Future visions – are you prepared for change?

Today I took part in a Sustainability Action Planning Workshop organised by Forum for the Future, held at the Watershed in Bristol. The aim of the workshop was to get together a wide range of professionals from the creative industries to discuss future scenarios, their implications and our roles in them. It was interesting to meet different types of creative people and the discussions were thoughtful – however I left with mixed feelings.

I was reading the four different uncertain scenarios (uncertain because we don’t really know what will come our way) in preparation for the event on Monday evening and had contradicting feelings about the whole thing. The scenarios, impressive as they were with the depth of detail, had familiar and plausible elements but at the same time they were quite far out there, hard to connect to. At the workshop we were working in groups discussing possible upcoming challenges and opportunities and what action we could take to help positive change. Some persistent red threads came through – need for collaboration, networks, knowledge sharing, openness and transparency, bringing design thinking into business and decision making as an integral part of the process, need for champions who can reach out to educate our industry of actions anyone can take to help combat things like climate change and its repercussions… the list is actually longer than I thought!

As it can be with these “visionary” workshops, the discussion often veered off the focus at hand (building concrete short term and long term actions) and the aims and rules of how to go about the group setting could have been defined clearer. Not that the activity was without benefit, but the results could have been more fruitful and innovative if openness and playfulness would have been encouraged and guided by the facilitators.

So as not to sound like dry critic, I’d like to say that the process we went through today has made me think a lot about both useful ways of engaging with people in workshop scenarios and also about my actions. What can I do to help change happen to tackle climate change and bring sustainability into my working process and workplace? Change is coming on one level or another and I know it can be viewed as a positive thing instead of a negative threat. I’d like to bring a feet-on-the-ground ethical set of values to my work – embracing sustainability in the way I work but also assessing it for the clients I work with. If this could be part of the setting from the start, everyone involved would be aware of it. I’d like to think this would be viewed as responsible thinking and efficient action, all still making business sense as well.

Other actions are already taking place working with ARK – planning projects for social design, tackling local issues and hopefully prototyping ways of collaboration and codesign.

I hope other participants left with some thoughts on their mind rather than indifferent feelings – reaction is always a sign of engagement, be it good or bad.

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ARK Empty Shops – a collaborative process

The last few weeks have been abundant with new connections and inspiration born out of a collaborative process. I went along  to the weekly meet ups with ARK, a social design group based in Cardiff. I had followed their activities in the digital realm for a while and wanted to see what the real environment was like.

I was pleasantly surprised – I had my initial doubts but they were washed away by a shared openhearted approach which spun conversations along. It didn’t take long for me to be engrossed in discussions on social implications design and sharing experiences.

I ended up becoming involved in their Empty Shops project that took place at Castle Arcade last weekend involving three days of multiple ways of participation, mapping and entertainment.

My particular interest was in facilitating and mapping for Friday’s workshop, Imagining Cardiff. Participants from the council and local community and voluntary groups were invited to come along to codesign a vision for a Cardiff in 2020.

It was such fun – we had icebreaker exercises and then brainstorming ideas for projects which would enable that future vision to come true. I personally found the results exhilarating – so many positive and engaging ideas that could be made into reality (some of them are being done elsewhere in the country or in the wider world).

Community workshop (photo by Simon O'Rafferty)

We also hosted a business workshop for the business owners in the arcades. For this we first showed vox pops, then a presentation on social design and then the participants came over to my corner to do some collaborative ideation on how things could be made better. The thing is, there’s no use hosting occasions for negative remarks – a positive outlook and nudging results in positive and engaging ideas. I think we did well and started a process, a spark for the people whose livelihoods depend on the arcades. And, this is not a one off thing either – as we ended the session, we asked the shopkeepers to spread the word about these ideas, and we pledged to meet in a month’s time to see how we can help them develop their ideas into action.

Prior to the workshops I had ideas and theories and fluffy (but positive) feelings of how these workshops would work and what kind of beneficial results we could see afterwards. The experience proved my hunches were right: a genuine, flexible setting for a collaborative workshop in designers facilitate, not determine the process and outcome, is a tool for positive engagement and creating connections both between people and between ideas and concepts. We will continue to develop these processes and the continuation from here onward but the initial feel is there: I think we really started something.


ARK in the digital realm:

ARK blog: http://thinkark.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @thinkark
Empty Shops Twitter feed: @ARKEmptyShops

Or come and meet the people in person – ARK come together every Wednesday at 7pm at the Cardiff Arts Institute. Come and say hello!

Do I have to paint you a picture?

In February I was asked to design the programme for Do I have to paint you a picture?, an international Polaroid exhibition and symposium. The brainchild of photographer Sam Perry, the exhibition and symposium had a good timing now that theoriginal Polaroid film is no longer being manufactured.*

This was one of those projects I can honestly say I enjoyed working on very much. Our meetings took place in a relaxed but productive atmosphere at an arts centre café/bar, usually over a coffee or a glass of wine. We had great conversations about the meaning of Polaroid and its unfortunate demise – and this shared interest formed the foundation for a good client-designer relationship. I actually saw myself as more of a consultant, advisor and collaborator in this project, which made the project run smoothly and the client feel more at ease. The more I work on freelance projects directly with a client, the I more I realise the importance of really listening to your client.

It was fantastic to take part in the symposium, listen to some inspiring talks by Polaroid photographer artists, researchers and journalists, and feel the shared connection in the space. Mark Arkless, a Welsh photographer with a passion for Polaroid, mentioned how the slowly disappearing Polaroid film stock has forced many photographers slow down and think through their process a bit more – the opposite of the effects of digital photography. He also talked about the preciousness and physical nature of Polaroids and how for him the colour variations of the classic SX-70 film express the Welsh concept of hiraeth, a kind of a deep longing for home. A real sense of ownership, care and curiosity was present both in the words of the speakers and the questions of the audience.

I agree with many who say Polaroids work best when they document everyday moments. The unexpected blurs, colour shifts and hues almost mimic the way our memory works – it’s not quite sharp in places and the tone of memories can change over time. For me it’s the size and weight of a Polaroid that makes the physical snapshot of a moment so much more precious – it becomes an object of desire.

*This does not mean the end of instant film – Fuji manufacture a peel-apart type film, and then there are the amazing people behind The Impossible Project who managed to salvage the last Polaroid production plant and who finally have succeeded in producing their own new instant film.

Cardiff ash sunset

From there to here – update of recent activity

Rewind & Fastforward:

  • Last post in January – good vibes for the year
  • Go to to West Wales for research week on a film
  • Come back from West Wales & commence storyboard drawing (ideas stage)
  • In February, continue drawing for storyboards & characters (starting to lose bits of paper with sketches on)
  • Design the programme for Time Zero Polaroid photography symposium (it turned out very lovely – more on that soon)
  • Do a lot of dancing and busting some groovy moves, and then, at the height of contact improv dancing (it sounded like a good idea), injure my knee in five different ways
  • Get cabin fever after two days of immobilisation (patience building exercise can never hurt?)
  • Continue drawing a lot
  • In March, get back to walking again and realising I have a huge list of stuff to share here.

So, here we are. Lots of interesting little bits to come, here’s a snippet from December. After out improv gig at Chapter, which I mentioned in a previous post, me and the genius of Mr Nic Finch did some improv drawing.

Me and Nic Finch doing improvised drawing

Getting closer... what will become of the story?

Laura drawing lots of fishys.

I’d love to do this more, just unplanned, raw drawing out of the blue (well, the blue of the mind). Here’s the final drawing:

The final drawing

I love Nic’s animal collective! My style is more rough and ready, with pyramid-shaped fish, a crumbling tower with a crazy jazz cats blasting out notes enjoyed by deer, and two fairytale characters having tea. Oh, and Mr Moon with mushrooms growing out of his chin.

And also, I designed a poster for the event with an otter in it. Can’t go wrong.

Poster for Your appointment will be yesterday

Creating space for a creative headspace

After a nice break that included no presents, rushing or spending much money, I have been getting back in gear by reading some of my favourite blogs. And I feel particularly warm and fuzzy in my heart as I see the same ethos and sentiment carry through so many people’s minds: to establish better conditions to unleash creativity within themselves.

First lovely Lulu, a creative designer and facilitator beaming with positive attitude, expresses her desire for self-exploration and creation of artistic works:

I believe that by committing to spend some time educating myself about my Self, by using the act of creating to journey from question to understanding, that artistic voice within me will be unleashed. And that the most appropriate mediums of expression will naturally emerge.

Then Olivia, a creative writer and thinker, talks about creative space which she calls “Olivia’s Kitchen”:

This year is about creating conditions that will allow my work to emerge – and Olivia’s Kitchen conjures the image for me of that space. — It is my belief that we are often so focused on worrying about what we are going to do and how we are going to do it, that we actually neglect creating the space which would allow the answers to those questions to emerge naturally.

I also enjoyed reading an ebook about happiness, quality of life and work by Vehmas Assembly (available in Finnish only), in which the author Sampsa coins a nice phrase saying that we all need to “re-educate our inner monkeys”. With this he refers to our evolutionary survival instincts and the unfortunate hoarding and status craving instinct that drives many to a vicious cycle of overconsumption, overworking and unhappiness. I share the point he and many others have made: a process of kindness, love and self-awareness is needed. Channeling these things into everyday life and ways of looking at things will affect everything else, like a chain reaction. One becomes kinder to oneself and this transfers to relationships, work and quality of life.

I felt inspired by all these generous and heartfelt pieces of writing and thought I would simply share my process of creative space. It’s not finished yet and I hope it never will be as things change with the flow. And change and flow I know now to be important parts of my quality of life in general.

I have reorganised my working space at home over Christmas. I have a desk in the corner of our light and cozy living room. It is only when I got rid of lots of clutter that is not related to my creativity (if it’s related, then it’s not clutter), moved it facing the window and allocated a wall next to it for free notes and drawings that I actually feel in my bones I can finally embrace this spot as my own. I have my candle, space for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, a crazy plant, cat per week desk calendar, origami a day calendar, pot with lots of brushes and pens and sticks, a beautiful 50s book of British birds, a shelf with more books, different drawing papers and sketch books, woollen socks to combat drafty floors and the laptop, of course.

I hope you noticed that the laptop was last on the list.

I have now begun addressing the time space issue – to comfortably enjoy spending time here even after a long day at my full time job. Time space is for me really more about the whole sphere of an issue about creative headspace. It’s more about that freedom inside my head, a simultaneous lenience and vigorous drive towards exploring and expressing myself.

The good thing is that I have a perfect project starting up at the end of January, and this project will offer me a framework to help with creative time outside normal working hours. The project involves a workshops with many other great creative people: musicians, actors, filmmakers, writers and me as a storyboard artist. It’s a dream project – I’m going to be exploring storyboarding techniques and hopefully find an interesting way of showcasing the athmospheric moods and even sensuality of a scene. It’s work but it’s firstly more fun and personally rewarding exploration, happiness.

It’s a good start for 2010, a continuity of good things. I wish you all the same.

Mix and match notebooks

Notebooks

Here are some fruits of the labour from a Saturday afternoon. On one of my usual wanders around the charity shops I started admiring the old hardbacks on the shelf, especially their texture and illustrations. Touching them gave me a real sense of ownership that had left its mark on the pages. I wanted to get these books but not just so that they can sit still on a shelf with their counterparts – they deserved more than that.

I started thinking about how I struggle to keep a notebook. I have several notebooks but none of them are quite… well, mine. And this is why a lot of them get lost or forgotten on table corners in my flat, only half-used. I thought these hardback books would actually be perfect to use for note/sketch book covers as they are sturdy and also because they would be customisable. This is something I’ve found lacking in notebooks too. So I gathered a pile of different types of paper into different combinations, trimmed them, added a couple of rubber bands and voilà! My own personalised notebook.

Notebook detail

I can take out or add pages when I want to without ripping anything and even replace all of the pages if I feel like it. Now I’m actually using the book much more and feel slightly compelled to sketch on its pages. I suppose it was just about making my own creative space in the form of a book to enable creative manifestations.