In My Element

So, two years ago on 30th June 2011, I packed up my personal belongings from a shared desk in a rather dull looking Sheffield office and left the building. The contents of my box included my 25 years service certificate, which told me how my dedication to duty had been appreciated (and other such nonsense as appears in stock letters created to convey false feeling)…I would no longer be a civil servant!

My erstwhile desk share was an interesting one – for my last few months I floated almost aimlessly without permanent home or duties. I wasn’t idle, but was thrown the titbits of work that made my last few months “meaningful” but non-committal…..after all I didn’t appear in the future picture! I now shared my desk….. with a retired Guide Dog who had apparently become so accustomed to human company he could not be left home alone following the appointment of his youthful replacement. He was also quite old and gave off an unusual and not entirely pleasant aroma, particularly if his lunchtime walk had been accompanied by rain (yuk!).

It felt rather insulting then that said dog received rather more visitors enquiring after his health and welfare throughout the course of the day than I did during my final weeks, such was the fall from grace I experienced following my decision to accept early release from a department I had served enthusiastically for many years, and more cynically for the last two! Don’t get me wrong, I’m really not complaining about the dog…I’m not sure I would have wanted to eat the apple cores and various other leftovers etc. that were delivered to him regularly throughout the day (thankfully I will also never know if they would have caused me the same level of flatulence – not pleasant at all).

What was it like working for DWP?

Channel 4 TV recently ran a series called “Skint” that delved mercilessly into the lives of people on a Scunthorpe estate I used to visit in my first couple of years as a Civil Servant and I recoiled at the notion I used to walk those streets with an official issue visiting bag, listening to the shouts “Social!!” ringing out a warning I was on the estate! They were the days when I felt I could help, make a difference to the lives of those who needed the support of the “welfare state” as it used to be called in the days it gave help to those who needed it in our society.

When I took a “corporate role” in Learning and Development I revelled in the notion that a variety of self-development courses would in some ways enrich and enhance the lives of lower grade staff, encourage them to find a voice that would enable them to better serve the goals that drove them. Indeed, there was some evidence this was the case as I bumped into former students who reported great gains!

In later years however I felt my role was increasingly one of “ego-massager” – I was being called upon to massage the over-inflated egos of some colleagues who had never even conceived of the lot of those in the Scunthorpe type estates. Decision-makers who were driven by the business plan whilst remaining clueless about the wants and needs of those who required welfare support, now rebadged Social Security and awarded a variety of unpleasant social stigma badges. Some of these people seemed more concerned with self-advancement than anything else, working to secure the latest entry on a professional CV that required at least one public service entry to provide a more rounded appearance to their experience. Tick in the box and they were off again. Maybe these thoughts are driven more by me than them, but I certainly didn’t feel I was making a difference any more and that has always been an important driver for me.

Do I miss what I did?

Absolutely not! I don’t miss any of that! Well, maybe just a little…..the company of the vast majority of people I worked with was great, thanks to a shared sense of pride in what we did, regardless of how this was judged. I left behind some good friends and of course, I learned many life lessons from the people I trained, many of whom are still there, facing the latest changes arising from the next big political shake up of the welfare state.


Set free from 25 years penal servitude I have spent the last 2 years carving a new life and purpose for myself – a more creative life, living the dream etc. and working with new people and emerging friends, the most inspiring of people and friends. My second anniversary of freedom from the Civil Service came with surprising speed, almost unnoticed amongst the more interesting and exciting things that fill my life these days.

The big differences?

  • I decide what I do every day! I decide based on what I have agreed with my customers and my delivery deadlines, with no interference from anyone with a personal agenda or overinflated ego
  • I only deal with people I want to work with! They include some fantastic and inspirational people with no personal agenda.
  • I love what I do! Every day makes me smile – not for me the trepidation of sitting outside the office in the car, passing another 5 minutes before I go in!

What’s the big deal?

I am inspired rather than intimidated by the people I know, work with and teach these days. These creative people overcome the most incredible adversity on an almost daily basis to run their own creative businesses or follow their creative pursuits, in spite of physical, emotional and mental health issues.

I’m inspired by all these people and feel honoured and privileged to have met and made such remarkable new friends and business contacts. These are people who inspire me every day to be the best person I can be because they

  • Carry the most extraordinary self doubt and yet keep going, striving to achieve in the face of the most extreme adversity and disability
  • Share their thoughts and innermost feelings with absolute honesty and trust, despite life’s experiences telling them of the dangers involved in doing so
  • Operate with absolute dignity and integrity, despite experiencing the most unkind aspects of human behaviour in response to their differences
  • Teach me that life is there for the taking and that I should seize every opportunity, after all, I’ve probably got it easy at the side of some


…..the thread that binds us all together is our own artistic pursuit, and me, because though we have a shared interest in things creative and artistic I know each of these people in isolation from each other right now. I consider myself honoured to know them and to have the chance to work with them and am inspired by each of their stories, though I fear none of them knows or believes what an inspiration they really are.

In my element

Not only have I thoroughly enjoyed two years establishing my business, creating new works and teaching others how to do the same (tutoring/coaching is by far the most rewarding aspect of my work each week), but I really feel I’m in my element right now. I feel I’m finally doing what I was made for, if that makes sense?!

I’m not sure what the future might hold, but I am intrigued by the therapeutic benefits and power of art/creativity to repair, nurture and motivate us to be more than we thought we could be. I’m also in awe of the people around me who overcome so much more than I do daily to achieve their creative goals. With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to find out and share a little more about some of the inspirational and creative people I have come to know and love and have invited some of them to join me as guest bloggers on my site… this space!


February Challenge (2012 revisited)

So 12 months on, we’re nearing the end of February 2013 and I can’t help but reflect on what I was doing this time last year….approaching the end of my “picture per day in February challenge”.

At the time I kept a small diary (in words as well as pictures) and note this particular entry:

It’s funny, but despite the fact I feel so energised when I am being creative, I seem to find so many reasons not to do it, or to put a lower priority on it than other things in my life. Despite my hope that I could generate a regular income stream I guess I am still persuaded by the notion of my art as a hobby, which pushes it behind housework, shopping and a whole myriad of other things on my “To do” list. I really do need to kick that one into touch!!

That in mind I challenged myself to produce an art work per day throughout February (2012). This would be a daily attempt to either create a new piece or complete one of the bits and pieces hanging around that had been started and never quite finished…I did manage to polish some of those off too!!

End result an assortment of images/items in a variety of media:

Images from the February 2012 Challenge Images from February 2012 Challenge Day19 - 29 February 2012 Challenge Day28

12 months later and I have adjusted my priorities to focus daily on my artwork in one form or another. Some days it’s a focus on the administrative stuff and tweaks to my website, others it’s researching opportunities and competitions and on the best days of all I listen to my music and paint or draw to my heart’s content on my latest commission or my next “big idea”. Whatever the day brings, though, I relish every opportunity to explore, learn and be creative and can’t help but think my February Challenge helped my focus and kicked some of the old doubts into touch!!

Some of these items (and lots of others) are still available to buy from the KL Art Shop if you’re looking for something a little bit different for Mothers Day (March 10th 2013).

"Sunrise" Glass Plate


Giant Panda portrait



"Sailing" Glass Plate


Portrait of a Pit Man with head lamp

What is Art – L.S.Lowry? Happy 125th Birthday

“I am not an artist. I am a man who paints.”

So said the man who produced around 1,000 paintings and over 8,000 drawing during his lifetime. L.S.Lowry (Laurence Stephen in case you were wondering) has long been known for his industrial pictures of Manchester, where he was born and grew up, and specifically the matchstick people who inhabit them.

I have never really been a great fan of his work, possibly because of my own preference for realism or the extreme opposite surrealism. Lowry always struck me as just a little dull at the side of the vivid and imaginative works of so many other artists, such as Dali for example.

Then again, perhaps I was simply put off by the association of his art with the 1978 hit single “Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs” by Brian and Michael. Now, there was a song that seemed to spend an interminable amount of time in the Charts way back then, though strangely the reality is it actually only spent 3 weeks at no.1! Thank goodness they were a one hit wonder!

With the approach of his 125th birthday I thought it would be interesting to revisit my apparent negativity/disinterest. Among the pictures I could track down on line l was taken with this rather strange picture “Gentleman looking at Something (1960). I say “strange” because there is something quite unusual about a picture where the primary source of interest doesn’t appear in the picture…I want to know and can therefore only imagine what the “something” was. Perhaps he was watching an approaching tram, given that he is stood between it’s lines?

Reading a little further I am reminded by the Winsor and Newton site that Lowry used a very limited colour palette throughout all his paintings:

  • Ivory Black
  • Vermilion
  • Prussian Blue 
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Flake White

As I start to look more closely at the range of colour he achieves in his paintings I realise just how complicated things have become these days, with a vast array of colour tubes to select from, and very little idea about how some of them have been created! The subtlety and depth of colour achieved with this limited palette really is quite tremendous.

So, I can’t say I feel more excited by the art, but I am persuaded that there is something solid about the approach and something I might learn from that. Indeed, I already have thoughts in mind about painting next with a smaller range of colour on my palette.

In the meantime though – I’ll accept it’s art, think about arranging a trip to the Lowry in Salford, and wish Mr Lowry a happy 125th birthday with a small homage: “Lady looking at Something else.” I will leave you to determine what that something is…..