Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Brief

My experience as an in house designer was quite happenstantial. The short of it was that my manager set me up with CS5 (Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop) so I could do the fundraising support material development. Very quickly I became the person they came to for pretty much every design project, including project management of the website branding and development.

I loved when I got to wear my designer hat on that job. I was learning and getting a lot of really good experience but I was also considered the office expert on design. The only frustration was that I rarely worked with a brief.

For those of you who are not familiar with this term, a brief is a way for the customer to communicate what they want to the designer. The designer translates the brief into the final design. Designing without a brief is like being asked to bake a cake but not being told what kind. So you go away and bake a cheese cake and when you bring it back they go, "Oh! No, we were thinking more of a Black Forest Gateau."

I did get a brief once, and it was amazing because the staff member who wrote it was married to a designer and had done a similar project before. That project was a dream, and that was probably the first time I thought maybe I should do this full-time. Of course, I was still really stuck on the idea of life coaching and at the time that was where my focus was.

My focus is design now, which is why I'm taking this Graphic Design course at Saint Martin's. I'm enjoying it because I'm realising how much I already know and where my talent lays currently, but I'm also picking up a lot and seeing my skills develop and improve with each class.

Each class we receive a new brief after presenting the work we'd done on the brief from the week before. The briefs vary quite a bit so we're getting to work on some pretty awesome stuff. The thing is, the brief isn't even that long or complicated. It doesn't have to be a wordy thing. It just needs to capture key elements that need to be included in the final design.

So far my favourite brief has been working on 'branding' one of my fellow classmates. After interviewing each other we then had to go away and create a graphic expression of that person. When I paint my shoes or have done commissioned work for people this is my exact method to make sure that what I'm creating will suit the customer.

Brief #2, Intermediate Graphic Design
at Central Saint Martin's
As it was, she really liked all my designs (I did three) but definitely loved this one the best.

Monday, January 28, 2013

All you will gain

This week marks several new and exciting developments.

1. I've handed in my notice and as of the end of February will officially be available as a full-time Freelance Graphic Designer.

2. I'm now currently studying psychology part-time through the Open University.

There's a comfort in having a routine, even if it's one which leaves you dissatisfied or unfulfilled. 'Better the Devil you know...' and that sort of thing. Hugh MacLeod over at GapingVoid published a great cartoon about this. I'll wait while you go have a look-see...

Back? Brilliant.

So, it's all very well and good doing the same things over and over because:
1. That's the way the world works
2. We all have to take responsibility and work isn't/shouldn't be/can't be fun
3. If you're good at something you should persist, even if you don't enjoy it
4. We all have to make do
...and so on.

I think it's all a bit pants.

2013 marks my tenth year since graduating high school. In those ten years I've worked in the not-for-profit and charity sector almost exclusively, with a few tangents into retail, restaurants and, gloriously, being an animator.

I assessed the many roles I've had and my favourite bits of any of the jobs I've done. I've got a strong work ethic, excellent organisational skills and an abundance of enthusiasm - all skills that have helped me immensely in any job I've done.

It's my love of the undiscovered that has always produced my best work. I love figuring something out, finding solutions and creating something that works. For this reason I set up a not-for-profit organisation to support gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans youth find sustainable safe spaces. Once it was established and it reached the point of general operation, I was ready to move on.

So it was with my work at Pancreatic Cancer UK, a two and a half week temp job that turned into a two and a half year permanent position involving project management, staff training, system development, marketing and design. There was so much to do to make it work and I was able to tackle multiple problems and develop successful, long lasting solutions. Once that was done though it became day-to-day maintenance and I was, once again, looking for my next opportunity.

I don't think it's ever too late to retrain, although I don't actually feel like that's what I'm doing. I feel more like I'm shifting my focus from one skill to another. I'm taking all my passion, enthusiasm and imagination that has helped me successfully develop websites, write policies and procedures, or set up data entry systems, and looking at it from the perspective of Designer, instead of Administrator.

The brilliant thing about graphic design is that every project is a new problem that has to be solved. How to brand a company that works with inner city youth? How to brand a product that is being marketed to 30-somethings? How to make a logo that clearly conveys a professional but fun organisation?

I love it, entirely, because every day is different and every day my skills are becoming more and more refined. I am not stagnating and I'm not bored - two states I simply cannot tolerate. Instead I'm switching tracks, changing directions, and starting to build momentum. I've no idea where it might take me but I can and do think of all the possibilities and that is what makes it worth it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Travel when you're young

Travel when you’re young. Not because you’ll be tied down later in life or because you shouldn’t travel when you’re older. You should travel when you’re older too, if its what you want to do. You should see as much of the world as you can or wish to see regardless of your age. 

The reason I urge you to travel when you’re young is because when you are young there are thousands of offers and deals available to you. 

I was able to go to Australia when I was 19 because I saved like stink and because I got an ‘Under 25’ card that got me a discount on the plane ticket. I was able to come to the UK on a two year visa because I’m ‘under 30’. Not to mention the deals you get if you’ve got a student card (Did I mention how much I LOVE my Central Saint Martins student card?!?). 

You can go to school at any age. 

You can deal with a mortgage later. 

But if you’re under thirty and especially if you’re under twenty-five, travel now. Do it. The world is a big wide place with so much to offer. You will learn more by visiting another country, learning a new language, or discovering a culture different to your own than you will in any classroom. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

London Journal - All the flavours of London

Everyone who comes to visit me in London quickly discovers and falls in love with Pret. Pret is, for those who don't know, a chain owned by McDonalds that is as far removed from McDonalds as it can be other than having a super recognisable brand. That is, it's recognisable to anyone in the UK.

Anyhoo, Pret is actually pretty awesome because they have loads of delicious fresh things and they are one of the few places that does crisp flavours I like. I've not been a fan of crisps for some years now. Pretty much since I stopped being a teenager. I think, as a teenager, your body wants you to consume as much as possible so it dulls your taste buds to things like cold alphagettis straight out of the can or microwavable frozen pizzas.

MSG makes me bokey and a lot of crisp flavours I might go for (Sweet chilli, anything with lime) tend to have gluten as well.

But Pret has this amazing ability to make their fancy flavours actually taste like the thing they're supposed to be. For example, their chilli lime pickle taste just like the pickle chutney that accompanies poppadoms in Indian restaurants in London. It's amazing and shockingly addictive. Normally about three crisps is my fill and the remainder of the bag will go to the first person who will take it, but not with a bag of chilli lime pickle chips. No. Those are mine and I'd open the packet and lick the bag if it wasn't entirely uncouth.

So I was in King's Cross, lookign for an after dinner snack before my Graphic Design course at Saint Martins began (have I mentioned how much I love Saint Martins and that I want to spend every day there because it's gorgeous and the library is amazing?) when I spotted a Pret. I moseyed over and found them completely out of my coveted favourite flavour but all was not lost! They regularly introduce new flavours and lo-and-behold, a new flavour was there. Virgin Mary. As in Bloody Mary, not as in the mother of Jesus.

Look at that packaging. Isn't that lovely?

So I picked up a bag and headed towards Saint Martins (that super glorious amazing place where I'm currently studying a course which is both awesome and helpful).

Chip flavours are country specific. I don't know if you know that but it was something I discovered when I went to Australia. Aussie's have a lot of chicken flavours. Rosemary chicken, fried chicken, chilli chicken. They don't have dill pickle or ketchup. Those are Canadian flavours and ones which I find it really difficult to explain to anyone outside of Canada. They either cringe at the thought or they look blankly at me, unable to imagine what ketchup flavour crisps would be like, let alone why someone would want to eat them.

Well, people of the UK, the Virgin Mary crisps from Pret taste exactly like ketchup chips. And people of Canada, I found a ketchup flavoured chip that doesn't stain your fingers red because it's actually flavoured with natural seasonings and not MSG and dye #8, or whatever weird concoction of chemicals they use.

I know it seems funny to write an entire blog entry about a bag of crisps, but I simply couldn't help myself. I was so stunned by the flavour (which transported me right back to my childhood, when Ketchup was my favourite flavour chip) that I had to share it. Besides, I've not done a London Journal entry in a long, long time and I've decided I want to do them again because they're fun and it reminds me to look for all that I still have to discover about living here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Overheard in Starbucks

The other day I was sitting in one of those coffee shops attached to a bookshop, writing in my journal and enjoying a cup of tea purchased at a rival coffee shop.

I know you're not supposed to eavesdrop and it's really rude and what have you, but I'm also the sort of person who would bring a rival coffee chain's cup into another coffee shop, so what do you expect? That and I find it fascinating to listen to what other people talk about because a) it makes me think and b) it helps me work on building compassion as it reminds me how interconnected we all are. 

The two people I was listening to appeared, from their conversation, to be former school mates catching up. One was a gangly looking geeky boy with a bit of scruffy facial hair and large black framed glasses. The other was one of those women who probably always looked like they were in their early thirties even if they're not in their early thirties even now - not because she looked old but because she looked eminently sensible. She was a teacher of five year olds, which only reinforced the look she had. Elementary school teachers, cops and accountants - they all seem to have a look which makes their careers instantly identifiable. Or maybe that's just me.

But I digress.

They had a varied conversation and I listened to some bits and not to other bits (It was a packed space and we were sitting right next to each other so it was actually quite difficult for me to tune them out.) but there was one bit in particular that stuck out. It was after I'd established that Eminently Sensible Woman was working as a teacher in her first teaching job and Geeky Boy was still a student, having chosen medical studies.

Eminently Sensible Woman: "When you're in school you don't get to have a life."

Geeky Boy: "Well, even if I had time, I wouldn't have money for a life." 

Eminently Sensible Woman: "You'll get a life when you're done." 

Geeky Boy: "Probably not, actually." 

Eminently Sensible Woman: "Oh yeah, I guess it's a lot of work." 

Geeky Boy: "It is. Even now, like, my shifts are crazy." 

Eminently Sensible Woman: "But you enjoy it right? It's better than when you were studying engineering?" 

Geeky Boy: "Oh yeah, I love it. It's amazing. Every day is just, so amazing."

I've blogged about this before because it's one of those observations I've made that bemuses me and I like to challenge people to think differently whenever I can. People, for some reason, equate school and work as being separate from life. As if Life and Work and School are individual headings under which our experiences fall.

Life is the heading. And Geeky Boy does have a life. His life involves being a student, studying something he loves, and ultimately becoming a medical professional in some capacity. In fact, it sounds like Geeky Boy has a great life and I wanted to lean across and tell him so - but I didn't. One must draw the line somewhere on social transgressions.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Share, Subscribe and ReTweet contest winners!

In November I announced the upcoming release of my book 'Wise At Any Age' along with an exciting contest for anyone who shared or retweeted the link to my blog through Facebook or Twitter. I also made the offer of a signed copy of the book when it's released for anyone who subscribes to my e-newletter.


Well, the time has come to announce the lucky winners of all three draws!

The winner of the Facebook Link Sharing contest, and the soon to be proud owner of Neon, one of the polymer clay dragons from my 'Dragon a Day' challenge, is Nic W. of Calgary, Alberta. Nic has always been a great support of my blog and I am happy to know that Neon is going to such an awesome home.

'The World'
24X36" Acrylic on canvas

The winner of the ReTweet contest is Rosie, known as @1ManBandAccts on Twitter. Rosie has selected a limited edition photo print of 'The World' from my available Tarot Card prints. Thank you Rosie for retweeting so many of my blog entries!

And finally, the winner of a signed copy of 'Wise at Any Age' when it is released this March, is Jack from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan!

Jack is one of many subscribers to my e-newsletter, which was all he had to do to be entered into the draw. I will be having many more draws throughout the year open only to subscribers. My e-newsletter has other benefits too, like cool creative tips to help you with your own creative projects, and special offers for my design services. Oh, and I only send it once a month so you won't be bombarded with stuff in your inbox.

Thank you Jack for signing up to my e-newsletter!

The next few months are going to be pretty full-on for me so I want to thank everyone for their ongoing support. Following your bliss isn't always easy but it's always worth it! I'm going to be dedicating all my free time to the editing and preparation of my book for publication. Jack is awaiting his copy and I know there are many of you who are eager to finally have something I've written printed and bound. Believe me, no one wants that more than yours truly.

On top of my time editing I've got my Central Saint Martins course and, starting on the first of February, I'll be studying psychology and philosophy through the Open University. It all sounds a bit mad, really, considering I have to work and sleep and eat as well.

Life isn't too short. Life is just far too unpredictable. As Pema Chodron says, "If death is certain and the time you have until death is not, what are you going to do right now?" 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Don't let them

I originally intended to publish this post as just the graphic, but then something happened last night that I couldn't not gush about: I started my Graphic Design short course at Central Saint Martins. 

I decided to sign up for the course last year when, in a fit of frustration, I realised that I need to have creative jobs - not admin jobs or fundraising jobs or project management jobs (Unless they're creative project management jobs) but jobs that actually require my creative skills and imagination. So I looked at my work experience and the things I've enjoyed most at each job I've had. 

When I was working with youth in care I got to project manage the development of a booklet for youth transitioning out of care, which involved designing the layout and look of the book, as well as developing and writing the content. 

When I worked as a researcher on a collaborative project to raise awareness of violence in and towards the gay and transgendered community part of my job involved working on the development of the content and design of the website. 

As the founder of a not for profit organisation I took on pretty much every role imaginable but enjoyed myself the most when I was working on the promotional 'zine, posters and other marketing material - not to mention the fun of designing the logo with the input of the youth involved. Not to mention the absolute fantastic time I had performing in drag, which ties into the experience I had last night. 

For a time IKEA was brilliant because my day consisted of building things. They weren't of my creation but it was fun to put stuff together and I had a great sense of satisfaction at the end of the day when I had seven or eight physical pieces that represented the work I had done. 

When I came to London I was still in the middle of my Tarot Card painting series. I had a large creative project which sustained me as I began working at yet another charity in yet another administration based role. I was lucky enough to get a manager that saw my love of all things creative. He appreciated my talent and skills and he was really good at his job. He knew that, as a manager, it was up to him to find ways to maximise on my skills to the benefit of the charity whilst also feeding my energy. If not for him I'd not have stayed at that job for as long as I did and, if not for him, I would never have begun working on digital design. 

I spent the last two and a half years doing everything from website development to print material layout to social media marketing. I got to work with Illustrator and InDesign, work to deadlines, work without a brief, work under immense pressure and work entirely to my own tune. It was varied and manic but when I was designing I was content and that alone kept me going. 

But I wasn't hired there as a designer and though it was a large part of what I did, it wasn't in my job title or description. So I quit and at that time my focus was on finding clients so I could start a life coaching practice. 

I still want to be a life coach and one day I will be, but I was struggling because, try as I might, I couldn't find my niche. I want people to see how awesome life is and I love helping them open their eyes to the absolutely wonder of the world. I don't have a niche as to how or who I want to help with that - mostly because I want to help everyone live the life they love. If I've learned anything about marketing, I've learned that you have to have a clear message. I didn't and couldn't come up with one so I changed my approach. I decided to jump track and go a different direction. And in a fit of inspiration I signed up to an intermediate Graphic Design course at Central Saint Martins. 

Last night I walked onto the campus and I felt a great sense of having arrived. I was where I belonged. The air smelled of art supplies and the vast space stretched out invitingly before me. The lyrics to 'Common People' - the song which defined my drag persona - made this place feel mythical and almost unreal. Yet there I was, with a kit full of supplies, (gouache, pens, scissors, glue, pencils, pencil crayons) a brand new sketchbook, and all the creative energy I spend too much time ignoring. 

It could have been so easy for it to crash and burn, as my giddiness mounted and my expectations grew, but it was much like my other experiences of schooling post-high school. I dismissed post secondary and have not regretted it. I won't even now, even as I think of that gorgeous, gorgeous school and how much I'd love to go back tomorrow and the day after and every day for an entire semester if I could afford it. 

Thing is, I wasn't ready for post secondary when I was eighteen. I was ready for work and I'm so glad I did. Because I sat in that class and had confirmation that I may not be a senior or even mid-weight designer (yet), but I know how design works and I've been going about it the best way possible. As the instructor explained how the course would work and covered off the basics of graphic design I ticked off boxes in my head. 

Research. Tick. Find inspiration. Tick. Conceptualize with drawing and/or writing. Tick.

This course will be an opportunity for me to do some hands on work with things I've not been able to do before but it's also enforcing the fact that I have a great skill set and I'm a talented Creative Specialist. The validation I felt last night was incredible an the resulting energy and enthusiasm led me to write this rather long blog post. 

Feed your bliss people. If you do what you love you will do it well and it will bleed into all aspects of your life. Life is too unpredictable to not follow your dreams, take chances, and explore. 

I want to dedicate this post and the accompanying graphic to Ian - the best manager I've ever had and a damn fine friend as well. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Three years in London!

Double Decker buses are the best way to see London

Three years ago today I arrived in London with two full suitcases and my rucksack. At the time I was over on a two year ‘Mobility Scheme’ visa - one which was costly but quite easy to get because of my ‘under thirty’ status. 
The two years seemed like acres of time which I planned to fill with travel to places more easily accessible from the UK, time in museums (I had a list to work off of), and a chance to launch myself as an artist in one of the best cities in the world to do so. 

I did spend much of my first six months exploring the easily accessible museums of London, ticking each one off my list as I did so, going back to visit some more than once. This is a city full of ideas, history, and an incredible amount of art. 

My curiosity has always been relatively insatiable. I credit my parents and many incredibly good teachers with this. I’ve been raised to believe that, if you want to find something out, you should go ahead and do it. 

St. Paul's Cathedral in the spring
In London I have been able to explore and learn like never before. The city is my classroom and the architecture, advertising, design and artwork is mine to soak up and study. 

There has been some formal study as well, (because it’s so accessible and the schools here are world renowned and worth a visit) in the form of of short courses. I’m continuing to attend such opportunities as they arrive and my budget can account for it. 

Ah, the budget. When I made up my mind to come to London many people warned me of the cost. It’s true that this is an expensive place to live and when I first arrived my meagre Canadian funds were worth far less than I could manage on. I had to take a job as quickly as possible and in my desperation I took the first one offered to me. It lasted four brief days before I handed in my notice. Retail employment could be anywhere in the world for all you’d get to see of it between unreasonably long shifts with few breaks.

My next job was a post through a temp agency and one which would work out fortuitously for me. In the end two and a half weeks of temporary placement turned into nearly two and a half years of permanent employment on a salary like nothing I’d ever made before. I was given the opportunity to develop my skills as a designer, did a lot of project management, and was even involved in hiring and training staff. 

It was still expensive living in London but when you start earning the currency other benefits quickly make themselves known. When pressed for why I’d chosen London I had often told people ‘just because’ or asked ‘why not?’, but travel was a big part of it. 

Coming to London in the first place was making up for two and a half years of not doing what I wanted when it came to seeing the world. With my new found steady income I was suddenly able to visit places I’d only dreamed of. Not to mention the sacred status holiday time holds to UK citizens. 

My job earned me twenty-five day holiday a year, not including bank holidays. I quickly learned that this was standard and even someone working part-time can expect up to fifteen days holiday per year. This was in stark contrast to any job I’d had before where two weeks was considered lucky and the idea of twenty five days was only available to those employed for as many years in one place. 

My 2011 Gallery show
The result has been (in addition to visits home to Canada) seeing Paris, Amsterdam, the south of France, Jersey, Scotland, Wales, the lake district, Kent, Dorset, Cambridge, York, Thailand and most recently, Cuba. Japan is in the works for later this year, and weekend trips to Greece or Italy are always in the cards - possibilities should a cheap package present itself, which they often do. 

Other accomplishments in the past three years have included obtaining my UK Driver’s License (An intense commitment of time, money and patience given the fact that I’ve been licensed in Canada for eight years and a very confident driver when not across the pond), holding a successful gallery showing of my artwork including the sale of four originals, and obtaining my temporary leave to remain with the help of my partner. 

Getting married was not something I intended to do. In fact, when I first decided to move to London I had also made up my mind that I was going to be single for the rest of my life as I no longer had any interest in a deep and meaningful relationship with anyone but myself. Of course the Universe loves it when you make up your mind about something because it can then throw in a challenge or curve ball. As it was, a few weeks after making my mind up to move, I met and quickly fell in love with the woman who is now my lawfully wedded sprout - as we like to call ourselves. 
My favourite wedding photo

Our wedded status allows me to remain in the UK but also caused a significant change to the conditions on which I live here. I am no longer bound by the necessity to work for someone else. I am allowed to act on my entrepreneurial spirit by embarking into the world of self employment, and embark I have. 

2012 was spent working towards setting myself up as a life coach - a career choice I am still enamoured with but no longer focused on as I had been. I am the sort of person to jump in the deep end with both feet. Such enthusiasm is why I’m in London at all, but has proven not to be the most effective choice when it comes to self employment as someone who helps others to see their full potential. 

Instead I’m now taking things slowly and from a different direction. I’m starting where I am with what skills I can use right away because my reputation is already there. My art, my creativity, my design work, my writing. 

Representing Canada at the Paralympic opening ceremonies
As I begin my fourth year in London I am not entirely certain as to how long I will stay here. This year is my chance to apply for my permanent leave to remain, which will allow me to stay indefinitely should that be my choice. I do love London and will always want to have a home here, but Canada is where my heart lies and I must admit, while it’s not as acute as it once was, homesickness is still a regular occurrence for me. 

In the mean time I am happy to be continuing my self-directed studies, building on my creative portfolio, and achieving dreams which I had once abandoned or thought too far reaching to be realistic. It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do. I may miss Calgary, but I wouldn’t change where I am right now for anything. London has provided me with so much and continues to do so. 

I don’t know what will happen in the next year but I have to say, if it’s anything like the last three it’s bound to be worth writing about.