Bumps In The Road

Something about my creative practice which often fascinates, and sometimes confounds and frustrates me, is the unpredictable nature of the output. I often start to make without any idea of what it is I am seeking, other than to make something. Even when I do have an idea or two – the process often deviates me from the vision in my head.

Increasingly, the art you see is a result of layering, and overpainting. The art work I submitted to the RA Summer Exhibition underwent some serious changes along the way. You can no longer see the earlier layers of paint – but they are there, bumps in the road informing the final piece in their own way. Here’s an example of a recent before and after piece.

You can make out hints of the earlier design, and if you take a closer look you can see how previous paint effects are visible in the final piece.

This process is part of what makes creative practice so exciting, the uncertainty, the being open to the possibilities.

In my organisational development work, something I often see and which I am cautious of, is a desire for certainty. If we ask question x, then we expect answer y. If we make decision a then we expect outcome b. We seek to exercise control over a situation in order to minimise risk, but in allowing (or is it coercing?) ourselves to do so, we often increase risk, as we blind ourselves to a wider set of possibilities. in the book Creativity Inc., Ed Catmull writes:

There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.

I know that keeping this curious mindset open and functioning is hard. At some point we need to start refining what we are learning and take some action, without falling into the trap of making haste in the formative stages.

Later this week I’ll be taking part in the Workplace Trends Spring Summit. I’ll be making art during the day in response to what I hear and feel at the event, before bringing things to a close with a session on creativity at work. Among other things, I’ll be referencing the Age of Artists framework, which is a suggestion developed by the Age of Artists research institute in Germany, of how we can approach our organisational development work from an artistic perspective. The framework has flexibility – the design shifts and reshapes at times, here is a version of the framework which I drew and painted for the event.

Once the conference is over, I’ll come back to this idea of layering, overpainting, being more accepting of the bumps in the road. For now though, here are two further thoughts from Mr Catmull:

Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.

Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur. If you don’t always try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.

Life From A Window : Our London

Keira’s school recently had a ‘Take Your Daughter To Work’ day, which we managed to coincide with an experimental day of live painting at the London offices of AECOM. We were invited to explore the theme of ‘Our London’ for the day, and we duly headed into town on the Overground train during rush hour (I was keen to give Keira the full commuting experience!) to get to work.

We set up in the main reception area on the 16th floor, overlooking the city of London. The view from the window is spectacular – even on a wet cloudy day like the one we had. Keira and I were keen to contrast the wide panoramic view of a wealthy city as seen from the window, with a more close up view of the streets immediately surrounding the building we worked in. We also wanted to involve other people in our work.

People began to show curiosity in what we were doing, so we engaged them in conversations about the view, and about their experiences of London and the local area. We spoke about how the view changes according to time of day, seasons, weather etc. Several folk suggested a series of works to reflect these changes. The view at night came up a few times, and we sought to represent that in a painting. We also invited people to take photographs out of the window, without being any more specific than that.

People also spoke with us about the streets of London, and transport came up a fair bit so we made a street scene using paint for the ‘map’ and polaroids taken by Keira at street level, to represent some of what we heard in the conversations.

We made some geometric abstractions of buildings/cityscape – and experimented with some tracing overlays too, as a way of acknowledging the different ways people described ‘Our London’.

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We had planned to turn everyone’s photographs into a collage cityscape, and we ran into some technical printing difficulties on the day, so that part of the project remains a work in progress.

Life From A Window

The idea was to invite people to engage, thank you to the many people who responded to that invitation. We used what we learned to inform and conduct some small experiments, and we observed how we and others responded to what was going on.

We had a really interesting time. There was no grand plan at this stage, just an opportunity to drop something different into the working day, a small stone which set off a series of ripples.


This work would not have been possible without Keira, and the support of Malcolm, Hilary, and Sharon at AECOM, thank you all. The team at reception supported us well, and encouraged folk to interact with us, thank you. Thanks to everyone who took time to speak with us, suggest ideas, and take photographs.

Which Way Is Up?

This weekend I am finalising my submission for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The deadline for applications is February 14th, and as the theme this year is ‘Art Made Now’, I’m planning on delivering something current.

As you can see, in the last 24 hours this canvas has undergone quite a transformation.

I took the art work outside today – to see how it photographs in daylight. As I was putting the art on the easel – I realised I couldn’t decide which way is up. Can you?

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Here are a couple of close ups, and a shot of the work in direct sunlight. I made this art on a 75cm x 50cm linen canvas, using acrylic paint, my fingers, and a palette knife.