Vision & Reality

Making it better

Having a vision and dealing with reality: Fred’s advice to budding artist craftsmen

It’s the dark world of serious craftspeople and you have to survive it. What’s it like?

A Brueghel reproduction, perhaps. The morbid look. A stiff party. It’s dark with little 12-volt downlighters, people in monochrome. The place is full of designers and critics and the paparazzi of the furniture world. We overhear weighty conversations; we join in for a bit of blaggy chat. "Are you busy?” : “What are you doing now?” Little knots of people are whingeing. Aloof young chicks in cool costumes offer round canapés and sushi. There’s a dull speech by a civil servant, not quite enough wine, but a smattering of people who drank most of it, blushing from the booze, gushing with insincerity.

Look closely and the scene becomes a ‘where's Wally’ cartoon, a flat photo with a hundred little faces of people in the furniture world staring out at you. And on the back a numbered outline drawing of the same picture, with the numbers listed in a corresponding Who's Who directory.

Suddenly a football match breaks out. A crowd of supporters cheer as the teams crash through the Breughel tableau, knocking over the sushi-chicks and spilling some plastic cups full of cabernet. One team, the plucky underdogs hoping to make their mark, are bravely shod in sandals, with dusty aprons on and shinpads bristling with splinters: behind them, drilled to perfection by their ruthless new manager, wearing Armani seersucker with haircuts and definitely the favorites… always an exciting fixture, it’s Craftsmen Wanderers vs Product Designers United.

But what’s this? The referee’s getting undressed. He’s pulling off his shorts and putting on some shiny green tights. He’s ripped off his jersey and there’s a cape underneath. Oh gracious, oh no, it can’t be! it’s… it’s… it’s… CAPTAIN VENEER!

Captain Veneer, the mysterious man of furniture. Captain Veneer, guardian of the dovetail and defender of the bevel-edged chisel. His tools gleam in the floodlights, his trusty pencil is tucked in readiness behind his ear; his face is an impenetrable mask of sawdust. Created by a cosmic mishap involving a radioactive router, he exists to tirelessly

bang the joint home, put the tongue in the groove and make it a tight fit. His mission is to venerate the largest plant on earth, to save all the trees from being turned into paper. And through it all he courts his beloved, Miss Quotes from Philosophy-ville. But as he tries to impress her, as he puts all his powers into being contemporary, he feels the earth beneath his feet quake and shift; land masses move as the plate tectonics of art and design suffer the displacements and eruptions of time. There is no end in sight for Captain Veneer, but nevertheless he strides forward, confidently facing the future.

The Captain’s youth was an extended springtime, unbroken by either decision or direction and unhindered by having to provide for a family at too early a stage. This was due in part to an ignorance of personal hygiene, and if you had experienced his room you too would wonder how on earth he ever scored babes. But luck (and superhuman woodworking powers born of an interstellar destiny) kept his predators at bay. It was a time when the grown-ups somehow managed to lose grip of the steering wheel and let their foot slip on the accelerator, and the energy of the youth engine revved up to such a pitch that there was an almighty explosion. The subsequent ripple effect sprinkled creativity particles into all sorts of places, giving the gift of self-expression to the masses.

This was Captain Veneer’s big bang and, like the cosmological one, the explosion fragmented whatever preceded it, creating hundreds of thousands of people doing their own thing. Pop music boomed, applied arts ignited. Even mathematics and the sciences felt the blast, with inspired mathematicians and electronic engineers rocketing mankind from the machine age into the unknown of the binary universe.

In his formative years, a career was low on the agenda for Captain Veneer. His folks, unaware of his superhero powers, suggested he study architecture 'cos at least that was academic' But he was never one for academia. It seemed a dry old pursuit where nothing got done, just endlessly talked about.

He might have become involved in music - it would have been a blissful cure for his inane whistling. He could have pursued a career as a dentist – then perhaps he'd have taken better care of his teeth. He went some way towards being a fine artist, but no person was evangelical enough, no situation inspiring enough, to divert him from his one true purpose. It was fate that made him who he was. He was conjured by the mystic forces of burred walnut and biscuit joints. He really did want, had always wanted and still wants to be… Dude… seeker of the holy grain, Captain Veneer.

Capo planned the way forward. "When it starts to smell bad move on." He trusted his intuition and kept his overheads low. As a lad he never toed the line but worked hard and was prolific. The Captain eschewed history. "I'm of the here and now! What do I need the then for?," he thought in his naivety. "It will only serve to make the pool of inspiration murky". So he never attended his Art History lessons and only sought inspiration from information of the modern age. Starting point 1/1/1900, the Twentieth Century.

He similarly applied this faulty logic to the subjective issue. If I’m creating new ideas in contemporary furniture what point is there in looking at and being influenced by other furniture. Those who browse design and furniture magazines for ideas are ripoff merchants. He made a point of saying to himself “I could...” rather than “I should...” That way he didn't go round feeling guilty all the time or become too obsessed. Although he should have been up earlier in the mornings, then he could have got more done (he slept perchance to dream).

Cap’n V has always been a doing person more than a thinking one. Not that he doesn't think, but he thinks in order to make. In Veneer World intuition, visual observation and experimentation play a greater role than is fashionable in today’s design education.

Although he never showed it, he was aware of someone watching out for him. He never questioned who that was, but he felt their presence – he had been force-fed religion, but he was practical and down to earth and didn’t have much time for omming with the alternatives. Despite this, he kept an alliance with mysticism, other-worldliness and the supernatural because they coexisted with science fiction and the business of picturing the future. In fact his mysterious provider was Lady Luck. Her subliminal guidance saw to it that he was in the right place at the right time. She came to the rescue when all seemed in vain, and on occasion rained down good fortune to recharge his batteries.

His became a life of feast and famine full of adventure, never in the same place for too long. A journey with endless ports of call where the currency exchange was his energy and enthusiasm for their knowledge, services and provisions. As he journeyed he spun his web and trapped skills in a myriad of bug-like forms. He devoured them and in so doing they became part of his make-up.

He dodged criticism and confused his regulators. They tried to silence him with study; told him that intuitive creativity, disassociative inventive ability and gut feeling was on the way out; tried to make him read books and embrace academia. But the good Captain, sitting among the chippings of his Workbench of Solitude, set up his parameters, wrote his briefs and continually addressed his manifesto of intent. He countered with such cosmic truths as:

If it feels good, do it.
Intuition rules.
Let the force be with you.
If this isn't flying, at least it’s falling with style.
And his old ’70s chestnut… Form Swallows Function!

The Captain’s adventures continue to this day. Wherever there’s a knotty problem, he’ll saw through the air, brandishing his tool belt, carving a rough-cut kerf through his enemies and hitting the nail on the head. So settle down for the following installment (and don’t miss next year’s exciting episode).

Being in the moment

I try to be a man of my time – making objects of my time, using and reflecting upon the technology, imagery and other issues of now. My hope is that in the future, when people look at my furniture, they'll say, "turn of the millennium stuff, spanning the late industrial-early digital divide". I don't think I've made my best piece yet or I'd stop and do something a little more lucrative. Although so saying, with the dawning of this new milllennniuuummm there's an increased interest in the contemporary (and about bloody time too). As we pass into the 21st century, making objects of now is becoming more financially viable. It's a golden age for the creation of new galleries and museums, all of which need fitting out and filling up, and people seem keen to purchase a memento of the moment, with an increasing number of them eager to live in modern surroundings.

This new affection for the present can be seen in the arts themselves. The zeitgeist currently floating around is happily soaking up inspiration from contemporary science. With theory and imagery ripe for the plucking, everything from pharmaceuticals to particle physics is getting dragged, often screaming and kicking, into any form of art you fancy. So why not put your coin in the slot, press the green button, and play the game of science as art?

The kids at my daughters' school called me Einstein. Not because I've shocked them with my intellect, rather because what little hair I've got is long, grey and sticky-outy. But being confused with the great man of science set me pondering some of the issues he considered. Who do you know that can explain Einstein's theory of relativity?

What exactly does E=MC2 mean and why is it significant for the artist or craftsman?

"Hey Einstein ! Do you know what the time is?"

"Time is the continuous passage of existence in which events pass from a state of potentiality in the future, through the present, to a state of finality in the past; an identity of perpetual change often referred to as the fourth dimension."

Einstein taught us that everything is relative. So we should take note of how one thing varies compared to another. What he was getting at is: time is not just a regular tick-tock thing. You must have noticed it going too fast or slowing down sometimes – there's never enough of it when you're enjoying yourself, and there's far too much of it when you're watching a bad movie. Time can stop still. You can kill it, you can turn back its hands. Everyone experiences different types of time and being aware of this is a great help in life. Objective time is linear, with a firm foundation in reality. In the subjective world of dreams, vision and personal experience, on the other hand, time is more elastic: it shrinks or expands depending on the dream/adventure/experience/task to hand.

Me mate Bob and I have been kicking around these ideas, talking up a project where we'd make and present a multidimensional triptych. One element would be a two-dimensional object, another would be three-dimensional, then – and this is the one we're having the fun with – there'd be a third object which is somehow four-dimensional. We thought about video, film, sound: anything that moves or contains an event that happens periodically. Finally we were captivated by an iron railing embedded in a tree trunk. The intersection where the tree had slowly grown around the metal seemed a perfect expression of frozen time.

Mind you, we haven't got round to making anything yet. We haven't found the time.

Writing a manifesto

In the early part of the last century, there was a feeling that art was powerful enough to have an effect on the 'real' world outside the gallery. Artists believed Art was part of progress. And furthering the idea that Art was going places, commentators and critics grouped it into movements, and politicians jumped aboard. During this volatile period – complete with wars, revolutions and stuff – artists wrote manifestos to set out their world-altering intentions. At the same time as they were bringing Art into the fight against imperialism, the Russian Constructivists and Cubo-Futurists also published magazines and spent long hours setting down their aims in print.

Such manifesto-writing, discussing your artistic aims in public, is today dismissed as a historical quirk, forever associated with that golden period of the avante-garde. However, manifesto-writing, in some form or another, should be a necessity. Whether you write it down, talk it over, or just think about it in the bath, putting your cards on the table about what you're doing is the best way to get better at it. Without an understanding of where you're going, you might go round in some interesting circles, but you'll find it much harder to get anywhere.

Contemporary artists shy away from making declarations of intent. Concerned with being individual (because part of being creative is being different), they don't want to offer any ammunition to those who might compare them with others or corral them into a 'movement'. This silence has the added benefit of shrouding their work in a veil of enigma. But be assured they do have a personal manifesto, even if they keep it close to their chests. The best artists are warriors on superhero missions, and you can bet that they've each got a good idea of their particular objectives. All creative people should find time to stop and think about what they're actually doing. If nothing else, it's important for motivation. If you're aware of your mission, you're much more likely to get on with it.

Even if you deny you're working to a program, the fact is, you are. Your work is an expression of vast numbers of subliminal influences. Information comes at you from all sides and creativity is the act of filtering and shuffling this information into something original. The way your experiences come together through your brain and hand is how uniqueness is cultivated. It’s a basic drive of human kind. And the more you understand your creative process, the more professional you and your creations become.

This is probably a matter of experience. The wisdom that comes with age is just having a better understanding of your own processes. You might start by living on your wits and creating things using raw intuition, but sooner or later you're going to build an awareness of what the hell you're doing – and why. Of course if you are not au fait with the why of what you do when you do it, provided you give it time you can work up a story afterwards by giving reason to your intuition that sounds convincing. This isn’t actually as facetious as it sounds because as you endeavour to look for the meaning in what you have produced, so you can begin to better understand your particular process.

Doing it

Understanding what you're doing is important, but so is doing itself. Nevertheless, learning by doing is falling out of fashion, and Art education is becoming increasingly academic. Up until the mid-1960s, the arts and crafts were lower-order pathways to be followed by academic under-achievers. Since then a long, slow battle has been fought to up their profile and make them more academically acceptable – to make a qualification in art count for as much as one in Maths or English. In doing this the practical content has severely diminished. This change was encouraged by economics. It's certainly cheaper to teach theory. Pens and paper cost much less than lorry-loads of wood, nobody cuts themselves and the cleaners get home in time for Eastenders.

So now at Art college, they teach you the theory and the hustle, the how and the how-to-sell, but not the craft itself. The status of an Art education has been raised, but at the expense of hands-on ability. Consequently, although courses with a high practical content are still the most popular, gaining traditional craft skills has become far less fashionable.

The idea that you're learning something practical has gone – when you study Art you're now learning something conceptual.

People have always been attracted to an Art education because it's so individualistic: "I'm an artist, dahling". And being all conceptual and enigmatic plays to people's vanity. If you can express your exciting individuality through raw ideas, learning practical skills which thousands before you have already mastered doesn't seem so attractive.

In the rush to teach theory over practice, a great deal is being lost. The door is shutting on the non-verbally-skilled community. The kind of people who traditionally were channeled into the arts are now thwarted because of its intellectualisation. There are many ways of being bright that aren't verbal, but unless we reclaim part of the Art world for the practical folk, the only career path left for them is to be a footballer or a Spice Girl.

The very meaning of creativity is shifting – from a time-based doing process (the age-old craft model), to an image-based decision-making process, the kind favored by designers and marketers. We used to learn how to see. We were taught what to understand from what we beheld. I still find I can see more with a pencil in my hand. When I read a book I like to make notes in the margin and underline words or passages that particularly grab me. In a similar way I use my pencil when looking at things. You can only look at something for so long before your attention span is broken. But if you start drawing your muse, you look actively instead of passively, your concentration alters time and you increase your understanding of what you're looking at. As you lay bare proportion, structure and composition, you'll often find deeper secrets. All through a basic hand-to-eye skill. No-one says you need to draw to be an artist, but being able to draw might make you a better artist. It is undoubtedly an enriching process.

Personally I find it handy to be handy. I learnt many of my skills because of the frustration of not getting exactly what I expected when I've asked others to make something for me. Even if you dot every i and cross every t, you can bet that the person making an object for you will understand your brief a little bit differently from you. This is probably one reason why the more we move towards a made-by-others culture, the more simplistic ideas are becoming – the simpler the brief, the less room for misunderstandings (not to mention the fact that simpler is cheaper).

Digitising it

Over the last 20 years the computer has become the dominant tool in practically every endeavour. It has democratised the possession of basic skills in all core fields of occupation. And with that gift comes an apparent confidence and freedom which is

bound to generate an entirely new culture. The mouse and the keyboard are the hand tools of the new millennium. For many people using a computer is as hands-on as using a pencil. The tool has changed, but if you're fluent in the program, many of the processes are the same.

But beware! The computer has the creative world by the throat. Laurie Anderson has devoted many years to expressing herself through computer enhancement and has taken its newness to symbolise the front line of the contemporary. Yet now even she has come to think of the computer as too restricting. Because actually it’s the software writer who calls the shots. He sets the parameters, the rigid boxes within which the artist must work.

Remember that for all their scope, computer programs are no more than encodings of the previous generations’ experience. Unless artists can afford to pay for their own software development, or push and pervert their software far beyond its expected parameters, they must accept having their role as author/composer downgraded to performer.

Nevertheless the computer is undoubtedly enabling; an enormous great bag of tools for dealing with future and past alike. It reblurs the boundary between the theoretical and the practical. People who couldn't spell now can, people who can't draw now can, and ditto for maths. Complex geometry and compound angles are mapped out with ease. The right-angle is no longer necessarily the simplest solution to making a box. But keep using that pencil – it’s the shortest route from your brain to an image.

Bit-maps and pixels are rapidly replacing cogs and components, and as the old guard battles to make the transfer, the young are steadily empowering themselves through their already symbiotic relationship with the computer. The digital is at the core of our new society. It was thought to be labour saving but is in fact all consuming – although it has speeded up an enormous number of dull tasks. Whole lives, ideas and thoughts can be imprinted on a disc – but beware, they can also be erased in a second.

I’ve been involved with computers since the early ’80s, working, as far as possible, with people whose creativity in programming matches that of my furniture-creating skills. Using a computer, your experience is gained through the virtual rather than the physical, and as our culture becomes increasingly computerised, mine is probably the only generation to have enjoyed the benefit of having ideas through both.

Computers have so heightened the concept of the virtual that it is now itself an artform, a creative end product, and I can spend hours manipulating forms and structures in all sorts of ways, all in coloured cathode rays on the top of my desk. The technology exists in big-budget areas like architecture and the automotive industry to go directly from a design on a monitor screen to a hard-copy prototype. There is a long way to go before such toys are sitting in my studio, but having dabbled once or twice, I can’t wait to do more.

Working it out

Academic teaching creates people who want to make their mark through ideas. Now this would be fine if they just went off and wrote books, but they don't, they still want to be artists, and this means expressing their ideas through objects. However, having neglected their practical education, they don't have the skills needed to turn their ideas into things of any quality. The result is we're left with too many ideas, not enough good objects.

It takes a lot to make a great object that expresses something profound or original. So you have an idea. Eureka! But it is still just that – a notion. Before it should become hard copy it needs fattening up, and this you can only do through the investment of time. Research, development, modelling-up, test-driving, trying out on your friends and so on. If you spend plenty of time chewing it over, by the time it's a stand-alone thing it is likely to embody a whole shedload of thought and reasoning.

However, artists trained to work to the 'problem-solving' model favored by more academic courses will be far less inclined to spend time developing their objects than those who've learned about Art through the slow accrual of craft skills. If they've been trained to be conceptual, for them the importance resides in the idea, not the object, never mind that a well-considered object will transmit the same idea far better than one made hastily.

Regardless of what you put into your work, and despite your hopes that the viewer will thoroughly understand what you are presenting, a twist or shift is inevitable between the ideas you transmit and what is received. Whatever your aspirations for your art to communicate and animate your thoughts, the work has to stand alone. You might be there at your piece's first showing, or during a magazine interview about it, but after that, it's on its own. A viewer is free to interpret it in any way they like.

Even if the artist stood next to his piece for the whole of his life, explaining to every onlooker exactly what he meant by it, there'd still be room for different understandings. The artist's explanation would be just as open to interpretation as the object itself. I once went to an Italian opera and, not knowing the story or language, took it to be about incest and murder. I remember being deeply moved, only to find out later that the fat guy with the beard was actually married to the skinny girl less than half his age and she committed suicide when she found him being unfaithful with the woman I had thought was her mum.

In a similar way a piece of mine inspired by the power of Egyptian mythology and the mystery of the pyramids was perceived by a high flying journalist to embody upside-down wheelbarrowness.

Remember, most people use their eyes for reading, recognising the familiar, and not bumping into things. They don't really trust eyesight to tell them anything new. People often say they don't understand this modern art stuff. Such insecurity has led galleries to flood their premises with written information, to the point where - for example - in the Tate there are small essays next to each exhibit. In many cases the blurb is bigger and more commanding than the work of art itself. If you make a point of watching the punters as they pass through the gallery, you'll see them spend several minutes reading about the exhibit, only to glance momentarily at the actual piece before moving on to the next board of text.

People's fear of the unknown is instinctive, but I still side with the 'no explanation' lobby. Let people see and understand what they will. It makes for a richer more varied sort of life. Vague and unsure is more risky and risk is exciting.

Ask yourself these questions.

Do you gamble and take risks?
Will you continue to do so as you get older?.
Do you live from day to day
Do you plan ahead?
Are you a list maker?
If you see something you admire, does it fire you up?
Do you suffer from a fear of failure?
Is that fear a driving force?
Could you steal an idea and make it your own?
Do you call that being inspired?
Where are the lines between inspiration, emulating, copying, stealing?
Would you feel cross if somebody copied you?
Or flattered?
Do you have heroes?

And these

Are you making objects of your time? Can you tick the box marked ‘Design for production’? Is it really the romance of woodworking that turns you on? Perhaps your drive is to become famous and there’s not as much competition in the furniture arena as there is in others. Maybe your Dad did it before you, or your teacher turned you onto it. Is it a habit, a lifestyle or a career?

You might be meticulous or you may be passionate; disorganised and committed; efficient but easily distracted. There are those who are gifted and lazy, and those who are crap but have the gift of the gab. What type are you? Does your work fight with, or complement your character? Is your ambition your driving force or your stumbling block?

Knowing your reasons

"What's my motivation?" as the actress said...

Why make Art?

You create things for your own reasons, be they simple or complex, so the first person you should seek approval from is yourself. Do you know why you're doing it?

You may intend your creations to carry a message, to illustrate a point or to prove a theory. Perhaps you want to enlighten your audience in some way, or maybe you just want to shock them, poke fun at them or make them laugh. Are you trying for a disapproving sucking-in through the teeth, or a smug 'hmmm' of mildly amused understanding? In most of these cases, for the sake of clarity your piece will probably become more illustrative. Or are you just trying to look clever? In this case it may well pay to be obscure. (Making oblique objects is a nice little loophole for us academic underachievers to succeed and be up there with the smart Alecs).

Do you want to make good Art, or just be recognised as a famous artist? Plenty of people think that fame is something to chase for itself, rather than a reward for successful endeavor. Our current culture is obsessed with celebrity. Tabloid attitudes have won out and any publicity is good publicity. When I was a boy and someone asked me, "and what do you want to be when you grow up?" it wasn't enough to answer, "I want to be famous". Celebrity status was not a goal in itself, it was awarded to those who achieved something in their chosen field.

This shift has made attention-grabbing skills a powerful weapon in the battle for success. We are now taught that self-promotion is an important part of being an artist. It’s even losing its slightly grubby image. But artistic pursuit was always an attention-seeking activity. So even if you're shy and selfconscious, choosing to be an artist means signing up to be a gladiator in that arena.

People do similar things with different intentions. I make furniture, and those who join that particular field do so for a variety of reasons. Everyone interacts with furniture, so when we encounter a piece of it, even the layman has an opinion. We might evaluate it in terms of basic practicality, or with a comparative or historical perspective; we all have a notion of what we like, what could be improved and developed, and what the future might hold.

The distinction in my world is between those with a product designer’s point of view and those who consider themselves artists and craftsmen. Product design is commercial, it’s about meetings and planning and mass-production. The craftsman, on the other hand, is concerned with learning skills and expressing himself through his creations.

So ask yourself: are you making this object to edge your way into a career as a product designer? In which case you’re probably busy filling it with attention-grabbing features with which to attract industry and investors for mass production. Or are you making this object to say something? In which case it may well be some kind of Art.

Motivation comes in many shades, the important thing is to maintain your integrity, to feel you’re doing the right thing. Whatever field of endeavour you choose, from software writer to soft shoe shuffler, you should sift through your thoughts and ponder your personal philosophy. That way when someone comes up to you at some function and asks you what you do, as they invariably will, you can tell them. And make it sound interesting. After all you must display some passion for what you do. Otherwise you’ll leave them thinking you’re just the fella to put up that shelf in their pantry.


You must have noticed recently how people are always asking, "Are you busy?" Its the new, “Hello how are you?” greeting of the business community. I hate it. Of course it’s supposed to be a rhetorical question, the answer being, "Oh yes stacked up."

"Fine thanks", I’ll reply, though I’d prefer to say, "Who wants to be busy? I hate being busy". But the fact of the matter is, there’s a mountain of stuff to do – forever. Of course I'm fucking busy you prat. I work for myself. Tell me anyone who's self-employed who isn't. There's the ordering, the book keeping, the phone calls, the letters, the client visits, the planning ahead, the reviewing, the banking, the prospecting for future work, the arranging of exhibitions, the maintenance of buildings and machines, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. Then of course after work, or even during it, at home there’s the DIY, the ferrying of children to and fro, the lawn-mowing and gardening, car-maintenance, cooking, washing-up, the laundry. God knows how people manage to squeeze in going to the pub or watching TV. Is it any wonder so few people find time to be creative?

Every time I start a project I have high hopes and great intentions. I’m a hard worker although I often put off until tomorrow what I don't fancy doing today. I take things steady but keep myself busy. When there's some important thing to be done (and I’m sure most people have this same trouble) suddenly all sorts of mindless minor tasks spring up that desperately need attending to. Well beware of this ‘displacement activity’. The only way to combat this very common affliction is to have deadlines and stick to them.

If you want to make it in the field of making things, you need single-mindedness, determination – preferably without arrogance – and an inner confidence in the face of naysayers. As you move daily from revolutionary to money-maker, from dreamer through to day-to-day taskmaster, optimism must reign supreme. Never think, "Oooh, I daren't do that". Self-doubt must be defeated if you want to succeed. And once you've started something you mustn't give up till it’s done.

As a little boy in short trousers dawdling home from school I’d play a game. It was about the strength of positive imagination, about carving the world I wanted from the one I had. I used to say to myself… "If I beat that car to the next lamp post, my wish will come true", and then start running. I’m sure you’ve played a version of the same game. I still play variations today. Challenging myself to do better. It’s instinctive self-motivation. Only nowadays I race old ladies in electric wheelchairs.

For all of us, personality is a great soup concocted from stories, snippets, observations, and experiences, fed to us through newspapers, magazines, TV, books, films, criticism, fads and fashions, crazes, education, indoctrination and on and on and on… We digest all this, add it to our genetic make-up, and end up believing that we’re special, and that in some particular area, we can do well if we put our minds to it.

As we’re growing up and gathering the skills, tools, experiences and knowledge for life, so there is bound to be a bias to those influences that add to our inherited genes, and the resulting cocktail has a particular flavour, which is your destiny. So it ought to be that by the time it’s time to go with career options everyone has an on-board pre-programmed pathway. But so many people seem unsure of their way forward and drift into careers by default.

It's frowned upon nowadays to choose a career for its life qualities rather than its pecuniary rewards, but that’s the only real way to prevent work being something you don’t like doing. Are the financial demands on the young so strong that the need to work overrules the discovery of who they are and what they like doing? Is settling your future so urgent that your self-expression must be smothered? It is fundamental in almost every society that when you grow up you do something which provides for your livelihood. But if you want to release your full creative potential, resist as far as possible, for as long as possible, the urge to be secure.

Understand your strengths and weaknesses, so you can go with your flow and not swim upstream or against your own tides. Compare your plans with how things turn out, and use experience (both yours and others) to compile an inner do’s and don'ts list. Fight off the forces of evil: don’t be a slave to overheads, don’t admit to doing antique repairs, reproductions, kitchensdoorsandwindows, when you want to be doing something else. Have pride in what you do (and what you don’t do). Start as you mean to go on, because whatever you do you'll get a reputation for that.

Beware – you will have to endure feast and famine; remember while pigging out to take home a doggy-bag in case the wolf turns up outside your door. Deal with your customers very carefully. Don’t let them dilute your ideas, and watch the lure of patronage: they’ve come to you for your ideas, not for your sweat. Be more of a chef than a waiter. Go for grants – it’s free money you know! And make yourself enter competitions: they put your work in context and test your ideas. Aim to be second. You’ll get a decent prize but none of the aggro.

Living in the Present

Wisdom may be with the old but the energy is with the young. They provide the power and velocity while the wise should be at the helm. In my youth I was lucky to catch rides with many a good tour guide from whom I learned a great deal. Now that I’m older I hope I can offer some young whippersnapper a leg up and a kick in the pants.

As the saying goes: “Things ain't what they used to be”. I agree, they certainly ain’t. But that’s a tune for the old folks. Things are always moving on because it’s the duty of every generation to make their mark. This gives us flux not fix, an identity of perpetual change, something first proposed by the Greeks two and a half thousand years ago.

Because we occasionally don't understand, its all too easy to make the mistake of seeing different as worse, to deduce that things aren’t as good as they were. There’s an instinctive trait to resist change, even though we are now wholly immersed in a society led by the politics of change. I have to work hard to ignore my contemporaries when they start boasting how much better it was in their day. My best defence is to keep telling myself “This is still my time”.

Time plays tricks on us and gets up to all sorts of nonsense when we're not paying attention. Like a child it has to be monitored or it'll get up to some sort of caper. It has the chance to do that because we occupy the here and now, a sort of limbo-land between The Future – the unknown, the potentially scary, that which is only planned, a vision expected or hoped for; and The Past – where reality lies, that which has already happened, what we can look back and reflect upon.

Of course we look to the past – not necessarily to reiterate it but simply to see who's already done what, to understand issues which others have explored and charted for us. In this way, history is a pool, a lake, a sea of knowledge, though it must be remembered that it is written by winners about winners.

I suggest that the past, however comfy, is a prison for the artist. And the future, while offering us goals, aspirations, possibilities, visions, isn’t here yet. We can face either of these two territories, but the place we actually inhabit is the present.

So rejoice in the now, accept your fears and confront your destiny and like Superwoman you will defeat evil.

My experiences are not yours. What I hope for is not what you do. But I hope I’ve been able to communicate a little of what makes me excited about having ideas, nurturing them and using them to make things out of. I might not have explained myself fully, you might have misunderstood, or you might have been distracted by another of those bloody telephone sales calls. In fact, by the time you read this I might even have changed my mind about some of it.

Whatever happens, a few basic principles apply.

Question everything. Look to the future. Be positive,
Be realistic and above all be genuine.
Dream it, do it, get on with it. And good luck.