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Catching Fireworks

Deborah Henry-Pollard: Creative Coaching


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Take Five with Lesley Malone

Posted on 22 June, 2018 at 4:20 Comments comments (0)

Lesley Malone is a great example of someone with a portfolio career as she is a photographer, artist, video-maker, writer, gardener and musician. As a photographer and writer, she specialises in contemporary landscape design, with her photography portfolio showcasing some recent work by UK landscape architects. She writes about current landscape issues in a monthly column for Pro Landscaper magazine. Lesley is also a drummer and percussionist with Seventh Harmonic, a  a neoclassical ensemble. Lesley is responsible for the new headshots on my site and I am extremely pleased with them!


In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?

My professional life is quite a pick'n'mix at the moment (a 'portfolio career' I believe is the correct term). Along with my photography, I have a one-woman gardening business called Lovely Gardens. And I also write (my first book will be out in August and I'm just starting my second), make websites, copy-edit, and play drums in a couple of bands. So the single best thing for me is not being confined to a single role - I love being able to combine manual labour with more cerebral or creative work. In thirty years of salaried employment I never really had a sense of career direction, but now I'm self-employed I make a living from all sorts of stuff that I love doing, without all the bother of a manager, team meetings, annual appraisals, commuting, working in a horrible office, and all that soul-destroying ghastliness.

Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?

I'm not one for hero-worship really, but Joni Mitchell has my undying admiration. As well as creating some of the beautiful music and lyrics ever, she was a ground-breaking producer in her time, and is a highly talented painter. She's also endured major personal adversity from an early age, and horrendous music industry sexism throughout her career, but always radiated dignity, integrity, wisdom, and strength. A truly multi-talented original.

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?

Don't think in terms of 'a career'. As a child, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. At 52 I still don't. I recently saw an interesting twist on the 'What would you like to be when you're grown up?' question that kids are regularly asked, rephrased as 'What problems would you like to help solve?' - a much more positive approach I feel, which also acknowledges alternatives to wage-slavery and soulless career paths, as well the option working for the greater good instead of personal gain.

If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?

Gardening. Gardening gets me though everything. A garden is full of lessons in thinking long-term, persistence, nurturing projects, problem-solving, creativity, and going with the natural flow instead of trying to force solutions. Whatever the question is, for me the answer is in my garden.

And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?

As someone who has zero interest in footwear, this is the most difficult question to answer of the five! I think my tough old vegan Doc Martens probably sum me up quite well: aged, scuffed and gnarly on the outside, but much softer than you'd think...





Waterloo Sunset and the Power of Visioning

Posted on 20 June, 2018 at 5:00 Comments comments (0)

"But I don’t feel afraid

As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset

I am in Paradise"

Ray Davies

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.  

How do you keep yourself focussed and on track when you are working towards a goal?

One method I have found extremely powerful is visioning, having a clear image of what you want to achieve and keeping this in your mind regardless of any ups and downs along the way.  The vision which keeps you going could be the opening night of your first solo exhibition; opening the cover of your debut novel; reading your profile in The Observer...

As a creative person, you can build up a clear picture for yourself – where you are, who is there with you, how you are feeling, what you are thinking.  Make it as rich and full a vision as you want and remind yourself of it every day.  You can use an image as your computer wallpaper or use a mood board, or use music.

The best example I have of using visioning in my own life comes from a few years ago, when I was living in Chester where I had been for 9 years.  I like Chester very much, but I really wanted to get back to London, a place I love.  On 1 January 2001, I told my friends that by 31 December 2001, I would be back in London.

I had no idea where in London I would be living, whether in a flat or house, or what sort of job I would be doing.  So I created a quite simple picture for myself as my vision for my hoped for new life.  On the day after I moved back to London, I would stand on Waterloo Bridge with my CD player and as the sun went down over the Thames, I would listen to Ray Davies’s mini masterpiece, “Waterloo Sunset”.  At that moment, I would know that my goal had been achieved.  

During the next few months, I had several near miss job interviews and “almost” opportunities, with all the emotional highs and lows which go along with them.  But every morning, without fail, I would refocus my efforts and my intentions by playing “Waterloo Sunset”.

On the late afternoon of 18 December, 2001, I could have been found on Waterloo Bridge huddled against the chill air, wearing earphones and a silly big grin on my face as I watched the wintery sun slide behind The Houses of Parliament, listening to this wonderful song, before going home to my new south London flat.  It was a bit of a close run thing, but I made my goal with a few days to spare.

And even better, whenever I need to focus on a goal, I can go back to the song and know, “Well, I made that goal, I can make the next one.”




Posted on 13 June, 2018 at 0:00 Comments comments (0)

Dancing the Argentine Tango teaches me so much more than 'just' getting around a dance floor without falling over or treading on my partner's toes.

Having a repertoire of clever steps, an understanding of music, a good partner and a pair of snazzy shoes is all very nice.  However, the Argentine Tango is an improvised dance, depending on a collaboration and connection with your partner.  This could be someone with whom you dance frequently or who you have just met.  

You have to be focussed totally on what you as a couple are doing.  You have to listen to the music with your ears and to each others' movements with your bodies and your intention.  With there being no set choreography, the follower never knows what step they might be led and the leader can never assume that the follower will do exactly what was intended.  It is a conversation, dictated by the connection, the music and in a busy milonga, what else is happening on the floor.

The key to making the dance work is mindfulness, as in 'a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment' (oxforddictionaries).  If you want to dance well and have a lovely tango experience, when the music starts there is no room to think about the phone call you should have made this afternoon, the email you need to send first thing tomorrow or what to have for supper.  (Personally, I would even go so far as to say your mind shouldn't even be on the steps, where the follower is trying to second guess the leader or the leader is working out how they are going to get their newly learnt, killer move into the dance.) Attention and intention must be absolutely in the moment, with the dance flowing from the connection.  It has been described by some dancers as being like meditation.

The bottom line is that to dance tango beautifully, even if you only know two steps, you have to be totally committed to what you are doing and there is absolutely no room for multitasking.

A great lesson for every other area of our lives.


Posted on 7 June, 2018 at 9:50 Comments comments (0)

If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.

Colin Powell

Some years ago, I knew a woman who was working part-time as a barista in a leading coffee shop chain.  The job paid her bills, but she knew it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

In fact, she already knew the job she wanted.  She had seen it advertised.  And had applied for it.  And had got an interview.

On Interview Day, she had to work the morning shift at the coffee shop, even though she desperately wanted to be preparing herself for the afternoon.

However, during the course of her shift, she did her job to the best of her ability and dealt with all the customers in her usual way: focused, helpful and with a sunny smile.

She even kept her helpful attitude with the rather aggressive red haired woman waiting in the queue who wanted to triple check that her takeaway latte was definitely decaf with soya milk and the cookies were absolutely gluten free.

Which was a good job because when she arrived for her interview an hour later, one of her interviewers was a rather aggressive red haired woman whose first words were, "oh, you're the girl who was so friendly in the coffee shop".

She got the job.

What Will You Do Today?

Posted on 31 May, 2018 at 10:35 Comments comments (0)

I am a great believer in visioning, goal setting and affirmations. These are all really important things when setting out where you want to go and reinforcing the mindset to get you there.

I know from my own experience that once you start putting your message and intention out into the world that things can line up in your favour. 

However, before you think that I only advocate 'think happy thoughts and all will come to you', you would be wrong.  Once you have your vision and goals in place, you then have to take action. 

Let me give you an example from my own background. 

Many years ago, I was working on the edges of theatre administration and decided that I wanted to get into theatre marketing.  I had no idea of the breadth of ‘theatre marketing’, what I needed to know, how I could learn or how I could get into the sector.  I also didn’t know anyone who worked in theatre marketing.  The only thing I had was a huge pile of programmes from all the shows I had seen in the previous 12 months. 

I went through every programme and made a list of all the people listed in the credits as being responsible for the marketing of each show.  I ended up with a list of 50 people, for who I found addresses. 

I wrote to every single one of them.  The letter was just a polite 'I would like to do what you do - do you have any advice?' type of letter.  I also sent them my very thin CV.  (A side advantage was that I learnt to type as that this was the days before computers - oh yes, they did exist - and so I had to produce 50 letters and 50 CVs on a manual typewriter.)  Oh, by the way, before you think I was an over eager extrovert, I wrote letters because I wasn’t brave enough to telephone. 

I sent the letters off and waited for what I expected might be 4 or 5 responses. 

I got 48. 

A few were very nice letters with great bits of advice, courses to go on, books to read, places to look for jobs.  Most were generous invitations to come in and see them for a chat. 

I spent a very happy couple of months using up my holiday entitlement in odd half days visiting little cramped offices at the top of old theatres to smart swanky suites, and everything in between.

I got to meet some really fabulous, inspiring people.  I heard their stories and listened to their advice.  I learnt so much about theatre and marketing and was able to make some informed decisions about defining my goal and what to do next.  I went to events and met more people. I built up a network.  It was also very good fun. 

After a couple of months, I got a phone call from one of the people to whom I had written inviting me to a job interview, resulting in a year long contract with Cameron Mackintosh, which in turn led to a contract with the Society of London Theatre.  Goal reached.

So, what action will you take today to move you towards your goal?

If you are not sure how to move forward, book a free exploratory call with me to see how we could work together.

Take Five with Chris E King

Posted on 22 May, 2018 at 5:45 Comments comments (0)

Chris King is a British art, documentary and event photographer based in London, who never goes anywhere without a 'proper' camera. Chris's photography is held in private collections in the UK and USA, and documentary works can be viewed in the permanent collection at The Frontline Club, London. Following’ Chris’s inaugural London gallery exhibition in Spring 2011, he has embarked upon a major body of work that captures the South and South-West United States, as seen from the perspective of a foreigner, composed and presented in his identifiable style.

Chris produces images for the weekly Be Smart About Art blog (written by Susan J Mumford) published on Sundays. These blogs and images, which are part and parcel of the series, have been collated into a book, Art is Your Life. Make it Your Living. Chris's first solo book, No Opportunity for Regret, is published by Dark Spring Press.

In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?

Creating things. It's true both in my day-to-day work, which is as a software developer, and in my photography practice. Both are about turning ideas into something that other people can use or enjoy.

Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?

Not particularly - I enjoy and admire the beauty and craft the work of lots of artists, but I don't feel especially drawn to a particular person as an inspiration.

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?

Keep working at it. Also, get photos printed and up on a wall as soon as you can. It makes a huge difference.

If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?

If it's just for an afternoon, then don't force it. Stop, and do something else. Look at someone else's work in a show - I find it gives me better perspective on my own. Lastly, if you're struggling for direction, try talking to a creative coach - I have had some very helpful suggestions from the wonderful Zoe Whishaw.

And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?

My favourite pair of boots, which are no longer made. But mended. They're very comfortable, and they look(ed) great.






Take Five with Poppy Porter

Posted on 22 May, 2018 at 3:35 Comments comments (0)

Photos by Thomas Lisle Brooker

Poppy Porter is a jeweller who makes "unconventional jewellery for independent spirits with strong tastes and adventurous hearts". Her work is inspired by her love of music as channelled though her synaesthesia, which takes the form of seeing sound. Her jewellery is full of movement, texture and colour and is perfect for those who want work which is bold and totally individual. (I own a ring Poppy designed and made, which always attracts admiring comments!) She also writes a fabulous blog and it is well worth signing up to her newsletter which gives you regular bursts of colour in your inbox, along with insights into her process and relationship with music.   

In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?

For me satisfaction comes in what I call the process of realised creation, I'm a jeweller I make unconventional silver jewellery inspired by the sound of a distorted rock guitar. How do I do that? I have a neurological trait called synaesthesia which allows me to see music as shape, colour and movement. I channel the energy and emotion of music through my synaesthesia to make jewellery for independent spirits with strong tastes and adventurous hearts. I love jewellery, making it, wearing it and matching what I make with the right woman to wear it. It is not just the creation of the jewellery that is so satisfying (and I have to say making treasure for a living is fantastic) when people wear jewellery it lives, the story of a piece of jewellery is more in the wearing than the making.

Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?

Now there's a question there are so many inspirational creatives out there! All my creative heroes are musicians as it is their music that directly inspires my work. Who to pick? Solo bassist and improviser Steve Lawson would be a contender, he and I work on a live art project called Illuminated Loops, he plays, and I draw what he plays on long rolls of paper which he then uses as a visual score to improvise more. It's an incredible project. However, if we are talking heroes that suggests a different kind of relationship, a distant rather than a collaborative one. So I am going to pick a member of the band Muse. An appropriate name, every artist needs a muse. In the end, I am going to have to go for Matt Bellamy, the guitarist, singer and songwriter of Muse. It is his guitar playing that has found its way into my jewellery, his music has gone beyond obsession and has become part of the architecture of my mind. My synaesthetic reaction to his guitar playing forms the focus and inspiration for my Guitar Distortion jewellery.

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?

Should is the most dangerous word in the English language. It takes time, patience and a lot of hard work to find your voice and find your audience, do whatever you have to give yourself time and space to explore that. The best expression of this I've heard is from Chase Reeves of the Fizzle Show Podcast. "Don't should all over yourself."

If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?

Do something else and let it brew, an idea will come to you. Go for a walk, anything but sit there trying to screw an idea out. I spend a considerable amount of time listening to music, the flow and rhythm of it and the visuals it creates for me is usually enough to get me where I need to be going.

And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?

I recently bought a pair of Tor boots from shoemaker Carré Ducker in Cockpit Arts; they are the perfect pair of workshop boots, beautifully made in tan leather with felt lining. My friend said to me as I tried them on "...your soul looks at home in those." (No pun intended!) They look good, are strong, resilient and practical like me naturally ;)




Take Five with Liz Atkin

Posted on 17 May, 2018 at 5:30 Comments comments (0)

Liz Atkin is an internationally acclaimed visual artist and advocate based in London. Compulsive Skin Picking dominated her life for more than 20 years, but art has become her greatest tool for recovery. Liz reimagines the body-focused repetitive behaviour of skin picking into photographic artworks, charcoal drawings and performances. Her work has been exhibited in the UK, Australia, Singapore, USA and Japan. She has given public talks for TEDx, Wellcome Collection and at a range of conferences and health events around the world.

As a freelance creative practitioner Liz works in therapeutic settings, schools, galleries, prisons, hospitals and arts venues, teaching visual art, set design, movement and drama to all ages from early years to adults. She regularly teaches for Arts Depot, Half Moon Young People's Theatre, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and Extant.

Liz was on an advocacy trip in Singapore for 2 weeks, creating free #CompulsiveCharcoal drawings, and sharing her story in talks at Universities and Hospitals. A film about her trip by Channel News Asia was viewed 150,000 in the first 24 hours. She has just been featured in The Huffington Post. And if you are travelling on the underground in London, you may be lucky enough to be sat next to her and get your own free drawing!

In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?

Because of the transformative experiences I have had with art, it is now a fully connected part of my life. I teach art and drama in hospitals, hospices, prisons, universities and schools, approaching creativity as a hugely important tool to help others. Art gets in there without language and provides a channel to express some of this stuff. It can be very hard to put into words what it feels like to live with Skin Picking. But I can perhaps find a way to express this through a photograph, and that becomes very cathartic. Art is a powerful tool for us to also focus our minds — I find it to be extremely mindful, soothing, evocative and emotional, all in the same moment! That's a terrific thing, and it has become something I am passionate about offering to others. Teaching has become a very important part of my life now.

I'm really proud and grateful to be an advocate for mental health and skin picking, raising awareness for people with mental or physical disabilities to be able to feel welcomed in the art community. Be it through using art as a cathartic healing tool, to being able to embrace artists of such backgrounds. Sort of to build an equal opportunity playing field for everyone. Art is also not simply for those in that scene but is something which I believe is intrinsic in all of us. The ability for art to provoke thought and emotion in everyone can be used as a great tool to reach out to people out there who can use it as a form of therapy. As an artist who is exploring mental health issues but also finding creative approaches to looking after ourselves, it feels like I'm riding a good wave here, in terms of putting my art to good use. I think the health connection in my artwork and practice has given me a lot of empathy to want to work with others who might be experiencing difficulties in their lives.

Freelance life gives me such opportunities, no single day is the same when teaching and working with others. I teach very young children from 18 months to 3 years old, I run my own art classes for 4 - 12 years, teenagers and adults of all ages. I get to design and make, and play - these energies are wonderful and vibrant.

Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?

I admire the work of artists who do not shy away from the complexities we live with as human beings, like Louise Bourgeois for her unflinching examination of her life, artists who have incredible chameleon qualities like Picasso, David Bowie. I love the paintings of Francis Bacon for their visceral drama in life and death, Grayson Perry for his advocacy for mental health and art, is an advocate and feminist, and a brilliant artist and maker.

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?

I didn’t train as an artist, I followed my intuitive and singular fascinations.... and I guess the advice I wish I’d had at the start was to really listen to my gut! I wish I’d understood earlier how powerful and remarkable art was for my soul... it took a decade to take a leap of faith towards my creative life, because I was too scared to embrace it fully. For a long time, art was on the side, I thought of it more like my ‘hobby’ I guess, and I didn’t dream I could make a living from it. But once I got ill and had to leave a senior arts management job, it became very clear, that there was no time like the present to listen to my creativity. In the end, art was the single greatest tool to get me better. I also stopped worrying about what might happen, instead embracing the uncertainty and recognising the skills as a manager could be redirected into problem solving as an artist.

If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it

There’s a saying by John Cage: Begin Anywhere. That is absolutely a mantra for me, and most especially when feeling blocked. A great example of this actually happened during the darkest point of my life. I was unwell with severe depression and chronic anxiety and had almost a year off work in 2013/14, and this phrase became extremely important to me as an artist, and as a human being! When very frightening mental health problems made it almost impossible to function, this simple phrase became so powerful, because it reminded me it didn’t always need grand plans to just start somewhere - with anything! Even getting dressed became a huge undertaking, so quietly reminding myself to just begin, was a gentle tool. I ended up making a series of images in my bath, because in warm water I felt a lot calmer and more connected to my body when I was ill. So I took the camera with me and just began. Many years later, this series of artworks exploring depression and anxiety was exhibited at the Southbank Centre, and went on to be shown at the David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles! You never know where those small beginnings can lead you... even from the darkest places!

And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?

I would be a United Nude shoe! This brand is an innovative collaboration between an architect and a designer, and the results are magical strange looking creations. I bought a pair of the Bright Mix boots last year and they are fabulously colourful, and so comfortable... I love the dramatic and imaginative look of them... it’s a shoe that bends and moulds to the wearers foot, two thick sections of elastic hold the foot snugly. For me they are innovative, playful and artistic! And I love that they were created through collaboration!






Take Five with Emma Mapp

Posted on 16 May, 2018 at 11:10 Comments comments (0)

Emma Mapp is a photographer and designer.

Initially a City lawyer, she lost her job at the height of the recession in 2009, declaring it now as “the best thing that could have happened to me”. Giving up the law, Emma acted on a long-held dream to turn her passion for photography into her career. In just over 6 years, she has become an award winning photographerand also has her leather camera bag and camera strap range launched in May 2016, which uses her photography and design skills and is inspired by a pattern taken from an antique Chinese raw silk kimono that belonged to her great-grandmother.

Alongside her own work, Emma is supporting other photographers. She helped found the London Photo Festival, which gives aspiring photographers a place to showcase their work – and also the London Photo Gallery, which helps sell the work of newly emerging photographers.

In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?

Having the flexibility to plan my own working day (and I get to meet the most interesting and inspirational people!)

Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?

Thomas Heatherwick - an English designer and 'clever creative'. I went to hear a talk by him about 4 years ago after I was made redundant, and I found it to be one of the most inspirational talks I've heard to date.

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?

Building up a business takes time and patience! Patience is not a characteristic that comes naturally to me, but I've had to learn to develop it along the way because you cannot control every process and there's always a natural order at play. It took me two years to find a business partnership for my camera bags and straps but the patience paid off and I realise I had to undertake the creative journey I went on in order to get to my current stage.

If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?

Park it. Forcing something is a waste of time and emotion - you can always go back to it at a later date or move on to something new. Not every creative journey needs to come to fruition but the process is important and you will learn invaluable things along the way.

And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?

I'm quite tall and hardly wear high heels, so I'd like to be a nice, sexy pair of strappy stilettos!






Is Coaching About Making Me Better?

Posted on 5 May, 2018 at 0:55 Comments comments (0)

This is a question which came out of talking about coaching with a prospective client.

I did not question the meaning of ‘better’ in this context. It could have meant better as in opposite to ‘not well’ or better as in more accomplished. Neither is relevant to me because when someone, perhaps like you, wants to work with me, I don’t regard you as in need of being improved, of being fixed, of being made better. I come from the attitude that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.

You know your life, your business, your ideas best. You generally know what works for you and what doesn’t. You often know what you really want to do with your life. You often know what is holding you back. However, sometimes that knowledge, those instincts, have got buried. You could have so much going on that you just can’t focus. Or your thinking has been going along one track so you end up not being able to see the wood for the trees. Or you have been scared to voice your thoughts in case you look foolish. Or a thousand other perfectly sound reasons why you are stuck or unclear.

I am not a therapist. I am not here to cure you or tell you ‘how to’. My job is to create a safe space, be an objective cheerleader and ask questions to pull the answers out of the best expert in the room on you - you. I can offer different viewpoints for you to think about; ideas which might not be right, but which you can try on for size; opportunities to drill down to what you really think and feel about your situation; a place to be accountable so you can follow through on your actions.

It is not a coming together of fixer and fixee, like a mechanic with a broken bike. It is a collaboration between facilitator (me) and expert in the life of you. During the course of the collaboration, you may develop, have breakthroughs and find out new things about yourself, but that is only because it is all hidden inside you anyway, like the golden glitter inside a firework.

Sometimes, all it needs is someone to light the spark.