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!


Wentworth Woodhouse Reflections

Well, it was great to be back at Wentworth Woodhouse, 29 years after I left there as a student, if only in the outside area of the stable block!

It proved to be an interesting and costly weekend – only five minutes into setting up our gazebo, and just as we were adding weights to the legs, a freak gust of wind picked it up and slammed it back down, at the cost of only one leg. As you might imagine one leg becomes quite important to the stability of a four cornered gazebo – and to my own stability as it turns out…my response was rather impolite and subsequently just a little emotional. Oh and of course I now owe my baby brother the cost of a new gazebo to replace the loan one!

Oh well, fortunately we were able to negotiate the use of some shared space elsewhere, provided we helped to erect what must have been a 25 ft gazebo, which my bro kindly did on my behalf while I cleared up the mess we had already created elsewhere.

Interesting fact: 25ft gazebos also fly really well and to a height of approximately 6ft from the ground when approached by large gusts of wind travelling in the right direction!

Plans for layout had to be adjusted on the hoof but we looked pretty smart when we set up for trading on day 1 if I do say so myself (some others said so too).

KLArt at Wentworth Spring Fair

Day 1 was slightly overcast but brought a few expected friends, including visitors from the other side of the Pennines (thanks for visiting Max), whilst Sunday saw the sunshine a very noticeable shift in spirits and more visits from friends old and new – fortunately this is the kind of weather that brings visitors to Wentworth Woodhouse for a Sunday afternoon walk.

It was great to spend a couple of days chatting to other stallholders, making new friends friends from complete strangers and of course picking up some sales and new business, not to mention a couple of very special leads. It was also great to receive some really positive feedback across the whole range of items on the stall (and some disappointment that a couple of the larger items were for demonstration purposes and not for sale).

I also received a good deal of feedback about the portrait of the Queen – on the stand only to illustrate my services for portraiture, but well timed to coincide with the furore surrounding the Dan Llywelyn Hall “Spitting Image” portrait revealed only a week earlier. This certainly generated plenty of conversation including shared stories with service men who had proudly met the Queen in years past, some who had turned out to wave flags during royal visits and others who despised all that monarchy stood for. By far the most amusing response by a lady who refused to stop at all:

Huh! Who’d want to buy that to hang on their wall!

– Who was it who said you can’t please all of the people all of the time?!

…that was a rhetorical question of course, the saying is generally attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but was adapted by him from a quote by the English poet and monk John Lydgate 

Would I do it again?

The exercise certainly kicked me into bringing forward some new ideas and paintings I’d been considering for a while, so I certainly increased my productivity in the run up to the event. That also means I now have a new body of work to take out to local outlets/galleries as planned, so the fair proved to be a good incentive for personal discipline!

On the down side it’s taken me over a week to clean the dust from my stock, where it clung for dear life to the static charged cellophane wrap on my prints and cards and I could swear my little family of wildlife animals are still in shock from their short flight whilst attached to the large gazebo – they haven’t said a word since we got home anyway!

All in all I met some lovely people and shared some really interesting stories – you wouldn’t believe how many people said they used to paint or draw but gave it up because they didn’t think they could do it very well, or because life simply got in the way. Some even left determined to go and drag their tools back out of the cupboard and give it another go, great news!

I’m not sure if I’ll do it again in this (dusty) environment at the moment, but I recognise the decision to be here was based on nostalgia and it was great to be back temporarily and seeing some progress at least in the attempts to revitalise this most wonderful estate.

From a business perspective I am at least considering a couple of indoor events and events on grass in the coming months and right now I am very excited about the myriad of other opportunities out there for me. I am equally excited to be on the verge of starting up some tuition with a young person right at the start of their creative journey and really look forward to seeing where that big adventure takes us!

Am I an artist?

I have often asked myself the question “am I an artist?” You’d think the answer was straightforward really, but what is an artist?

Most definitions suggest an artist is someone who makes “art” to express what they are thinking or feeling. That’s fine, but what about commission work then, interpreting what someone else thinks or feels and translating it into an “art work”?

Some definitions suggest art is something that is functional and generally aesthetically pleasing to the eye (Tracey Emin’s contemporary work “My Bed” might disprove this theory). So perhaps we need to think more about form and content, or the skill and techniques involved to determine whether someone is an artist?

That raises another question…who decides whether I’m an artist? I have already made the decision to use the word on my business card, but to be honest I’m more inclined to think the decision rests with others. I know that my intention is to produce art that is aesthetically pleasing both in my opinion and others’. I also hope my work connects with and provokes a response in others. Most of all though I believe it’s the judgement of my peers that determines the answer to my question “am I an artist”?

Karen's caricature portrait

Karen – caricature

So, I received this wonderful caricature as a gift for my birthday recently. I love the fun, bold colours in the picture and the fantasy fairy image on the easel.  My birth date is cunningly incorporated, along with my web identity (KL Art). Oh, and I really love the virtual weight loss around the thighs and bum!

Most of all though I feel reassured by the affirmation that there are people out there who believe I’m an artist!

Thanks for the confidence boost – Stephen, Andrea & kids!

Now, where to hang it…..