Creative Types Catch Up

Pears in bowl - by Elizabeth Destouches

Hello! No, I haven’t forgotten you, I’ve just been a bit disorganised recently.

Firstly, thanks very much to Elizabeth and Paul for sharing their creative work on Facebook as part of Share Your Wares Sunday. Now I know full well that a lot more of you are doing good stuff (hint – blog posts count as creative too), so feel free to share what you’re up to either over on Facebook or in the comments. I’ll not limit it to Sundays but that would be the best day as it allows me to keep track of it.

Ten Top Creative Types

There are now 10 Clear-Minded Creative types featured on this blog, not to mention the Four Creative Types that I interviewed for (who were the unwitting guineapigs for the series).

And although there’s plenty more interviews with inspiring creative people to come, I’ve not had the chance to get them online for a couple of weeks (apologies) so it seems like as good a time as any to catch up with what our ten creative types so far have been up to.


I’m still reeling from what’s happened in Japan, it’s almost unimaginable what people went through when the earthquake and tsunami struck and are continuing to go through with the aftermath, especially the truly terrifying nuclear power station problems. It certainly puts things into perspective in my own little life, where I often complain for the sake of complaining, forgetting how truly fortunate I am.

  • Hande Zapsu Watt and her friends at the Istanbul Review are asking people to make 1000 folded cranes to send a message of hope to the children of Japan, it’s a really nice idea and I hope you consider getting involved as it is definitely an opportunity to do something creative and feel you’re making a contribution. Of course you can also help in other ways – Google’s crisis response page is a good place to start, and Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen also has suggestions of how to help out.
  • Andrew Eaton is still posting some of his more obscure recordings on his ‘Might Make a B-Side’ blog, and through his label Biphonic Records (which he runs with Swimmer One bandmate Hamish Brown) he’s releasing a new album by a band called Luxury Car which is worth checking out.
  • Mr Thom Chambers has released the most recent issue of In Treehouses, called The Profit of Free which is all about using free content to build an audience. As always, it’s beautifully designed and acts as a teaser for his new product, the Free Fans Kit which looks very useful indeed.
  • Our most recent interview was with Mary Gordon of Creative voyage who’s got an interesting post on ‘the joy of part-time work’. I would agree, but I’ve only actually had two of my Monday’s free since going part-time as I’ve been working freelance or travelling back from family visits all of the other days. But yes, in theory, I agree  :)

So, what creative stuff have you been up to? Let me know in the comments!

* Affiliate links – if you buy, I get a cut. I only recommend things I own myself and have found useful.

Artist, Blogger and Tea Drinker Michael Nobbs

I first became aware of Michael Nobbs through my friend Fabian (The Friendly Anarchist). As well as loving his artwork, I was impressed with the sense of calm, compassion and wisdom that he demonstrates when he writes about ‘sustainable creativity’ on his blog.

And of course it’s a topic very close in theme to ‘clear-minded creativity’ so I was delighted when he agreed to take part in this series.

I’m also seriously impressed at what he’s achieved despite being diagnosed with ME/CFS as he speaks about in more detail about below. I think the way he’s managed his illness is seriously helpful for anyone who struggles to find time to be creative, or indeed suffers from any kind of illness (or even psychological issues such as depression or low self-esteem which can also set people back from achieving what they want creatively).

So without further ado, let’s find out more:

Hi Michael! Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

My name is Michael Nobbs and I’m a full time artist, blogger and tea drinker (not necessarily in that order). Back at the end of the 1990s I was diagnosed with ME/CFS and over the last decade and a half I’ve learnt a lot about sustaining a creative career with limited energy.

I am author of the blog, Sustainably Creative. Between regular cups of tea I draw the everyday and ordinary things around me and post links to Twitter about drawing and trying to keep things simple. I recently released the first version of an ebook that I have been working on for a while, Sustainable Creativity*.

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

My journey to where I am now creatively has been a bit of a winding one. When I was first diagnosed with ME/CFS I was working as a freelance writer and publisher.

My life had been getting smaller and smaller for a number of years as I’d struggled to keep working (and making money!) whilst I was very slowly (almost in perceptively) getting progressively iller. In the end I basically had a breakdown and started on a six month medical treadmill that finally ended up with a diagnosis for ME/CFS.

The relief of a diagnosis was huge. I was told to give up trying to work, and basically took to my bed and rested and slept and began the slow process of learning to look after myself and my energy levels.

During that period I picked up Julia Cameron’s wonderful The Artist’s Way*
and rekindled a wish to be a visual artist that had become lost somewhere in my early teens.

As energy allowed I began to take some art classes, drawing first and then painting. I loved painting, and for a while painted some very large landscapes, but the energy entailed in working in paint on the scale I wanted was really more than I could cope with. As hard as it was to accept, I finally came to the conclusion that I would have to find a “smaller” more energy-considerate way of working.

In 2004 I came across two artist’s blogs, one by Keri Smith and the second by Danny Gregory. They both draw a lot, and tended to draw the things around them. I was inspired both by their drawings and the fact that they blogged.

I began to make small drawings and posting them to a blog. I realised that the process of drawing and blogging was something I could generally sustain, and I loved the feeling of achievement I felt from finishing a little drawing and posting it online. I realised that feeling that I had accomplished something (and would be able to do so again) was a huge boost to how I saw myself; instead of often feeling defeated and exhausted by the things I tried to do I found I felt buoyed up by doing something sustainable.

Eventually I studied for an MA in fine art and now drawing and blogging are central to my creative life.

How do you define success?

For a very long time success meant getting through the day and remaining as positive as possible. Getting successfully through the day was measured by things like keeping myself fed and watered and my home reasonably together. If I could also make a small drawing and post it to my blog then that was often the icing on the cake.

Over time though, as my health has improved I have found myself wanting more. Studying for my MA (part-time over a couple of years) felt like a huge success to me, both creatively and in terms of learning to manage my energy levels.

Now a few years on from my MA I’m beginning to measure success in more financial terms. I spent a decade and a half on a very low income and over the last couple of years I’ve been working at increasing my income. I want to end 2011 earning at least £2000 a month (about US$3200) from my creative work, and I want to be earning it in a personally sustainable way. I went public with this aim a couple of weeks ago and have also launched a subscription based newsletter for anyone who would like to follow my progress (and maybe learn a little along the way too).

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Michael Nobbs – drawn iPad

I’m a technophile and happy to admit it. I think technology and the Internet offer huge opportunities to creative people who are willing to embrace them. Should we wish we can all be our own publishers, gallery owners and PR companies.

Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?

I prefer to work alone. This year I announced that I was no longer going to be directly exchanging my time for money. That means I’m no longer going to be working with or for people in the conventional way of being paid for providing a service or my time. Instead I’m going to concentrate on producing my own work, which I will either give away or sell via the web.

I’ve been moving in this direction for a while, reducing the amount of freelance work I undertake, and spending much more time working on my own projects and being in charge of deciding my own schedule.

I’ve learnt that this is by far the most sustainable way for me to work. Not having to deal with other people expectations (no matter how understanding they can be about my limits) is very liberating.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

Yes community is very important to me. I meet with a group of writers once a week and value their support and input hugely. I also have group of online creative friends who I keep in touch with via Twitter, Facebook and email.

I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

Focus and practice :) Easier said than done I know. I learnt a long time ago that having severe limits to my energy meant that I needed to be very selective about what I chose to use my energy for. It made far better sense to focus on one manageable creative practice than to spread myself thinly.

Moreover it was better to work on what was important to me regularly and in small pieces of time. Little and often really can build up a creative body of work. Even just twenty minutes a day can make a difference.

Thanks Michael, excellent advice indeed! Are you inspired by this interview and Michael’s gorgeous drawings? Why not say hello in the comments.

Enjoy this interview? You can be one of the first to read Michael’s new e-book Sustainable Creativity*, which includes inspiration and advice to help people with low energy or limited time (or both) maintain a creative life. It’s also beautifully illustrated by Michael himself (of course!) You can also download his free e-book Start to Draw Your Life.

*As you might have guessed these are affiliate links. Yes, I’ve liberally peppered this article with desperate attempts to make a pittance of small change because I’m determined to prove that I can earn some cash doing something I enjoy, in this case interviewing amazing people and letting you know about them :)

Notes From a Train

How’s your February going? If you signed up to the Four for Feb challenge, are you on schedule?

My February has been hectic, with visitors, social events, and a busy time at work. I’m writing this on the train back from Birmingham where I’ve been visiting family for the weekend, and because I don’t have access to a wi-fi connection I’m posting this via the WordPress app on my iPhone which has proved rather unreliable. Clearly I’m not quite set up for ‘location independence’ blogging just yet!

Because of all this extra activity my ability to focus on this blog has been curtailed which is frustrating after such a successful start in January. And I know that most people reading will also have this issue, because life keeps throwing things at us until it feels like we will never have time to catch up.

But there’s one week of the month left, so let’s see what we can salvage. There’s still time to achieve something and set ourselves up for a positive start to March.

And next month’s challenge is going to tackle the problem of ‘too much to do, too little time’ head on so stay tuned!

How have your creative projects fared in February? Are you on schedule to complete your ‘Four for Feb’? Let me know in the comments.

Lisa-Marie Paris train

Journalist, Blogger & Photographer Lisa-Marie Ferla

Lisa-Marie Ferla on the Outbound Train

This week’s interview is with one of my Scottish blogging buddies, Lisa-Marie Ferla, aka Last Year’s Girl. She’s a massive supporter of Scottish music both on her own blog and on The Scotsman’s Radar blog to which she regularly contributes.

In addition Lis writes about travel, cinema and everything in-between, always with a personal and heartfelt touch, and is an accomplished photographer (though she modestly claims not to be!)

Let’s hear what she’s got to say for herself.

Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

I’m a redundant legal journalist and editor, currently working in retail. I’ve been blogging since before the word was even invented – according to Wikipedia – and have been famous on the internet since 1999 (but not quite as famous as Neil Gaiman).

I take photographs with little skill and lots of enthusiasm, and write about bands with a bit more skill and even more enthusiasm for anybody who’ll have me. Seriously. I go on like a hyperactive five-year-old. Don’t ask me about The Hold Steady.

My main website is, but you’re going to find more regular/actually updated content on my world famous, quoted-in-the-Guardian-that-one-time blog,

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

It’s probably fair to say “trial and error”. I mean, I always wanted to be a writer of some description; whether I was scribbling down stories in recycled school jotter in the bathroom when I should have been asleep, or stirring up my little brother and sister into a frenzy so they’d make some contributions to the magazine I put together on my teeny toy typewriter when my mum went away for the weekend.

Even at an early age I knew this was never going to be as lucrative an ambition as becoming a teacher like the rest of my family, which I suppose is where “journalist” entered into the mix, but in the late 1980s none of us could have foreseen the ways in which technology would change that particular profession, rendering it almost unrecognisable and increasingly difficult to make a living from.

I guess I’ve stumbled into many of the opportunities I’ve been given. I don’t mean to belittle my achievements, because I have worked incredibly hard, but there has certainly been an element of “right place, right time” to many of my adventures.

From a professional perspective, although my MSc in Journalism continues to impress I would never have been given the opportunity to edit and grow The Specialist Paralegal magazine had it not been for my law degree. The vast majority of my extracurricular activities have come about through my reputation as a blogger.

Honestly? I still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up.

Lisa-Marie Ferla taken by Neil Thomas Douglas for the Eclectic Peel exhibition.

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

Not really. The unfortunate fact of it is, and it’s particularly true of life these days, is that one still has to pay the bills.

I have a terrible habit of saying “yes” to absolutely everything I can despite a history of mental health problems, which tends to result in burnout and periods when I get home from work and would rather stare at the ceiling than turn on my computer.

It’s something I’m working on. I know what inspires me. I need space, good music in my life and long train trips staring out of the window. It’s not always possible to make that kind of time.

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Lissie Does Dixie

Well it’s blogging that I’m known for, so without technology my work wouldn’t exist! Or, at least, not in the same form that it does now, and certainly without the same audience… if you are the sort of person who finds the urge to create, you will find a way to do that regardless of the resources that are available to you.

The truth is that I am never happier than – and I feel I do my best writing – when I am scribbling my travel journals down in some notebook or other. And, without the distractions of Twitter and Facebook, I’m far more likely to get things done.

Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?

At the risk of sounding like a bit of an arse, the personal nature of my writing – even when it isn’t supposed to be personal, see every music-themed blog post I’ve ever written – means I prefer to work alone.

Saying that, I take much of my inspiration from others -snippets of overheard conversations, debates with my friends…

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

Definitely. Perhaps because I’ve been doing this for so long, or maybe because of the nature of my work, I find it difficult to make a distinction between the two. Over the last year, particularly, there has been an incredible “online into offline” crossover between the Scottish music blogging, photography and performance community. It makes all the difference in the world – and gives you so much motivation not to quit – when you know you’re not alone.

Couldn’t agree more.  As well as checking out Lis’s blog and website, go say hello to her on Twitter (where she is so popular her wedding last year was a trending topic) or leave a comment.

Happy New Year!

Hello! I’m excited to kick of 2011 with my first ‘proper’ post on this new blog – and I decided to record a quick video just to explain a bit further what you can expect.

In the video I talk briefly about the need for creative people to gain clarity, consistency and confidence in order to move ahead with their work.

The lack of any of these can seriously hold you back – and coincidentally, straight after I recorded it I was checking my Google Reader and found this excellent video by Chris Brogan on the exact same topic: My Escape Velocity – Confidence is a Key

I think he might be copying me with that beard though..

I’ve now also added an About Page in case you’re interested, and over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring what I mean by Clear-Minded Creativity a little further. In fact, posting here regularly is my ‘blogging new year resolution’, as you can see from this post over at Blogging Teacher in which I and 34 other bloggers reveal our intentions for the year.

What Have You Got Planned?

As I mention in the video, I’d love to hear about the creative projects you’ve all got planned for 2011 – please let me know in the comments!