House Portraits

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Learning to use White Privilege

The last few weeks highlighted some major gaps in my knowledge and awareness of racism. Like many, this has been an awakening for me, to the fact that it’s not enough to be a non-racist and that I needed to be anti-racist, learn more and try to help make a change. I realised that I only had a fuzzy grey knowledge of what white privilege meant, and that I’d been pretty unaware of the injustice and oppression that happens in today's world.

There are ways to fit change-making into your life, even if you don’t have time or money to spare. Besides the fact that signing petitions for change take a matter of seconds, there are podcasts out there that you can listen to while you cook dinner and films on Netflix to help build your understanding. A little more background knowledge has helped to start seeing it around me and build my confidence to talk about it. 

A podcast I listened to*, on the subject of white privilege, led me to reading Peggy McIntosh’s essay from Working Paper 189 (1988). The essay is titled after McIntosh’s metaphor that ‘white privilege is like an invisible, weightless knapsack’ and she describes a ‘package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day’.  
* The podcast was Understanding White Privilege, by the National Association of School Psychologists.

The essay is just six pages long and includes a bullet point list of benefits that people of colour do not have. If you’re not sure where to start or are not a big reader, I highly recommend reading this essay to get an overall impression of what white privilege is. Peggy also has a Ted talk, which you can watch here - Peggy McIntosh: How to recognise your white privilege - and use it to fight inequality

I've spent a lot of time imagining being in someone else's shoes, over the last few weeks. Below are some of the images that rose to the surface for me after reading and hearing peoples stories. 

More than 90 years since their invention, dark skin coloured plasters (or ‘band-aids’ if you’re international) only came on to the market in the last few years. In March 2020, Tesco became the first UK supermarket to sell their own version, but I couldn’t find them being sold by the other major UK supermarkets or chemists. After searching, it’s my assumption that a person of colour couldn’t easily pop to their nearest shop or chemist and buy plasters to match their skin.

This made me think of the many times I’ve been caught without and had to go emergency plaster shopping, always on a day that I’ve needed to look smart or grown up. I foolishly trusted a new pair of shoes once on the first day of a new job and was in agony by 10am, after the tour of the building. I’ve cut my knee while shaving, when I’ve been about to go to a wedding and am attempting to look like a semi-glamorous grown up... and I've crouched in the stairwell of Boots in London to apply the plasters I’d just bought, on a day of important meetings in the wrong shoes (again) on a hot, sweaty day (they weren't even uncomfortable shoes, but my feet really don't cope well with the big smoke).

It might seem like a tiny thing, but those plasters did blend in with my skin and didn’t draw attention to my clumsiness or bad footwear choices. They were all times when I was already on display, aiming not to feel vulnerable and I didn’t need extra things to add to my social discomfort. 

I’ve seen personal references on social media about parents having to explain systematic racism to their children - for example, when their child has experienced racism at school or hasn't been able to buy a doll in a toy shop that looks like them. It's one of the things on Peggy McIntosh's list of privileges - she writes that white people don’t have to educate their children ‘to be aware of systematic racism for their own daily physical protection.’ 

It made me so sad to imagine a child finding out that the world they live in is oppressive and unjust. Does the parent try to empower the child that they could fight for change, knowing they may never win, or choose to save them the frustration by teaching them to adapt and accept the way things are? This is a choice that white parents are very privileged not to have to worry about.

I came across Chantell Marlow who has been sharing some of her experiences on Instagram. One was about makeup for darker skin tones being locked up in theft proof cases in the supermarket. I googled it and found more examples of anti theft devices only on the darkest shades of makeup. 

This is a pretty literal example of racial stereotyping. Whether it’s treating a black person more like a potential shoplifter than a white person, or a family member making a ‘harmless’ racist joke - using stereotypes ultimately reinforce the untrue message that people behave differently because of the colour of their skin.

Another story I heard was from Leona Lewis on IGTV. She explained how she was confronted and asked to leave a store, while shopping in London. She was the only person of colour in the shop. Everyone else saw what was happening and showed their disagreement by leaving the shop - probably the non-racist thing to do. No one did the anti-racist thing and spoke up about the shop assistant being in the wrong. In the past, maybe I too would have felt it was enough to ‘show my disgust’ by pulling a face and taking my money elsewhere, but now I promise that I'll use my unearned privilege and speak up if I ever witness this kind of situation. 

By finding out for myself what white privilege is, I’ve started to understand how I can use the privilege in being an anti-racist. If a white person has a racist view, then chances are they might take more notice of a white person calling them out. I hate how that sounds, it’s an awful truth, but until the privilege system is broken down, we can use what we have for good.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Under the Sea Search and Find

Last year I worked on this lovely under the sea scene. It was a sample piece for a children's non-fiction publisher and in the end, they decided to use a more computer-generated look. It was shame it didn't go ahead, but I'm so glad I worked on it! I really enjoyed working with the photographic background and I'm so happy to be able to share it now.

...and here are some close ups of some of the fish!

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Stay at Home: Working From Home Tips

It's been a fun couple of years since I gave up my employed job in a design studio and went to full time working at home. It suits me perfectly - I am definitely more introvert than extrovert and love to be at home. However, I know it's not for everyone and some aspects have taken some getting used to, even for me. So for all those out there who are new to working from home while in lockdown, here are some tips I have found along the way...

Working from home tips
(Please click on the images to zoom in)

Variety is the spice of life and we're going to need all the variety we can get over the next few months. Your usual listening habits might want a shake up to help with your new routine, and you might find you miss a bit of background office chit chat.

I have grown to like listening to people talk on Radio 4 (Woman's Hour being my favourite, obviously), however, I have temporarily given this up - the radio is no longer my friend. The regular news updates and in-depth discussions relating to Covid-19 were making it difficult for me to concentrate - and even 6 Music (my other favourite station) still reminds you what's going on in the world every half an hour.

If you're feeling like this too and are yet to discover podcasts, then now is your time! Whether it's light conversation or geeking out on your favourite topic, there's a podcast for everyone out there. There are a lot of creative business podcasts I like to listen to when I'm feeling alert and open to soaking up information, but I also listen to shows about cooking, comedy and even crime if I want to give my brain a break. If I want something totally relaxing and not as distracting as music I'd want to sign to, then I put on some Disney instrumental (lots of playlists on Spotify).

The best bits of your new morning routine might come with you
when the lockdown is over.

My new morning routine has been one of the most life changing benefits of working from home. For all the years I was studying and working, I just never mastered an antidote to running out of the house in a blind panic every single morning. Putting my feet up and taking time over breakfast has had such a positive effect on my day.

If they become habit, whatever new things you try have a good chance of fitting into your life easier than they did before, when things goes back to normal. Nowadays, if I have to get out of the house first thing for an appointment or meeting, I still allow time for a little chill session over breakfast, rather than going back to my old bad habits and running round in a frenzy.

Little ways to separate work from play, to help maintain balance

By all means, do your work in your PJ's just because you can for the first week or so. But, it's age old advice that wearing proper clothes makes you feel more productive.

I find separating work time from rest time really important for feeling balanced and I've come up with a few ways for myself to do this. Some may sound pointless or over the top, but it's little ways to train my brain to distinguish whether I'm in relaxing mode or not. Here are some of them:

Putting 'work stuff' out of sight when it's time to switch off, even if it's just my sketchbook.
Trying to stay in a habit of finishing at around the same time each day. It stops me feeling like I should be working when I'm having time off.
Not listening to business related podcasts on a weekend, even if I have to work (which I try to avoid).
Watching a studio vlog on Youtube when I eat breakfast, helping my brain shift into productive work mode.
Watching a short programme (comedy, usually) at dinner time.
Not looking at my phone over dinner, so I can have a short but total switch off.

Moving to a different space to change your mood

I realise that working in different places around the house isn't a luxury available to everyone, and going back to the separation thing, it's good to have one designated work space. However, if you're just having one of those days and something's not working, it can help to shake things up and move out of your usual space. I often start on a new client project on the sofa, as it helps to loosen me up and feel more relaxed about playing with ideas.

Unless you usually have a hot plate at work, you can rejoice
in all the possibilities that a pan can bring to lunchtime!

Just like much of the internet abled world, I have been on more video chats lately than I ever had in my life. I've had family meet ups with my mum and siblings and a pub quiz with friends. It could be a super effective way of keeping your colleagues/team connected too - my partner has been on some 'work socials' - which involves him pouring himself a pint and laughing with his work buddies on camera about anything that's not work related.

You can read a little more about the reward chart I created for myself in this earlier post on finding work life balance.

Reminding yourself to move and stretch may sound obvious, but you might be surprised by the weird aches and pains you can get when you stop moving around throughout the day, when you commuted or took regular little walks to the toilets, water cooler or canteen... if the lockdown has made you feel compelled to fit extra exercise into your life, then fingers crossed, you're creating a new habit to take with you when life goes 'back to normal'. I am hoping this applies to me, as I've purchased some running shoes with the intention to take up running. So... wish me luck!

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Children's Wellbeing Activity Books

I'm delighted to announce one of the projects that were keeping me oh so quiet last year... two beautiful and brilliantly written activity books, published by Upside Down Books - the new children’s imprint of wellbeing publisher, Trigger Publishing.

It'll Be OK: My Feelings Activity Book

Each book features 64 illustrated pages of thoughtful and fun activities to help kids learn about the themes of feelings and mindfulness. It was such a joy to be given a major role in bringing all these practical exercises to life. 

Chill Out: My Mindfulness Activity Book

It makes me happy to see mental health being talked about in books, at home and in schools from a young age nowadays, and I can't wait to share more about these fabulous books. I will leave it there for now however, as there’s still a few months to go before the books are published. You can pre-order the books here (it was an exciting day when I found I was Amazon-able ☺️)!

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

2019 Review: Work life balance as a full time illustrator

In the world of indie makers, some people choose to have 'a word' for the year, to remind them of an aim they want to keep checking in with. I've been thinking that if I did have a word for the year, it should probably be 'balance'. It ended up being a theme of this post, which started out as a review of the last year (maybe becoming an annual thing) as I am now entering my third year of full time illustrating.

2019 was a crazy year, which you might have guessed by apologies for my silences and hints on Instagram when I couldn't say too much about what I was working on. The results of a lot of this hard work is starting to come out into the world now. One of the books I worked on was published last week - which was Be Happy Be You for Harper Collins. There is more work I haven't shared yet but plan to soon, and some books are being published later in the year that I will patiently wait to share.

At the start of 2019, I spent time sending samples of my work to publishers and preparing my portfolio for London Book Fair. My efforts from both paid off, as later in the year I started some work for two new clients - Harper Collins, as previously mentioned and Upside Down Books (a new children's imprint of wellbeing publisher, Trigger Publishing). I was also commissioned some lovely mural work for Sheffield Hospital and HSBC - and more spot illustrations for Little, Brown Book Group, which will be shared soon.

Showing my work at London Book Fair was a great experience and encouraged me to take it up a level this year - I'm going to Bologna Children's Book Fair! I've always fancied it but for some reason, the world's leading children's book fair in Italy seemed that little bit more of a pipe dream that I hadn't taken the steps to actually do. The flights are now booked, so it's definitely happening!

The Illustrator's Gallery at London Book Fair 2019

I was very happy to gain two new stockists in Sheffield in 2019 - the Sheffield Makers shops. Starting with the Winter Gardens branch back in March, followed by Hunters Bar in the summer. I'm so proud to have these as my stockists, the shops are lovely and the makers who staff the shop are all super friendly. The perfect environment for my products. Having regular income from my new stockists and being busy with book illustrations enabled me to do less markets this year. I replaced the hectic run of Christmas markets with one week long Pop Up Shop in December (more on that to follow).

A lot of the work I said yes to this year had very short deadlines and some were really big projects in terms of hours to put in. It was intense - there were quite a lot of late nights and working weekends - something I'd like to improve on this year. In my quest to keep up the flow of work but achieve more balance, a new thing I'm trying is having a set finish time of 6pm, trusting the theory that you can get as much done in less hours when you're focused and rested. I know there will be crazy times when good habits go out the window, so when that happens, I'll be intentional about planning in chill time or rewards - to remind myself that me working silly hours is not the norm.

I had a small mindset shift during one of my busiest times of 2019. I was thinking about how when you're your own boss, you're taking the place of someone else who would usually (ideally) acknowledge and reward your efforts. Not only that, but I could also choose to be a really lovely boss who gives myself gold stars (literally, I have made myself a chart) or rewards of some kind, to balance out the graft. I think we independent makers can be great at providing our own discipline and criticism, but can forget to offer the support and compassion we'd hope for from an ideal boss.

Made myself a lil' reward chart... because I'm nice like that

Back in January 2019, I was ill for most of the month - it was my first official 'burnout'. After several markets and last minute commissions being collected just days before Christmas, I ended up with a full blown cold, a chest infection and other nasty symptoms that lasted for weeks. So this year, I was quite focused on avoiding that happening again. As the busy season was about to ramp up, my really lovely boss stepped in and booked myself a spa day to look forward to. I also booked a trip to London with my sister the week before Christmas, bringing my finish day forward. I also kept my wellbeing in mind when sending quotes and time scales to last minute commission enquiries. These things helped enormously - even while I was still in the thick of it at the start of December, I could feel my brain starting to make the shift to holiday mode. I was delighted and grateful, this time, to feel healthy over Christmas and extra rested in January.

So my takeaway from that story is... when you're having a crazy time (or see one coming), book yourself some treats to look forward to, even if it's just marking off an afternoon in the calendar to take off. Keep visualising the lovely things you'll do on that designated day, to convince your brain that it's definitely happening. It's amazing what you can trick your own brain into!

Going back to my review of 2019, my conclusion wouldn't be all that different to this time a year ago - keep sewing seeds! Big and small, different types in different places - fling them about allover the place. Some will definitely grow and you can't predict which will. I'm hoping that I'll get lots of lovely jobs again this year, but find ways for it to work with this new thing of achieving more balance. I have a few ideas for how I can do this, so watch this space to see how I get on...

I hope this blog was helpful if you're at a similar stage to me. I'd love to hear how you balance crazy work times with fun and rest... it's an art in itself. Wishing you a happy 2020!

Thanks for reading :)