10 tips on life as a freelance creative

Are you new to freelancing, considering freelancing or never had the courage to leave your job but would like to? If yes, please read on.

I work with a number of companies, speak to friends who work in full time positions and teach students looking to move into a new career. I’m often faced with questions like how do you manage life as a freelancer? or don’t you miss the security of a full time job? My passion is to meet like minded people, do what I enjoy doing and have time to work on my own projects – this is why I work as a freelance creative. I won’t work on projects I don’t believe in and although I enjoy some more than others, I’m proud of my work/play balance.

I have put a few of my thoughts into writing for those curious about what it is to be a freelance creative like me. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts, hear suggestions on how you manage freelance life and hear your questions based on these 10 thoughts below:

1. Have a web presence: Do you realise how easy it is to have a website or blog up and running? The joys of wordpress allow anyone to choose a name, change the colours, add some text and have a blog style website set up. This could either be used as a portfolio, an information point or have a point of view and keep an online journal updated. If you want to be more ambitious, you could learn to edit wordpress in more detail, in which case wordpress.org is a fantastic starting point. You will need to buy a domain name and pay for hosting (where as wordpress.com is a free, more basic service) but you will have the flexibility of editing the themes code base.

If you want to know if a particular domain name is available, I recommend using Name Checker. It will tell you if the twitter handle, YouTube channel etc etc is also available for that name.

Having a website is a great place for people to learn about you. Maybe they heard your name mentioned, did a google search or saw your thoughts on twitter. If you don’t have a web presence, how will a potential client or collaborator find you?

REMEMBER, if you choose to start a blog, you will need to keep it updated (which is time you need to factor in) – an updated (spell checked) blog could be detremental to your career…

example: Hubert Consulting

Hubert Consulting wordpress.org website

Hubert Consulting wordpress.org website

David Hubert became a freelance consultant at the start of 2013 and realised that if he wanted to attract EU and International clients he would need a website to explain his services. The domain HubertConsulting.com was available to buy and using wordpress.org (using bluehost hosting), a simple, clean website was uploaded to the internet.

2. Use social media: Get yourself on twitter. It’s the best tool for putting your name out to the wider world. It allows you to have a voice, share your expertise and ‘meet’ people from other backgrounds. Of course there is etiquette that you will need to learn (start watching how others compose their tweets), hashtags that will attract followers and ways to encourage more followers but more information on etiquette will have to wait for another blog entry!

You can always use twitter to curate your news feed, reply to other people’s tweets or share new and interesting information for others. But don’t forget, there are many versions of social media you can use. I don’t use Pinterest for example but I can completely see the value if you want others to see your taste, understand your creativity or simply gain a better understanding of you as a person.

Although you could choose to hide your tweets (I’m not sure why anyone wanting to promote themselves would do this!), REMEMBER that anything you put on twitter can be seen by anyone, even if they don’t have a twitter account or follow you.

example: Dokker.com

Dokker.com twitter page

Dokker.com twitter page

Dokker.com is a tech start-up who have built a platform for allowing document templates to be shared. I did some work with Dokker.com to help them launch their product in the UK – we used social media to raise their profile. In a small amount of space it is clear what Dokker.com does through their description, their website link is visible and their account let’s you see their point of view through their tweets.

3. Collaborate with others: Freelancing is about being open to new projects and being creative means you are always curious. There are a number of online platforms which can be used to carry out pro-bono work and develop your own skills while helping others. I’m a big fan of OpenIDEO. The platform where people design better, together. Taking part in their challenges gives you exposure to real life briefs but gives you the flexibility of working on the brief when it suits you. Because the online community are there to help each other you will receive near instant feedback on your work and learn how others think!

You can always take your skills offline and attend ‘Hack Day‘ events where a range of people come together to work on a creative brief in a short amount of time. Whether this is a whole weekend with socially conscious Good for Nothing, 36 hours at an IDEO Make-A-Thon or a service design focused event like the Global Service Jam you are guaranteed to meet inspiring people and be forced to test your creativity.

REMEMBER though that if you are going to take part in an online community or attend a Hack Day, you need give as well as get! Your input is essential.

example: My Fail Tale

My Fail Tale on OpenIDEO

My Fail Tale on OpenIDEO

I took part in the OpenIDEO web entrepreneur challenge where they were looking for concepts to help EU web entrepreneurs be more sustainable. My concept ‘TED Positive’ (now My Fail Tale) was chosen as one of the 10 winners and was presented at the European Commission’s Digital Agenda Assembly. The best part of taking part in the challenge is that I have my own project up and running and I was lucky enough to meet some exciting and inspiring people while in Brussels at the European Commission.

4. Network, network, network: this does not mean simply giving out business cards (in fact, I don’t usually bother with business cards), it means go and talk to people. Online this can be done through LinkedIn or offline at events, talks or conferences. How do people know who you are, what you do or what you’re good at/your interests are if you don’t tell them?

There are some fantastic places to look for events; look on company’s website or use eventbrite or MeetUp to find out what’s coming up near you. Use the event hashtag to focus your tweets, write a blog piece about what you’ve learnt or use the event as an excuse to meet people you haven’t met before in person.

REMEMBER that you need to be confident and approach people if you want to network. There is no point in attending an event then sitting back hoping people will approach you. It is also essential that you too follow up with people you meet – drop them an email or link in with them.

example: iBehave

iBehave MeetUp page

iBehave MeetUp page

I have recently become involved with a MeetUp that is focussed on using technology to change people’s behaviours around health. We run a montly MeetUp and encourage a wide range of people from academics to entrepreneurs to developers and funders to attend. It creates a fantastic room full of inspiring people all interested in the same topic. The discussions are facinating and new connections are always made.

5. Learn what you’re good at: working freelance can make describing your job title that bit harder. You no longer have one strict job title and your potential to work across a number of projects is much greater. Do you know how to describe yourself or explain what you’re good at? Look at how others describe themselves and read other people’s blogs. Do you have ex-colleagues you could share your thoughts with to see if they agree? It is a good exercise to look over your CV or write down all the skills you have and also list all the skills you enjoy using. From these lists, start to sculpt a job description or a short bio for yourself which captures all of this and looks focussed.

REMEMBER, whatever you write as your bio on your website, linkedIn account or Twitter profile, it can be changed!

example: LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn expertise section

LinkedIn expertise section

LinkedIn is a great tool for sharing your CV with a wide audience. Gaining recommendations from past colleagues helps to reinforce your skills and show potential clients what you are good at. The new ‘skills and expertise’ section that LinkedIn have recently introduced is a quick way to tell others what you are good at. You may find this a useful tool for self promotion.

6. Find a creative work place: When you work in a full time position, you are likely to have a desk, an office to go to everyday and colleagues to speak to on a regular basis. Working freelance can be a lonely experience for some people and it is important to build a routine that suits you. Maybe you enjoy working from home or maybe you miss the daily interaction with others.

Luckily, with more and more start-ups appearing (especially in London) and more people becoming self employed, finding somewhere to work that has power points and WiFi isn’t difficult.

REMEMBER, whatever way you like to work, make sure you create a working environment that suits you, not what you think you’re expected to do.

example: Google Campus, Central Working cafe

I have started to work at the Google Campus, central working cafe which is close to Old Street in London. Upstairs is TechHub, the shared working space for tech start-ups. It is a cafe which you need to register to use but once you’re inside is full of creative, like minded people. The number of tables is limited but the coffee is good and the atmosphere is perfect for me to sit and work. It can be noisey and sometimes a bit hectic but that is the type of environment I feel inspired to work in.

7. Combine your hobbies: I have a love for motorbikes. This is often news to people and not something you associate with a girl in her 30’s. The freedom that two wheels give you is unstoppable and riding on a motorbike often starts conversations with strangers – something else I love! I like to use my passion for motorbikes to take me to places where I can pick up new insights and learn from my experiences.

REMEMBER though that you need make sure that your freelance work and hobbies have some relevance 😉

example: Two Wheel Exploring

twowheelexploring.com

twowheelexploring.com

At the end of 2012, I went on a motorbike adventure from London to The Gambia to go and experience different cultures, face the unknown and have an advenuture. I took five weeks away from work and would never have been able to do this when I was full time employed. Riding from London, through Spain and down through Africa took me past villages and into communities which I would never normally have the chance to experience. I took a video camera and filmed the encounters I came across. I just need time to edit this film into a 45 minute documentary ‘What we can learn from developing countries’

8. Learn new skills: In a full time position you may be lucky enough to be sent on courses for your own personal development.  As a freelancer you need to do this yourself and these courses can be costly. Instead, why not attend events at organisations like General Assembly where you can learn new skills at affordable prices? There are plenty of online learning tools which could either help you brush up your skills or teach you something totally new.

REMEMBER new skills will always look good on your CV but you will need to be disciplined to keep these skills fresh if you don’t have a freelance project to use them on.

example: Code Academy

Codeacademy.com

codeacademy.com

Code Academy is a very accessible online tool to learn how to code. You will be exposed to coding from the second you launch the website and soon realise how simple the site is. Once you have completed a few of the tasks you will begin to earn points which will motivate you to keep going.

9. Get good at doing your own tax: Having to file your own tax return is clearly one of the biggest barriers to people wanting to becoming their own boss. Ok, you can pay an accountant to do this for you (which is fantastic if you have the money) but I believe it’s important to at least do the first one yourself so that you gain an understanding of what’s involved. Don’t let people put you off doing your tax return by them telling you it’s complicated. It’s as complicated as you make it – the secret is to be organised and to set up a system for recording your expenses. I’m also often surprised at how few people use the HMRC website for help. I have called them a number of times and have always spoken to a very helpful person.

REMEMBER there are also the HMRC webinars which are a good starting point for understanding how self employed taxes work.

examples:  expensify.com

expensify.com website

expensify.com website

There are a number of tools on the internet which are designed to help you with your self employed tax return. I recently read about expensify.com in the The Sunday Times as a tool to help you record your receipts. I recommend using any tools that help you!

I’ve recently discovered but not yet used SimpleTax.com

10. Don’t get disheartened: when you first start looking for freelance work, you may not have constant work. This could easily happen between jobs too but remember that is the nature of working for yourself. You don’t have a boss anymore, no one is telling you what to do and you can choose the projects you work on. If you have a few days spare, work on your tax return, find a conference to attend, write a blog piece or go and do something non work related!

REMEMBER to enjoy it.

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Insights from a motorbike

On Wednesday 17th October I left on a motorbike for an adventure to The Gambia. We plan to ride 3,000 miles in five weeks; we caught a ferry to Santander, rode through Spain and are now in Morocco.

Ahead of us we have the disputed Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia where we fly home from Banjul.

Many people have asked why?

  • What makes you want to travel to The Gambia?
  • Why do you want to ride your motorbikes that far?
  • Isn’t it going to be dangerous?
  • And how will you carry all your luggage?
  • The main reason was to leave our London lives behind for 5 weeks and experience new cultures. Being on two wheels allows you to visit places most travelers don’t reach, having no set itinerary will allow us to get immersed in local cultures and completing the whole journey on motorbikes means we have a 180degree view the whole way.

    It has taken a few months of planning, mainly bike preparation and paper work organisation but now we are in Africa our adventures really start here.

    The work I do ‘back home’ is all about collecting insights, understanding people and finding ways to help communities. I love being immersed into different cultures and finding out how we can influence behaviours for good.

    So, another aim of this adventure is to document what we see, who we meet and what we experience. We have a Canon HF10 video camera and where possible intend to film as much as possible. This may, however prove hard at times, especially in Western Sahara and Mauritania where reporters and journalists are forbidden. Luckily though, David is a native French speaker which helps for negotiating….

    I’m interested in social innovation and sustainability, especially when focused on communities and making people happy. This is what we’ll be looking out for en route.

  • What brings communities together? and
    How do communities survive, especially in developing countries?
  • What we’ve experienced so far:

    Our stay in Spain was only a few days but while with friends in Madrid, we went to their friend’s house for a birthday dinner. The evening revolved around chatting while eating tortillas, cheese and olives and drinking Rioja. Exactly what comes to my mind when Spanish food is mentioned. When we arrived at our camp site outside of Granada, the owner said we’d just missed the paella! There was a large group of locals sitting around a table with an empty paella dish…

    When we arrived at the Moroccan border at Ceuta there were lots of men trying to ‘stamp our passport’ and ‘help us through customs’. We had been warned of this and knew not to accept their help but they were clearly being very innovative and even had ‘official’ looking name tags around their necks. Morocco came with animals all over the streets, men on scooters piled high with luggage, taxis with broken suspensions and far too many passengers in them and women selling branches on the side of the road.

    From now on we can start looking for local insights and discover what makes each community different and what cultural differences occur. Two things we quickly learnt in Chefchaouen were that ‘every street has a guardian’ and ‘however little you trust a Moroccan, he will trust a Moroccan half of that’. Let’s hope Abdul really is looking after our motorbikes while we stay in the Medina.

    Motorbike focused updates are being posted at http://www.twowheelexploring.com and @twowheelexp on twitter if you want to follow our journey, otherwise we plan to have a film edited together in the new year.

    And to answer the questions asked of me previously, here are some quick replies:
    1. Heading south to The Gambia means things become cheaper, the weather gets better and the cultures become more interesting.
    2. We wanted to ride our bikes to Cape Town but political situations are insecure in parts at thr moment and it would take much longer to plan/save up for.
    3. We don’t plan to travel any where ‘dangerous’. We are looking for an adventure but will move on if we feel unsafe.
    4. We have three panniers each to carry our luggage. The saying ‘over packed is under prepared’ is very true and we have packed what we need without going over the top. Yes, we will need to wash our underwear frequently…!20121023-160327.jpg

    Sharing Failures in Paris: FailCon

    25th September marked the day of FailCon Paris when the fantastic FailCon team came over from California to help the French embrace failure!

    Cass introducing the FailCon Paris sponsors

    The conference hosted a full day of speakers, Q&As and excellent networking opportunities at Microsoft’s offices in Paris. I went along as I’m particularly interested in encouraging people to understand that any business, start up, venture or entrepreneurial idea will at some point, inevitably experience failure. That, however is not a negative occurance but a means of learning to succeed at what you want to achieve.

    The speakers were excellent. Some were fairly big names, others were less well known but the thing, for me, that made the event was the atmosphere in the room. Everyone that attended the conference was ready to accept failure, had failed at some point, wanted their business to succeed and/or understood the value of learning from other people’s mistakes.

    Prepare For and Avoid Common Startup Mistakes
    You aren’t a real entrepreneur until you’ve had to deal with failure, and recovering from it –
    financially emotionally and practically – can be challenging. Hear how entrepreneurial
    leaders have dealt with failure while keeping a positive and tenacious attitude.
    Failcon

    FailCon Paris

    Learnings from the morning’s speakers

    JB Rudelle CEO and cofounder of Critero talked about the differences between being a hare and a tortoise when it comes to business start ups. You may feel the need to run quickly and reach your goals quicker than planned but this can be a curse. ‘If it’s not quick and easy, it is a bad idea’ – WRONG! Success comes from hard work and persistance. Deals should be done when opportunities arise or ‘me-toos’ will creep in! All of this must, however take metrics into consideration. You must force yourself to measure your actions and outputs properly or it will become very difficult to know if you are being successful or not.

    Eric Mittelette from Microsoft told the story of Microsoft’s web servers being hit by a virus which gave them a bad name. The virus took 15 minutes to infect 75,000 servers! The flaw in their single product meant that customers had a negative opinion of the entire company. Their failure came from their product having too many features and they did not know enough about security. Their piece of advice for businesses is to always have someone look over your code and use fresh eyes when reviewing work. This not only finds flaws and irons out problems but creates fun,positive competition in the workplace.

    Jean-Christophe Capelli, CEO and cofounder of FriendsClear encountered regulation issues when starting his money lending via the internet business. His business was a small start-up trying to work with big businesses but both were on different time lines. Jean’s advice is to avoid working in regulated industries (!) but the overall learnings were to never give up, be prepared for hurdles and be aware of the pace of your partner companies. He had to stop working for 9 months and take a breather. Something that is not unheard of by a number of start-ups.

    Next came a panel session titled ‘Investment Pitfalls’

    On the panels was:

    Jean David entertained everyone with this opening remark. ‘the first pancake never looks good’ Very true and interestingly linked to the fact that VCs will hardly ever admit they failed after an investment! VCs need to trust the entrepreneurs more and trust what they are doing with their money. When someone is investing, they are buildling the company and know one knows what will happen to that company. ‘how do you make people row in the right direction? you can’t…’
    Sean went on to discuss the directions that failure can take. Often failure occurs because the technology has failed or because a me-too has entered and possibly saturated the market. There needs to be trust between the investor and shareholders. Breakdown in trust is when failure gets nasty. Know your numbers, show your enthusiams but don’t be afraid of having doubts.
    Philippe said it’s important to paint a vision but also be able to tackle situations and take control.

    Learning’s from the afternoon speakers

    Olivier Fecherolle, Viadeo realised that he was too early with his start-up but didn’t have the money to wait. He made an interesting point that the UK is an island and you need to think that way if you want to launch there. You must base yourself in the place that you want to launch in to be able to set yourself up commercially. You must be in the same place as your company for success and look at your business globally if you want to scale it.

    Thom Cummings, SoundCloud piece of advice from starting up his company was that it is easy to under recognise your achievement yet it’s also easy to over recognise milestones! It is common to have access to too much information and too many paths which makes focussing challenging. Start-ups must pick the right metric and be able to recognise when good enough is good enough. ‘Be a navigator, not a chauffeur’, ‘choose the right path, give support and let them drive’

    Thom Cummings at FailCon
    Next came the panel session Location: Can It Ruin You?

    This session discussed building trust with your brand and the necessity of having a website that your stakeholders like and can relate to. Good branding is essential for gaining this trust. Markus explained how he tried to scale the marketing too slowly. It is important to have big numbers and faith to spend money on your marketing!

    Gabriel was confident that you don’t necessarily want two years of runway to grow your start-up. It’s more important to spend what money you have wisely!

    Lara Rouyres and Tatiana Lara, LivingSocial had some very wise words to share as the last speakers of the day. The culture of a small start-up will change when it becomes a bigger business and people need to be ready for this. ‘Make sure you get management to write down their values each month, then choose who represents those values best’ was a technique they have adopted.

    Anticipate transition, don’t rush into hiring people and remember that communication amongst the team is crucial.

    What I learnt from the whole event

    Starting a business can be done by nearly anyone but understanding what is ahead of you needs confidence, management and planning. We can plan for inevitable hurdles but we never know when we will come across them and need to be ready to pivot. Every time we fail, those hurdles become more obvious and the time it takes to pivot reduces.

    You must believe in yourself but be mature enough to listen to others and know when to take their advice!

    The conference was incredibly valuable for anyone running a business and what I heard definitely rings true with the start-ups I am currently working with.

    Visiting the Heatherwick Studio exhibition at the V&A

    The OpenIDEO web start-up challenge winners had a London meet up at the V&A museum last weekend for a curated tour of the Heatherwick Studio exhition. We were very lucky to be accompanied by Stefan Ritter, Designer at Heatherwick Studios who took us round his favourite pieces in the exhibition.

    V&A exhibition web page

    The exhibition contains just one room of artifacts but you could spend hours in there looking at the vast variety of designs. From bridges to handbags to Christmas cards and benches – the exhibition is very inspiring and shows how the studio are experimental and innovative with a range of materials.

    The start of the exhibition is where you collect your guide – but not just any old guide – the studio wanted to visually show how much paper is often used for producing show guides.  Here they had 1 tonne of paper stacked up in different diameter rolls to look like pottery on a wheel. The visitor can winde a handle to release the paper strip, then rip it off at the correct point.

    Exhibition guide installation

    The playfullness of ‘creating’ your own guide is a great way for visitors to interact with the paper they are using. Should you take a guide at all and save on paper or should you take the guide with you with the understanding of how much paper you have taken?

    Exhibition guideI thought it interesting to see how visitors then held their guide. Some rolled it up, others folded it neatly and some looped the paper to keep it uncreased.

    Exhibition Guide open

    The Extruded Bench
    The first piece we visited was the extruded bench. Inspired by iBeam contruction, the designer wanted to celebrate the normally discarded end piece of material. When an iBeam is extruded through a tool, the end is irregular and distorted and therefore cut off. A tool was made by the studio and the aluminium pressed through. The result, a beautiful piece of art which creates a bench to be sat on. One end is clearly a highly polished bench while the edges of the end create an interesting, unusual, unpolished shape.

    tool and bench drawing

    The bench is therefore one piece of solid aluminium. The explanation of the piece said ‘we were interested in consorted forms that emerge as metal is squeezed through a die’ – exquisite!

    extruded bench from Heatherwick website

    The Rolling Bridge
    The next piece we visited was the rolling bridge. It isn’t uncommon to see a bridge that opens up to allow traffic through but this design made a real feature of the folding mechanism. As the bridge lifts up, it rolls back on itself to finally end in a confined octagon. Apparently the rolling bridge can be seen in Canary Wharf…

    rolling bridge

    The London Bus
    I hadn’t appreciated that Heatherwick Studio had designed the new London Route Master bus. It was great to see a cross section on the vehicle and understand about the inspiration for the design.

    London Bus from Heatherwick websiteThe studio worked with bus drivers to discover what design changes would make the bus more appealing to them to drive and even had an enthusiastic driver in their studio throughout the process.  Apparently it is important for bus drivers to be able to see children and people misbehaving on the bus, therefore the curvature of the interior was designed accordingly.

    Passenger flow and air flow were also very important to consider when designing the new bus.

    Route Master

    Aberystwyth Artists Studios
    Heatherwick designed a low cost set of artists studios in Aberystwyth, Wales. A really unusual set of buildings with an intriguing shape made out of crinkled aluminium. The structures are made out of a wooden structure with insultation foam covered by aluminium. The jig that was designed to crinkle the aluminium (to give the material strength) was fascinating. Each piece needed to be pushed through the teeth on the jig to create the unusual shape.

    Aberystwyth artist studios from Heatherwick website

    Floor tiles
    I really liked the floor tiles that Heatherwick had designed for a shopping centre in Hong Kong. The design aimed to allow light to pass through the floors but had to be suitable for people to walk across in a busy environment.

    Each tile contains 50 sheets of glass (for health and safety regulations) and a top layer with a non-slip surface on it. The designers used the layered glass and non-slip surface as a feature to create a very eye catching pattern through out the tile.

    floor tile

    The Science Museum Material House
    Material libraries can be a huge database of materials to search through and it can be hard to display materials effectively. The Science Museum commissioned Heatherwick to find an innovative way to display their materials and the result is fantastic.

    The Material House layers the materials into a scultpure with each access to the different pieces.

    Materials House from the Science Museum website

    ‘Although the sculpture bears no resemblance to a conventional house, it playfully invites the viewer to reflect on how these materials are used in everyday life, suggesting there are no boundaries to the versatility of materials. The vibrantly coloured curving layers of Materials House give a feast for the eye, hand and imagination.’ Science Museum website

    Seed Cathedral
    The last piece to feature from the exhibition (but definitely not the last at the exhibition!) was the Seed Cathedral, designed by a nine member conglomeration of British business and government resources directed by designer Thomas Heatherwick. It referenced the race to save seeds from round the world in banks, and housed 60,000 plant seeds at the end of acrylic rods, held in place by geometrically-cut holes with the rods inserted therein. WikiPedia

    Seed Cathedral from the Heatherwick website

    Each acrylic rod was held in a wood structure with a transparent end to allow light in and a seed holder at the other to show case seeds from around the world.

    The exhibition is on until 30th September and I highly recommend a visit. A good hour will allow you to look at each piece on display but a couple of hours will allow you to properly absorb the beautiful pieces on show. The prototypes and models that accompany each piece really interested me. A finished product is always good to see but understanding the idea behind the product and seeing how it has developed from a concept really fascinates me.

    I was unfamiliar with Heatherwick Studio work before I attended the exhibition – now I’m very impressed with the innovative use of materials, pushing of design boundaries and imagination that has gone into each project.

    Group photo outside the exhibiton

    From Ohio to Europe…part 2!

    For those of you that enjoyed reading James Moyer’s experience of traveling to Europe for the first time, I’ve just received the second installment.

    James Moyer’s travels so far….
    Here I sit for a few hours without internet in Brussels’ Chareleroi airport, which does King Charles proud, except for the fact that Ryanair almost exclusively serves it. At any rate, I found a 1 cent Euro coin which until this point I didn’ t know existed. It’s sitting on my luggage boring me with its sultry temptations of .013 USD. Do I keep the euro cent? I don’t think any machine uses it. Do I give it away to someone? Not if I uphold some sense of dignity for people in general.

    I’ll put it back on the floor for someone else to struggle with this conundrum.

    The fact that I am internetless does bring up the (slightly expected) reality that Europeans don’t like to give internet away for free. Even in the supposedly four star hotel which the European Union taxpayer had me sleep in, internet was not free, and I had to sign up for some type of rancid marketing scheme to get it for a couple of days. I am stuck in this airport now and they want €20 for internet. Why do Europeans insist on keeping me from my facebook? Those likes don’t just like themselves.

    On the topic of this airport and dignity, the bathrooms have condom machines. Under what circumstance will those condoms be used, and is that something I needed to have paid in advance on the Ryanair website?

    *The stereotype of Holland has this cute little windmills. They actually exist.

    *The up-down wailing tone of the European emergency vehicle siren…also exists.

    *I feel we Americans buy a lot more Chinese stuff than Europeans do. I don’t know if that is an advantage to anyone in particular, but I note this because I saw this cheap plastic game in the gas station (my first gas station in Europe!) that was made in China and I thought that was remarkable in some way. I remember looking at the blanket I was provided in the hostel and was fascinated that it was made in Holland. We’d just get cheap shit like that from China.

    Speaking of the hostel, they didn’t provide towels. They wanted to charge me €4.50 for a towel and there is no way that I am paying that type of money for a non-Chinese towel.

    I used the bed sheet instead.

    It dried off by the time I needed to sleep.

    Kind of.

    *French women (err, Wallonian women) eat in this really unappetizing way. Like they move their mouths more vigorously. I just don’t like it. Bridgette Bardot certainly wasn’t in a film eating, it would have shattered her career.

    *Returning to the topic of bathrooms, American bathrooms notoriously have dividers between toilet stalls which are incomplete–you can see below and above them. European bathrooms actually have full doors and walls–creating a little private closet: a piss-smelling ceramic haven from the busy world.

    After almost no consideration at all, I have concluded that I prefer the American style partitions because the European ones, while nice in theory, are clausterphobic in practice. I just don’t want to be alone with a toilet.

    This does mean that I am selecting the more invasive separators, which allow someone whose eyes are naturally 8 inches off the ground to spy what type of underwear you might be wearing. I’m not making fun of the panty-shy, this is a thought I’ve had before and have strenuously mitigated during my unplanned encounters with these partitions.

    *The piss smell in European bathroom cleaners? It smells like an outhouse to me. That’s my description of it. I’m now on the lookout for what the magical ingredient is that causes this smell. Will it be eau de outhouse? Perhaps in Germany it will be smellenaufhausen.

    My main take away from these insights is the fact that it’s common to see hotels charge for added extras these days. It’s an interesting annoyance that I also find (not that I stay in hotels often) – you expect a level of service in a hotel and when ‘new’ charges are introduced, it quickly cheapens the whole experience. That being said, charging for breakfast, the internet, tea/coffee etc are easy ways to make extra money or are they ways of reducing the intial cost to encourage more people to stay in them?  The Tune Hotel chain are doing exactly that – removing everything apart from the bed and shower to keep costs low to make the hotel affordable.

    Clerkenwell Design Week & the bamboo stylus!

    The Clerkenwell Design Week 2012 was yet again, a very inspiring few days. The studios and showrooms in Clerkenwell opened their doors, there were talks and events, parties and a brilliant walking tour run by Creative Clerkenwell.

    Clerkenwell Design Week 2012

    The walking tour was with designer and historian Jane Young of London Kills Me and sponsored by wacom bamboo stylus, THE pen for sketching on the iPad. Jane took us all around Clerkenwell, pointing out buildings of significance, taking us past the new Goldsmith Centre, explaining the relevance of the Jerusalem Taverns in the area and allowing us time to sit and draw what we could see around us.

    Creative Clerkenwell Drawing Tour

    We stopped in the park behind St James Church, Clerkenwell Green to do some drawing and found a fabulous art installation titled ‘Spring Forest’ by the architect, Franceso Draisci. Made of scaffolding poles, red insulation foam and umbrellas, the installation provided a play ground for children, shade for those craving to get away from the sun and a colourful piece of art for the eye.

    I just had to sketch it using my bamboo stylus and ‘paper 53‘ app on my iPad.

    Spring Forest using the bamboo stylus

    Then we discovered, sitting amongst the installation was the architect himself – what a great find and surprise!

    Charlene talking to Francesco

    Such a lovely couple of hours enjoying the May sunshine, meeting inspiring people, looking beyond my normal field of vision and learning new facts about Clerkenwell. Thanks Clerkenwell Design Week, Creative Clerkenwell and London Kills Me.

    The Stylus and App
    If you like drawing/sketching, enjoy using a tablet and haven’t tried using a sketching app yet, quick, download one and get hooked like I have! Not only does the App make drawings looks wonderful, it is really fun to use, easy to draw with and can be erased, changed in colour and given different finishes/textures. I use the Paper 53 App but there are plenty of others out there to try. The bamboo stylus is very elegant, lovely to hold and just works. The stylus tip is very sensitive and allows for different strokes to be made with a simple movement.

    What do you make?

    Charlene Lam‘s story-telling at the IDEO Make-A-Thon reunion last week was really entertaining. Her talks allowed me to reminisce and make me think back to my ‘making days’.

    Charlene is a creative who works with materials and textiles. Her company Creative Clerkenwell looks to connect creatives in London and will feature at the Clerkenwell Design Week in May. Charlene told a great story of the things she makes. Meet the ‘operation red rabbit‘:’To celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, a warren of red rabbits were made from papier mache and placed around the streets of East London’.

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    Charlene’s story telling inspired me to question what I make…

    When I was about 9 years old my dad bought me a hot glue gun. Accompanied by a scalpel and balsa wood, I used to enjoy making structures and boxes. They weren’t anything in particular but I loved it. My dad enjoyed encouraging my creativity and I loved making things – it was a win-win!

    A number of years later, I took the then called ‘CDT’ craft, design, technology A Level
    and discovered the wood work and silversmith workshops. I’d find any excuse to turn objects on the lathe or make pieces of jewelry.

    Then I went to university and built on all these skills by discovering the soldering iron. It’s amazing what you can create by soldering an electronic circuit board together…! I designed the ‘anti-theft handbag‘, a biometric handbag which only opens when the correct finger is scanned. I thrived on making prototypes and models.

    One theme I have carried through all my life is enjoying making birthday cards, wrapping paper out of old paper and making purses or small bags to hold objects. Give me an old piece of card, scrap material or unusual packaging and I can guarantee it will be kept for a rainy day.

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    When I graduated from my undergraduate degree, however, I moved into London and no longer had the space for much model making or workshop equipment. Life changed too and London had lots to offer and plenty of places to explore. My interests also change slightly. I became very interested in sustainability and reusing objects. It was Victor Papanek’s ‘The Green Imperative‘ that changed my view on ‘life’. I started to view objects and consumerism in a different way and set myself the challenge of not buying new clothes for a year. I found this remarkably easy and I got a real kick out of rediscovering my wardrobe again.

    So, this is where my ‘I make….’ story comes in.

    I (like to) make old clothes comes to life. Not buying new clothes did nonetheless mean I could continue indulging in my love of buying from charity and vintage clothes shops. There’s something really exciting about knowing that a piece of clothing has a story behind it, is cheaper than its original price and has potentially been saved from landfill. The only problem is that most people are turned off buying second hand because of the smell, it may not fit properly or more often than not, hasn’t been displayed in a way that they can relate to.

    Talking of clothing with history, DoTheGreenThing recently created Glove Love ‘an initiative where we take lonely single gloves that have lost their original partners, wash them and then pair them with brand new glove lovers’. The best bit about buying the gloves is the lovely message that comes with them. Each pair of gloves is tagged telling you a story of where they were found. Seriously, it’s worth £5 to just read the story (and to have an odd pair of gloves with a Do The Green Thing label on them).

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    I don’t often find a garment of clothing fits perfectly but that’s where a pair of scissors, needle and thread and accessories come in handy. I wish I had taken “before and after” photos of some of my creations but instead will have to list them out and hope you can use your imagination.

    – The ugly 70s dress that ended mid calf: 15cm off the length gave it a new lease of life.
    – The shoulder padded ‘Dynasty’ dress: removing of the shoulder pads and a brooch made it this season.
    – The 80s pencil skirt: a tuck in the top made it sit higher and therefore more flattering.
    – The black, sleeveless, moth eaten, shapeless dress: stitching up of the holes and a retro belt transformed it.
    – The boring tweed jacket: now with red button holes made it this seasons must have.

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    Sometimes a new belt, change of length, additional stitching or different combination of accessories can transform an outfit. Trust me, it’s very satisfying when people ask where an outfit is from and the answer is ‘part charity shop, part old garment, part hand-me-down’.

    I worked on a project a couple of years ago which is very relevant to this love of making old clothing come to life. In collaboration with [re]design, we took ‘Chalky Van’, the chip-fat-powered-chalkboard VW van to the Vintage Festival at Goodwood. I facilitated a few engaging sessions with the festival goers around the reuse of clothing. The most insightful was when I placed a nasty old shirt on the van and asked people what they would do to give it a second life. People of all ages came to write or draw their answer on the van.

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    Some of the best responses that really touched me were:
    ‘use the buttons as eyes for my puppet’ – girl aged approximately 6 years old.
    ‘blow my nose on it’ – man aged approximately 50 years old.
    ‘tie a belt around it and wear it with my tapered chinos’ – girl aged approximately 25 years old
    ‘make a scarecrow’ man aged approximately 30 years old.

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    I’m clearly not the only person who sees the value in an old piece of clothing!

    Making old clothes come to life is a passion I have. I will never have a fashion label from it, nor will most people ever realise the story behind my wardrobe but it does make me happy knowing that I wear second hand clothing. Keeping spare buttons, boxes of material and never throwing away clothes my infuriate my boyfriend but that’s the designer in me….! Forever curious about what I can get my hands on next and adapt.