~ My Creative Life: Jen Lee ~

Jenlee1While I plod my way through jet lag and get my slippered feet back under my desk, I wanted to share something that has brightened my day considerably. I met Jen Lee back in September at Squam Art Workshops when I was lucky enough to not only take her Truth & Consequences class but also got to snap her Polaroid portrait too. Jen is a writer, teacher and story-teller, who can often be found sharing her tales on stage at The Moth in New York City. Her self-published work, Fortunes, is a beautiful collection of poetry I keep by my bed, and next year she'll be leading her own writing retreat in Brooklyn. When I asked Jen if she'd like to take part in my Creative Life series, we knew there was only one form it could take: the spoken word…

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My Creative Life: Danielle LaPorte

I first discovered my next Creative Life interviewee when her book, Style Statement, was recommended to me a few months ago. Tumbling happily into the land of writer & speaker Danielle LaPorte, I started reading her blog, invested in a Fire Starter session for my business and found so much inspiration from how unashamedly she walks her talk. In her varied career she’s been the executive director of a Washington-based think tank and run her own communications company for 10 years, so it’s no wonder budding entrepreneurs will travel far and wide to hear her speak about everything from guerrilla marketing to life purpose. She’s also a commentator on the CBC TV show, Connect With Mark Kelley.

It’s an honour to have Danielle on my blog today, and, just for fun, I’m sharing some thoughts over on her blog today too – on video, no less! Two for the price of one.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the white hot truth of Ms Danielle LaPorte…

SC:  Yours seems like truly vocational work – how did you get to this place?

DL: I think you should be mindful of how you refer to your work in the world (career, j-o-b, chore, calling, service…) and so I love the word “Vocation.” It’s rooted in voice. I got to this place – this place of earning my living by voicing my perspective – in part due to a severe allergy to conventional business and bullshit corporate policies. So that pretty much kept me from ever getting a real job. I got here by asking, relentlessly, for what I wanted, whether it was for a better position, a new gig, a better rate at the bank, or asking the universe to help me realize my dreams. I asked. And I believed.

Speaking in public is most people’s worst nightmare – how you prepare to blow your audience’s mind?

I intend to be useful, really useful. I’m clear that I’m there to teach, so there can be plenty of poetry and theater (that’s where kimonos and killer boots come in,) but everything has to circle back to being practical. No filler.

I prepare. I think about four key nuggets that I’m most inspired about and I make sure I hit those notes no matter what. I’m transparent. I tell my story with plenty of vulnerability. I’m righteous. I don’t apologize for my very strong opinions. And I pray. Before I get on stage, I say micro-prayer, it’s one word: shine. I want us all to be shining and radiating and high on life by the end of our time together. So far, so good.
PonderDescribe a typical workday.

– Wake up in a cuddle pile with the kid and the man, and the dog at the end of the bed.
– Check email quickly to see if anything stupendous has happened overnight. Immediately feel guilty about checking my email.
– Look for Spiderman or Batman paraphernalia, and walk the munchkin to school.
– Call a girlfriend on the walk home. Usually Candis.
– Stretch. Pray or read something inspirational (or trashy.) Make pot of Yogi Indian Spice Tea with Honey.
– Crank my “Devotion Emotion” or “TranceBoomYa” i-Pod playlists.
– Depending on the day (I do the Entrepreneurial Time Management System) I’m at my Mac writing, jamming, you know, rocking the world. If I’m not writing for my site or others’, I’m doing Fire Starter Sessions with clients, or working on distributing my new stationery line. And when I’m not doing those things, I’m lost in creating my next book – and selling it.
– On Wednesdays I record my segment of a new CBC TV show, Connect With Mark Kelley. And that evening, if my husband isn’t doing a night shift (he’s a fire fighter,) I do a 5 Rhythms dance class and sweat my prayers out.
– Most days involve milk chocolate. On the days when I have to cook, I stress out about it and wish that the man were cooking that night, and then I suggest that we go for sushi.
– Hot bath with lavender.
– Stay up too late watching the newest documentary DVD.

What does true success look like to you?

Creative freedom. Deeply nourishing relationships. Fat cash. Helping to create aha’s and ease for people. Social responsibility and effective philanthropy. Stirring the cosmic melting pot. Thick gold hoop earrings. Trust.

Littlehand How has motherhood changed your way of living/working/creating?

When my son was born, I realized on a very deep level that, if I was going to teach him to live according to his own agency, that I myself had better up my game. And I committed to live more artfully and passionately. I became more creative when he came into my life. And less willing to suffer fools.

What books/music/blogs etc do you love?

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The Astonishing Power of Emotions by Abraham-Hicks
Anything by Krishnamurti, Alan Watts and Pema Chodron
Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber
Beauty by John O’Donahue

Antony & The Johnsons
Stadium Arcadium – the Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Big Time Sensuality – Bjork
The latest Jason Mraz
American Prayers – The Doors


Seth Godin
The TED talks
Abraham Hicks

WordsHow do you balance your online life with you off-line life?

I don’t. And I don’t believe in “balance.” Balance is not the stuff of greatness, and the pursuit of it causes stress. I believe in proportion. A lot of love, a heaping amount of focus, and plenty of room to follow my heart and take a nap when I need one.

What three things could a creative entrepreneur do to make their business rock even harder?

1. get clear on your core desired feelings – they’re driving everything whether you’re conscious of it or not.
2. know your Hedgehog Concept, or call me for a Fire Starter Session.
3. always be the giver.

You’re having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose?

Bruce Mau, Leonard Cohen, Jesus, Oprah, Isis, Meister Eckhart, Joan of Arc

What is the message you want to share with the world? (in other words, what do you consider to be your life’s work?)

Truth is freedom. Freedom is all.

* * * * *

Danielle, thank you so much for sharing with us today. I love that you’re a fire starter, and your husband is a fire fighter – sounds like a passionate combination to me :)

[photo of Danielle by Anastasia Photography}

~ My Creative Life: Keri Smith ~


The first blog I ever read was Wish Jar Journal penned by my next Creative Life interviewee, the fabulous Keri Smith. It was through reading Keri's blog that I found other blogs and from there was encouraged to start writing my own; I imagine this path into blogging is shared by many others too. Keri's been very influential in the blogosphere, leading by example and challenging conventions, and now her books are extending that work, one page at a time. Keri is the author of Wreck This Journal, How to be an Explorer of the World and now her latest creation, This is not a Book.

Friends, meet author, illustrator and guerilla artist, Ms Keri Smith…

SC: Did you always know you were an artist, even as a child? Could you tell us about your path into this career?

KS: An interesting question as I think all children are artists. Is there an awareness of our openness? Perhaps.  But to me the word artist is just a label.  There are many examples of ancient and aboriginal cultures who have no word for art.  This is the space that I aim to inhabit these days.  Not putting art in a separate compartment from life.  I seem to have quite an aversion to the actual word art, it seems too all encompassing, like a massive catch phrase that includes too many 'objects'.  I would like to create a new word, or maybe some kind of sound?  Or just erase it entirely from my vocabulary.  Yes, I like that idea.

i've gotten away from the questions, haven't i?

My path.  Through a dark forest with no illumination.  Translation: I have flailed and fluked my way here.  I became an illustrator because I love to draw and love to look at drawings.  In the beginning I think I was too scared to really trust my own ideas, so I just drew for other people/companies.  Over time I developed more confidence and was able to experiment more.  You see, when you are afraid it is much harder to take risks.  Now I have learned that I do much better work when I just fling myself out into the abyss without caring too much about how it will be received.   I wrote down a quote to this effect the other day,   "Make it dangerous or it's not worth doing." ~Maurice Sendak 

Please describe a typical day – do you have many routines?

7am – breakfast, tea, toast, soft boiled egg, granola & yogurt
8am – walk the dog with the whole family
9am – play with my son
10am – work in my studio (my husband and I tag team with our child)
12pm – lunch
1pm – play with my son
3pm – work in my studio
4:30pm – dinner preparation
5:30pm – dinner (we used to eat at 8pm but it is important for us to eat together as a family, so we switched to accommodate our child's schedule. We are slowly going to push it to later again.)
6:30 pm – whole family walk
7pm – bedtime ritual, fruit & yogurt snack, read books, etc.
7:30 – put baby to sleep.
8pm – free time (I get to do whatever I want, a lot of the time this is work time, sometimes a movie)
10pm – reading time. 
10:30-11pm – bed.  our bedtime is early because my son is still nursing quite a bit which makes my night not as restful as it could be.  (read: my sleep is greatly compromised.)  we are working on weaning slowly right now.


Could you tell us more about your new book – after Wreck This Journal and How to be an Explorer… where are you taking us now?

Ah, now you're talking.  I've been waiting for someone to ask me this.  With Wreck i was in a deconstruction phase, this is a very physical experience (throwing things, dripping, spilling, tearing, defacing).  But it was also conceptual, dealing with the idea of an object you must destroy in order to complete it.  With Explorer I began to examine things, pay attention to the small details.  As explorer progressed I moved from the concrete into the abstract and asked people to work with their imagination a little bit.  Create things that do not exist, (i.e. create an imaginary portrait of your city, adding things that are a little bit magical or strange).  In the case of This is Not a Book, I am asking you to go into your imagination even more, (though still being physical on occasion).  In order to complete the book you must transform it into something else repeatedly.  And it must be a thorough transformation, meaning you have to believe in it or it won't work.  I do not take the imagination lightly.

When starting a new project, how do you begin to gather your ideas/inspirations? How do you record them?

This might be a difficult one to answer because I am not always aware of the process that is going on in my brain.  I will say I am first "taken" with an idea.  That means something comes in and I immediately become obsessed with it.  I go into research mode during which I feel like an explorer mining the entire world for clues and things related to my idea. I also (and this is the part that is hard to explain), make connections with other seemingly unrelated ideas.  Sometimes I will read a science book or website.  During which I find things that do relate or form a connection to make up something new.  There is an exercise in Not a Book that demonstrates this somewhat, called the 'idea formulation generator' where you create three columns that are essentially lists on different subjects.  You then pick one item from each list and combine them to come up with a new idea.  All of my ideas are recorded in a journal with a pen.

You’ve been writing a blog for over six years now…. Has blogging helped the progression of your career in any way? What does it mean to you these days?

It's actually been over eleven years, I didn't archive the early days.  It definitely has helped to build a readership over the years.    Though I think a lot of readers of my books do not necessarily read the blog, or come to it from the books.  And in many cases the blog has also provided a forum for experimentation which is a beautiful thing to me. These days I am finding that I am doing less of my experimentation in a public forum, preferring to put that energy into my books and personal work.  I'm not exactly sure why that is.  i think in part I have felt a bit overwhelmed with the whole blogging world, there are so many people out there doing the same thing right now and so it feels less unique to me (compared to when I started).  I think it's become more important to me to redirect my energy. 


Has your experience of book publishing been what you expected?

Yes and no.  Publishing can be a very exciting industry, and I have been involved in it in some capacity for most of my life.  But in the case of my work it has been a slow build, (which is a really good thing), and I am only now feeling like I have crested some sort of hill.  I made very little money in publishing for years, which is actually the case for the majority of authors.  A lot of people think I'm well off because I have books out, I assure you that is not the case.  In the beginning I signed some not very good contracts, which ensured that I would not make any money, (read: no royalties yet for my early books).  But I have grown and learned some things the hard way, and now I have a wonderful agent to deal with the business side of things.  I really like the position I am in right now, it allows me to continue to put my work out into the world and that is all I aim to do (and feed my family).

What books/music/artists/sites etc do you love? Could you share some recommendations?

John Cage, Bruno Munari, Masanobu Fukuoka, Buckminster Fuller, George Perec, Gaston Batchelard, Eva Hesse, Charles and Ray Eames, Corita Kent, Bruce Mau, May Sarton, Italo Calvino, just to name a few.  My research is never complete.  That is one of the great joys in my life.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Birthing my son. 

How has motherhood changed your way of living/working (beyond the obvious lack of time :) ?

It has made me so incredibly vulnerable.  This is an important place to be if you are an artist, you learn more about intimacy than you ever thought possible.  It has also made me painfully aware of the painful parts of human existence and the areas where the world needs work.  I feel like I want to make the world better for my child and will go to great lengths to impact it.  See the next question.


What is the message you want to share with the world? (in other words, what do you consider to be your life’s work?)

I feel moved to do so many things to change the world, (the word "service" is very big to me right now).  It sounds slightly full of ego to write that.  On a simple level I would like to give people ways to question things in the world, to look at them from many different angles, to pay attention, to open up to a new experience, to grow, to challenge themselves, to experience the real world more (as opposed to a virtual one), to question everything, to revolt.  Most recently I feel myself being pulled more and more into the educational realm.  I have been working with and speaking to the educational field about ways to impact and improve a system that is in great need of repair.  I want to find ways to reinvent it.  I feel we must move away from the current economic model completely and create a system where people's health and well being are at the forefront.  Money can no longer lead, our focus on it is destroying us and the planet.

What’s your favourite quote?

Current favorite (it changes frequently):

'I really think it's important to be in a situation, both in art and in life, where you don't understand what's going on.' ~ John Cage

i also love:

'Relax and let everything go to hell.' ~ Sol Lewitt

You're having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?

Barack Obama – the person you need to speak to if you want to impact the world substantially right at this moment.
Walt Whitman – one of the most amazing humans that ever walked the earth.
John Cage – always thinking and pondering the world.
Bruno Munari – we need someone at the table who does not take everything too seriously.
Carl Jung – one who walked the walk
Ray Eames – for her mind and visual sense

* * * * *

Keri, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us today. I think i'm going to get that Sol Lewitt quote tattooed on my arm…

You can read other Creative Life interviews here

~ My Creative Life: Abigail Percy ~


It is a pleasure to welcome my next Creative Life interviewee today as I have long admired Abigail Percy's work as a designer jeweller. Working from her studio in Glasgow she creates the most dazzlingly intricate pieces inspired by natural forms and the world around her. Her latest adventure involves textile design created with her other half, fellow jeweller Ryan (Mister) Bell – their newly launched  blog, Abigail*Ryan, will be chronicling their journey into business together. Abigail's own exquisite work can be found in her online shop and Etsy store.

Friends, please welcome the lovely Ms Percy…

SC: Could you tell us about your path into this career? Why jewellery?

AP: My path into jewellery has been fairly straight-forward. I have known I wanted to go to art school, to be an artist or designer, my whole life, and was raised in a very creative and supportive environment so there were no barriers to fulfilling my dreams and them feeling achievable. I left high school a little early so I could prepare a solid portfolio for applying to Glasgow School of Art, and chose jewellery and silversmithing out of all the design disciplines because I felt it would be the most solid 'career' move within the arts (‘people will always want jewellery’, I told myself!)  I was very torn, however, as I really love fashion and textiles (and adore ceramics), but, after four years of study I graduated and went straight into running my business at the age of 21. Four and a half years later, I am still going…

Please describe a typical day – do you have many routines?

My days vary enormously. However, I do have a few routines set in place… The first thing I do when I wake up is check my emails. Like the very sad person I am, I sleep with my laptop in the same room, so I can wake up and take a quick peek and then decide if I can turn over for a little more sleep before starting the day!

As soon as I am up I make breakfast, and then sit down to answer emails – check my bloglines and have a little browse online. I don't like to start work very early ideally (11am at the earliest) so I will talk to my mister for a while and make some plans for the day and browse online for some inspiration.

After this slow and lazy start it's usually several solid hours in the workshop, working at the bench in a rush to make it to the post office for 5pm! I really enjoy the power-walk down to my local post office and the slow stroll home. I might need to continue working when I get home so head straight back, or go to the shops en route back home for some nice groceries for dinner and call it a night at that and just get stuck in to some personal time… perhaps a bit of blogging, or just hanging out with a DVD or relaxing with Mister Bell if we are together.


I read on your blog that you rarely wear jewellery (not even your own?) – why is this?

{*Laughing*} people are always shocked when I reveal this, perhaps I should keep quiet on this one? Honestly though, I work from home, so most of the time it's just a mixture of practicality and laziness. I don't get very dressed up on a day-to-day basis. Things are quite pared down, and the workshop can be a dirty place, so the little the better – and, from a safety point of view, I don't like working with rings or necklaces on, for example. And even when I am 'out' I look at jewellery so much I am sometimes all jewelleried out. I like to put importance on each piece I wear, so would only wear one item at a time anyway. However if I am getting dressed up, or attending a work event, I will of course wear my own work!

I also have two little necklaces that are my favourite fall-backs; I love them so much I rarely wear anything else actually – simple gold chains hung with coral apple and  jade leaf charms, a bezel set opal and a opaque pink sapphire in 18ct gold that my grandparents sourced parts of when they lived in Iran, and some when my parents visited Tenerife on holiday before I was born. They have real sentimental value for me, so I think that is important when wearing jewellery too.

When starting a new piece, how do you begin to gather your ideas?

Photography, always photography! I love to get outside with my camera and photograph leaves, foliage, flowers, or collect little bits and pieces and bring them home to press. I find it really important and inspiring to start with original imagery and then draw, trace and design from there… it's my favourite part of the whole process, actually. Stumbling across and waiting to find the perfect motif is the thing that keeps me turned on to designing the most.


What’s your favourite material to work with and why?

Jewellery-wise, sheet sterling silver (1mm thick) – it's good to saw, and I use an incredibly fine blade so I can almost draw into the metal and get a hand-drawn voice into the piece as much as I can (even though most people assume I laser-cut everything!)

For drawing and designing, my favourite tools are a 0.1 black fiber tip pen and a Moleskine sketchbook. I love my Canon EOS 300D too, so I think my eye and viewfinder are truly my most favourite materials at my disposal!

Could you tell us more about your collaboration with Mister Bell?

My boyfriend Ryan Bell (of DesireLines) and I decided some time ago that we wanted to collaborate together. Over time this has evolved into starting a new business together – one that combines our shared love of textiles and pattern design. Taking drawings and illustrations, my love for styling, photography and marketing, and Mister Bell's brilliant graphic design skills and sewing talents and eye for colour combinations, we decided a home-wares label was the perfect place for us to direct our new brand.

And so Abigail*Ryan is born!

We are working incredibly hard right now to finish our first collection of pattern designs (which will be applied to all sorts of goodies from cushions to table-dressings) and screen printed tea-towels. We also have many other items, perfect for gifting, in the pipeline but think some of those may launch after Christmas, but we will debut the main items of home-ware before then! It is so exciting for us to see the drawings finally take shape as repea
t patterns, and as this has long been a dream of mine, I am especially over the top right now!

I am very lucky to be able to work with Ryan on this project. We are currently separated by this Irish sea, me residing in Glasgow (Scotland), him in Belfast (Northern Ireland), so we do lots of city-hopping, working on the new home-wares business in Belfast mainly where Ryan has his textiles studio, and both working in my jewellery studio when in Glasgow. With three businesses between us there is a lot to do, but being able to work alongside my love* is a real privilege – we always have a good time, and there is a lot of laughter and fun which helps temper any stressful times perfectly!

* he is laughing and calling me a soppy wench right now ;)


What books/music/artists/blogs etc do you love? Could you share some recommendations?

Music-wise at the moment I am loving: Camera Obscura, Bat for Lashes, Florence and the Machine and I have not grown tired of Adele's album, 19, which I have been listening to again and again for over a year and a half now.

Blogs I am finding especially enjoyable right now are: 3191, Nordljus, Post Secret, Le Love and Book by It's Cover.

A favourite artist of mine is Valerie Hammond, and I love the paintings by Elizabeth Schuppe – I would adore to own a piece by her one day.

Book-wise, I can't think of any novels to recommend right now, but I am about to embark on reading a beautiful leather bound collection of Jane Austen works, so I am looking forward to those. I also recently bought Sophie Dahl's new cookery book, which I loved, and Bill Granger's Feed Me Now! is fantastic too.

Which of your pieces are your favourites?

I recently made a brooch based on a beautiful Japanese threadleaf maple leaf I found last Christmas in California and pressed – it was a real challenge to pierce, and because it was so fine as a structure, it was a tough soldering job as all the thin areas could have easily melted. I was really pleased with the finished piece.

All the patterns we are working for for Abigail*Ryan are ranking pretty highly in my favourites stakes – I have wanted to branch into pattern design for a very long time, so am enjoying this, and working with Ryan, hugely.


Being self-employed can often mean you’re working 24/7 – how do you maintain a good work/life balance?

I'm not sure that I do! I've always said that I think one of the problems with being a creative person is that as soon as your eyes are open, that's it, you're working!

There are certainly parts of my year when I work far too much, like Christmas, for example. But this does balance out with quieter times. But when the work is there, sometimes there is not much balance to be found and you just have to get on with it.

I think family, friends and the mister are all good things to have in my life; they make sure you stop, even when you don't seem to have time to, and focus on the simpler things in life – cooking, eating, travelling, wee days out, cups of tea, good films – which, incidentally, are the best things too!

How has being online helped your business?

Being online had hugely helped my business. The exposure and domino effect of being involved in the blogging community has helped with the exposure of my work – and it's been a truly fantastic way for me to meet designers in my field and make great friends to boot!

The point at which I started selling almost exclusively direct, and online, was the turning point for my business becoming financially viable – so I am extremely glad I made the leap and did something a little out of the ordinary for the time, and for my field in the UK.


Where do you see yourself in five years time – personally and/or professionally?

Ooh, this is a hard one! Hopefully, I will still be working in the creative field and for myself – and I would love for Abigail*Ryan to be doing very well and in some major stores around the world.

Personally, I would like to be in the position to finally own my own home (I would love to renovate a property, for example) and be a little more solvent! I hope to still be happy and in love, and healthy too.

You're having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?

I'm actually a little bit shy, so the idea of a dinner party with complete strangers is a little bit terrifying! However, I think the following would be lovely to spend some time with and would make easy company… Mister Bell helped me compile my list as I got a little stuck, so these would be the six people we would enjoy cooking some nice food for…

Kirstie Allsopp – Mister Bell and I loved her recent TV series, Kirstie's Homemade Home – she is so passionate about handmade goods from the UK and wears the loveliest dresses ever!

Nigella Lawson – I think she would make very witty conversation, and if nothing else would be a treat to look at!

Robert Winston – I think he would be a hugely entertaining guest, and a very interesting person to meet.

Rolf Harris – I love him with all my heart – pure and simple.

Felicity Kendal – circa The Good Life.

Ben Fogle – he's brilli

…and we think this would make the most bizarre, UK-centric dinner party ever! But in truth, these are just the people we want to be.

* * * * *

Thank you so much for giving us a peek into your world today, Abigail. Please set a place for me at the table, I'll be gate-crashing your dinner party!