Planning my own personal retreat

Having left it too late to book on a ten-day Vipassana course this winter, I decided to create my own retreat.

On December 29th, I am going to stay in a bungalow on the Pembrokeshire coast for a week.

For the first three days, I am having complete silence. This will involve a full media detox – no phones, no music, no TV, no internet, no books, no newspapers, no MacBook. No conversation.

Just me, a log fire, walks along the coast, plenty of herb tea and home-cooked food.

Every day I plan to do yoga and meditate for at least five hours.

I would like to remain in silence during that time. In case someone speaks to me, I will carry a little card that says, “I’m sorry, I can’t speak at the moment.”

This part of my retreat is about gaining clarity. I would like silence with no distractions, to let my mind settle and return to stillness. I don’t hope for any great revelations, just a little peace and time to listen to what’s inside.

I plan to go silent upon arrival in Marloes, on December 29th and break my silence on January 1st 2011, after three days.

Then, I have invited good friends to come join me. Offers are open, so friends can come if they feel like it.

I am also taking my guitar, some masks, some books and DVDs so I can immerse myself creatively on the last four days.

This part of my retreat is about energising and inspiring myself. I am hoping that the three days of silence and stillness will aid my creativity.

I guess that remains to be seen! Watch this space for an update.

In the meantime, could you do with some quiet time, with no distractions? Or some time to recharge, creatively? Can you make a space for that, in your life?

Get the people right before the ideas

Do you start projects with people or ideas?  Can the right combination of personalities do anything? Should you look for the right collaboration first? Or is it more important to let a group be led by an idea?

Last week I was working in Hollywall Primary school with my Swiss friend and master musician, Bernhard Wagner.

Bernhard aka ‘Loopology’ is a genius at rhythm, guitar and programming and we were working on a Creative Partnerships project to collect sounds from school children.  The idea was to help children aged 4-7 sing, talk and make some noise, record their sounds and create a choral soundscape that represented a day in the life of the school.

I first mentioned this project to Bernhard when we met at Steve Jarand’s mask workshop in Denmark.  We didn’t intend to work together.  Bernhard was asking about what I did, and I started talking about our forthcoming project and opportunity to work with a musician.  We had many long, interesting chats about music and creativity.  The money available wasn’t great, but Bernhard was very keen and when I heard his music I realised his composition skills and ambient sounds were ideal for our project.

We continued to chat and Skype after the mask course, and Bernhard kindly agreed to send over references and his Swiss police record for the school.  Normally our artists would complete a CRB check, which checks lists of offenders and police records to prove individuals are suitable to work with children. The school were very flexible here, provided Bernhard could evidence his suitability from Swiss sources.

Working with someone from another country prompted us to record children using greetings in many languages, from ‘bonjour’ to ‘buenos dias’ to more local greetings like ‘hiya flower!’ and ‘hey up duck!’.  Bernhard had many fantastic ideas, including playing rhythm games, asking children to act out a Swiss story, making up a story from Patrick Lenz’s wordless picture book  ‘Tom Und Der Vogel’ and interviewing children about what the word ‘school’ meant.

Our week was creative, professional and fun.  We recorded many more sounds than we needed and had lots and lots of exciting discussions about how the musical piece could develop.  When we needed to change our approach, we did.  We used each other as springboards for our creative ideas and developed plans together.

Incidentally, Bernhard has fantastic balls.  He got them out very soon after I met him.  He really is talented at manipulating them.  

Before you get the wrong idea, I should explain.  Bernhard’s balls are a pair of thelevi; two round, rhythmic shakers joined by string.  One ball is held in the hand while the other is swung to create a rhythm based around a three or five count.  

Bernhard demonstrated thelevi to the children, and we played several rhythm games with them where they had to count and clap.  The 4-5 year olds enjoyed being trains which slowed down and speeded up according to the tempo Bernhard played.

I had a great week with Bernhard.  Although I worked over 70 hours and drove over 1,000 miles in that week, it didn’t feel stressful.  I had a lot of fun and plenty of creative playtime.

This was the total opposite of a creative meeting I had had two weeks ago.  A while ago I had met a theatre practitioner who had had a great idea for a play, and had developed it once before with amateur actors.  Our theatre company wanted to revisit that idea and stage it in the UK.  We and this practitioner were brought together primarily by an idea, not by a relationship.  As our meeting continued it became clearer and clearer that we couldn’t work together.  The chemistry wasn’t right.  The feeling wasn’t right.  The communication was spiky and difficult.

The idea is still a great idea.  But we just couldn’t work together.

These two episodes were a great lesson.  Ideas, it seems, are only as good as the relationships that support them.

Choosing Bernhard was easy because we had a great creative relationship right from the start.  He didn’t mind travelling from Switzerland to do the work, and I didn’t mind putting Bernhard up at our flat.  I would much rather work with the right person than the most local.

Now you can start a new project with people, or you can start with ideas.  But if the relationships between the people aren’t right, watch out.  Your idea might just come crashing down.  If, however, you can find a great, organic working relationship, then the real magic can happen.  Ideas can cross-fertilise, mature and grow, and like a well-tended community garden, you can grow together.

How to describe your ideas

Do you often have to describe ideas to others? Do you ever have to sell your vision to someone? Here are some tips for explaining a new vision, or abstract idea to somebody for the first time.

This is by no means an easy thing to do.  How do you let someone else see what is only in your own imagination?  How can you do it so accurately that a listener can almost see it, touch it and taste your vision?

As you know, I work in the creative industries and regularly have to describe my ideas to others. This extremely important skill was highlighted the other day while in a training session for Creative Partnerships.

We were put into pairs and one partner was given a postcard. Partners sat back to back. On the postcard was a work of art. The artwork was fairly complex.  The task was to describe the postcard to the partner behind, while they drew a sketch from your description. Sounds easy? Not at all!

It is so important to be accurate when trying to sell your vision. Whether your ideas are for a work of art or a future event, if your description is poor, your listener will lose confidence. Or get the wrong end of the stick completely. But if your descriptive powers are accurate, people will clearly visualise your idea, and they’ll be sold! Do you want people to sign up for your ideas? Then try improving your descriptive powers now!

Try this exercise. Grab scrap paper and a pen. I will describe a work of art, and you draw it. Afterwards you can follow the link to see if your sketch is anything like the real thing!

This painting looks German in style. It uses a lot of blues and greys. It is an abstract painting, and the images represented are quite surreal. The style might be called Dada by an art critic. Looking at the picture, it feels heavy and brooding, like a war is going on.

In the very foreground of the picture, at the bottom right hand corner is something that looks like a white, headless, naked female mannikin. Her left arm ends in a red glove and is raised. Instead of a head, a horizontal line balances on top of her neck.

Behind her, in the midground and still to the far right, is something that looks like a grey chimney. The chimney is in five pieces, stacked one of top of the other. The chimney probably takes up about a tenth of the painting’s width and reaches two thirds up. The very top chimney stack is shaped like a watering can. On stack number three is another ‘watering can’ style spout, this time in red and pointing towards the middle of the picture.

In the centre of the picture, in the midground and taking up about two-thirds of the available space, is a grey kettle-shaped cow. We see the cow head-on. The cow’s horns are white and its nose is stuck inside a white cone, that extends upward like a trunk.

In the background of the painting, the top third is thin white clouds washed against a pale blue sky. At the top left hand side, two skinny blue fish intertwine with the clouds.

The bottom tenth of the background is grey. The middle of the background is white. 

Okay, put your pen down and let’s see how well we did.

Click here to see the real painting. Does your sketch look anything like that?

I missed out some details. Try having a go yourself. This will definitely improve your ability to convey your ideas to others. So go on, start improving your descriptive powers and see how quickly you can inspire others by really selling your vision!

ICE and graduate mentoring for creatives

I have just been accepted onto the Graduate Mentoring Programme at the the Institute for Creative Enterprise in Coventry.

The Institute, more commonly known as ICE, is owned and run by Coventry University.  It offers hotdesking, networking opportunities, meeting rooms, a post box and lots of advice and mentoring to local creatives.

This is great for me, as I’m not short on ideas but I could definitely do with help on running a business.

After a chat with Jenna Hubbard, ICE’s Project Assistant, I had a really good chance to define what our theatre company does, and how I envision our creative future.  This is a real turning point for me.  Our theatre company is just about to undergo a massive change as Jan, the Artistic Director and founder, moves to Denmark.  I am just about to undergo a massive change myself: in October I start an MA in Creative Thinking.  I need business advice to carry the company forwards, and possibly starting a new company which will specialise in improving creativity in businesses and schools.

I was accepted onto the programme and immediately opportunities started flying my way.

ICE are brokering an internship scheme with The Future Works.  This means we as a theatre company can offer a graduate an internship. It also means I can become an intern, perhaps in an area I’d like to learn more about. Perhaps for a company that specialises in creative thinking…

I am alos given my own access card, which means I can come and work art a computer here at ICE 24/7.  All the hotdesking spaces have massive 20inch Macs with both Windows and OSX.  They all come with the full Adobe Creative Suite and I can come and work away here all day and all night, if I wish. Each desk has a phone, and each computer is hooked up to a printer, so I can work here at virtually no cost to myself, with no distractions.

There’s also two kitchens, plenty of meeting spaces and toilets with showers – so if I want to cycle down and get freshened up for my business meeting, I can.

I already have a session booked in with Jenna to look at scheduling, and in September ICE will put me onto a training scheme.  Here I will get free business training, business tools and a chance to design the future of my own creative business.

Not only that, but ICE is a hub.  I can find out what’s going on in the area creatively.  I can meet other people who are working in Coventry as creatives. I can find opportunities and events more quickly, and more importantly, build relationships.

So far, so good!  It’s all about the ICE, ICE baby.

Creative classroom spaces

Decorating a classroom with spiderwebs

Would you like to turn a classroom into a imaginative world?

Why not…

…make the classroom entrance into a tunnel children must crawl through..

…paint a ‘black hole’ on the floor the children must walk around…

…paint trees in the burning forest on the back wall that children can add leaves to…

…turn one end of the classroom into a cardboard castle…

…build a wishing well where children can ask for their dreams…

…create a maze by tying desks together with rope…

…turn every desk into an aquarium with cling film or surround wrap, and let children add the creatures…

…create a giant cobweb with string that children have to climb through…

Wow! Once you get started thinkjng about this, the possibilities are endless!

The world of your classroom really is your oyster. Make it a fun, imaginative space and watch your children’s ideas bloom.