Transience and Imperfection

A friend recently introduced me to the idea of Wabi-Sabi – the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. I love it.

I’m a white male, getting older by the day. The older I get, the more conscious I become of my whiteness, my maleness, and my oldness. My transience and imperfection.

I remember a conversation at a party – years ago. Question. How many times have you been stopped by the police? Me – once. Him – lost count. Spot the difference. Skin colour.

More recently, Josh Bersin (white, male, etcetera) wears jeans to give a conference keynote. Why not? Wear what you like. Go Josh! Meanwhile, HR ladies at similar conferences persist in giving female speakers grief because of what they wear. Skirt too tight, heels too high. What?!

I rarely, if ever know what it is like to be the minority – the one without power and privilege. I’ve never had to recoil after being touched inappropriately on a crowded tube train. I don’t know what it’s like to be routinely paid less because of my gender, and the bias in the recruiting experience, is limited to stories of the two identical CVs with different names. David gets the interview, Mustafa gets no response.

I don’t know what it feels like to be the one without power and privilege, and my growing appreciation of my own impermanence increases my awareness of its existence, at least.

Dear white people : no one is saying your life can’t be hard if you’re white, but it’s not hard because you’re white.

White youth, black youth
Better find another solution
Why not phone up Robin Hood
And ask him for some wealth distribution : Joe Strummer

More to follow.

I found this difficult to rwite. It’s been a while, I’m low on form and high on self doubt. I asked if anyone was willing to take a look at the draft before publishing and several people kindly offered. Thanks to everyone who responded, and to Chris and Meg who kindly helped me with my work.

Set 3

The Art of The Possible : Working Out Loud

A story about showing your work, adapting your work, and being open to the possibilities.

I recently wrote about the art of the possible, and how analog tools (pencils, paintbrushes etc) still have powerful relevance in a digital world. I wasn’t suggesting that one is somehow better than the other, rather that both matter. An analog, artistic inquiry of our work can be a very powerful thing. Equally, lots of the work I love to do is generated through connections initially made online, and then nurtured in real life, and the idea of working out loud, something I love to practice, is made simpler thanks to the digital spaces we inhabit. Analog and digital. Both matter.

Last year, my friend Neil Usher kindly agreed to give me some feedback when I was compiling some information about my work to share with people interested in hiring me. Part of this work was a series of visual images, which I gathered together using the haikudeck presentation tool.


What Goes Around – Principles of Work 

The simplicity of the deck worked well enough, and Neil suggested that I could make it stand out more by creating another version. ‘Use your own stuff – not stock photo type images’, Neil offered. I took the idea on board and began what became a long process of drawing, tracing, and colouring my own version of the slides.

Though the general idea remains the same – there is a big difference between the two pieces of work. The second one is better. It’s me, showing my work, and what you can expect of me. I’m grateful to Neil for the suggestion.

I figured that was it. The work was done, things move on, and I was wrong. Crystal Miller, another friend in my network spotted my hand made slides and asked if I would consider drawing a set for one of her clients, who was seeking a visual representation for some values/principles. We talked, agreed the creative basis of the project, and some general terms, then I got on with it. Part of the deal was that I could represent these ideas as I saw fit. At first, I struggled to get going with such an open remit. Would the work be liked? That question quickly took me to all the usual ‘I’m not good enough’ places we experience, particularly when doing something new. My client was very supportive and though I wobbled a few times – the work began to flow. In time, a series of 16 images emerged.

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I learned a lot from this process. Some days the pens moved freely, some days not. At times when I got stuck, I asked for help, and I got it. Ideas, nudges, confidence – many things came from asking. At times I practiced the art of ‘it’s good enough, move on’. And at times, I redid images completely. Trying to balance satisfaction with deadlines can become an interesting tangle, and what emerged is a body of work the client is really pleased with. So am I.

Importantly, if I hadn’t responded to Neil’s suggestion, if I hadn’t been open to the possibilities, and if I hadn’t worked out loud, we wouldn’t be looking at these pictures now. And if I can work like this, you can too.

Learning To Let Go : Change Is Hard

When things are evolving, and change is afoot, people often hanker for the good old days. ‘Things were so much better back then…’. Were they really?

Leaky Pens

When I first left school I was a trainee draughtsman working at a house building company. I drew housing layouts, road and drainage section drawings, and more, on large sheets of coated film using a technical drawing pens. Expensive, high specification, high maintenance pens, the ink distributed perfectly in lines of uniform width. Except when they leaked and scratched, which was often. When the dam burst, and the ink leaked, depending on how much progress had been made, the choice usually boiled down to starting again, or letting the ink dry and trying to scratch and scrape the excess off the drawing film with a scalpel. It was easy to cut yourself during this part of the process, adding blood to the inky excess. Truthfully I can’t distinguish whether the feeling experienced on completing a drawing was joy in my work, or simply relief that me and my pens hadn’t leaked everywhere. Things were so much better back then…

Mutant Tea Urns

One of my earliest office jobs involved a myriad of fascinating duties. My day started by filling the clanky old hot water urn so that people could make tea and coffee at will through the day. This big steaming tin can, with its shiny spout and oddly ear shaped handles brought to mind a mutant, monstrous metal elephant head, steaming with rage. The mutant was hot, and I often burned myself on its metal skin. Things were so much better back then…

The DeathBringer 5000

Once my burn wounds were dressed, it was mailshot time. We used to send letters to our customers, and the envelopes containing the letters were hand printed, by me. As a new customer joined our ranks, I would stamp their name and address, letter by letter, onto a small lead plate and insert the plate into a metal surround and file it away. When the time came to correspond, I took a handful of these metal surrounds and loaded them into a stamping machine. I then inserted an envelope into the machine, pulled the handle and voila! A movement was triggered. A metal surround containing the lead plate went via an inkpad before being forced against the envelope, where it left its mark, a name and address. We might send a couple of hundred letters in a batch and this machine was hand operated and had the capacity for one envelope at a time.

I had to pull the machine handle downwards really hard to create the force to stamp the address. For some inexplicable reason, the big heavy handle had a hook built into it. One day, at around envelope number 146, my mind somehow drifted from the scintillating task, and I became nothing more than a part of that machine. Load, stamp remove. Load, stamp, remove. Load, stamp, remove. Just prior to experiencing the screaming pain which accompanies your thumb nail departing from your thumb, courtesy of being smashed through by a superfluous hook on the handle of the DeathBringer 5000 Envelope Stamper (for that was its name), my reverie was broken by an abundance of blood all over the place. The thumbnail grew back, the mental scars have never left me. Things were so much better back then…

We have enjoyed many improvements to the process of work. Our drawing pens are better, and complemented by technology. Our mutant tea urns are safer, and slightly less angry, and the DeathBringer 5000 is where it belongs, safely behind bars at the Tower of London torture section.

So if it is not the process we look so longingly back at, what is it?

More to follow…

Change Is Hard : Learning To Let Go was inspired by a conversation with Tim Gardner over a pint or two last week. Thank you Tim.