Return of the Mack II

 Illustration: Some Mackintosh designed buildings with the GSA's Mackintosh building highlighted. 

Illustration: Some Mackintosh designed buildings with the GSA's Mackintosh building highlighted. 

It’s the middle of the night in Garnethill, Glasgow. I’m all cried out. 

Shortly before midnight. Joe woke me up as he pulled his jeans on, ready to find out more about the raging fire he could see from our kitchen window. I became aware of distant sirens mirroring the ones I could hear close by, the recognisable roar of fire engines up Buccleuch street took on greater significance. “I think it’s the Art School”. 

There are not many things he could have said that would have lifted me out of bed more quickly. Two minutes later in the street, the drama was obvious from the moment we left the tenement close. A neighbour walked towards us and confirmed my fears. “Maybe it’s the Reid Building?” Vain hope.

The new Art School glass building couldn’t create such glorious sparkling ash, puffing above us in plumes of amber smoke. Only wood can do that.


I felt weak. I started to cry in shock but after a while I barely noticed the tears continuing as we circled Garnethill Park to discover conclusively what was on fire. I still had some small ember of hope in me in those short minutes, but the familiar pockets of people standing at street corners, their faces illuminated by the timber of the Mackintosh building brought back stark memories of four years ago. I knew. I had known even as I woke that the Mack was on fire. A tight knot had formed in my chest and it still hasn’t dissolved. It is the stress of looking at so much damage, squandered effort and pain, hearing the buzz of engines and the heavy pumping of water hoses. It also reminds me of the simple fact that I have been here before, and now I am watching the same hell happen over again.                                                                                                                  

I knew too that we knew nothing. Know nothing. We spent a section of tonight walking the perimeter of the Art School, as near as the barriers and police tape would allow. We heard the crash of glass blowing out onto the street – it was the sound of a pub recycling bottles at the end of the night. Dull explosions, timber falling, thudding, tinkling, smashing, it all added to the hopelessness of watching something I had already seen in a different light. This time it is worse. It’s not only that this time so many people have been working so hard on the restoration after the 2014 fire, but it’s literally worse. From our kitchen, the flames licked above the tree line in the park, the fire was on all floors at once, everywhere at once. We were so close to it we could feel the vague heat of it. We are living just moments from the largest fire I have ever seen – and I’ve seen big fires. After all, I’ve been here before. 

Exhausted as I am tonight, I wanted to be with the building. I want to hold its hand and let it know we’re all there.

It’s irrational, but I wasn’t out to take photographs, I was out to be there. Be with it and with other people and to bear witness. I tried to tell myself “it’s a building, not a person. All the important things are here and they’re safe”, but it doesn’t make this fresh loss any easier to bear. On our procession, east to west, clockwise around the fire, I was able to see all angles of the unfolding inferno. My hope was that it would seem less chaotic and more salvageable from behind and below, but I haven’t learned my lesson from last time at all. The places I have stood so many times, the glazed Hen Run at the top of the building that I so recently visited with my hard hat and hi-vis is once again completely obliterated, barely any traces left. I saw no floor without vicious yellow flames dancing all over it. Large fragments of scaffolding fell onto Scott street, disgorging sparks as they made impact with the tarmac. All that work, all that way we’d come and we’re back to square minus one. 

Snatches of conversations surrounded us, notably so much conjecture; arson, travelling fire, accident, demolition, death, evacuation, road closures, rain, slow responses, quick responses. We know nothing. We passed so many grieving students, worried neighbours and interested passers-by. Everyone has a read on the situation, everyone speaks with such false certainty about what is and what will happen. “They’ll tear it down this time.” “It’s dead, let it die.” “That’s not going out anytime soon.” 

I know nothing. I know I am sad, but beyond that, nothing.

I feel a lot. I’m sorry for the GSA. They’ve had to deal with so much disruption and the loss of a truly special asset these past four years. I’m sorry for the generation of students that have never stepped inside the Mack. I’m sorry that perhaps there will be GSA students that never will – that is a tragedy. I’m sorry for the Garnethill Community who will be directly dealing with the aftermath and how it affects the area itself. I hope it will make us stronger and we’ll support each other. I hope we can foster better relationships to make this area wonderful, whatever happens in the days, weeks and years to come. 

SELF DOUBT vs SELF CARE

blog instagram self care rosemary cunningham final.jpg

I recently confided to a pal that I was not enjoying my job much at the moment. Heck! It’s still basically winter (it’s MAY), it’s been a bit quiet in the studio, no one’s buying much of my stock for their shops, deadlines have been constant for months it’s all feeling a bit… difficult*. OK, whinge over. I need to check my privilege. My pal was basing their assumptions on social media. My instagram feed is full of colour, smiling children (not mine) and positive vibes. Of course it is! Illustration, etc. is all about spreading fun, education, eco (and other types of) friendliness, so that’s what my feeds should be packed with.

If I shared images of me occasionally crying at my desk or showing off some half-baked ideas, would folk pity-purchase a teatowel from me?

It would undermine all the good work I actually manage to do. That super feed of ‘success’ images doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about work or I’m not plagued with self-doubt constantly. I am. I have to at least make it look like I could be skipping past reams of finished illustrations and high fiving thousands of smiling fans. 

I constantly doubt myself, my decisions and then, inevitably, my work. All it takes is a short exchange with a potential client or retailer in which I feel slighted or lacking in some way. Recently (based on one of these meetings) I questioned myself in terms of professionalism. It’s tricky if you pour so much of your character into your work to remain unoffended if people don’t like it. Turning up to a meeting with my cheery work, banter and wearing a jazzy jumper is my way of working. It doesn’t mean I won’t take your project seriously, I’d just rather keep the serious stuff to my desk and make the rest of my life as pleasant as possible. Plus jazzy jumpers make me happy. 

I procrastinate, sometimes by using social media, but almost never by relaxing – no, no – but by creating more work. The other week I decided that Illustration, etc. needed compliment slips. They needed designing immediatelyand I should spend half an afternoon on them instead of drawing. Right this moment I AM AVOIDING WORKING ON ACTUAL PAID WORK because I am in the mood to write this. So please enjoy my social media channels if you look at that stuff. Just know that

behind the colours and the maps and the illustrations just-the-right-side-of-quirky-whimsy is a person just trying to get through the day

and trying to get their rent paid. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Sometimes I don’t get any drawing done for a week because of all the admin. Sometimes I have to basically beg someone to try out my wares in their shop. Recently I convinced a shop to take two cards. TWO. It’s not all swanky pens and petting dogs in the studio. 

The past few weeks I have changed my approach a bit. I’m spending a bit less time in the studio to try and clear my head. I’m one of those hard workers you hear so much about. It doesn’t always pay off, but I like working hard and I want it to pay off. Having a rotten seasonal cold (IT’S MAY!), which followed another nasty cold means I have had to take time out. I feel a bit better. I mean, today I am coughing less, but I also feelbetter about work and myself. That time has been somewhat eaten up with Netflix in a sleeping bag on the sofa, but some was quiet reading time, reflecting time, calling family on the phone time, napping in the day time. I’m no nearer changing anything about my job exceptI am going to take more time off.

It’s OK if I don’t post to instagram every day, I won’t be immediately forgotten.

It’s OK if I ask for a deadline to be moved (clients can only say no), it’s OK to say, I’m ill / I need time / I have to take a break. This is the new approach and I like it. Hopefully I can stick to it…

 

* On balance, I have a studio, I have work, a roof over my head, I eat out sometimes and buy earrings occasionally. Things are far from terrible. 

7. NEW STUDIO

 With acknowledgements to Lynn Semple

With acknowledgements to Lynn Semple

New year, fresh start.
Well that’s what we all hope. Somehow at the stroke of midnight as our eyes light up under fireworks, we watch Jools Holland become more incomprehensible on the Hootenanny or we’re clinking glasses

on New Years Eve, there’s supposed to be a big reset.

Everything we didn’t like about ourselves will fall away and we’ll be reborn in the glare of a new dawn. Aye right.

I’m becoming cynical in my old age. Or maybe it’s that having my studio in what should be a spare bedroom in my flat has marred my home life for some time. It’s been creeping up on me, a feeling of anxiety and stress about work. I can’t shut the door on it because work is spilling out of the home studio and filling cupboards and other rooms. I can’t escape it. It’s like the Blob*. The worst thing is it hits me at night, a fear that I should be, could be doing more, better, faster,

I should meet more people, network more, get bigger commissions, contact more shops etc. etc. ad infinitum.

More than that, working at home is lonely. My husband gets home after being in an office full of people all day, looking for quiet home time and I just want to go out and meet pals or attack him with an animated verbal list of everything I’ve done that day.

This new year, fate lent me a hand. Through a web of pals, acquaintances and chats, I have moved into a new studio! It’s 25 minutes walk from my flat or a 15 minute cycle. Ideal distance. Too far to travel home for lunch and far enough that it feels like a mini commute. I’ve moved into a studio with three other creatives; two photographers and a designer who are all genuinely lovely. The space is airy, white walled and watertight. The heating is good.

Each time I enter the studio, I feel more at home, more professional, more like I should have done this a long time ago.

I can now go home some nights and play Zelda with impunity, I can be in the kitchen for chats at lunchtime, I’m meeting new folk all the time, I am out of the flat and happy to be at the Barras. It’s one of the best areas of Glasgow in so many ways. It’s a tricky time, January, but I feel like this is one of the new year changes that’s going to stick.

 

* Schlocky horror film of yesteryear about a big ball of space goo that eats people.

6. ESTONIA TRIP - SUSTAINABLE TOURISM

 Interior with table and samovar - our wooden hut at Lake Peipus, Estonia

Interior with table and samovar - our wooden hut at Lake Peipus, Estonia

I knew practically nothing about Estonia before I went, “they’re in Eurovision, right?” My expectations of Estonia and the things I would learn there were unexpectedly life changing. The enthusiasm and love exuded by our constant guide, Maarika and her clear sense of pride in her home country served to accentuate my feelings about our experiences. It ended up that by the end of the week saying goodbye to her actually made me an emotional wreck. I was also sleep deprived and we had all been doing long, long days of travel and discovery, but she did end up in my 100daysofHerstory (number 67). That’s the real deal.

Maarika allowed us - as foreign visitors - a unique insight into life as an Estonian person in the twenty-first century, but also facilitated our understanding of Estonia’s chequered and often confusing past. Her use of words like ‘emotions’, ‘nature’ and ‘beauty’ kept reappearing. A clear sense of general Estonian priorities became clear through her presence, of simplicity, returning to nature, folklore, science, using available resources in the best way, learning from past mistakes and celebrating the firebrands and game changers of their history.

The RMK, essentially the Estonian forestry commission, impressed me in many ways with their use of natural materials left in their organic state. Amongst these were a trio of dioramas made of rolled paper or cut from thin sheets of birch. These were on display at the Lahemaa national park visitor centre and proved that

elegant simplicity wins out against overdoing tech

These displays would have been relatively cheap to produce, doubtless using local materials and when they require replacing, I can only assume they will be repurposed or they can even be composted! At the same RMK centre we were taken for a hike by Triin and taught to look for cultural heritage in the landscape. She pointed out that walls and dykes made by people hundreds or even thousands of years ago can still be visible and mistaken for natural features. Since then I’ve been trying to ‘read’ every rural landscape I have been in, looking for clues of times past. It also made me want to learn more about wild plants, especially after munching on some tasty wood sorrel. Although... if you eat too much you start hallucinating, so maybe good to know a few other edible plants. 

At Kivioli, we visited a former shale oil ash hill. The whole area used to treat the hill as a source of pride in its prosperity, but with the decline of mining the hill became a dark blight on the landscape. Local people attempted to ignore it, despite it casting a literal shadow over them. Thanks to the foresight of two adventurous friends (yes, really) since 2005 the hill has been an outdoor adventure and ski centre.

The hill was volatile and hot even after decades of inactivity

but that residual heat has been harnessed in order to power a hostel and conference centre on site. Interestingly no one seems to know how long that might last. The slag was covered with soil, allowing new growth and rendered it safe for international motocross, ski slaloms and discgolf* courses. They've built a colossal zipline from the top of the hill over the new lake they've created, but disappointingly wouldn't let us on it. Rather than shying away from the huge hill, it's being embraced, even some wildlife is returning. The UK could learn a lot from making use of such a negative and depressed site, converting it into a sustainable and enduring asset both locally, nationally and internationally.

Along the ‘Onion Route’

we stayed in Varnja in a traditional Peipsi lake cabin with rustic interiors and no running water.

I made the ink illustration of it from a sketch I did at the time. It had a traditional sauna and a pretty full composting outdoor toilet with a simple bucket toilet inside. It was basic in aspect, aside from electricity, we had none of the usual comforts expected when staying in a cottage. However, the reliance on a well for water and on wood burners and lanterns for warmth made me appreciate how unsustainable the way we live has become. Treats here were the sauna (except in Estonia it is simply a way of life... I wish), air dried fish and the near silence of sleeping birds, toad calls and insects. It was one of the most pleasant places we stayed because of the quiet, the large interior space and a glimpse into a simpler way of living, at one with our surroundings. I also recall the hilarity of being one of five naked women in the sauna when a pan was accidentally dropped into the hot water tank, closely followed by a second one (she was trying to get the first one out). Maarika was furious. I nakedly watched one awkwardly laughing naked woman being scolded by another cross naked woman. Great entertainment.

All these experiences led me to the conclusion that tourism and interpretation can be sustainable, both in terms of being eco-conscious, but also that it will last and can be easily maintained. There was a complete lack of touch screens and audio visuals in most places, but I didn't feel the lack. If anything, it was a refreshing break. More posts will appear in this suite about Estonia - I thought it'd be good to share them as a record for myself of a work related foray, but also just for fun.

*Discgolf, or what we would probably call FRISBEE GOLF! Why is this not a thing in the UK? We asked one local about it and she said "where have you been? Here, Finland, everyone is crazy about it." It's exactly like golf, but instead of a caddy of clubs you have a series of frisbees. Sign me up!

 

5. DOING THINGS BY HALVES

 Shades make me feel cooler than I really am

Shades make me feel cooler than I really am

Occasionally we all get the feeling we’ve taken on more than we can handle. So it was when I started half marathon training back in late 2016. “Anyone can do a half marathon” they said, “it’s totally achievable” I read. The additional fact that my mother goaded me by saying if I did a half marathon, she would run it too spurred me on. It was too good an opportunity to miss – my mum in shorts, that is. Once I told my friend, Anna, we were three.

The official thirteen mile run is fast approaching in late May and

I’ve got a long way to go, but I have to remind myself I have also come a long way. Profound, right?

In October 2016 I thought I wouldn’t like running. I hate running. If I ever have to sprint for a train or rush off to a meeting, I feel like part of my body died. I like retired people things like swimming, walking (sometimes quickly) or 8 year-old kid things like trampolines and bouncy castles (for less than ten minutes), a gentle game of rounders in the summer, that sort of thing. Running seemed snooty to me, sort of smug. Running always felt like it was better than me, better than I can do. Well, I have news, and it’s mostly good.

I like running. Not fast and not always, but in general, I actually kind of like it. I work sitting down in my studio 85% of the daytime so leaving the house is not a daily given unless I’m shopping, delivering, meeting, visiting. Running gives me an out. I make excuses not to go and the first five minutes are the worst. That’s when I think

“I could just turn back and watch Netflix. No one would ever know”.

But I know. And the guilt of being more sedentary than a limpet is worse than the five minutes of leg-and-lungburn at the start of a run. That’s the bit I still have to push past. However, in the late autumn when there were some real golden afternoons, I would run along the Kelvin river and hit almost euphoric pockets of vim and sunlight unexpectedly.

I started by doing walking and running in sequence, taking breaks and then powering forward, but I’ve realised over the weeks that playing the long game is where I like to be. If I stop, there be dragons. That’s when I play mind games with myself, “I’ll start running at that tree… nah, a bit further at the bollard… well, I may as well just wait until I get to the road…”

It’s a slippery slope away from pushing myself. Now I’m more inclined to go the other way and see I’ve hit 6.8km and push through to round up to 7km before I stop. The down sides are the Glaswegian rain, the silly synthetic gear*, where you’re supposed to put water or keys if you don’t fancy the bumbag option (the nineteen eighties called…), the lack of public toilets and all that. I had a disastrous run over Christmas when I had food poisoning that only manifested at the furthest point of a run and I had to walk, crippled, white and sweating to a point where my sister could pick me up and drive my clammy body home to perform emergency ablutions. Now I scan the canal edge for good foliage as I run out of fear it might happen again.

A massive benefit (sort of) was having a painful knee and hip in the new year and discovering that was because of how I sit at my desk. Cross legged at a dining chair. Yes, I know. Now I have a footrest (it’s heated!) and a proper desk chair and everything. I’m so business and

now I am one of those vaguely smug looking jogging types.

Turns out I am good enough to run. Oh wait. Anyone is.

If you would like to sponsor us, we’re running for FCIC who help children suffering from facial deformity in Cambodia. 

*Which I have just discovered turns into microplastics, goes into the sea, fish eat it -which is horrible - and then we eat our own microplastic bits when we eat fish. Gack.

4. UNFINISHED BUSINESS

 A small inked section of  A Midsummer Night's Draft,  Act II, Scene I. Puck first appears and we are introduced to the King and Queen of the fairies who are having some time apart.

A small inked section of A Midsummer Night's Draft, Act II, Scene I. Puck first appears and we are introduced to the King and Queen of the fairies who are having some time apart.

I’ve started 2017 trying to overhaul Illustration, etc. That involved looking for help, mostly! Amy helps me for a few hours a week, I’m trying to take more time away from my desk, but still organising, sorting and cataloguing my past projects and work. I also decided it was time I went to the Cultural Enterprise Office last month for a one to one session to talk about Illustration, etc.’s future. I see these sessions as a kind of semi-emergency business therapy.

If I’m stuck and I don’t know what my next step is, I go for a chat

and I always feel so much better afterwards. I’m sometimes lacking another perspective and I can’t be very objective about the little business I’ve built for myself.

The upshot of this latest meeting* was that I should find more time to be creative, to pursue my own goals as well as those of my clients. HOORAY! Sounds like a great plan. Finding that time is part of the big overall plan, but for starters they encouraged me to consider taking on only projects that further my ‘story’.

So the things that interest me, that make me excited to be an illustrator, that I really believe in –heritage, equality, stories, community, education, all that sort of thing.

I joked about my recent organising and the folder marked ‘UNFINISHED’. It sits chronologically last in all my shelves of folders, encouraging me to add to it, or perhaps to finally migrate something from the folder to my desk and into a completed projects folder. The biggest of these ‘on-hold’ projects is pictured above. I call it A Midsummer Night’s Draft.

It’s so big. It sometimes feels pointless, but one of my goals (deep breath) is to illustrate the Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream as one single long panel using only Shakespeare’s words, like a lengthy tapestry. Back in Summer 2013 when I began this project (so long ago!) I edited the play down to (what I felt) was the minimum amount of text to tell the story properly. The play is set in ancient Greece, so my illustrations will reflect the vernacular art of that period. In this case I chose blackware pottery, you know, the elegant black and terracotta colour urns with all the people running around them, jaunty patterns, beasts, folk drinking and all that? The speech would go in the top and bottom borders, like a comic. I thought it would be fun. Turns out it is MASSIVE. Also, I don’t actually have a reason for doing it except that,

1.     I think it would be so beautiful if I get it right.

2.     It would be amazing to see the whole play all at one time so you could see all the themes and character arcs and mischief play out all at once.

3.     I actually think as an educational tool, it’d be a great introduction to the (let’s face it, pretty confusing) play.

4.     Folk who assume Shakespeare is too intellectual, too out of date, too boring would be able to see how much fun this magical play is right from the get go and would be able to see it and read it and understand it and it would still all be Shakespeare’s own words.

But it has been shelved. I don’t know how I would make it worthwhile, you see. Once I’ve finished it, then what? It’ll take several weeks to do at least, maybe months of not being paid. I just can’t do it. Who would fund something like this? The only remotely finished, inked section is the one I did for this blog post! I have only done the pencil sketches up to the end of Act II, Scene II and that took me at least an hour a day for three weeks in 2013. In pencil! Also, I’d do it a bit differently now so I guess it’s a page one rewrite.

I hope that other creatives have these folders - whether in their head or on a shelf or tucked away somewhere secret

– they feel to me like the dreams we return to when the rest of our working lives can feel somewhat staid or cynical. The thought of returning to this unfinished draft fills me with trepidation, but also I can still see its latent potential. It will give me pleasure to revisit it and build it up, inch by inch. I might even tweet some images at the Globe or the RSC or something - they might like the idea too. Looking through the folder of half baked ideas and forgotten sketches, I look forward to the possibility of placing some in the bin where they belong, others back on the shelf for another time and the occasional one onto my desk for much needed reconstructive surgery.

*Overall I have had three CEO meetings, two in 2014 that were connected to the Glasgow Alphabet Map project (it lacked direction initially) and then this latest one once I remembered it was an option. 

3. IMAGINARY FRIENDS

 The Glasgow International Comedy Festival 2017 lineup

The Glasgow International Comedy Festival 2017 lineup

Four years ago I didn’t know what improv comedy was. I understood the terms improvised and comedy but I didn’t know what it looked like or why a person would do it. Fast forward to mid 2016 and I am an active member of ‘Imaginary Friends’, an improv group founded by then boyf, now husband, Joe. When it began, he recruited friends from his uni days, many of whom had performed in student theatre. They started practicing these games and putting on occasional shows at a local pub. I helped in my own way by collecting the £3 fee (from our very dedicated friends) to get into the shows. Over time, folk moved away or didn’t have the time to devote to prancing about in a room

pretending to be Catman at a volcano’s edge, a lion with self esteem issues or a plum.

The improv died. Last year it was resurrected with some new blood. In my wildest dreams I had entertained the notion of joining in, but was deterred by my own lion issues, but also not wanting to attach myself to every aspect of my husband’s extra curricular life. It took a lot of encouragement to finally take the plunge. Mind you, eventually it was pretty difficult not to be involved since the sessions were often happening in our living room.

For the first practice I chose my clothes so carefully, did proper makeup, I was becoming increasingly nervous all day. These people - the Imaginary Friends - were already my actual friends but I still had to concentrate on looking like

I was playing it reeeeaaal cool

by the time they arrived to play improv games. I was terrified. Unnaturally and disproportionately terrified. Now a practice is something I look forward to and never prepare for, I don’t worry about how I look or what happens in the practice, I just enjoy hanging with my pals.

With improv performances I have to allow myself to fail, to relinquish control. I don’t like that. I hate failing and looking stupid (doesn’t everyone?), I need to be a team player and go along with the ideas presented, whether I like them or not. I suppose I don’t often have to deal with that. Usually I am working on my own, at my own pace, to my own rules and caprices. Sure, clients can surprise me or a job takes a lot longer than it should, but it gets done inside a framework I have some measure of control over.

I find improv tough. Every single time we perform I get myself into a bit of a fankle and say things to myself like

“I’m just not feeling it”

or “I’m not ready”. It’s never easy, despite our brave exteriors. We performed this month as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival and it was our most popular show. I actually lay down for five minutes before I left the house, just to try and quell the nerves, but after that first laugh I got from the audience (yes, it’s cliché) I started to enjoy myself. The audience is on our side. They’re our pals! There’s something about performing that allows for bigger risk taking and heightened creativity. That night I was Guy Fawkes on a dating show, I was an ancient Egyptian God buying sandals and an alien who had to come out to their friend after 32 years.

The fear of being out of control is the most powerful barrier to enjoying improv – but with a lot of other aspects of my life too. However it’s also that lack of control that creates the sassy new characters, wacky situations and amps up the creativity of the whole team. It’s taken me the longest time to realise that’s on me. It’s a job for each one of us. I will probably always be afraid of failure and I’ll almost certainly never stop worrying about being judged, but I realise more and more it doesn’t matter. It’s within my power to recognise it’s just my own perception and that it can change. It’s on me. I can be a hilarious sexy spacehopper or whatever I want. The great thing about improv? If it’s not funny, there’ll be another topic coming along in a minute.

Follow Imaginary Friends on Twitter here or have a look at the Facebook page.
 

2. BURNOUT

blog - mental health march 2017 rosemary cunningham web res.jpg

A major project I was heavily involved in for a large part of 2016 was inspiring and huge in terms of scale for me as an artist as well as personally. Its focus was mental health and building an imagined positive future for its treatment and care. I got to meet incredible people and work with them. I learned such a lot, it was amazing.

However, it was during the course of the ten months of the project that I began to (ironically) notice my own mental health degrading. I’m not blaming the project entirely (it was many factors, being 31, being lonely at work, my perennially predictable creative existential crisis,

“what is the point of me?

and a general feeling of events being out of my control) but certainly the workload was staggering and I really struggled through a lot of late nights and early mornings, sometime drawing upwards of ten hours a day with very few breaks. My wrist felt like it belonged to someone else and I had a genuinely revolting blister peeking out from under the skin of my calloused finger. At one point my (utterly wonderful and understanding) husband, Joe was doing all the cooking and cleaning and evening tea-making as I only stopped to visit the toilet, to feed myself and then have fitful sleep. It sounds ridiculous, but the intensive drawing and emotional state I found myself in made me completely overwhelmed.

Freelancing can be lonely. Many self-employed folk are lucky to have varied jobs, stints in offices, travel, meetings and so on, but often I find myself on my own, in a chair, at a desk with only podcasts for company. (I can recommend some superb ones.) Now couple that feeling of being alone with having heaps of work to do and having no one to ask for help. Tight deadlines, important clients and this isn’t your only work. No one could take the work and help me do it, I couldn’t see a way out. I muddled through but near enough burnt myself out.

Things are better now.

I have my studio manager, Amy coming in to assist me one day a week – this makes such a difference. We chat, have a dance, listen to music, we talk about decisions I have trouble with, she makes suggestions and just takes some of the workload off me. I went for a round of CBT. I have brilliant people around me that understand these things. Now I take time. Even if I’m really busy (which is pretty often) if I feel myself spiraling into an anxiety whirlpool, I treat it like a cough. Stop. Have a cup of tea, take a couple of hours off. Go for a walk or rest. Sometimes I even dabble in deep breathing or meditation. If symptoms worsen, take some more time off. It’s all health, right? Hopefully with this approach I can stave off the worst of it, when I can’t remember how to sleep, have crippling IBS*, panic attacks and when I think no one likes me.

I’m not writing this for sympathy, or to show off how millennial I am, but to prove it’s OK to ask for help from people around you,

it’s OK to feel overwhelmed and it’s OK to talk about it.

To ‘admit’ it**. It should be something we can ‘own’, that we’re aware of and look out for, especially as so many people I know (whether they know it or would admit it) have suffered from some kind of mental health fade at some point.

*I was gluten free for nearly two years and it turns out I don’t have to be. I’m sensitive to wheat, but basically I was stressing my body into not working properly. Yup. Intense.

**I don’t like that word in this context. It implies guilt – should a person be ‘blamed’ for their mental health?

1. WRITE ON

Writing is something I have always done since I could even do it. It’s part of who I am. I often go months without writing anything, but then I return to it inevitably. I have buckets of journals and diaries stretching all the way back into the early nineties when I used words like brill, doofus and ace and my biggest concern was my sister hitting me. I’ve more than dabbled in poetry in the past too. Haven’t we all?

My first (and until now last) blog was all about my early twenties and my travels in China, living there and experiencing everything I thought I knew anew. Now in my early thirties, it feels like time to blog again, but this time about living where and how I am now and experiencing everything I thought I knew anew, anew... What?

It’s not all going to be about work, but it also won’t be a personal diary (sorry to cheat you of gossip). I don’t really know what it’s going to be, but I’ve felt compelled to write about a few things already, so see this as the BIG INTRO, the first of many pieces to come! I’m going to use it as an opportunity to do a wee sketch or experiment. Like this gif of some pencils. I actually don’t get to play with images much anymore, but I’m trying to make it part of my job again.