An interview with Emily from ‘The Dotty Room’

This is the second of my interviews with creative business owners. I started this series recently in order to share a little bit about the stories behind small businesses and support those who inspire me with their work. This time, I am pleased to introduce Emily from ‘The Dotty Room’. Here is what Emily had to say…

Hey Emily, can you tell me a bit about when and why you set up your creative business?
I opened The Dotty Room in May 2020 after my mental health broke down; I had made some self-care cards with a cute envelope to hold them in and posted them on my personal page. A few people asked me to make some for them too. It sparked something within me to help others with their mental wellbeing – I was already crafting for my own mental health, so I put the two together and the rest is history.

What do you make/create?
The overall theme of my shop is self-care, wellbeing, mental health & awareness, so I make my items with these in mind. I currently make: Journal stickers / Decal stickers / Badges /  Magnets / Bracelets / Self-care & self-harm alternative cards / Pocket affirmations deck / Postcards / Custom-made items

What do you enjoy most about your small business?
I love the people I have met through working in this community – both customers and creatives. Without them, it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable. I also enjoy the flexibility and autonomy that comes with running an indie business. The thing I love the most is being able to help others, even in a small way. As I have lived experience of mental health and adversity, I consciously try to make a positive impact with everything I do, from listening ad chatting to the products I choose to make and the pretty packaging I use in the hopes of making the recipient feel as special as they are.

What is coming next for The Dotty Room?

I’ve just launched a Patreon community, so my energy will be directed towards cultivating a safe, inclusive environment and creating content for my lovely patrons. I’ll also be working with them behind the scenes on new products; I’ve got a few ideas that I want to start working on, but I’ll zip my lips for now – as my patrons will be the first to know. Some things that I’m up to at the moment are:

– Getting to grips with Posca pens – they’re my favourite medium at the moment and I’m really enjoying working on personal projects with them

– Designing a new collection of decal stickers

And where can people find you?
You can find me in The Dotty Room on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest & Patreon.

Thank you so much for sharing a bit about the story behind your business, Emily! I am honoured to feature you on my blog and really appreciate you answering my questions.

If you are interested in being featured in my creative business blog series, just leave me a comment below or contact me at sharonmanship@hotmail.com.

Until next time, love and creative business stories
Sharon x

Do What You Want

I have received a few signs from the universe with regards to doing what I want recently, and I thought I would share a bit about them. I am currently working with a coach to explore what is holding me back creatively. I will write a post about this experience when I get to the end of the programme, but some of the many things we have been discussing are: perfectionism, procrastination and over thinking.

Not long after starting work with the coach, I came across this brilliant zine about mental wellbeing. It is a one-off publication curated and edited by Ruby Tandoh (who some of you may know from The Great British Bake Off) and Leah Pritchard. It is packed full of useful information and beautiful illustrations, and I aspire to create something along these lines myself one day. The overall message is very much one of empowerment and encouragement to ‘stay in your own lane’ and put yourself and your mental health first.

Furthermore, I recently sketched a couple of ideas to illustrate a technique for managing anxiety – one was in my ‘usual’ clean and precise style and took me some time to get right. The other was a very quick and rough sketch that took me just a few minutes and was much more expressive and free. I would normally post the former one, but felt much more drawn to the latter, and so decided to post both and ask which one others preferred or was drawn to. The results across Instagram and Facebook showed an exact 50/50 split, which proves to me that different people like different things. Therefore, I figure there is no point second guessing myself and instead I am allowing myself to just go with drawing and posting what feels right to me at the time. This realisation feels extremely liberating.  

Incidentally, the technique involves observing anxious or intrusive thoughts and visualising them as a train – letting them go through the station that is your mind, and pass gently out the other side. Let them come, let them be, let them go.

Until next time, love, letting go and doing what you want
Sharon x

An interview with ‘Paw Prints by Claire’

Once a month or so I have decided to feature an interview with a small creative business owner to share a little bit about their story and as a way of supporting those who inspire me with their work. For my first interview, I am very pleased to introduce the lovely Claire of ‘Paw Prints by Claire’. Claire creates fun, honest and quirky illustrations that leave a Paw Print mark and encourage people to enjoy the little things in life. Here is what Claire had to say…

Hey Claire, can you tell me a bit about when and why you set up your creative business?
I set up Paw Prints properly nearly four months ago. I set it up after my best friend passed away two years ago. She always told me that I should sell my artwork and I kept telling her no, haha! I was a freelance designer but I always enjoyed being creative in other ways too. My best friend was full of character, always wearing bright clothes, dying her hair and she was so full of life and fun. She taught me a lot and this lead to me opening Paw Prints. I also have multiple chronic health conditions and I set it up to show that just because you may have a physical or mental health condition it doesn’t mean that your life has to stop there. You still have so much more to give and there is a lot that we can enjoy in life. 

What do you make/create?
I make a range of fun prints, illustrations, postcards and positive quotes that you can put up around your house to give that reminder that there is a lot of positivity, even if it’s the small things.  Sometimes we really need these reminders as life can be pretty tough. I also create badges, stickers and journal stickers that are bright and fun, and also affirmations as we really need more of these in our life!

What do you enjoy most about your small business?
This one is pretty easy…the thing that I enjoy most is packaging the orders for people as I just get so excited to know what they are going to open. To see brightness, positivity, hope. It really fills my heart with happiness! Oh, and also my memory hearts – I made these and I didn’t realise they would be so popular. It is a memory heart and quote for people that have lost loved ones but it has rainbows to try and give comfort to those that buy them.  It pulls on my heart strings for sure but it’s so beautiful.

What is coming next for Paw Prints?
Oooh next for me at Paw Prints…I have a few products I really want to make. My dream has been a stationery set so that’s definitely up there! I’m going to work more on the memory hearts projects.  Also to work on self-esteem affirmations, notebooks, and a secret project…it will take some time but it’s a secret one for now!

And where can people find you?
People can find me most active on Instagram (please do pop over and say hello!). I have Etsy shop and I am also on Facebook.

Thank you so much for sharing a bit about the story behind your products, Claire! I’m so pleased to be able to feature you on my blog and really appreciate you answering my questions.


Until next time, love and rainbows
Sharon x

A lightbulb moment

I have written in previous posts about my childhood joy of drawing and my experiences with art at school. A further part of my story I would like to share is a ‘lightbulb moment’ during my post-school studies which gave me a lot of clarity.

I have worked as a public health researcher at a university for the last 11.5 years, during which time I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study for two Masters degrees alongside my role. The first was an MA in Management Studies, which was linked to the qualification I gained in my previous career in Human Resources, and the second was an MSc in Health Promotion and Public Health, which is directly related to the work that I do now.

I loved the MSc. It really consolidated everything I was doing and the theories that underpinned my work. At the time, the Programme Director decided to introduce a brand new ‘Arts and Health’ module, and I was among a very small group of people who chose to undertake it. Immediately, the module made sense to me. Having had such positive experiences myself of the impact that the arts and creativity have on health and wellbeing, I was amazed to find that there is a whole (expanding) area of research devoted to it.

It was then that I had a sudden realisation or ‘lightbulb moment’ – I could combine my research career with my passion for the arts; they didn’t necessarily need to always be two distinctly separate things. As a result, the focus of my final dissertation was an exploration of how engagement in creative arts was associated with the health and wellbeing of participants of a local entertainment and performance venture. It was an in-depth qualitative study where I interviewed six people about their experiences and personal stories. Amazingly, that dissertation won me the prize awarded to one student annually for a valuable contribution to research. The prize further consolidated my realisation that arts and health was the research specialism for me.

Following my MSc, I found myself presented with opportunities to take on further small studies in the area of arts and health, including the evaluation of an arts programme for sight impaired and blind adults, and an evaluation of a movement and visual arts project for people living with dementia. I met some wonderful like-minded people working on the interventions, and although the majority of my time at work currently is spent working on other large EU funded studies, I am always keen to keep my hand in anything that has an arts and health focus. Of course, outside of work I keep up a regular art practice, and one day soon I hope to combine the two again.

Have you had any lightbulb moments on your creative journey, where you have gained clarity that you are on the right track? I’d love to hear about them if so.

Until next time, love and synchronicity
Sharon x

Rediscovering my creativity

In last week’s post I wrote about how I loved to draw as a child. Unfortunately, this stopped when I did my GCSEs. Art was my absolute favourite subject. I can still remember the smell of the classroom and picture the paint spattered sink. I put a lot of effort into my art projects, however my teacher was not the most…nurturing, shall we say. There were a couple of students in the class who were seriously gifted artists, and they got the majority of the teacher’s focus and praise. The thing is, I am not sure they needed it as much as the rest of us. They were brilliant and they knew they could draw and sculpt and paint. I wasn’t an awful artist, but I needed direction and tuition and, if I’m honest, a bit of praise or even just encouragement. I remember getting to the point that I was scared to show the teacher anything as I knew I would mostly likely receive a critical or dismissive remark.

I have heard of quite a few people being discouraged in their creative practice at school, and I think that is so sad. I know that everyone has their own tastes when it comes to art, and my teacher may have only liked two out of his 30 students’ work, but I don’t see how any budding artist can survive with their confidence intact in that kind of environment. Imagine how much undiscovered talent is out there due to people have been discouraged from expressing themselves creatively.

So, as it was, after my GCSE I didn’t consider doing Art A Level, and it would never have even occurred to me go to art school. I didn’t pick up a paintbrush again for many years.

This was a piece I did for Art GCSE that I kept hold of. It’s A1 size and was part of a mask project. I have obviously liked the pink/blue combo for some time as I still use it now
This wasn’t for art class, but I had a thing about Jim Morrison from The Doors and drew this a lot. This A3 silhouette painting has survived since 1994 (showing my age!) in my old art folder

I did still keep a hand in creative activities. I crafted (mainly card making), and remember starting an Interior Design course at Adult Education, but realised after a couple of weeks that it wasn’t for me. In February 2006, I went on a gap year travelling and was very inspired by the Aboriginal art. I bought a piece that I now have up in my hallway at home. When I returned from my travels, the children of a few friends who had been born whilst I was away were turning one. I didn’t have a lot of money but did have a lot of time as I was job hunting, so I decided to create personalised books for each of them. The first one I did was centred around a kangaroo joey (who was named after the child) looking for his Mum, and discovering other Australian animals like the duck-billed platypus and the kookaburra. I wrote and illustrated the story, scanned and printed it, and even bought a little binding machine (the kind that is used for workplace reports) so that I could make them look a bit more professional. They seemed to go down well, no doubt because of the personal element rather than my creative talents at the time, but it was enough to reignite my creative mojo. I created more books, and moved on to drawing and illustration. And here I am, a few (ahem, many!) years later, passionate about art and drawing again and thinking seriously about setting up a little creative business of my own.

Have you been on a journey with creativity? I’d be interested to know if you can relate to having had your confidence knocked and if/how you rediscovered it. Feel free to leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, love and creative journeys
Sharon x

The childhood joy of drawing

When I was a child, I LOVED to draw. Some of my earliest memories are copying Disney characters from a comic at my grandparents house, drawing animals for a school project, sketching the cartoon bears from a mural at my Mum’s workplace…

I am writing about this as my nine year old niece recently drew a brilliant portrait of me (which you can see below). She wasn’t prompted to…when they visit, she and one of her brothers always ask, “Can we do some drawing?” pretty much as soon as they walk through the door (they know my art supplies are plentiful!), and she just picked up the pens and did it, in about two minutes. And I love it – the simplicity of it, the perceptive positioning of my hands, my legs tucked up underneath me. I reckon people would pay good money for something in this style!

There are lots of reasons why children draw – to express themselves, to utilise their imagination, to display emotion. And there are many benefits to drawing, including enhanced cognition and improved fine motor and coordination skills. Children’s drawings can give others an insight into their fears, joys, dreams, hopes and nightmares that they might not otherwise be able to express, as well as a precious view of their personalities.

The portrait made me reflect on how free and uninhibiting it was to draw for pure enjoyment when I was young. Not for validation or praise. Just for me. It also made me reflect on why I stopped. I know it was partly due to a teacher at school, but perhaps that’s a story for another post. I think most of us draw as children, and plenty of us lose our way with it at some point. I therefore feel incredibly fortunate and grateful that I rediscovered my passion for drawing in my mid-20s, and even moreso over the last few years. It gives me an outlet, a positive distraction, and something to work at.

I will cherish this picture, along with the many others drawn by my niece and nephews that I keep in a drawer at home. Not only did it make me reflect on my own journey with drawing though – it also made me think about my phone usage, especially around them. As you can see, in the portrait I am looking at my phone (my niece even captured the polka dot detail of my phone cover). That message from her hit home. I always try to curb the time I spend on my phone when I am with them, as this time is so precious, but I clearly need to try harder! Message received, loud and clear.

Until next time, love and beautiful portraits
Sharon x

I’m back…! And I am upping my art game

Hi dear readers, it’s been a while! Is there anyone still out there…?? I hope this finds you well, after what has been a very turbulent 2020.

I have been MIA on this blog for some time. Looking back, my last post was in August 2017 – eeeesh, how time flies!!

I created my blog back in 2012, and it has taken on many forms since then, starting with book reviews, life updates and baking stories, moving to an A-Z Blog Challenge, followed by typing up my travel blog from my gap year, and then my ’40 Before 40’ list. I am now 41, and did not complete it all! But no matter, it was fun trying!

Despite all the different routes my blog has taken, my one true love has always been art, and over the last few years I have spent a lot more time practicing it, namely illustration. I have done three ‘Inktober’ challenges in a row, attended workshops organised by the fabulous Sketch Appeal, started watching artist studio vlogs, and met many like-minded new friends along the way. Last year I set myself the goal of drawing a weekly portrait of a different inspiring woman, which I am pleased to say I completed.

Some of my Motivational Monday portraits

You can find the rest over on my Instagram account @artmanship and Facebook page.

I am intending to carry on with these portraits in 2021, and one of my goals is to up my art game by teaching myself digital drawing, with a view to creating my first printed products by the end of the year. I have decided to resurrect my blog with more of an art focus so that I can document my progress, bring you along with me on my creative journey, and share all things art.

In terms of digital art, I have just purchased an Apple Pencil and iPad, which I have been saving for over the last year, and when the latter arrives in a few weeks I can’t wait to get started with Procreate. I have given myself six months to learn it, as I am sure it is not as easy as the illustrators I follow make it look!

My new friend Apple Pencil


My plan is to publish blog posts on a Sunday evening, although I figure that some weeks I may not have much to report, so it might be every two weeks. I won’t be inundating you though, and I hope you will stick with me and that you enjoy sharing this next chapter with me. I’d love to hear how you are doing and whether you have any creative endeavours underway…feel free to leave me a comment!

Until next time, love and creative plans
Sharon x

Travel tales #16: Stunning hikes and new friends

I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.

Nelson, New Zealand, April 2006

Despite my trepidation about the three-hour ferry journey across the Cook Strait from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island), the water was very smooth on the day. It was also a very pretty journey, taking us past lush emerald green islets, set against a background of cornflower sky and azure sea.  I met a friendly couple of girls on the boat from Berkshire, who were also travelling on the Magic Bus, so it was nice to have some company and swap travel notes with them.

I stayed in Nelson for a few nights at the YHA, which was (like most YHAs) clean, comfortable and practical.  Nelson is referred to as the ‘sunshine capital of New Zealand’ and it certainly was wall to wall sun on the day I took a trip to the Abel Tasman National Park.  A group of us took a bus transfer from Nelson to Kaiteriteri, where we boarded a boat for an hour-long cruise up the coast to Torrent Bay.  We hopped off, straight on the white-sand beach, and started a hike back down the coast to a place called Marahau.


Four of us naturally formed a group – myself, Deborah and Valentina from Sardinia, and Clare from Bath.  We were told that the walk should take about four hours, but we ended up having to take a detour as it was high tide, so it took closer to six.  It was very steep in places and hard going, and we wondered whether we would make it back to the meeting point in time for the last bus.  There were a few panicky moments about directions, and whether we had enough food and water with us to fuel our bodies, but it also turned out to be quite the team bonding experience.  At some points we felt quite the intrepid explorers, battling through bush and rainforest, and then we would be rewarded with spectacular views from the vantage points that we reached, which made all the effort worthwhile.

As we neared the café in Marahau which marked our end point, the experience was rounded off nicely for me by spotting a pukeko (also known as an Australasian swamp hen).  I was rather taken with this funny little bird with it’s bright red beak, spindly red legs, and vibrant blue breast, and it was lovely to just stumble across it in the wild.

Abel Tasman 7

Pukeko

 

Abel Tasman 6

One of my favourite photos – taken towards the end of the hike

 

When we finally arrived at the café we rewarded ourselves with well-deserved hot drinks and cakes, and reflected on a wonderful experience.  Clare turned out to be one of the key people I met during my gap year, and Abel Tasman marked the first of many adventures we embarked upon together.  On the bus on the way back to Nelson I experienced a travelling ‘moment’ – I felt quite overcome with emotion about where I was and what I was doing.  It still felt quite surreal that I was out there doing it, on my own.  And meeting and bonding with some lovely people just added to my sense of immense gratitude.

The following morning, Clare and I met up for brunch and, as it was a greyer day, we decided to head to the nearby Bead Gallery, where we spent a few happy hours making jewellery, most of which I ended up sending home to friends as birthday presents.  It was a good reminder of my love of creativity…something I had not indulged in for many years, and so I made a mental note to do more when I returned home.

Previous travel tales:
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans
#8: Dolphins & premieres
#9: Glow-worms & geysers
#10: Thermal baths & wonderlands
#11: Prisons, earthquakes & wineries
#12: Surf and scenery
#13: Farms & galloping horses
#14: Homestays & Wellington suburbs
#15: Windy Wellington

Travel Tales #15: Windy Wellington

I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.

Wellington, New Zealand, April 2006

After a few days staying with Charlotte in Lower Hutt, I made my way into Wellington to stay at the YHA Wellington City, which was a very large, clean and modern place, although I was learning that this tended to mean less friendly – there were so many people there that it was hard to make those connections that you tend to find in smaller, more homely places.  I nevertheless decided to become a YHA member as I liked the feel of them in general, and signing up entitled me to cheaper stays for the duration of my travels.

I found Wellington to be a lovely city, although after spending some time off the beaten track on the ‘East As’ trip and in smaller towns like Rotorua and Taupo, it felt a bit of a culture shock to be in the capital, and I remember realising that I was not a city girl at heart.

On my first afternoon in Wellington, I visited the famous Te Papa Museum, something that everyone I met recommended as a ‘must do’.  It certainly didn’t disappoint – it is an enormous building with brilliant exhibitions, and best of all it was free entry (there nothing more appealing to a gap year traveler than a freebie).

The following day, I took the cable car up to the Wellington Botanic Gardens and, neatly bypassing the Observatory and Cable Car Museum, I took a walk through the peaceful gardens, including the extremely pretty Lady Norwood Rose Garden.  On the way down, I walked past government building that is known as ‘The Beehive’ on account of its design.

Wellington

View of Wellington from the cable car

Wellington is referred to by many Kiwis as ‘Windy Welly’ on account of the strong winds that blast up the Cook Strait (which separates the North and South Islands) and into the city.  Apparently the wind has been known to knock people off their feet, and I certainly experienced some strong blasts during my stay.

I was starting to feeling a little lonesome on my own in the big city so was grateful to receive an invitation from Charlotte to join her, some friends and her brother Alex (who had arrived from the UK the previous day for a visit). We went out for the evening to some bars in Petone, where I rediscovered my love for NZ sauvignon blanc.  At the final bar we went to, I was told that we were sitting at a table next to Tana Umanga…a fact that was rather lost on me, but the cause of great excitement to the rest of the group since he was the captain of the All Blacks at the time!

The following day involved a much needed NZ brunch to soak up the excesses of the previous night, and then a drive up to a wind turbine on the top of a mountain just outside of the city (Kiwis would probably call it a hill, but it was a mountain to me!). There were amazing views from the top, and I was told that on a clear day you could see the South Island, some 90 plus kilometers away.

I was a little sad that the time had come to leave the North Island, and for a leg of my journey to be over already.  Additionally, I felt a little trepidatious about crossing the Cook Strait to the South Island (with my non-existent sea legs), but I also left feeling very grateful to have experienced all that the North Island had to offer – from bubbling mud pools and geysers, to homestays, farmstays, exhilarating horse rides and everything in between.

Previous travel tales:
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans
#8: Dolphins & premieres
#9: Glow-worms & geysers
#10: Thermal baths & wonderlands
#11: Prisons, earthquakes & wineries
#12: Surf and scenery
#13: Farms & galloping horses
#14: Homestays & Wellington suburbs

 

40 before 40 #2: Sponsor a child

I had often thought about, but never quite got round to, sponsoring a child in need of support in Africa, and so it made total sense to add this to my list of ’40 before 40’ challenges and tasks.

2 - Equipe map

I carried out some research online as I really wanted to find an organisation where the money I donated would go directly towards helping a child, rather than into a big pot of money which then got spent in different ways.  This was just what felt right for me.  After working my way through a long list of possibilities, I also decided that I wanted to support a smaller charity as opposed to one of the large organisations, as I felt that small ones often get overlooked as they don’t necessarily have the means to promote and publicise their work.

Eventually, I settled on an organisation called ‘Equipe’, whose aims revolve around partnership working in order to make a difference to the lives of people in East Africa.  Their child sponsorship scheme is £15 per month, and Equipe promise that every penny of this money goes directly to a child in terms of assisting with their schooling, including books, stationery, uniform, school meals and any required medical care.  In cases where children are resident at a school it also pays for additional food, clothing, bedding and other basic essentials like toilet paper and simple grass brooms.

Soon after applying to take part in the children sponsorhip scheme, I was contacted by email by John Gasston, who is based in Uganda and runs the programme, along with his wife Sue.  John sent me a copy of their latest newsletter, and told me of a tiny six-year old girl (who I shall refer to as ‘C’) who is based at a school in Kampala and had recently lost her sponsor.  He sent me a photo of C and gave me some brief details about her achievements at school.  It was really lovely, and unexpected, to receive such a personal response and know that John and Sue are so well placed to provide updates, and to keep an eye on the various Equipe projects and how the children are doing.

I may be very slightly poorer money-wise each month, but I am certainly much richer for knowing that my contribution is directly supporting a child in need.  If you are interested in finding out more about Equipe, you can visit their website, which is updated periodically due to internet availability.  The best way for those out in Africa to keep people up-to-date is via their Facebook pages Maranatha Gateway and Equipe 1, so do have a look/like if you are on Facebook.

It has long been on my bucket list to travel to Africa myself to volunteer for a period of time, and Equipe organise for groups of sponsors/volunteers to go out each year.  So, inadvertently, I have also managed to make a great new contact for the future. I am away next week on a trip that I may not have got round to booking had it not been for my ’40 before 40’ list, so there will of course be an update on that in a few weeks.

For now, love and very worthy causes
sm x

Links to previous blogs in this series
#1: Eat an oyster