28th June 2013

Sabbatical Sum-up


May 2013: my exhibition opened and my 4 month “sabbatical” came to an end.

Until about mid February it was just a sabbatical

Only adopting the additional punctuation (and a dramatic roll of the eyes) when it became clear that I’d completely misunderstood the concept.


The plan was to take 4 months off commission work, rediscover my creative path and create the new body of work that would form my solo show.

Some people backpack round Thailand for a year, getting dysentery and broadening their horizons.

I figured a quarter of a year percolating in my studio ought to do the trick.


Things change. Get over it.

Turns out, it takes a lot longer to fill a gallery than I thought.

Priorities changed, plans were altered.


Any whimsical notions of a 4 month meander through the forest of self discovery were soon replaced with 16 weeks of studio frenzy.

Making things, experimenting, failing, rethinking, tweaking, creating and perfecting.



Make good work.

I was busy.

But good busy as opposed to the panic stricken ‘wholly crap busy” that had been increasingly becoming the norm in my commercial work.

“Wholly crap busy” isn’t fun and isn’t conducive to creating my best work.

It also means your work, both the verb and the noun, can be pretty joyless.


Good busy however, is awesome.

I was making things.

Making good things.

Things that I took delight in crafting, that I was proud to put my name to and that I had the luxury of time to seek perfection in.

THIS was the dream.


Do more of what makes you happy.

My online shop as you know it, is gone.

I don’t want to be a retailer, I want to draw.

Life is short, time is precious.

The relief is palpable.


Not having to think about my commercial practice every day

Weirdly, gave me the space I needed to think about my commercial practice.

What was going well.

What wasn’t.

What could be better.

What was important to me.

And what was just flipping awful.


Freelance Fear

If you’re a Freelancer, you know exactly what this is.

The crippling anxiety that each job may be the last.

So you take EVERYTHING that comes your way.


This approach had, if I’m honest, been getting me into trouble.

My art teacher at school used to tell me to make each drawing better than the last.

I had been failing at this.


The temptation to always say Yes,

To churn work out,

To meet the client’s expectations instead of exceed them,

To measure the day’s worth in tasks achieved instead of beautiful things made…

It might be good business, but it’s not great creativity.


I read that the commissions you turn down, define your practice just as much as those that you take on,

(if not more so)

There’s wisdom there.


Don’t forget to be happy.

Sometimes in the chaos of everything;

The deadlines, the emails, the tweetings and the meetings,

I can completely forget that by some amazing twist of fate, I’ve landed my dream job.

My dream job.

How many people are lucky enough to say that in their lifetime, never mind at 30?


The exhibition at DCA, the Secret Garden colouring book, Wonderbeasts, the Wonderlands book…

I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to smile about.


Sabbatical Sum-up.

It was an utterly bizarre 4 months.

Not what I expected,

At times overwhelming,

Always enlightening.

In hindsight, it wasn’t really a sabbatical.


But was it worthwhile?


I think the long term value to my practice has been staggering.

Things have changed.

Priorities have been readdressed.


The work is better.

I am happier.

What more could you ask for?


And the biggest lesson I’ve learnt?


Get up every morning, imagine a future then make it happen.


Big thanks to Creative Scotland who supported the Sabbatical through a Professional Development Grant.



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