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Catching Fireworks

Deborah Henry-Pollard: Creative Coaching


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How My Big Red Coat Got Me a Client and Them a New Career

Posted on 11 April, 2019 at 8:15 Comments comments (0)

I am often asked about why it is important to have a vision for where you want to be or go in your life and creative career.    


I have talked about visioning before and I am a firm believer that if you know what you want, you will be surprised at how often seemingly inconsequential conversations can lead you to someone who can help you or point you in the right direction.   


For example, a few years ago, I was in a shop buying stationery. The charming sales assistant commented on my then winter coat, a full length scarlet job with gold buttons, and wondered where I got it. I confessed that the coat had been purchased from the costume department when I was working with English National Opera. (It was worn by the divine Susan Bullock in 'The Prince of Homburg'). She asked if I was a singer. (Definitely not, as much as I would love to be!) Through talking about arts, she told me she wanted to work in films and was writing and creating short videos. 

My vision was (and is) to work with creative people so they go off and fill the world with wonderful creativity; her vision was to become a filmmaker. We connected over the coat, I told her about my work and I offered to send her some links which might be useful to her. A few months later, she became a client. A few years on, she is now working as a freelance cameraperson and also making her own films.


However well you plan where to go and who to talk to, how many of us would write down, “find a coach/mentor out of the customers who come into the shop”   


You never know who you are talking to, or who they know.  Know what you want, get your message out there and you could be surprised at what turns up.

What "Can't" You Do?

Posted on 4 April, 2019 at 4:15 Comments comments (0)

"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."  Winston Churchill

When I first went to big school, I went along to a parent’s evening with my Mum. During the course of the evening, a teacher told my Mum that as I was very good at English, I wouldn’t be good at Maths. As a quiet, make no fuss, trusting 11 year old, it never occurred to me to question this sweeping and frankly, unsubstantiated, statement. A teacher, an elder, said it and so it must be true.

Until recently, this “truth” followed me about. Show me a page of text that I have written and point out what you perceive to be errors and I will argue every word with you. Show me where I have written 2 + 2 = 4 and tell me it is wrong and I will take your word for it because, hey, I can’t do maths.



Throughout my career, I have, for example, successfully created and managed large budgets; produced financial reports for box offices; sales reports and analysis for retail outlets; and managed cash flow forecasts for charities and businesses. And what do all these things have in common? Yep, you’ve spotted it – maths.  


Now, I am never going to be the Chancellor (and indeed, why would I want to be!), but I can comfortably hold my own with most people on basic, everyday maths. I have even been known to walk around Sainsbury’s adding my shopping bill up in my head, when not being distracted by an urge for their giant cookies (the white chocolate ones - yumsk!). I am actually very good at managing figures and money.


However, any type of maths task has filled me with dread. I put off doing them as they would be “hard” and I would probably get something wrong. When I got around to doing the work, my heart would be in my boots and I would feel vaguely like “I will do the very best I can, but I can’t really do this.”  


A few months ago, I was working with a client, helping them put together an income projection for a potential new project. They were very financially savvy so I was quite anxious when they were looking at the figures and I was waiting for the “you got this number wrong” comment. They put the budget down and said, “Yes, that’s about what I thought it would be. Thanks.” It was very matter of fact; they had expected me to do the figures right and that’s exactly what I had done. No fuss, no drama. We carried on with the meeting.  


Afterwards,I thought about the stress and worry I had put myself through prior to the meeting about these figures. (And all the other meetings.) Had they been hard? Not particularly. Had they used calculations I had never used before? No. Had I created lots of these projections before? Yes.  Then why was I worried? Because I can’t do...  


Hold on a minute, who said I can’t do maths? Certainly one teacher, once, a thousand years ago. Then me every day since. But if I had been less distracted by my negative attitude, I would have noticed that I have been knocking off accurate numbers left, right and centre. So now, I have changed my attitude and inner conversation and if I notice a negative thought, I can catch It, check It and change It.  


I’m Deborah and I do maths.  


So what do you do successfully on a regular basis which you are convinced you can’t do?

I'd Forgotten I'd Done That...

Posted on 28 March, 2019 at 11:10 Comments comments (0)

Can you remember all the things you have done in your professional career? 

I ask because in recent weeks, it is a common thread which has woven its way through client conversations. In the busyness of day to day professional life, we can forget some of the great work we have done in the past, or it has got lost as it was a small part of a bigger project. It could also be that we do not recognise the relevance of what we have done in the hurry of actually doing it. 

Every so often, it is worth sitting down with your CV, a blank piece of paper and a pen (or a computer if you prefer) and write down everything you did as part of a particular job / project. (This is relevant even if you are just starting out – look at any extra curricular projects you did at school / university which gave you new skills.) For example, a long time ago I had a post as an administrator with a charity and did all the usual administratory things you would expect. But along the way, under that great job description catchall of “and any other duties...”, I curated an exhibition of Shona sculpture at the Commonwealth Institute and managed large conferences.  

Once you have gone through your CV, add in anything you have done on a voluntary basis. Because we do this type of work out of a personal commitment, we often forget to acknowledge what we might have learned. (For example, in my voluntary life, I have developed very good group management skills through chairing boards.)  

Okay, we’ve done professional and voluntary lives, what about your life “outside” your professional practice everyday life? Think about all the skills and experience you have there.  


  • Have you planned a big birthday party for a friend? Event management. 
  • Have you arranged a holiday for yourself, your partner, your children? Multiple diary management. (Actually, parenthood is one of the best basic trainings for business skills you can get!) 
  • Do you play football?  Team building skills. 
  • Have you sat down with your bank statement and worked out how much money you have for food, going out, rent, etc., for the next month? Budgetting. 

Yes, okay, with some of these, you might need to develop the skills further, but you already have a good introduction.  

What is the point of doing all this work?  

If you want to move into another area of work and need to make an application for a job or project, seeing what you have already done can give you valuable evidence which you can add to your CV / covering letter / project brief, as well as giving you confidence that you have already had relevant experience.  

If you aren’t sure which direction you want to move into, it can give you a great overview of options, things you might not have immediately considered. For example, my running conferences could be a great opening for a new career in event management. 

Even if you think you don’t have particular experience, you can often find that skills you have are transferrable. For example, you may see a piece of work as successfully creating a piece of sculpture to be installed at a particular gallery on a particular date. In business skills terms, straight away we are looking at time management, logistics, client liaison, resource management, budgeting...   

Another important element to all this is that it gives you a chance to sit back and acknowledge exactly what you can do and have achieved to date. You would be surprised how many of us forget just how versatile and great we are on a day to day basis!  

Block yourself out half an hour, get a cup of your favourite beverage and do your own skills audit. At the end, read it through then say, “Yeah, that’s me and I’m great!” Then look how you can use all these newly recognised skills to move your practice forward.

Spring Clean Your Business

Posted on 21 March, 2019 at 5:55 Comments comments (0)

With Easter a few weeks away and the sun streaming through my office window, it looks like Spring has sprung!  

It's time to open the windows, get some fresh air through the place and spring clean your home. Why not harness the energy of the season and spring clean your professional life?   

Here are five tips on giving your career a Spring boost. 

1.  Take a fresh look at your vision. 

Do you know where you want to be in five years? Is your vision still pulling you forward? Remind yourself why this vision is important to you and how you will feel when you achieve it.  If your vision needs tweaking, this is a great time to do it so that it is challenging and exciting. If you don't have a vision, get out into the sun and give yourself time to let your mind create your future.   

2.  Spring clean your space.

Set aside time to go through all your files, drawers, cupboards, etc., in your workspace. It gives you a chance to throw out anything which is cluttering your space, redesign your space and it can also throw up ideas and opportunities.   


3.  Take a new look at things.

We can all get into a rut, doing things the same way because it is how you have always done it. During the course of a week, check out all the things you do regularly. For each thing, ask yourself "is this the best way to do this? Would another way be more stimulating or effective? Could I even get someone else to do it?" If you are happy with the way it is going, great!  If not, how could you change it?   


4.  Meet new people.

Find opportunities to mix with different people who can inspire and stimulate ideas. They could become clients, collaborators or friends or just spark new ways of seeing things.   


5.  Refresh your self belief.

Embrace your talents, your passions, your creativity, your drive and develop your positive attitude. If you believe you can do it, you will enrol others in your vision.

Take Five with Shannon Reed

Posted on 14 March, 2019 at 4:25 Comments comments (0)

Shannon Reed lives in East Dulwich, South London, and is the owner of Mockingbird Makes and is an inspiring speaker on Creativity for Wellness with over 15 years experience in creative innovation and personal development. She is also trained in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and is a mum of two boys. Her passion is re-connecting people with their outsourced creativity so creates mostly bespoke items designed by her customers. She also teaches crochet, knitting and pompom making and offers unicorn decorating and pompom making parties. Her whimsical crochet cactus and key rings can be found in Pearspring Shop, Lordship Lane, and Home, Grove Vale, SE22. (She will also be at the Green Rooms Botanical Market March 30th 11-4pm at Peckham Springs selling her unkillable cactus, keyrings and Sophie Howard Jones pots.) If you aren't in south London, but would still love to have Shannon create something you for, contact her via her links at the foot of the blog.

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

Re-connecting people (including myself!) with their creativity. My soap box is that we all too often out-source our creativity to others and that can be a huge detriment to our health. I love seeing the spark of joy in a customer, student or audience's eye when they get that creative muscle working - whether that be through designing something that I make for them, mastering a new stitch, or connecting with something I’ve said at a talk I’m giving. We give away so much of our agency when we delegate our creativity by blindly following trends and ideologies. Never mind missing out on all the opportunities our creativity gives us to understand who we really are and therefore uncovering the treasure that we have to offer the world.


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

For my personal development my current is Elizabeth Gilbert after attending her Big Magic workshop nearly a year ago. As well as 'Eat Pray Love' being a touching and inspiring read, the depth that Liz goes to in her self-exploration is really connecting. A friend and I meet once a month to practice the Big Magic writing exercise and it is so helpful in uncovering unconscious feelings and checking in with where we are and where we want to be. For more “professional” inspiration I’ve recently discovered Vanessa Barragao a textile artist based in Portugal and her coral tapestries www.vanessabarragao.com - phenomenal!

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

I was lucky to have people support me right from the beginning by encouraging me to follow my intuition. That voice told me to go slow and follow what feels good. I don’t think, for me, I’d have done it any other way. Actually I do have one thing, build your email list!

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

Step away, file the “wrong” answer away for when it is the right time, and make room for the “right” answer to take its place. Physically moving in nature is always helpful.

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

Ideally at my best an Ugg boot! Soft, cosy, casual and nurturing. But otherwise more of a supportive trainer (oh where is the glamour?!).






Posted on 7 March, 2019 at 4:15 Comments comments (0)

"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space."

Johnny Cash

I hate making mistakes, of looking 'bad', or like an idiot or of letting people down. Or rather I should say, I hate me making mistakes. If other people do it, I encourage them to see mistakes as life lessons. I always say that the only person who lives a mistake free life is the person who is doing nothing (although that could be their biggest mistake of all).


But when I think back on my many mistakes, I have gained a wealth of experience and learning. For example:

My four failed driving tests (devastating to my confidence at the time) meant I had to have more lessons and driving practice and by the time I passed my fifth test, threw away my L plates and finally hit the road, I was a reasonably accomplished driver.

When training as an Image Consultant, I sailed through the first few weeks getting every client right. The only problem was I had absolutely no idea how I was doing it. This was great for the ego but I knew that I had nothing to fall back on if my instinct let me down. Then one day, in front of all my fellow trainees and all the tutors, I got a client completely wrong. But as my errors were explained, my audience could almost hear the sound of the pennies dropping as I finally grasped what the process was all about. At that moment, I became more confident as a consultant.


Not making mistakes can also create a barrier between you and others. I was once a secretary to a quite high flying board, made up of CEOs and Senior Management of big blue chip companies. I would write up minutes and then before the next meeting, I would have to phone all these powerful people, chasing them up to make sure they had done their actions. Although individually these were nice chaps, I was intimidated by their positions and found phoning them a real discomfort. Then at a meeting reviewing the last minutes, I noticed I had made a huge, glaring mistake. I prayed no one had seen it. Alas, when we got to it, one of the CEOs pointed it out with great glee.  He was delighted to see that I was capable of making a complete dog's breakfast out of something. It seemed that whilst I was anxious about making the monthly calls to him, he was equally anxious about getting the calls, because he usually hadn't done what he was supposed to, and I, as far as he could see, was always perfect. I found out the rest of the board felt the same.  What for me seemed a horrendous mistake which would ruin my reputation FOREVER actually created a much better relationship between me and the board. Who'd have thought it?! 

We all make mistakes. That isn't a problem. The problem is if you let the mistakes define you, where you create the self image that mistakes = bad person, or hold yourself back in case it all goes horribly wrong. Embrace the mistakes, learn the lessons and move on, a more knowledgeable and experienced person.


And if all else fails, just remember what Fred Astaire said: "The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style."


How stylish will you be today?


Posted on 28 February, 2019 at 4:40 Comments comments (0)


We do it all the time. That little voice is always chattering on in our heads: remember to buy milk; I need to phone that person back; I haven’t checked my Facebook for 20 minutes; I must get this done by the end of the day; yadda, yadda, yadda.

But how often do we give ourselves the chance to think, really think? Thinking as in giving yourself time to really develop a thought. I don’t know about you, but when I was working in a corporate environment, I felt I always had to be seen to be working, tapping away at a keyboard, reading articles, on the phone, doing, doing, doing, when what I really needed was to just stare into space and let my mind wander around a topic. Besides a feeling of needing to be seen to be busy, we have all the digital distractions which compel us to be always connected, terrified that we might be missing out on something.

It is fascinating to see how many of my Take Five contributors talk about going for a walk when they need to get through a creative block, to let their mind wander. Getting the physical and mental space to either follow a thread of thought, or to let lots of ideas come rushing in is very refreshing and stimulating. If walking doesn’t do it for you, or that seems too long a time to go without your digital fix (or you can’t get out of your office), you can use the time it takes to drink your coffee, or wash the dishes, to give yourself a little oasis of calm.

Giving yourself this time isn’t just for getting ideas, but also developing them. Sometimes, because we are busy and need a quick fix, we take the first option we think of. Most times, this is fine.  But if we have the time to let the thought wander, the idea can grow or deepen as we can gain insight. This is what we do in coaching sessions, giving you the space and time to find your own answers and find out what you really think, deep down, about a situation.  

What do you do to give yourself time to think?

Take Five with Marcus McAllister

Posted on 21 February, 2019 at 4:55 Comments comments (0)

Marcus McAllister is a French-American artist managing his international career from his atelier in Paris which he shares with Grom, his adorable dog. His works combine detailed draughtsmanship with dreamlike layers and elements to create fascinating and beautifully atmospheric paintings. Alongside his larger works, he also has a strict sketchbook practice which is the backbone of everything he does. (Indeed, it is no coincidence that in every reference to this practice below, Marcus uses a capital S on sketchbook.) Using exactly the same type of sketchbook every time (he is currently on number 112), the sketchbook is with him always,  with a special binder which is attached to his wrist when he is out and about.

As well as his artistic practice, Marcus is also an Artist Coach through the Be Smart About Art 121 Creative Specialists programme, providing insight from his own perspective as a working artist.    

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

The freedom and luxury of being in my studio. Of course it’s great when I’m there actually getting work done on new paintings, but sometimes it’s more about simply hanging out in my space, looking at my images, reading and listening to music. Maybe I’ll just put on a pot of tea and play with the dog—it doesn’t really matter, what is important to me is being here, in the studio, in my own creative world, as much as possible.

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

That’s really really hard to answer. I’ve been inspired by so many artists, whether through art history or personal interaction. Hmm. If I had to answer with one name, I’d have to say that the artist who inspires me the most of late is Peter Doig. I’m currently intrigued by the way his work combines figurative, narrative elements with painterly abstraction. But to tell you the truth, the real reason his name comes to mind is the resonance I’ve felt from interviews about his work process. He talks about the importance of being in the studio, even when not in productive mode, and the time it takes him to resolve a painting. A painting might have only two weeks of actual labour—actual physical painting—but that work is perhaps spread over a several years. I have gained so much insight and confidence in my own creative work through his interviews.

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

Nothing ever works out like you expect it to, and that’s just fine (even better). It seems like I’m forever learning to let go and let things happen, both in the art-making and networking. Anytime I think I know how things are “supposed” to play out, life throws a curveball. And invariably the result is so much more interesting!

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

Just to do something, anything—some small activity with no pressure for results or utility. For me this is facilitated by the constant presence of my Sketchbook. It’s always in the vicinity, so I try do just do some small doodle or take some notes from a book or internet or whatever might be on hand. My Sketchbook really is my lifeline when my energy gets snarled.

In the worst cases of creative block I’ll take out older Sketchbooks and just turn pages until something pops out at me. Once there the slightest spark of desire it’s so much easier to get things moving again, instead of just staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration.

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

That’s easy enough! I’d be the only kind of shoe I really care about: a black leather, rubber-soled work shoe. Solid and ready for anything!





Happy Valentine's Day

Posted on 14 February, 2019 at 3:30 Comments comments (0)

"Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world."

Lucille Ball

Wherever you look today, there are Valentine’s Day cards, chocolates, menus, flowers, champagne, meal deals, jewellery, perfume, … all the things you need to declare your love for your partner.  (Although I’ve found a big hug and “I love you” works just as well as baubles, but then I’m not trying to sell a product.)


In the middle of all the proclamations of love to others, are you remembering to love yourself?


I don’t mean loving yourself once you’ve lost that weight, got that promotion, found that man, sculpted those abs.  I mean loving yourself now, even with all those little flaws that probably only you see or care about.  It is about treating yourself with self respect, compassion, kindness, affection, tenderness, all the qualities you would bring to your relationship with your best friend.


Sometimes people have problems with loving themselves, thinking it is selfish or arrogant.  But in fact, it will make you more confident and happy and that can only impact positively on those around you.  It can help you to achieve your goals and dreams.


So how do you do this?  Well, better people than me have written countless books on this, but for starters, you can take a leaf out of Queen Latifah’s book: “When I was around 18, I looked in the mirror and said, 'You're either going to love yourself or hate yourself.' And I decided to love myself. That changed a lot of things.”

And yes okay, why not buy yourself some flowers to celebrate loving yourself?

The Begin Book

Posted on 7 February, 2019 at 7:25 Comments comments (1)

I have a ‘Begin’ Book which I use to start my day. It started by accident.

When I was going through the coaching process to find a route to my new career (leading me to where I am today), my late coach, Cherry Douglas, encouraged me to find and keep anything which set me thinking about possible new careers. These include postcards, images from magazines, phrases from job descriptions, feedback from colleagues, headlines from articles. There were thought provoking, inspiring or just things I liked the look of. The idea was to keep them with no judgement and every so often, pull out 2 or 3 at random to imaging possible new careers.

When the exercise of collection was over, I was left with a couple of box files of material. Some I was happy to let go of and it went into the recycling bin. But other pieces had a longer lasting resonance and I wanted to keep them. They would help to remind me of my aims for my new career and focus me on a daily basis.

I bought a spiral bound scrapbook with hard covers - at first, this was just from the aspect of longevity and ease of use, but I soon discovered another purpose. I could open the book at any page and stand it up on my desk. The book also has a ribbon tie and that has added to my daily ritual.

When I get into my office every work day, I undo the ribbon tie and open the book at random.

I stand the book open at those pages next to my desk and these pages create the context for my day.

If I lose my rhythm or motivation, I can look at the pages and remind myself of my daily context. It gives me a boost, a refocus. And if I am really stuck, I can flick through the book or check the pitch at the back of the book where I keep thank you letters from clients.


At the end of the day, I close the book and retie the ribbon. (As a solopreneur, this is also a useful physical reminder for starting and ending my work day!)

It is a simple tool, but one which helps to start my day and keep me on track.

If you need support in getting started and keeping on track, get in touch and see how we might be able to work together.