Pursuing a creative passion

Meet Vanessa Dennett, owner of The Simpson Sisters, a small business which runs creative workshops in relaxed and collaborative settings in Bristol and North Somerset. Like many women, Vanessa put her career ambitions on hold whilst raising her children, but now she is finally able to pursue her passion and showcase her creative talent through her blog and the workshops she runs.

Tell us about yourself 

I grew up in a small village in North Somerset and had a pretty idyllic early childhood. I went to the village primary school and then onto the local comprehensive where the idyll ended. I became pretty unmotivated and much more interested in horses and boys than anything academic. I was however considered bright enough to be studying the sciences at O-level and consequently wasn’t allowed to continue with the more creative subjects which I enjoyed.

Vanessa Dennett

Suffice to say that I was not successful at O-level, and after an unhappy start at a new school for A-levels I persuaded my parents to let me leave and go to secretarial college instead. I never particularly wanted to become a secretary, rather it seemed a good escape route. A couple of years temping and travelling persuaded me that office life was not for me and I applied for nurse training because I liked people and didn’t have sufficient qualifications to do anything else medical. It’s fair to say I could have given these decisions a little more consideration!

The following years were spent nursing and, following a knee injury, in various medically oriented sales and admin jobs – I recruited Australian nurses for the UK and sold plaster casts amongst other things! During this time I met my husband and we have lived and travelled around the world as he has pursued his career. Australia, Germany, South Africa, Belgium and Sweden have all been home at various times.

Since the birth of our two daughters I have explored a number of potential careers, largely based upon what I could fit around the demands of caring for children while living overseas without any established network and a husband who travelled. I drew upon my secretarial skills typing at home in the evenings, my knowledge of anatomy as a massage therapist and my sewing skills as a technician in a school’s textiles department, but nothing left me feeling very fulfilled or enthusiastic.

How did the idea for your business come about?

While living in Belgium I was offered the opportunity to participate in a pilot online coaching programme by a friend establishing her business. I finally spent a bit of time thinking about who I am, my skills and my interests and concluded that what I would really like to do would be ‘something creative with other people’. At this point we moved again twice in short succession and I put these thoughts on hold. We returned to the UK and I found a job almost next door at St Peter’s Hospice where I helped manage their hospice based volunteers on a short-term contract. At the end of this contract I again felt the frustration and entrapment that I have so often experienced in office environments, and much as I love the hospice I looked again at the outcome of the coaching programme and thought “I just have to try something, anything, more creative”. It was at this point that several threads began to weave together.

simpsons workshops

  • While overseas we had bought a small disused barn from my parents when they downsized from our family home and I had begun to blog very sporadically about the project, simply as a personal record and a way of family seeing what was going on. I had great intentions but too many moves got in the way and I never really got going.
  • While at the hospice I undertook a Digital Mums social media management course in order to up-skill a bit and with the notion that this type of flexible working might suit me. During the course I attended an Instagram workshop at The Forge with Emily Quinton and was introduced to Makelight and the online world of creatives which had somehow been a secret to me until then.
  • Originally a Simpson, I thought that The Simpson Sisters would make a great name for a business. Though I wasn’t sure what business I could possibly run I had bought the domain name a few years ago.
  • Attending creative workshops of all sorts, from cake decorating to pottery, watercolours and stage make-up has been how I have met some of my best friends in various locations over the years and I have spent many happy hours learning new skills in this way.

It suddenly occurred to me that workshops were just exactly doing something creative with other people and that I could either keep attending them, or I could start running them. Being interested in so many different creative pursuits it seemed to me that collaborating with others would be a really great way to do this.

It has taken me a while to nail exactly what it is that I’ve been creating, but I’ve loved finding my way over the last year and can now confidently tell people that The Simpson Sisters is a small creative business whose aims are to encourage and enable creativity by offering a variety of creative workshops in a warm, friendly and relaxed environment, and by providing a small attractive venue for other creatives to use for similar purposes. I love sharing my home with people and workshop days are my absolute favourites. In fact, I’m teaching my first sewing workshop in September and have often wondered how different my life might have been if I had pursued textiles as a subject at school!

How are you embracing social media?

Social media has been a huge learning curve for me over the last 18 months, I didn’t even have an Instagram account until last year and had never tweeted until then either! However, it has proved a wonderful resource and I have benefitted enormously from so many of the lovely people I have met online. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are where I’m found regularly and although I sometimes find three platforms challenging I believe that they each offer something quite different to me. I would love to grow my audiences and have worked hard to improve my photography to this end.


Vanessa is following…

me and orla

Me and Orla : I love Sarah’s honesty and no nonsense approach, her Hashtag Authentic podcast has been one of my favourites.

simple and season

Simple and Season: I had followed Kayte’s blog for a while and jumped at the chance to hear her speak at Blogtacular. I was not disappointed and found her marketing advice invaluable.

makelight

Makelight: without some of Emily and Stef’s courses I would never have pursued Instagram, updated my website or begun sending a newsletter.


Vanessa’s work…

thesimpsonsisters.co.uk
eventbrite.co.uk/o/the-simpson-sisters-11355703362
instagram.com/simpsonsisters

Curator of colour

Jessica Siggers is a photographer, social media influencer and Instagram consultant who lives in Bristol with her family. I first encountered Jess via her Instagram account Porthjess, a platform which has helped to build and cement her profile as a photographer. In person Jess is refreshingly humble and honest about her influencer status. It brings with it a whole host of opportunities which some people may feel unable to turn down. However, Jess is in the self-confessed “privileged position” of being able to select commercial collaborators that fit with her sense of identity (she has worked with Farrow & Ball, Pret A Manger, Canon, Cross Country Trains and Finisterre). But she’s also realistic about why others may choose a different path. There is a lot of judgement on social media which has given rise to the “armchair warrior”, but like anyone who has an online presence she has learned to turn the other cheek and focus on the positives and what she’s really passionate about – creating photographs that inspire others.

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer
“When I was trying to think up a name for my business a few years ago, I wanted something which contained my name but also tied in with me living on a harbour plus my love of the sea. ‘Porth’ means ‘harbour’ in Cornish! Et voila.”

A love of Bristol, rainbow colours, the coast and cars are what has made her loved by over 40k followers on Instagram. This strong sense of creative identity is what Jess intends to build on in 2017. So this year Jess will be returning her focus to the art of photography and establishing different ways to earn income. As a respected Instagram influencer Jess has started to run a series of workshops ‘Unleash your Instagram potential’, run in conjunction with Bristol Media and she is also involved in Digital Gaggle (marketing meet-ups and conferences in Bristol).

Jessica Siggers Porthjess colourful bristol street

Alongside her Porthjess persona Jess also runs the the official Instagram network for Bristol: IgersBristol. This is a photography showcase of Bristol and a job which keeps Jess’s feet firmly on the ground. Although she sometimes feels like “a dinosaur” amongst the young Instagram crowd it’s a good way to keep track of the latest photography trends and what is popular online. But that doesn’t impact on her signature style, if anything seeing what is trending has only reaffirmed what subjects she loves to photograph and makes her happy.

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer bristol street

One thing I respect and admire is Jess’s strong sense of identity when it comes to work and family life. Although the two need to coexist in a practical sense they aren’t linked in Jess’s mind: she’s not an Insta-mum. Whilst being a mother is an integral part of who she is, it’s not what makes Jess a successful photographer. I for one am looking forward to seeing how Jess’s career develops in 2017 and I’ve been lucky enough to attend one of her popular Instagram workshops.

JESS’S TOP TECHNICAL TIPS

1) Do you use your phone as well as your camera? If so how do you use them differently?

“I never leave the house without my compact Canon M3 DSLR and crummy old Samsung phone, permanently set to camera mode. I tend to use my phone for those quick shots where timing is everything (in my case usually an old car going past) and the camera for more structured shots where picture quality is important. I also have my ‘Big Camera’, i.e. my Canon 5D, which I use when specific shots are required for clients.”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer stokes croft bristol beetle car

2) Do you alter the images at all for use on Instagram?

“There are three things I always do before any of my photos make it to Instagram: run them through the auto-straighten feature on the Snapseed app, to tidy up any wonky horizons; crop out any unnecessary bits, again through Snapseed; use one of two filters from the brilliant ‘A Color Story’ app. My filters of choice just lighten the photo and enhance the colours to how I like them so that my Instagram grid always looks cohesive.”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer ss great britain bristol

3) Hashtags are an important part of Instagram: how do you choose the ones you use and are there specific ones you like to use?

“I have a list of my favourite hashtags saved in the Notes function on my phone (for ultimate Instageekery, they’re also saved into different categories such as ‘Doors’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Colour’). These are all either hashtags which have worked previously and continue to work for me and my style or hashtags which I’m just using for now but may drop in future (e.g. seasonal tags). It’s good to mix them up a bit and find new ones from time to time. Helps you find great new accounts to follow too.”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer bristol street scene

4) What’s your top photographic tip for people who take photos using their phones and uploading direct to Instagram?

“Turn your gridlines on in your camera settings. Helps you to align your shot perfectly and avoids too many of those wonky horizons!”

Jessica Siggers Porthjess Instagram photographer harbourside bristol

5) What advice would you give aspiring photographers looking to grow their online profile?

1) “Look up the local Igers (Instagrammers) network for your area such as Igers Bristol. We host regular free photowalks or ‘Instameets’ where lots of like-minded photographers get together and provide support and fresh inspiration!”

2) “Find a hashtag which relates to your style of work, e.g. I like #candyminimal, or even the hashtag for your area, e.g. #Bristol. Like and leave nice comments on photos that you like and others might do the same to you. This helps build followers.”

3) “Come to one of my Instagram workshops!”


Jess is following…

Valuable Content bristol logo

@valuablecontent (aka @sonjajefferson and @sjtanton): “Two clever, brilliant fellow Bristol Media members who are at the top of the content marketing consultancy game and also happen to be mothers. I’m also lucky enough to have them as my neighbours and my career took a big turn for the better when I took their advice over pastries at Sharon’s kitchen table one morning last year. They’re like my business fairy godmothers.”

Dolly Land

@dollyland“’Dolly is Sharon, a mum of five who lives in Clovelly, Devon. We became friends through Instagram via our love of the sea and met just before Sharon became social media manager for @2minutebeachclean, a +20k strong community of barefoot warriors taking two minutes out of their day to keep our beaches clean of rubbish. My family and I now never leave a beach or riverside without having a quick litter-pick first and that’s largely down to Sharon.”

Sara Venn Edible Bristol

Sara Venn, aka @saralimback“I’m ridiculously proud to call Sara my friend. She runs @ediblebristol, a branch of the Incredible Edible movement, launched to make Bristol the UK’s first edible city. In most areas of Bristol you’ll now come across an edible garden planted by Sara and her team. She’s also mum to one daughter like me and gives the best hugs.


Jess’s work…

porthjess.com
bristolcolourcapital.org
instagram.com/porthjess
instagram.com/igersbristol

Interview with Amy White

The artist celebrating UK cities

Emmeline Simpson is a Bristol based artist who produces artwork and gift products which celebrate the UK’s best loved cities. The inspiration for turning her hobby into a business came when she became a mum – she rediscovered her love of Bristol whilst pushing her young son around the city in his buggy. It was then that Emmeline realised there was a gap in the market for creating products which showcase artistic cityscapes.

Tell us about yourself

It all began 2008 when some friends in Bristol were getting married. What gift could I get them instead of vouchers that would really mean something?  As I gazed at their view from where they lived one day, with the vibrant yellow of the Bristol ferry ‘Matilda’ and the coloured houses of Cliftonwood, I decided I would create a collage of this view as a gift for them. I had always had a passion for painting and drawing, now was a chance to put it to use for a purpose. Around the same time I was developing my work of Bristol as a hobby, having exhibited every year at the Totterdown arts trail. I was seeing that people really wanted to buy a picture that would bring back a memory, or that they had a personal connection with. People would come to me with lovely stories like: “I wanted that picture because we got engaged on the suspension bridge”, or “I live in one of those coloured houses”.

The opportunity to turn my hobby into a business came in 2009 when I pushed my first son Finlay around the streets of Bristol in his pram. Having worked away for some time, I was re-discovering Bristol again and I would spend time photographing the city. As I did so I also could see that the city was not being celebrated enough. Having lived here for ten years after moving from Surrey I saw Bristol as a vibrant city with a strong identity that people really connected with. I myself am extremely passionate about the city and feel very fortunate to be living here. Yet as I walked around and saw what was on offer in independent shops, the tourist office and the museum, I saw that there was a need for high quality souvenirs which celebrated the city. I could see from my experiences exhibiting at the arts trail, that people also wanted something more than a picture to display on their wall, perhaps there was a place for a functional objects inspired by Bristol?

 

So I began to consider what products I could create which would fill this need. I developed my work further and got my collage images made into greetings cards. Gradually local shops began to stock them and I set about developing the range further into other products. The range now includes mugs, tea towels, placemats, coasters and fridge magnets. I have also recently expanded to develop products inspired by the cities of Bath, Oxford, Cheltenham, London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. My aim is quite simply that my work will be loved by those who live in these cities as well as those who are passing through, and that they will bring back happy memories to those who have moved on.

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

Digital technology is essential to the process involved in making my collages as whilst they begin as a collage drawn and assembled by hand, I usually take these collages and work on them in Photoshop to produce the finished artwork which is reproduced on placemats and coasters.

In terms of social media, Facebook has grown hugely since I started the business and having a Facebook page has really helped to grow the business and the brand. It’s been a lovely way for customers to interact with me, for example when someone posts a picture of some placemats that have made their way to New Zealand, or one lady in Australia who made a skirt from one of my tea towels. Instagram has become the social media platform where I feel most at home, especially being a visual person, and it’s been a great way of sharing my new artwork or products with my followers. I have really enjoyed been part of Igers Bristol especially as it’s all about posting photos of Bristol which inspires me to look at my city from new and different angles and get inspired by the photos of others – I try and go along to their ‘Instameet-ups’ when I can and this has really helped build the Instagram community and put faces to names. There is also a great community of fellow artists and small business on Instagram and being part of it makes you feel connected which is really important when you work on your own a lot of the time.

As someone who creates artwork inspired by UK cities, where are your favourite places and why?

Bath: I love walking to Victoria Park from the centre, and going past the Royal crescent, it reminds me of how inspired I was when I sat there drawing the scene a few years ago – the park itself is such a great place to take the kids.

Edinburgh: I love Victoria Street which leads down to the Grassmarket, it’s on my list as my next Edinburgh scene to draw!

Oxford: I love the meadows at the back of Christ Church which are so pretty in the summer. I have drawn the Christ Church quad but not that view as yet!


Emmeline is following…

 

 

 

 

@porthjess (Jessica Siggers): I always remember how she was one of my first supporters, and customers, and how she then asked me for business advice over a slice of cake. We have become firm friends over the last few years as I have seen her business grow and flourish and now I feel like I am the one coming to her for advice!

 

 

 

 

@poppytreffry: I had the pleasure of meeting her recently and I’ve always loved her work. I admire her for what she has achieved with her business, especially with so much of her work being hand made.

 

 

 

 

@lovegiveink: their Instagram is so pretty to look at (not to mention their fantastic business story).

 

 

 

 

@jennyhyde: Whose wisdom and honesty I admire.


Emmeline’s work…

emmelinesimpson.co.uk
facebook.com/EmmelineSimpsonDesign
twitter.com/emmelinesimpson
instagram.com/emmelinesimpson

Stockists: Bristol Guild, Bristol Museum, M Shed, Pod Company, Stanfords and Bristol Tourist Office.

Collage technique workshop: Saturday 8th April, @19alexandraroad.

The designer creating a freelance community

Francesca Tortora is a graphic designer and founder of Doing It For The Kids (a collaborative blog for freelance parents). A creative soul who pursued her passion for design after a well-timed redundancy offer enabled her to leave a career in project management. Francesca clearly has her head screwed on about the realities of being a working parent and her common sense approach resonates with lots of other people through her blog. With ambitions to grow the online community while still developing her graphic design business, Francesca is one busy lady.

Tell us about yourself

I’m a 30-something, born and bred Londoner, mum to a feisty toddler and freelance graphic designer (see examples of her artwork below). I used to work in project management/arts administration but retrained as a designer in 2011. I realised that I was essentially working to facilitate lots of other people’s creativity, and that I’d much rather earn money being creative myself. So I started working part-time in my then job, went to night school where I undertook a portfolio course in graphic design and was very ‘lucky’ to be offered redundancy pretty much as I finished my year of training. That small pot of money allowed me to take a financial risk and give freelancing a shot. I said I’d give it 6 months max and if it didn’t work out, I’d apply for a PAYE job — nearly six years later I’m still self-employed and genuinely wouldn’t have it any other way.

Francesca Tortora artworkFrancesca Tortora artwork

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

I’m in the kind of job where I’m basically tied to my iMac. Digital technology is an inherent part of what I do – as much as I try to sketch and start projects on paper, every piece of work I produce will be processed digitally – to the point where all of my software now (Adobe CC and Office 365) is installed and managed via ‘the cloud’. But the biggest thing for me, is that digital technology allows me to work flexibly and totally free of the traditional office setup. This has always been my aim but is particularly important to me now as a parent. A lot of freelance designers will still be asked to go into their client’s studios for instance, but I have never needed or wanted to do that. If I’m working on a job full-time for a few weeks, I can speak to my clients whenever they need me via Skype, they can send me marked up PDFs and I can screen share, showing them updates and amends in real time. Digital technology – (and a damn good Wi-Fi connection!) allows me to work exactly where and how I want, and means that the client also doesn’t have the hassle of finding me a desk, a machine and a clean mug! From a marketing perspective, social media has obviously completely revolutionised how sole traders like myself get their work seen. Having said that, how much work I personally get directly through social is questionable. In my experience, the majority of my work still comes through good, old fashioned word of mouth.

And both digital technology and social media have been instrumental in allowing me to launch my passion project: a new site for freelance parents, Doing It For The Kids. In its current form DIFTK is essentially a blog, but the site is almost secondary to the stuff I’m trying to do on social (particularly Instagram) where my aim is to create a community of like-minded people who are all tackling the mad unpredictabilities, sense of isolation and endlessly unique challenges that come from being a parent and working freelance.

DIFTK logo

What are your top tips for freelancers juggling family life?

Don’t be too hard on yourself. I really do think we’re going through a difficult transition at the moment where women are under a lot of pressure to work and earn money, as well as cook, clean, look after the kids, all while somehow stringing a coherent sentence or two together and looking amazing (!!). We’re essentially being asked to do everything but often with very little support. So many of us now live in another city, country or continent from the traditional ‘village’ of extended family who would, in previous generations, have been nearby to help us out. The expectations on our shoulders can be daunting. So just be kind to yourself. If you have to put CBeebies on all day to allow you to work – so be it. If fish fingers are on the menu for the third day in a row – so what. Your family will not suffer as a result. You’re doing an amazing job. Trust me.


Francesca follows…

joy choI’m an absolute fiend for colour and a bit of fun in my work and Joy Cho of Oh Joy! has the stuff in absolute bucket loads.

 

 

 

small print booksSince having a kid, my love of children’s books and illustrators has become a bit of an addiction and Jenny Thomas of Small Print Books is forever introducing me to an amazing piece of print that I don’t yet know about.

 

 

Holly Tucker of Not On The High Street is forever posting interesting tips and discussion points around being creative and running your own business.

 

 


Francesca’s work…

francescatortora.com
doingitforthekids.net
instagram.com/doingitforthekids
facebook.com/DoingItForTheKids
twitter.com/DIFTK

Design with style

Gayle Mansfield lives in Worthing and runs her own company Gayle Mansfield Designs, which specialises in producing bold, typographic prints and cards. Having changed careers and taught herself design and typography she successfully setup her studio and was able to pursue her passion for design and interiors. Gayle now runs a growing business and is a great entrepreneurial example to other women looking to find a fulfilling career which fits around family life.

We asked Gayle to share her story and her interior styling tips – check out her dreamy Instagram accounts for beautifully curated photographs of her prints (see images below) and her magazine-worthy home (which will be featured in House Beautiful magazine later this year).

How and why did you set up your design business?

I’ve always loved design and interiors in particular but never had the confidence or opportunity to pursue a career in the industry, instead I worked as a project manager for a housing organisation and interiors stuff was a hobby. After I graduated (more years ago than I care to remember!) I started working for a local council and progressed from there. After about 15 years in that field I had the opportunity to quit and took a couple of years out, focusing on renovating our house and looking after our young daughter. I felt the time had come to set something up by myself. I’ve always had friends telling me I should be an interior designer and I do hope to end up doing some styling in the future.  My partner is a graphic designer and I kept having ideas for designs for wall art so he encouraged me to set up a small shop and see how it went. He has been instrumental in the whole process and I absolutely couldn’t do this without him. We bought a huge industrial printer from one of his clients as I was keen to do all our production in-house.  I had a business idea years ago when my daughter was a baby but due to personal reasons I couldn’t pursue it (someone else has since done it!) and that really spurred me on to come up with something else.

How has digital technology and social media helped grow your business?

There really is nothing else quite like Instagram for small businesses, particularly a visual one such as mine. I owe a lot of my success so far to Instagram. I tend to use the same content on Facebook but it’s not really so instrumental to my success (aside from nudging my friends to buy something!) and I feel my business is best placed on Instagram at the moment. Having said that I am a member on some Facebook groups set up for women in business and these are brilliant. I’m currently doing a course about how to use Pinterest effectively for business, which is really exciting.

How to style prints in your home

Try hanging pictures without a frame for a relaxed look

gayle mansfield

“In our daughter’s room I have styled one of our personalised prints with a Happy banner from This Modern Life and some ball lights from Tiger. I like to hang pictures with no frames for a relaxed look.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A simple picture ledge creates an effective display

sofa and picture by gayle mansfield designs

“Above our sofa we have an IKEA picture ledge with framed photos we sourced from Unsplash. I really like the thin profile frames from IKEA as shown here in black.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group prints together for a bold, contemporary look

pictures on wall by gayle mansfield

“We have an area at the end of our kitchen that needed to be pulled together and I have achieved this by hanging two prints above this upcycled (by me) dresser. I like the look of two different sized prints together but with the same colours (one on the left by Seventy Tree, one on the right by me).”

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don’t have to attach pictures to a wall – try propping them up instead

shelf display of pictures and objects by gayle mansfield designs

“I like to prop prints up rather than commit to always putting them on the wall, as I am constantly moving things around! I have left the cat eyes print unframed as I like the relaxed look.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By placing simple, typographic prints on shelves you can create Instagram-worthy displays

shelf display of pictures and objects by gayle mansfield designs

“Again, I have propped up two prints here, on our shelving in our living room, so that I can move them around easily.  I am naturally drawn to prints that are typographic and simplistic.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gayle is following…

sarah akwiscombe

 

 

 

 

I find @sarahakwisombe‘s approach just so refreshing and real, she really inspires me so much.  She’s clearly very hard-working and knows what she wants and is very passionate about what she does.

blogga i bagis

 

 

 

 

I cannot get enough of @bloggaibagis interior styling.

selfish mother logo

 

 

 

 

I have a lot of respect for Molly Gunn @selfishmother.

Gayle’s work…

gaylemansfield.co.uk
instagram.com/gaylemansfielddesigns
Pinterest.com/gaylemansfield
hello@gaylemansfield.co.uk

Ten minutes with illustrator Rosie Johnson

Tell us about yourself

I was born in Greenwich, south east London and grew up there and then on the Isle of Wight. Both of my parents were teachers so the I saw how hard they worked and how much of their lives were consumed by the role. The one thing I definitely wasn’t going to do was teach. I wanted to act, illustrate children’s books and write comedy sketches. If there was a way of me being Rowan Atkinson combined with Victoria Wood and Janet and Allan Ahlberg – that would have been ideal. So, obviously, after a wonderful three years studying drama at Exeter university, I enrolled on a course to become… a teacher. The acting went out the window partly due to the extreme nerves I suffered before any kind of performance. I continued to write and draw little bits and pieces but I felt the pull of teaching and finally succumbed to the inevitable. Fifteen years of working with incredible, dedicated colleagues and hilarious, inspiring children – I don’t regret a bit of it. I met my partner (the best teacher in the northern hemisphere) on the training course and made many friends along the way.

I have a talented, funny, caring step son, Alfie, who is nearly 19; the kindest 7-year-old daughter, Tilda and a chatty, stubborn toddler called Sid who tells me he loves me whilst hitting me with Duplo.

Rosie Johnson illustrations
A selection of Rosie’s illustrations

What’s your advice for anyone thinking about a career change?

I’m sure it’s the same for people in lots of different circumstances, but for me, it was having children that changed things. Until then, I was a career teacher. I spent long hours on the job and thought about it non-stop. Our daughter was premature and we were in hospital with her for quite a few weeks. A vivid memory of that time is making a deal with myself that if we were lucky enough for her to be OK, then life needed to tip in her favour. My time needed to be hers.

I did go back to work after both of my children, part-time. But teaching part-time never gave me the same sense of involvement and passion as it had before. Spending time with my children, particularly reading them stories, renewed my love of children’s books and I started playing around with some ideas for my own. When the contract came up on my last post, I bit the bullet. With the support of the best teacher in the northern hemisphere and my exceptional parents, I decided to begin my illustration business properly.

I loved teaching about 75% of the time and considered myself lucky. I mean, no-one loves working right? A job is still a chore even if you’re fulfilled by it? I had no idea how much I could adore my job. I know it’s early days and the pay isn’t comparable but oh, wow! I can work from 8-5, forget to have lunch until my stomach protests, then go to life drawing for a further two hours only to come back to the shed for a bit more.

If there’s something that’s been niggling away at you- don’t worry about not knowing the details of how you’ll make it work. You have to give it a go.

rosie johnson illustrates
Rosie also designs jewellery

What inspires you as an artist?

The books of my childhood- Shirley Hughes, Helen Oxenbury. I’m inspired by moments I see between people – a grandparent unselfconsciously blowing a raspberry at their new grandchild, a knowing hand-squeeze from a friend. I love the idea of capturing these moments.

Rosie’s work…

rosiejohnsonillustrates.com
instagram.com/rosiejohnsonillustrates
facebook.com/RosieJohnsonIllustration
twitter.com/RJIllustrates


Rosie is following…

helen botrill

Helen Bottrill, founder of the Creative Business Network is a textile designer turned guru. She is motivational way beyond decent memes! She has incredible advice and is such a positive presence for women starting their own businesses.

 

nicole thomasNicole Thomas who is a friend, but also one of the funniest, most caustic, honest writers I know. Her blog Happy Medium Mothering covers many topics from taking care of her autistic son to wondering what to call her daughter’s private parts, to dental health.

 

poppy corbett

Another exceptional woman is Poppy Corbett– a witty, political, clever woman who inspires me to do not just say.

Ten minutes with designer Laura Heeks

Laura Heeks is a 34-year-old graphic designer and illustrator. She has an eight-month-old baby boy and lives in Liverpool.

How did you become a designer?
After studying English Literature I started working in the marketing department at the Guardian, but quickly realised I wanted a more visually creative career than that. I retrained as a designer at the London College of Communication on a highly practical and intensive course before throwing myself full throttle into a series of internships and low-paid positions at high profile design studios to build my experience up, these included Pentagram and Brighten the Corners. Since then I have steadily worked my way up in permanent positions at design studios to where I am now. I am currently on maternity leave with my 8-month-old baby boy, but when I’m working I divide myself between working as a designer for a university and as an independent freelance creative.

Laura Heeks designer
A selection of Laura’s design work

Why did you become a designer?
To live a creatively fulfilled life! I don’t think I could do a dull office job anymore. I love the variety and detective/researcher/nosey parker nature of design – you have to really understand a brand, company or project before you find the right visual solution for a design, so no two days are the same and you never get bored. Plus, I enjoy making things look beautiful – and that’s pretty important in my line of work too!

Illustration by Laura Heeks
Illustration by Laura

What inspires you creatively and what do you aspire to?
I am in a passionate love affair with all things visual – all things aesthetic make my world go round. My interests are diverse within the arts though – from fine art to fashion, design (of course) to photography and architecture. My ambitions change day to day! I have a strong interest in perhaps teaching graphic design one day in the future. In the short term I would just like to get through each day happily with my baby – small achievements like doing the washing up, getting out and about in the fresh air and playing with rainmakers are about where it’s at right now. Once I’ve become a pro at the juggling act that is being a mum I’d like to throw my freelancing back into the mix and up the pace beyond the few tiny bits of works I’m doing at the moment – exciting times!

Child at computer desk
Trying to work around kids isn’t easy…

My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. The natural world, architecture, fine art, photography, my environment, travel, things I see on TV and the web, the shape of a cup handle or a paving stone, anything really. It’s funny how things strike you like a bolt out of the blue sometimes, you can be looking everywhere for inspiration for a logo design and find the key to it in the pattern and repetition of holes on a manhole cover!

Does digital technology and social media influence the way you work?
I’ve got to admit, I am not the most tech-forward person. I have embraced Instagram because it suits me – in fact I love it. But my Twitter account is severely neglected. Unless it feels useful or fun to me on a personal level I struggle to use it, even for work. Instagram and Pinterest are my top apps and I use them heavily, Instagram to record my ‘visual journey’ through life and work and Pinterest for project research. Both are incredibly good tools for design. I guess I use these platforms for tapping into what’s going on in the industry as well, in addition to various blogs and websites.

How has your working life changed now you’re a mum?
At the moment I’m only working on tiny, little easy projects or pieces of design for very understanding clients!

Laura’s work…

lauraheeks.com
instagram.com/lauraheeks
linkedin.com/in/lauraheeks

twitter.com/lauraheeks

lauraheeks.blogspot.co.uk
arts.ac.uk/lcc/people/students-alumni/pgcert-design-for-visual-communication/laura-heeks/


Laura is following…

jessica hische

Jessica HischeA fellow graphic designer, Jessica Hische is a typographer extraordinaire. She’s very well known for her letter art and has worked for lots of big brands – she’s currently commanding 110k followers on Instagram and raising a sweet little girl as well.

mamalina

Mamalina: Emma AKA Mamalina is a lifestyle blogger and mum with hippy tendencies – she lives life on a very loose schedule which appeals to me, as I’ve never been great with routine. She’s into travel, food, the gentle raising of little ones, nature and mess – what a lady!

jet set mama

Jetsetmama: If I need a laugh, this is my go to account. Claire Alexander-Johnston is hilarious. She’s a mother of three who lives a seemingly perfect and enviably stylish life raising her kids in Bali/Australia. She is however a dab hand at self deprecation and VERY forthright. Good for a chuckle and to feel better on one of ‘those’ days.

mere soeur

Mere Soeur: Carrie Anne has used a bit of creativity and her passion for mothering to make herself a successful little business to earn a living whilst raising her son. The ‘mamamerch’ products she comes up with appeal to the trendy mother/sisterhood around the world.

flower girl los angeles

Flower Girl Los Angeles: I’ve been following Kelsey Harper Parker ever since starting to use Instagram. She is a super cool LA florist with on point taste and a beautiful Californian life spent arranging flowers and raising her two boys. Aspirational inspiration taken to the extreme.

Let’s talk about flex…with Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a 37-year-old artist and designer living in Bristol with her husband Tim and their children Jet (7) and Della (4).

Helen Ward artist designer
Helen Ward

An accomplished artist and designer, Helen divides her time between working as a freelance product designer for Wild & Wolf in Bath, exhibiting her Paper Entomology work and developing new artistic commissions. When she’s not working Helen enjoys making things (let’s be honest, she’s pretty good at this), swimming and going on holiday.

I first met Helen when our children were toddlers at a local playgroup, which not only saved us the job of entertaining our little ones but also provided an important public service to weary local mums. We gossiped and moaned (think I did a fair bit of moaning) and drank luke-warm tea and hid biscuits from our prying children. Since then our children have started school (mime’s high-five) so we are at very similar points in our lives now: both striving to find creative, fulfilling jobs which pay the bills and fit around the children.

Helen Ward artist designer paper entomology
Artwork from Helen’s Paper Entomology series

Like so many women it’s not been an easy journey for Helen, both literally and figuratively. Although being self-employed worked when the children were babies’ things got much harder when three years ago Helen was offered her dream job. The job was based in Cheltenham and for 18 months Helen endured a four hour commute every day. That would be exhausting without children, but with the youngest only one-year-old it was too much and the inevitable feelings of guilt led to a decision to quit and work for herself again. The office culture of being chained to a desk nine to five seems as strong as ever unfortunately (please read my article about flexible working and how things are starting to change).

Helen still commutes to Bath a couple of days a week but as any freelancer will tell you, you have to be prepared to go where the work is. So an average week consists of working two full days a week and then during school hours only for the remaining three days. A self-confessed owl Helen often works into the evenings too. But like all of us juggling a family and a career sometimes you have to spin a few plates to get things done (hopefully not whilst serving dinner).

The path to ‘flexible working’ is not a well-trodden one. I often feel most of us are winging it to a certain extent. But what I do admire in Helen is that she is embracing the essence of flexible working without compromising too much of herself. So when the children are at school Helen makes time to go for a swim and when she’s working from home she can collect them from the school and take them “home for cuddles”. But like all families, childcare arrangements can often feel like a military operation and sometimes (but not always…) the women end up doing the lion’s share. “For several years it was me who was always the one who sorted out nursery drop offs and pick ups and this had a massive impact on my working life. It was really easy to fall into a pattern of me doing all the grunt work with this as I was the one who had been off on maternity leave twice.” Helen’s husband Tim was able to work out flexi-time arrangements with his employer which enabled the balance of power to be resumed. It’s so much better this way and not only does Helen feel less put upon but Tim is also more involved with the kids. I have a similar arrangement with my husband and from time to time you need to alter things, but appreciating each other’s professional lives is crucial to finding that balance. Helen’s top tip to achieving this is “team work” and I couldn’t agree more. “There’s no point in trying to be all things to all people at all times as it’s just not going to happen. This is the path to disappointment and exhaustion! Sharing responsibility for childcare made all the difference to us and if someone offers to help you out, say ‘Yes please!’.”

Helen Ward artist designer brass wall hanging
Brass wall hanging by Helen

But when push comes to shove (no baby puns intended) Helen is feeling really positive about her future career and although she may occasionally look back on how she could have done things differently, prioritising her children is never going to be a decision she’ll regret. “I often wonder where I would be in my career now if I had left it a bit later in life to have kids – I was 30. I know that if I had waited, I probably could have progressed a bit further with my design work and maybe seen a bit more success before getting into the baby zone…that said, now both my girls have started school, I can feel life picking up momentum again and I am feeling really positive about what is to come!”.

If money were no object would she change paths? Apparently not (which is a sure sign she’s in the right field). “I would absolutely still make things. I would find myself some ridiculous massive studio space with loads of light and craft materials and sit around in there listening to audio books.” Marvellous stuff Helen and you never know it might happen one day…


Helen on social media…

Helen Ward artist designer House of Wards logo

“The only social media I use these days is Instagram. I post my work up on there and I do get commissions from that quite often. Any of this income is then entirely counteracted by me looking at other people’s work on Instagram and spending all that money buying their stuff!”.

I feel your pain Helen and so does my credit card.

Helen’s daily digital routine…

“I was a Facebook user for years, but gave that up 12 months ago as I found the whole thing was just starting to get me down and wasn’t that useful any more. I can honestly say that I haven’t missed it once! I have a pointless habit of looking on the BBC News website which I need to STOP as it achieves nothing. I use Pinterest every day for work and have about a million secret boards for all my ongoing projects. Other than that, I just look on Instagram. I need to get a check on myself sometimes as I do go through phases of looking at it too much. I spent months and months obsessively looking at people who posted up pictures of interiors last year. Eventually I had to do a mass cull of loads of the people I followed to stop myself. I felt better once I had, but I do have a sneaky look back at them every now and then – I can’t help it!!”.

Don’t worry we all love a bit of stalking (in a completely harmless, non-creepy way of course)

“On the whole, I tend not to follow too many Mums that I don’t know. I am always mindful on Instagram that you only get a very contrived view of people’s lives and that the reality of it all really might be quite different. It’s all too easy to berate yourself because some other mum with five children and two dogs has still managed to look amazing, keep an immaculate house and has only fed her children on home cooked organic fruit and vegetables. In reality I like to think they have probably just been crying in a messy corner all day and they’re posting the pictures up as therapy while pretending to themselves that everything is marvelous (surely!). I’m not bitter – I’m practical!”

Thanks for saying what we all feel. Aspirational images, which are often carefully constructed, are the bread and butter of the Instagram and while there is nothing wrong with a bit of virtual day-dreaming I agree we shouldn’t believe the hype.

Helen’s following…

Victoria Topping artist

@victoriatoppingart

Victoria Topping: “Vic is a friend of mine and a creative FORCE!”

 

Claire Doodle Instagram

@clairs_doodle

Clair Meldrum: “Clair is a painter from Aus who I think does a good job of keeping it real Mum styles!”

 

@letsmakeartukLet's make art bristol

Karen Davies: “Let’s make Art provide high quality art workshops and events for children and sometimes adults too. Her feed is full of cool ideas for crafts for kids and some little gems from her family life too.”

Helen’s work…

Helen is currently working as a freelance senior product designer for Wild & Wolf in Bath. She designs homeware, giftware and toys for major UK retailers and the global market. Helen is currently exhibiting her Paper Entomology artwork at the following galleries: Porthminster Gallery, St. Ives; Sarah Wiseman Gallery, Oxford; Byard Art, Cambridge; Foss Fine Art, Battersea. She also accepts commissions –some of these projects can be seen on her Instagram account @house.of.wards.

helenward.info


Interview by Amy White

Let’s talk about flex…with Lizzie de Pass

Lizzie is a 36-year-old freelance graphic designer who runs Elle dee Pea Design. Originally from Wiltshire now living in rural Gloucestershire with her husband Tom and her two girls Amelie (7) and Anya (4).

Lizzie de Pass elle dee pea graphic design

A self-confessed “closet creative” who came to her current career as a graphic designer after having children. Before this Lizzie worked in commercial marketing and charity fundraising. But despite a wistful glance back to perhaps starting a design career earlier in life she managed to find creative outlets in other ways. “Before I changed my career, I found lots of opportunity to create in other ways – designing my girls party invitations, making gifts for friends and family, even cake decorating (although sadly the cake decorating has fallen by the wayside somewhat – thanks for your help Betty Crocker – it’s appreciated).”

Whilst working part time for a charity Lizzie was able to work flexibly around the children, but a life altering decision to up-sticks from the city to the country meant things were about to change. Sometimes in order to make radical decisions and take the plunge an imposed change of circumstances can give you the motivation to try something new. Lizzie and her husband Tom agreed “if I was ever going to give design a go then there was no better time than now”. Making the decision to choose a creative job which inspired her happened over two years ago now and “so far it’s been a success”. Being her own boss means Lizzie has been able to make parents evenings, the nativity play and school assemblies. Another benefit has been renting an office in Wotton Under Edge which she shares with three other freelancers. “This really helped me overcome the isolation I previously felt working from home. I definitely took for granted how much I enjoyed going into an office space with other people.”

Lizzie de Pass elle dee pea graphic design
Designs for Pukka Herbs
Lizzie de Pass elle dee pea graphic design
Lizzie does a lot of work with charities such as Tree Aid

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aside from work Lizzie also finds time to indulge in her new found passion of singing in a local choir and running, although she admits she’s not going to “complete a marathon anytime soon”. The pace of life seems to be more balanced now too and apart from the usual chores, work and school runs she stills aspires to “try and slow down, drink in the time with the kids while they are little and say ‘yes’ more when they want me to sit down with them”.

But it’s by no means perfect working freelance even with flexible benefits. “It’s great when you get switch your computer off at 3pm and go and get the kids because no one is insisting you sit at your desk until 5pm, the converse it sitting on the M5 on your way to Cornwall for a week and getting a brief from a client and not wanting to lose that work.” So it’s swings and roundabouts working for yourself but in terms of being an employee I agree with Lizzie that “many companies have a way to go”. Perhaps the best bosses are parents themselves as born out by Lizzie’s experience: “I used to work for a wonderful man, a father of four. His priority was and always has been his family. He made sure my job could be part time after my first child and I know he encourages his team now to go their children’s nativity plays. Surely that’s the right approach, accept people have priorities outside of work, give them the flexibility they need and in return you’ll have happy, loyal and motivated staff”.

One theme that keeps coming up in this series of interviews is ‘self-doubt’. My word, ladies don’t we excel in this area. This series of articles aims to champion and promote women (who happen to be mothers) achieving personal or professional success on their own terms. I think Lizzie is a great ambassador for this idea. She’s come a long way in the past two years: she has a host of regular clients, a growing portfolio and an office on the high street. Despite being slightly addicted to digital technology and social media (don’t worry we all are!) she has a healthy dose of cynicism and aspires to spend more time face to face than screen to screen (both personally and professionally). Finding a job that you love and that can “bring you back to yourself” is clearly something Lizzie has achieved.


 Lizzie on digital media…

“This has definitely helped me, most of my communications are via email and all document sharing is done online. It does mean that I don’t get out and about as much as I’d like, but when I need to be reasonably local to the school it’s a real positive. Saying that I’m actually pleased when a client wants to meet face to face, you can learn a lot by meeting someone, not to mention the ability to build more of a relationship. I think we’re all guilty of forgetting that sometimes. I don’t tend to use social media professionally, occasionally I’ll share some of my projects but this is mainly through LinkedIn. I’ve not fully explored whether social media would be the right way to go for me yet.”

Lizzie’s daily digital routine…

“I worry I’m slightly addicted to my phone! I check them all in the morning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, news and my work and personal emails. It’s often the last thing I do at night too. I find myself increasing feeling fed up though, witnessing snap shots of what is an unreal world. Facebook particularly seems to be bad at wasting time, I find myself scrolling through someone’s News Years Eve party pictures for five minutes before realising I have no idea who those people are. I complain I don’t have enough time to do everything, I think its time I put my phone down!”

Lizzie follows…

I follow quite a few ‘mumtrepreneurs’, women who are good at reality checks (happily showing their child having a tantrum) but who have also managed to create businesses since becoming parents, and because they are parents.  I find they have a positive influence on me, both aspirationally and also in a supportive ‘we’re all in it together’ type way. I do need to filter who I follow a bit too though, as I can get lost in a world of perfect families, crafting, baking and interiors that makes me quiver in a corner with shame…”

hollie de cruz yes mum cards london hypnobirthingHollie de Cruz: founder of London Hypnobirthing and maker of yesmum® affirmation cards.

Instagram: theyesmum

Twitter: @theyesmummum

 

steph don't buy her flowersSteph Douglas: founder of online shop Don’t Buy Her Flowers which sells unique, thoughtful gift packages.

Instagram: dontbuyherflowers

Twitter: @DBHFgifts

 

unmumsy mum blog bookSarah Turner: The Unmumsy Mum writer of successful blog and subsequent Sunday Times no. 1 bestseller author.

Instagram: theunmumsymum

Twitter: @theunmumsymum

Facebook: www.facebook.com/theunmumsymum

 

 

hurrah for gin mum blog bookKatie Kirby: blogger and published author of Hurrah for Gin.

Instagram: hurrah4gin

Twitter: @hurrahforgin

 

 

 

selfish mother molly gunn fmly store bruton

The Selfish Mother:  a blogzine for brilliant women edited by Molly Gunn.

Instagram: selfishmother

Twitter: @selfishmother

 

Lizzie’s work…

elledeepeadesign.com

Twitter: @lizziedepass

Instagram: lizziedepass


Interview with Amy White