration, explosion, boom!

But here's the really good bit. In the aftermath of the explosion and the safety of that workshop, they settled in to a patient discipline, proud of doing one thing well—making beautifully designed and crafted jeans—and treasuring the seamsters who make them. The workshop is where they calm down and forge some order from the wildness of that first explosion, and the love of this experience has turned into a blog on their site.

From out of a thriving business, they share collected insights as Workshop Wisdom:

"The things we make, the things we think-up, we do them from a special place. We spend a lot of time in this place. We get to learn a lot here.  
This blog is here to share some of that wisdom about life and work that we learn from hour after hour, year after year, spent toiling away in our humble workshops."

Space, patience, discipline, time to reflect, and commitment to a purpose, this is how wisdom comes.

And Hiut Denim communicate their wisdom without bells or whistles on their elegantly designed website. There's no need for frills here. Simple, direct language echoes a quality of thought that hours of workshop focus have afforded, while evocative black and white photography poetically speaks of hearts and bones hard at work.

Pared back—in design, in language, in image, in vision—Hiut Denim bares its wise, dignified soul. That's where I want to be.

I am massively encouraged looking at this company's site and story. It's about people being real, letting a creative explosion happen, then celebrating that workshop as the place from which wisdom, clarity and focus pour out and make their business shine.

Craft is so important. Settling into workshop ways with your craft—whether fabric, words, images or numbers—is about one of the most precious things you can do to enrich your work. At least, I think so.

Take time to craft something, and you will discover a true quality of thought. 

It is a quiet welcome to wisdom.

It says 'no fear' to the creative explosion.

Thank you Hiut Denim. We need more of that in the world.


Read more about the Hiut Denim story here: "This town is going to make jeans again!"

Thursday, 20 June 2013

_seeing your way in fog

There's something I love about looking out at a foggy view. This picture always helps me remember one particular time – the fog over this extraordinary mineral pool had me hypnotised for ages, only occasionally able to pick out more or less of the bright orange and green. 

Patient, watching, waiting for moments of clarity.

Back on home ground, this morning I was walking to work and looked out at fog over Ashton Court - a big old manor estate just on the edge of Bristol. It happened again. The view seemed flattened, but in that visual peace suddenly things felt calm in my mind too, and I was able to pinpoint a couple of thoughts I'd been struggling to grasp. Space to think.

In the fog of my mind, a couple of tiny focal points shone, and I was able to lock on to those. My path ahead straightened up. 

The point is, in a fog, finding a focal point can be a very beautiful thing. And it works with design, sometimes very powerfully. 

Creating key focal points with typography or illustration is so precious for pointing the way to your audience, through what can be—to them—a fog of information. 

I think there are many things good design can help with, but for me, one of the main things is to communicate a message clearly and directly, and help people find their way to the things they need. Providing clear focal points and helping people discern their way through fog is one of the most brilliant and beautiful things you can do...

...and we all like a bit of helpful, brilliant and beautiful, right?

{Today's Soundtrack: Steve Mason - A Lot Of Love}