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Catching Fireworks

Deborah Henry-Pollard: Creative Coaching


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How Big Should Your Vision Be?

Posted on 16 August, 2018 at 13:50 Comments comments (0)

If you read my blog or look at my website on a regular basis, you will see that I often talk about vision. It is quite a big thing for me as I know it helps me in deciding what I'm going to do next and it motivates me.  I am often asked if a vision has to be a huge thing, as often people find it difficult to think of a “big enough thing” to aim for. At moments like that, I tell them about a client I worked with a few years ago.

The client came to me with a single small project that she wanted to work on. During our conversations, we started talking about vision and she said that she didn't really have one. She was an artist, as was her husband; they got enough work to cover their living costs and to be able to pick and choose the projects that they took on. They were very happy and fulfilled, with enough time to enjoy all aspects of their lives.

I asked if there was any small change she would like to make in her life? She thought very long and very hard, then said, “I would like to go on a holiday that doesn’t involve a tent.”

Every year, she and her husband had very enjoyable jaunts to the countryside where they took time out, sketched, walked and enjoyed long pub lunches. Because they were on a budget, they went camping. My client didn’t hate camping, but she felt that when planning the next trip, she would like to have the choice between groundsheets and Egyptian cotton sheets, and not having to worry about rain and mud. We talked through the idea and because her desires weren’t extravagant, she said a nice little cottage would be fine.

She worked out the potential cost and how much extra money she and her husband (who was equally happy with the idea) would have to pull in to make it happen. They reviewed how much and what type of extra work they could take on, and looked at the prices they were charging for their works and fees, which they increased. Between these, it was less of a stretch than they had imagined and a few months later, they were on their holidays without a tent in sight!

Since then, they have been perfectly happy with staying in little cottages, with no desires to upgrade to the Savoy or The Ritz. However, having succeeded with this goal, it started them thinking of other small changes they want to make in their lives. Every year, they set themselves a joint vision, something which needs a little bit of effort to pull them forwards.

So, which metaphorical tent do you want to swap for a cottage this year?

Why the arts matter to me

Posted on 9 August, 2018 at 6:40 Comments comments (0)

I was once at a conference looking at how the creative industries can deal with the cuts in arts funding, with a particular focus on theatre. We were put into small working groups and to break the ice, we were asked to tell each other about that moment, that experience which turned us on to the arts. There were some great stories about pantomimes, school dance groups, listening to music on the radio, visiting a gallery, but this was not just an idle question to get us talking. We were reminding ourselves why the arts matter.

My story was about theatre. As a child, I didn’t have a background of theatregoing, but when I moved to London as a 19 year old, this was one of the things I wanted to redress. Not having much money, I bought cheap seats in the Gods and chose musicals and comedies because I saw going to the theatre as being about enjoyment and having a good time. I still think these are pretty good reasons for going to the theatre.

One day, I decided I should branch out and go and see a drama, if only to say I had done it. I knew about and loved Shakespeare because I had studied him at school, but other than that, my dramatic knowledge was pretty scant. I didn’t quite stick a pin in the listings pages of Time Out, but I picked a play simply because I had heard of the two lead actors, the late, great Tom Bell and a pre-Gandalf Ian McKellen. The play was “Bent” by Martin Sherman at the Criterion Theatre.

“Bent” did not come in to the category of a play to enjoy. It was a harrowing piece about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany with horrific acts of violence, including one which happened off stage but with screams the memory of which can still churn my stomach, and a second half set in Dachau concentration camp. As “just” a play, it was superb; great writing, perfectly staged and with two outstanding lead performances which became my benchmark for judging great acting.

And it was much more than that.

This play moved me beyond words, stunned to the point where I distinctly remember a kind woman helping out of my seat. The experience made me read about the history of the period, about the Holocaust, about gay persecution. It made me think about intolerance, inequality and the freedom that human imagination can find in the darkest of circumstances. It made me question my own attitudes, ignorance and character. It also made me realise that a piece of theatre can have a power way beyond the two or three hours spent directly engaged with it.

The arts can inspire us, fire our imagination and enable us to express ourselves. They can connect us to others, take us out of ourselves and make us feel better about ourselves. They can make us think, help us learn, move us and delight us. This is why the arts matter to me and this is why I am committed to supporting arts practitioners through my work.

What was your moment, when were you first fired up by the arts?

Why do the arts matter to you?

We've Got to be Kind

Posted on 2 August, 2018 at 8:35 Comments comments (0)

The concept of kindness has been popping up around me in the past few days.  I was introduced to a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's book, God Bless You, Mr Rosewater. "There's only one rule that I know of, babies, God damn it, you've got to be kind."  And there is a quote (attributed to various people) going around social media, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Being kind is one of those concepts which could sound anodyne, a bit like "nice". But kindness in action is a powerful thing, for both the receiver and giver.

Many years ago, when I was very young and easily influenced, I started work in an office. On the first day, several people warned me about another member of staff.  She was, they said, moody, abrupt, humourless, rude and aloof. And this seemed to be true because although I didn't have much direct contact with her, I could see she was like that with everyone.  I was very intimidated - I was used to people being friendly - and being immature, when I did have to work with her, I would be abrupt first, as a defence mechanism. True to form, she was rude and snappy with me.

After a few times, and knowing I was going to have to be in a meeting with her the next day, I was feeling very anxious. Abrupt wasn't my default mode and it was very uncomfortable for me. I started thinking about how I had taken other peoples' word about her character as truth, before I had made my own decision. What would happen, I thought, if I approached her in a new way - being respectful and, yes, kind?

Initially, it didn't make much of a difference, but I persevered. Over time, her attitude towards me softened. Gradually we became, if not exactly friends, at least warm acquaintances. I treated her with kindness and surprise, surprise, she treated me the same. (She even became less frosty with other people in the office, although they were still too attached to their opinions of her to really loosen up.)

In time, she made passing mentions of a seriously ill husband and of her own tentative health. But you know what? Those hidden hard battles shouldn't matter.

We should be kind to each other just because we can.



A Life Worth Living

Posted on 27 July, 2018 at 4:45 Comments comments (0)

“To die is nothing; but it is terrible not to live”

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

A popular technique used by coaches, including me, when helping people to focus on their long term goal is to ask what they would like to have said in their eulogy.

It may sound a bit grim to ask people to think about their death, but it can be a powerful tool to help concentrate peoples’ minds on what they want their legacy to be and what they need to do in life in order for that legacy to happen. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to know what you might leave behind.

Some years ago, someone in my family was diagnosed with a terminal illness. When his illness was first diagnosed, in his mid-40s, I wondered how I would feel if I had received the same news, what would I think, what would I wish I had done? Out of this, I decided the two things I really wanted to do were to visit to Russia (which I did in April 2007) and to try the Argentine tango. Russia was amazing on so many levels and I loved discovering Russian art. Out of the tango, as well as the sheer enjoyment it has given me, I discovered new levels of creativity, improvision and communication, and developed a new outlook, including the confidence to take the plunge of starting up “Catching Fireworks”.

We all make ripples as we go through our lives and sometimes we have no idea of the effect that we have on other people. Therefore, even if you are given to introspection and wonder how you will be remembered, I suspect that you will never really know – you can only hope. All you can do is live as honestly as possible, being true to yourself, your vision and your values. Enjoy the moment and even if you feel you are working in isolation, somewhere, sometime, there is a good chance you will influence someone.

For the here and now, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we are all going to die and alas, it is not always going to be when we are old. If there is something you have always wanted to do, a burning desire or dream that you will get around to “one day”? Well, as long at it is not going to hurt someone else, may I suggest that you just do it?

You only have the one life; ensure that you make the most of it, both for yourself and for all those people you impact on positively, and possibly unknowingly, along the way.

Take Five with Tabish Khan

Posted on 19 July, 2018 at 5:20 Comments comments (0)

If you are part of the art world in London, you will have probably bumped into Tabish Khan as he visits and writes about hundreds of exhibitions a year covering everything from the major blockbusters to the emerging art scene. He is Art Critic and Visual Arts Editor for The Londonist and writes the Weekly Top exhibition picks and What's Wrong with Art column for FAD Magazine. (You can keep track of his adventures in art via his weekly newsletter.) He is also a judge for art prizes, including the Secret Art Prize 2018. As well as bumping into him at events, we are both trustees of ArtCan, a non-profit arts organisation that supports artists through profile raising activities and exhibitions.

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

There are so many great things about being an art critic, including being surrounded by such brilliant creative and talented people. To pick one it would have to be the opportunity to see such great art and exhibitions - I see approximately 1,000 shows a year and I never get bored of it. Early morning visits have allowed me to have major museums largely to myself and I've worked from the HMS Belfast for a day. It's a privileged position to be in and I'm very appreciative of how enjoyable it is to be an art critic.

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

No, I'm slightly strange in never having had a hero. I'm a firm believer that we're all capable of heroic acts but it's unfair to place any person on a pedestal as we all make mistakes -- it's part of what makes us human. I admire everyone who has found something they are truly passionate about, is hard working and acts graciously and generously towards every person they encounter -- I'm a fan of nice people doing well.

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

Be diverse in your interests. I stumbled into writing about art after I had started a corporate career and I think having two very different careers gives me a broader outlook on life that I would have otherwise. We're always at risk at disappearing into the respective bubbles of our industry and experiencing new activities and meeting diverse people really helps us gain perspective and learn about new ideas. I'm slowly getting there but it would've been great to do more diverse activities earlier in my life.

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

As a writer the best fix I've read about is to get writing even if it's just nonsense, as often getting started is the hardest part. If my head is really not in it then going for a walk often clears my head. I recognise these are both cliches, but they work for me.

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

A trainer as I'm constantly moving around London, and I definitely couldn't do my job without a comfy pair of trainers. My current pair are bright red which probably reflects my artistic side trying to express itself over my scientific / corporate background.








Take Five with Tine Bladbjerg

Posted on 12 July, 2018 at 19:05 Comments comments (0)

Tine Bladbjerg is a jeweller who works from her shop, A L'etage 2, in Crystal Palace, where she creates statement jewellery of great simplicity and elegance. I have known her work for a while and indeed, the beautiful gold pendant which I always wear and which gives me huge pleasure every day, is one of Tine's creations. Her imagination is coupled with a superb technical ability which results in exquisite pieces. Yes, I am a fan! Visit her website to see her work and find out where she will be showing and selling her work.

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

In my professional life I would say that the single best thing is that I get to do what I love, which is creating the jewellery, for a big part of the time.

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

When I was younger my creative heroes were Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. I admired the way they seemed to have neverending ideas and were able to draw on the currents of their times. These days I admire artists and crafts people who can renew themselves but stay true to their gut feelings.

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

I don't really have anything I wish someone would have told me when I started. To be honest I probably wouldn't have listened. I went into business in 1996 just after college with very little idea of how to run a business but with lots for ideas for jewellery and a willingness and determination to try. I think if I had known more it might have been too scary to start.

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

I don't tend to get creative blocks but this is probably because I always have deadlines. Sometimes I don't have ideas for new designs but then I just make the orders or stock and then the ideas will usually come while I work.

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

I am not sure what kind of shoe I am but if I had a choice I would like to be a black, high heeled leather boot. Like my jewellery the boot is simple and elegant and can be either quirky, sassy or classic depending how you dress it up.





Posted on 5 July, 2018 at 4:10 Comments comments (1)

"I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward."

Charlotte Bronte

Many years ago, I worked on a theatre production which involved 1 blind woman and about 30 sighted people. At one point, the blind woman had to turn and run offstage, through the throng of people. It kept going horribly wrong and we couldn't work out why. Sure, the blind woman couldn't see where she were going, but why weren't the sighted people getting out of the way?

It was ages before we realised that usually, a sighted person will turn their head to look where they are going before stepping. Even if it is a small, quick movement, made a nano-second before turning the rest of the body, other people will unconsciously pick up this signal and if necessary, move out of the way.

So what can we take from this interesting piece of information? Whether we realise it or not, we go where our eyes take us. Left, right, behind, forward, we look, then we move. But how often do you see people walking along, looking at their feet? Or seeing no further than their phone screen? And as you are watching and picking up their subliminal messages, what does this tell you about that person? I see it in stations every day - people with eyes cast down looking tired, listless and lacking energy, putting long term strain on their necks and their attitudes, bumping into other people, missing what is happening around them.

Then you see someone who is looking upwards - I don't mean head right back and looking straight up, which would give a similar set of problems and would just be silly. No, people who are looking just above eye line, walking out with energy and brio, open to whatever is around them, with a spring in their step.  

Looking upwards is like smiling - if you do it, it can immediately make you feel better and more positive. So if you are out walking today and feeling a bit bleurgh, change your attitude by changing your view. Take your eyes off the floor and look life in the face.

Taking Time Out

Posted on 29 June, 2018 at 0:50 Comments comments (0)

I have a plethora of friends and contacts who are currently going to, returning from or planning holidays to the Seychelles, Crete, Cambodia, the Lake District…  Whether you are off to Bermuda or Brighton, or having a staycation, it is important to take some time out to recharge the batteries.  But if you are self employed, it is often hard to convince yourself that you can afford (either in time or money) to take time off. And if, like me, you really love what you do, it is difficult to notice how much you are working.

Now I have to confess at this point that I am not a great one for holidays in the formal sense. Two weeks sitting on a beach would a) burn my fair skin and b) bore me rigid. I’m also not one for long country walks - I like to know the countryside is there, but I don’t need to actually visit it. I am more of a city break, gallery type and even then, after about 4 days I get restless.

But what I am very good at doing is regularly blocking time out in my diary to definitely not work.  This could be a day or a weekend where, first and foremost, I turn off the phone, unplug the laptop and lock away the iPad.  If it is a cold, wet Sunday, I will snuggle down on the sofa with endless pots of tea and a pile of books and spend 12 hours in other peoples’ lives. (Crime fiction is a firm favourite of mine and the Inspector Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri are particularly good for holiday reading - great plots plus endless descriptions of Italian food and locations which make you feel like you are really there!)

I often plan a ‘city break’ in my home town of London, meeting up with friends and spending the day like tourists, taking ourselves to places we don’t usually see in the hurly burly of working life.  (It also cuts out the time and expense of travel!)  We make it a rule not to talk about work and to have lots of tea!

The point is, whether you take a day or a couple of weeks, it is important to just kick back and take a complete break. It is very good for your well being and also your career - emptying your mind of work even for a few hours creates space for all those new ideas!

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.”