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Catching Fireworks

Deborah Henry-Pollard: Creative Coaching


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Take Five with Nicholas Fry

Posted on 3 July, 2019 at 3:25 Comments comments (0)

Nicholas Fry has a fascinating job as a Historical Advisor. An actor himself who has appeared in on stage and television, including 'Coronation Street', 'Heartbeat', 'Cold Feet' and 'The Forsyte Saga', he now also works with people creating historical pieces who need help on how things should look, what costumes should be worn, what buildings should be in a shot, etc. As the Trivia sections on IMDb attest, people get very annoyed by period inaccuracies! (There were several articles about Sunday evening favourites, 'Poldark' and 'Victoria' playing fast and loose with history.) Working with organisations such as Creative England and Shepperton Studios, Nicholas can advise and catch any potentially expensive mistakes before they reach the screen, stage or page. If you need an advisor to help with your film, play or book, you can contact Nicholas via his website.

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

That the work is so varied. One day I can be advising about religious ceremonial, the next about the correct colours for an 18 century interior and the following day talking to an actor about how much Pitt the Younger drank each day! I work with art directors, photographers, exhibition designers, costume designers, production managers, writers and actors and the demands of each are very different.

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

Peter Brook, the theatre director. I saw his hugely influential RSC production of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ when I was 14 and it taught me very early on that it’s important to strip things back to their real meaning both in terms of design and style of presentation - less is always more or to put it another way, ‘show don’t tell’.

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

Always trust your own instincts and go with your gut reaction. While other people’s views should be heard, if you don’t follow your own creative impulses, you’ll never be really happy with the end result.

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

Do something completely different that involves going somewhere else – a change of physical location always gives you a new perspective on a problem.

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

Easy – a Venetian ‘chopine’. These were platform shoes popular in Venice in the 15 /16 /17 centuries which could be up to 20” high – nobody’s going to miss you in those!




Posted on 28 June, 2019 at 3:20 Comments comments (0)

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Sometimes we have ideas which are great, but which don't happen because of a variety of reasons: we feel we lack of time or expertise; we only have part of an idea; our idea is basically good, but limited by our thinking; we feel we 'have' to do it all ourselves and not ask for help.

If you have ever found a project stalling before it starts for any of these reasons, collaboration is a fabulous opportunity for people to come together to share their expertise, enthusiasm and commitment to a project.


Collaboration can get you working with people with complementary skill sets and extended networks. Projects having access to cross disciplinary approaches can by virtue of resources expand into something more ambitious. It can make a project or group seem more credible or professional, and/or extend its' reach.  


People bringing different ways of thinking together to reach a shared goal or vision can open up unlimited possibilities of innovative ideas and solutions. They can engender change in the project, the group and the individual. Working together as a team inspires motivation for those days when we need a little extra kick to get us going. Collaboration can also be, dare I say it, fun!


There are many ways to discover new potential collaborators, such as finding each other via support networks on or offline, or organically from talking with people. The key is to be listening out at all times for people who seem to be on your wavelength, have shared interests and similar vision and to be open to possibility.


How you collaborate, especially in this technological age, is now completely open. I work with clients face to face, over the phone, by Skype and by email. I know a couple who are collaborating on a musical project over the net with the composer in Thailand and the lyricist in Aberdeen. And there is always a place for people to be together in a room kicking ideas around. 


For a great insight into collaborative working, check out The Collaborative Habit by Twyla Tharp, detailing her collaborations with Billy Joel, Jerome Robbins, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Richard Avedon, Milos Foreman, Norma Kamali and Frank Sinatra. It is a fascinating read of Ms Tharp’s projects, but also a great guide on how to manage and be an effective part of a collaboration.


https://www.amazon.co.uk/Collaborative-Habit-Lessons-Working-Together/dp/1416576517/ ;

Take Five with Laura Hepworth

Posted on 19 June, 2019 at 4:00 Comments comments (1)

Laura Hepworth is a Conceptual Artist whose work explores process through themes of creativity and connection utilising drawings, painting, printmaking, large scale sculpture and installation as a means to transform the familiarity of the everyday into what is perceived as uncanny. 

Laura graduated in 2015 from University for Creative Arts, Canterbury with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art. Since then, she has been very proactive in organising exhibitions to promote her work and build her reputation, often in collaboration with others.

Laura is also an advocate for creativity for wellness, "contemplating and looking closely at the ways we utilize our own ability to be creative, in order for us to cope and manage ourselves through self-caring strategies."

Laura's next exhibition is 'Land Over Sea' with guest ceramic artist Katie Iacovou (my Take Five guest for next month). It will run from 31 July-14 August at the Jeannie Avent Gallery in North Cross Road, East Dulwich, London. Laura and Katie will be taking influence from the natural beauty of the Cornish coast combining new canvases from Laura complimented by Katie's beautifully crafted ceramic bowls and sculptural pieces.

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

The connections people make and discover within my paintings provoke a shared experience that explores new ways of seeing the world around us through my eyes. In result of that, the story telling of each piece is paramount, as it is a moment in which the process and energy of the paintings become fully exposed to the presence of energy that is channelled by our surroundings and the people present in the moment of visualisation.

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

This one was a hard one to crack; however, I’ve managed to narrow my list down to three artists who have played a major influence in my own creative journey and you’ll notice a pattern. These three artists have one thing in common and that is their intuition to recreate the way we envisage the natural world. In their own unique ways, redefining our own understanding of the relationships we have with the mothership, that is the natural world.

Throughout my childhood Barbara Hepworth was one of the first big names which influenced my love of doing absolutely anything creative from a very young age! Then throughout the years of studying Fine Art at university, an interdisciplinary installation artist, Tomas Saraceno blew my mind with his installation ’14 Billion’, an installation that seeps inspiration from a spider’s web and places the entire universe within a web made from 14 billion rubber bands. And finally my current heroine is Heather Day, an American abstract artist based in California, an artist whose practice consistently pushes the boundaries of the way we look at the natural world, through her sensory interpretations of what is seen and how it is felt through shape and colour.

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

Don’t get attached to your work. I’m still learning to tackle this one, as each piece I make I envisage as an extension of myself and it can be sad sometimes to see a particular work you love go off to live in a new home. Having said that, seeing a work go to a new home and making an impression on a person is a very special thing to witness as an artist. And each new year brings new exhibitions, so there’s lots of time and room to practice!

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

Having experienced my lengthiest block recently, I’ve learnt how important it is to give myself time to actually recover. Physically and mentally, for me, it’s about finding a balance between what goes on within the studio and outside of it once we leave. In the moments where I experienced a block, I looked to reconnect myself with the natural world by taking a walk to give myself a place to think, where my mind wasn’t overrun by the number of jobs I would have to get done the following day at work, or the shape or colour I wasn’t sure on using next for a piece of work.

So my top tip would be to take yourself away from whatever you’re doing, take a step back and look at your blockage, as if it’s inside a box and you’re looking at it from the outside. Give your mind the space and air to breathe. And revisit your practice when the mind is refreshed and not overthinking everything you look at. Then, and only when you’re ready, go and ask yourself all of the questions you asked yourself at the beginning of the making process. What if? When? How? But most importantly, WHY are you doing that.

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

Converse Trainers, are my favourite shoe in the world! Ease and unlimited comfort throughout every wear, suitable to wear with most outfits and perfect for those moments you need to run for the bus!


Setting Goals for the 'Dull' Stuff

Posted on 13 June, 2019 at 5:50 Comments comments (0)

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There is something which I frequently come across when working with clients which always surprises me. 

For example, a sculptor will be willing to hand over their precious wood, clay or metal sculpture to a specialist who will create a mold and make a bronze version. 

A painter or photographer will be happy to hand their work over to a specialist framer. 

A composer will hand over their music to an arranger. 

They will be happy to trust their deeply personal and irreplaceable work to a professional who will use their expertise and experience to complete or enhance the work and the creative is happy to let that happen. 

But often, that creative person will not have thought about getting an accountant to do all the boring but necessary paperwork which most people dislike. 

Or a marketer who can run their social media campaign or research and contact potential galleries/exhibitions. 

Or a fundraiser who can write funding applications on their behalf. 

Or an assistant who can run their studios for them. 

When setting goals, creative people will think about getting a workspace, a great commission or being in a position to hire creative specialist help. However, they don't seem to think about also aiming to get someone to do all the more mundane but essential day to day stuff which would free them up to be more creative (and potentially earning more money).   

This can be for various reasons, including:  

• they just hadn't thought about it

• they think it will be too expensive

• they think they have to run every aspect of their business themselves

• they think it is too indulgent to hire others "just" to help them

• they can't afford it now 

• they think goal setting is just about the exciting stuff!

If you are hiring people on a project by project basis, it can work out cheaper than doing the work yourself, time when you could be earning.    

When you are starting out, you probably have to do everything yourself and that is valuable as you certainly have to know your own business and be on top of it, but as time goes on, you can delegate. 

Not being able to afford it now is also a perfectly valid reason - but how about having a goal such as, "in a year's time, I will be earning enough to hire a book keeper for 2 hours a month"? 

For all of its' considerable benefits, working for yourself can be hard work. If you are prepared to have someone help you with the creative work, why not aim towards getting someone to help you with the other stuff as well?

Enjoy the Journey

Posted on 5 June, 2019 at 3:20 Comments comments (0)

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

"What a wonderful life I've had!  I only wish I'd realized it sooner."  Colette    

I am always talking about having a vision and looking forward to new challenges and ideas. I am a very firm believer that if you have something to move towards, it can inspire you and make you accomplish more than you had thought possible. 


However, I would put in a word of caution. 


Sometimes we can be so intent on getting to the goal ahead of us that we miss out on the wonderful things along the way. These could be things which could help us achieve our goals, they could be things which we enjoy and which nourish us.

By only looking ahead, we can also lose sight of some of the best bits of ourselves. We think about how things might be better when we are more skilled, more experienced, have more time, etc., and we can often forget to acknowledge how much is right with us and our lives now. 


Look at what you have to be thankful for and what is working in your life now. This is the foundation from which you can begin to build your future. 


Go for your goals, but don't forget to enjoy the journey.

Always Make It A Happy Birthday!

Posted on 29 May, 2019 at 5:10 Comments comments (0)

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In the past couple of weeks, I have heard two very contrasting attitudes to birthdays.

On one side, a friend was pleased that he had managed to stretch his birthday over two weekends. At the other side of the scale, a younger client was bemoaning yet another candle on the cake, saying she did not celebrate birthdays anymore.

Personally, I am in the first camp. This is in part because I like any opportunity for a celebration. It is also because the birthday will happen whether I celebrate it or not, so why not try and make the best of it. (And on my recent 'significant' birthday, I can assure you I celebrated in style!)


And if you think birthdays are awful, consider the alternative. Whilst I have been lucky and most deaths personal to me have been ‘timely’ - in ripe old age, with long lives well lived - my best friend died at 44, my cousin and another good friend in their mid-forties. They thought they still had lots of potential, lots of time left when they could have been counting off the years, but they never got the chance.

I often use birthdays as milestones with clients. Looking 5 or 10 years ahead, or using the New Year are all useful markers. However, setting a goal to be reached by the next birthday, or one of the ‘big’ ones (with a 0 at the end of it), immediately creates a more personal timeframe.

It also means that when the birthday arrives, you have a double celebration, reaching the age and the goal.

So before you look in dread at the birthday on the horizon, think of one thing you would like to achieve, however big or small. Instead of hiding under a metaphorical duvet, use the unavoidable fact of your birthday as a tool to pull you forward to a day of happiness.

Fear Doesn't Have to Stop You

Posted on 23 May, 2019 at 0:10 Comments comments (0)

Last week, I got stuck in a lift.  


It wasn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds: the outside wall of the lift was glass, overlooking a wide open expanse; the lift never moved so I was just stuck on the ground floor, not between floors; I was only in there for 5 minutes; and the alarm button was extremely loud in a crowded building.  Also, I don’t have a phobia about lifts. (Actress Rebecca Front has written about her lift phobia in her book, 'Curious: True Stories and Loose Connections'.)


However, a few years ago, at a time when I was dealing with several stressful situations, I regularly had panic attacks. These were usually associated with being in large, crowded, formal spaces such as theatres, cinemas, concert halls, conference rooms, from which I perceived I wouldn’t be able to easily escape. Luckily for me, no-one ever knew about these attacks, because I got very good at keeping myself out of situations where they might occur. However, trying to deal with this on my own, secretly, over a period of 6 years was going to come to a head at some point and when it did, I went to the Doctor to ask for help. He gave me Betablockers (which in the end I never took, but it was nice to know they were in my bag if I needed them), and sent me off for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. (Interestingly, I also started learning tango at the same time and it was fascinating to see the connections between learning a positive mindset and learning the dance, but that is a whole other blog!)

Over the intervening years, gradually, my panic attacks have subsided. Admittedly, when I go to the theatre, my long suffering friends know I still need to be on the aisle and/or near a door. I have moments when I can feel the beginnings of a panic attack, but I now have the techniques to try to stop it.  And on rare occasions, I might have what Rebecca Front calls in her book a panic about having a panic, but hey, it is just part of who I am.

So what is the point of all this soul bearing?  

Panic attacks are not pleasant; however, they don’t have to stop you from doing what you want.  


How do people cope who do have a phobia of lifts? They take the stairs, live on the lower floors of apartment blocks, specify they can’t be above the 3rd floor when they book into in hotels… How did I cope with my panic attacks? Okay, I gave up on the cinema and theatre for a while, but in my professional life, I had to find other ways around it. I found coping mechanisms.  

For example, I had to go to a three day conference for my employer, at the end of which I had to give in a report on current trends, opinions, contacts made. I was anxious but, as I always did, told myself it would be fine. It wasn’t. I went into the first session (aisle seat, back row next to the door) and spent the whole 45 minutes gripping my seat to keep me from running. And I was looking at three further days of this. Something drastic had to be done.


I checked that the speaker notes from all the sessions would be made available by email after the conference. I picked up all the literature which was available. During the coffee breaks and lunch breaks, I worked the room like there was no tomorrow. I talked to as many people as I could, asked them about the sessions they had been in, their thoughts on trends in the sector, their sources of information, collected their business cards…  After the breaks, I disappeared into the hotel coffee shop, typed up all my notes and made a list of next actions, things to follow up. For the three days, I didn’t go into another single formal session but still went back to my employer with a very comprehensive report. They got what they needed and I did it in a way that worked for me.

The point is, whether you have panic attacks, phobias or any kind of fear which holds you back, don’t let it stop you. I am not saying, “man up, just break through it” - I know from personal experience that is not how it works. However, again from my own experience, I know that it can be possible to have panic attacks and find ways to work around them.


There is a quote in an interview with Rebecca Front which I love and with which I totally identify:  "I don't want to be defined by being scared of things. I want to be defined by all the things that I can do.”


So, what can you do?

Take Five with Hamish Macaulay

Posted on 13 May, 2019 at 5:15 Comments comments (1)

Hamish Macaulay is a London based printmaker and painter. His work consistently features landscapes, seascapes or horizons. Combining printmaking, mixed media and digital manipulation, he layers traditional and modern techniques to create fresh perspectives. 

I met Hamish through our joint involvement with ArtCan, a charitable arts organisation that supports emerging and established artists through profile raising activities, philanthropic events and exhibitions. In his work, he brings together the coastal and mountain influences of his background growing up in New Zealand with brutalist and modernist structures of his current home in London.

He has exhibited work in galleries in London and around the UK, and also in New Zealand.

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

I have just made the jump from being a full-time graphic designer for advertising (and part-time artist) to becoming a full-time artist. Now I can spend all of my time creating art instead of it being a second job done at night and on weekends. I've noticed that since becoming full-time the speed of evolution and production of my art has increased exponentially without the interruptions I had before. I'm so much happier now that I don't have to spend my day working for clients in an agency whilst wishing I was in my studio creating my own art.

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

Not sure I could narrow it down to one, but I could give you a list. I love the work of NZ artists Ralph Hotere for his amazing painting and installation work. Gordon Walters for his forward-thinking design-driven paintings featuring abstractions of Maori motifs during the 50s-70s. Colin McCahon for his landscapes and integration of type into his paintings. There's also artists such as Gerhard Richter, Rothko and Mondrian, and architects/designers Erno Goldfinger and Le Corbusier, who have all been inspirational to me throughout my life. The list goes on...

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

Sketch down every idea that comes to you at the time. When your head is full of ideas and you don't scribble it down it will disappear. Sketch books are a great source of future inspiration too.

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

I haven't suffered from a creative block yet – I have more ideas going on in my head than I have time to develop them. I guess if I did hit a block, I would go back through my sketch books and find an idea I never had the chance to pursue, and evolve that. Usually when I start a new project, the single idea I had started with brings about 10 other ideas or variations that I want to try.

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

Type of shoe, hmmm... I think I would be a jandal (you call them flip-flops). Just the thing to stay cool on a hot summers day. And easy to kick off to jump into the sea. I'm lucky enough to currently have a pair that have a bottle opener built into them, so that's a plus on the versatility stakes.




Shopping for Clients

Posted on 9 May, 2019 at 5:50 Comments comments (0)

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Did you buy food this week?  

I bet you did, whether it was a big, organised weekly shop, grabbing a sandwich as you were dashing between meetings, or something inbetween. Whether you love and savour food or just see it as a necessary fuel, it is something that we all need to survive. 

I mention this blindingly obvious fact because I was in Sainsbury's last week (other major food retailers are available) selecting vegetables and I heard myself thinking peevishly, "but I did this last week...". 

After I had taken in the ridiculousness of the thought, I noticed that it reminded me of something which a couple of clients had mentioned. In their different situations, they had done some marketing (some online and some face to face) and then had waited for the rush of new clients.  Which hadn't happened, at least not to the extent they had expected. They thought they just had to do the marketing/networking once and that would open the floodgates to everlasting business.

They hadn't realised that in the same way that we constantly need food to fuel our bodies day to day, our businesses need the daily (or at least weekly) fuel of marketing to help keep them alive. Like our food, we often need less than we think, but it needs to be consistent and good quality. Whatever your preferred marketing methods, you need to build them into your regular routines, whether it is 10 minutes a day on Twitter, a networking meeting a week, an hour a week on phone calls to contacts. Pick your tools, like your favourite meals, and use them regularly. And now and then, throw in something new to vary your diet or for a treat. 

Bon appetit!

Making Time for Your Business

Posted on 2 May, 2019 at 5:20 Comments comments (0)

There is a common thread which comes up when I talk to creatives about their businesses. They produce work for clients on time, on budget and turn up for meetings. They have a thoroughly professional attitude towards their clients. However, along the way, they often forget their most important client - their own business.   


Marketing, accounts, research, etc., can get pushed down the list in favour of all the things they prefer doing instead and then they find themselves having to do all the other stuff in a mad rush, or it just not getting down at all. 


I will happily admit that I used to be guilty of this myself. I would have long lists of all the things I needed to do to which just kept getting longer. Then I would feel guilty about not getting things done which would put my into a bad mood. I got to the stage where I was fed up with my own behaviour and found a neat, simple trick which has proved very successful for me and which I have passed on to clients.  


I make appointments to have meetings with my own business. On the first of the month, I have a regular hour long meeting with the ‘accounts’ department where I sort out my monthly receipts, update my cashflow and budgets, etc. Once or twice a month, I meet with the ‘marketing‘ department. And every 2 months, I have a planning day. The key is that I put the meetings in the diary in advance, make sure I have prepared for them and only cancel them if I have actual paid work which can’t be done at another time. 


The advantages of this are several:

• it makes sure that I am keeping track of the important aspects of keeping my business running

• it makes sure that I am taking my business seriously

• by seeing the business as a separate entity to myself, it allows me to be a little more objective about it

• when I was starting out, it sounded a lot better to say “I can’t do that day, I have a meeting with a client” rather than “I can do anytime you want”!


So, when is your next meeting with your most important client?