A project to reboot the creative mind

Screenshot of the first image for my challenge - a dried poppy seed head

My first #shaysimageaday challenge image from Dec 2018

Pretty much every creative person will occasionally get stranded in the metaphorical doldrums, we suffer a creative block. The cause can be anything from tiredness, apathy or fear to events in our busy lives overtaking us. The solutions are many and books have been written about how to move beyond the block and regain our creativity.

Six months ago I found myself feeling creatively stymied, I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t drawing and I wasn’t making images. The circumstances that led me to that point are not important, the important thing is how I was able to more on. This post is an initial look at that process and how it has helped me. Should this approach help others then that would be a real bonus.

I decided in late December 2017 that to stimulate my mind and create something new to focus on I would set myself a challenge: every day I would make a brand new image and that image would be posted online on Instagram. The challenge would be called “#shaysimageaday” and I would use that hashtag on my posts. Images can be photographs (most of them are), drawings, prints or images made from words (as long as the words can create an image in the reader’s mind) and there is no target length for this challenge – as long a it is fun and I’m learning then I might as well keep going!

At first I expected the challenge might run for a few weeks. My very first post on the day I decided on the challenge was the poppy head pictured at the top of this article. There was no advance plan for the images and I generally decide on a subject during the day but strangely enough six months later I find myself posting images of poppy seed heads collected in the last few days from our garden. In the meantime there have been images of all sorts of man-made and natural objects and there have been plenty of shots taken outdoors. The latest image is shown here:

An image of a wild poppy seed head with others in the background being blurred

Wild poppy seed heads

The bottom line is that setting myself this challenge has really delivered as I hoped it would and I believe it has gone further than that and the personal and creative benefits have been, and continue to be of real value to me. A nice bonus is that I’ve amassed a collection of over 180 new images with which I am very pleased.

I’m sharing this post partly so that the challenge might offer some value to others as well.

In future posts on this blog I will show more examples of the images created and explain some of the methods I’ve used; meanwhile here area couple more of the images

A photo of my linocut print of Whitby Pier being carved

A photo of my linocut print of Whitby Pier being carved

A drawing from classic cars at Vintage Village in Stockport

A drawing from classic cars at Vintage Village in Stockport

Altrincham Word Fest – SWCT young people’s workshop – Sunday 13th May 2018 – 13:30-15:30

Two years ago I was invited by Steve Cooke of “All Across the Arts” to be part of a project called “Stories We Could Tell” in Rochdale. In two weeks time we’ll be bringing this exciting work to share in Altrincham.

You can book a place here

The project gives young people, who have experienced trauma of any kind, the opportunity to explore ways of telling their own stories in a pressure free and friendly environment. There are a number of professional creatives on hand to assist as required. We started out with a storyteller, a visual artist, a singer songwriter and myself an poet and writer. We have since benefitted from input from people working in acting, music, radio, journalism and animation as well as an art teacher and a guitar tutor.

So far we’ve seen young people tell their stories through songs, raps, poems, letters, visual art, animation, short film, photographic storyboards, videos, artwork, scripts, anime drawings and radio broadcasts. Currently several people are learning to play guitar and we have several longer pieces of work underway including a book-length fictional tale, a comic book story and a script for radio performance. The first young people to take part included some asylum seekers, some young people living in care and some who have mental health issues and at the end of the project several have become mentors for the next group which is a wonderful example of the power of positive support and creativity.

We meet at Vibe on Monday evenings and with facilities including a radio studio, recording studios, plenty of musical instruments, lots of space to relax or work and a range of art materials on hand. There are plenty of snacks provided and the professional coffee machine provides not only great hot drinks but the opportunity for some of the young people to be trained as baristas.

We can’t bring all of this to Altrincham for one afternoon but we will bring some of the people, lots of the ideas and the ethos to the Stories We Could Tell workshop for young people as part of the Altrincham Word Fest.

Along with Matt George (animator, droid maker, artists and technocrat) we will share some of the great experiences from the SWCT project in Rochdale to Open Studios in Altrincham as part of the Altrincham Word Fest and we will give people the opportunity to start to explore their own stories and the support and guidance to get underway – who knows where this will lead….

It will be interesting, it might be emotional, it might be entertaining; it is guaranteed to be fun!

You can find out more about SWCT on our brand new website here

Poem and photo in The Bolton Review 2018

Mono photo of an old pocket watch without hands

Last year I was delighted that one of my poems and a photograph were selected for inclusion in the Bolton Review so I am doubly delighted that some of my work has been selected for publication for a second year.

The Bolton Review is a student led creative arts magazine from the University of Bolton – you can find more about the production and the beautifully printed magazine here.

As studied for my PGCE at Bolton University in 2007 and to be recognised among those who have studied creative writing and visual arts at the University is particularly pleasing.

With a first degree in science (ecology) from the University of Lancaster and having worked in IT for about 20 years a career change to work creatively with images and words felt like a massive and risky change. In reality it felt like coming home, using the same creative thought processes to solve problems with IT, find ways to teach people new systems and finding new ways to express ideas are really much more similar than one might imagine. Inclusion in the Bolton Review beautifully links the scientific and creative sides to my careers.

The works to appear will be my poem “A short walk” and my photograph “Timeless” which is pictured here. The Bolton Review 2018 will launch at Bolton Central Library next week please click here for further information and tickets

Modus Operandi – a reunion exhibition for Bolton PGCE group

Today’s opening of a new exhibition titled “Modus Operandi” in the Gallery at St George’s House, Bolton, was an apt reunion for some of the students who completed our PGCE courses at The University of Bolton 10 years ago (or a little over) was a great reunion event as well as the launch of an exhibition to be proud of.

The exhibited work includes paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and a book and gives a good feel for the wide range of artists who came to Bolton in 2006 to train as teachers and we are delighted to be joined in the exhibition by Mary Rudkin who had been one of our tutors in the course.

The work currently exhibited include; paintings by curator Jonathan Hughes, a book by Tom Baskeyfield, photography by Irena Siwiak Atamewan, Emma Dunne, Claire Massey and myself, sculpture from Paul Gilmore and mixed media from our former course tutor Mary Rudkin. A few images below give a feel for the content – if you are in Bolton it is certainly worth a visit.

Pictures of the exhibited artworks

I had been asked some time ago if I’d do a poetry reading at the launch and had happily agreed. Today as I looked at my poems, ready to start my reading, I remembered how much more challenging it can be to read in front of people you know, especially if you know each other from some role in life other than poetry.

Photo of Seamus reading his poetry at the event

Poetry at Modus Operandi launch

With that trepidation echoing through me I cleared my throat, introduced myself and told the audience what I was about to do and introduced my first poem “Seahorses” to be followed by a specially adapted poem just for this event “and finally “Different Dad” for a little bit of fun.

I was really pleased by the reception my work received and spent a while answering lots of questions about the poems, my writing in general and about workshops, writing groups and so on.

Gallery manager, Emma Kelly, spoke to me about the possibility of using the venue to run some of my creative writing and possibly other creative workshops so watch this space for potential announcements in the not too distant future.

A sad withdrawal from adult education teaching in colleges

This blog usually concentrates on my work as a poet including running workshops etc. Readers may not be aware that I’m also a teacher and have produced and delivered many successful college courses mainly focusing on photography and electronic imaging.

I love teaching photography as much as I love running writing workshops. The feeling when people learn something new, gain new insights and develop ideas of their own is priceless. Unfortunately the paltry price that colleges put on such teaching is now untenable.

It is with real sorrow that I’ve watched the decline in adult college courses, the appalling lack of funding and of course the loss of teachers from the sector.

So if I’m saddened why is it that I’m no longer teaching photography in colleges?

Well, way back in 1987, 30 years ago, I was able to earn £17 per hour teaching IT skills to adults in evening or weekend classes (I wasn’t even a qualified teacher then). Recently the going rate has been dropping year on year. Now, 30 years on, I’ve received a recruitment email from a Leeds based organisation looking for a photography teacher to run a course for adults for 2 hours a week on Saturdays for 8 weeks. It’s the kind of course I’ve run numerous times but my hat is definitely not in the ring, not for the current going rate of £17.70 per hour!

I write all of my own materials, use my own sample photos and update my previous materials to meet current standards in digital photography and provide specialist equipment for the sessions. Before every session I plan and prepare and when I get home I will review how the session has gone. For this 16 hour course I’d spend at least 12 hours preparing and reviewing. I’d spend 2 hours each session travelling and I’d arrive before and leave after the students. My total time commitment would be 48 hours.

If I take away the cost of petrol (about £50 in this case) and then Tax/NI (another £70) I’ll be left with as little as £3.40 per hour.

Frankly that is really insulting.

I am outraged that it is now considered reasonable to pay experienced professionals who are also qualified teachers so badly. It is even more outrageous when the fees charged to the students are not still at 1987 levels. How outrageous is it then that colleges can value providing useful education so poorly.

I’m not generally one to give up.

I really want colleges to be successful, I really miss the time when colleges provided a truly wide and inspirational training for local people.

So, much as it goes against the grain, in the future my photography training will be delivered privately rather than through colleges!