The things I’ve learned from a broken mirror

Saving a life doesn’t change the world, but for that person, the world changes forever.

I’m right at the bittersweet end of my 3 years of  BSc Hons radiation-oncology school training. Assuming I pass the last few things, in 3 weeks I’ll be technically allowed, once my HCPC registration and license and indemnity insurance comes through, to plan, care for and treat people who have cancer with radiotherapy. Which is really scary. I will be responsible and liable by law for the safety of my patients.

And yet, the 3 years has gone past in a whirl-wind. It has been both long (no thanks to working clinically all through the summers) and extremely fast. Energizing and completely ball-breakingly fatiguing. A mixture of: I’m not ready to be qualified yet to I just want to do the job, already! Slowly ticking off endless assignment after endless assignment. Slowly being able to reflect upon how far we have come.

And now I write this post. With a cool raspberry lemonade in one hand, I stare out of the window with the sun in my eyes and feel kind of relaxed for the first time in a long time.

Doing this course was a massive risk for me.

I had nothing and everything to loose.

Here’s what I’ve learnt:

A few years ago (y’all know the story), my original life had become broken by ill-health and everything changed.  No one should ever underestimate the lack of quality of life living with horrible, endless, chronic pain and fatigue offers.  And as a result, my old life just didn’t fit in the same way anymore. So, after drawing people wanting to change the NHS to make it better using their health experiences, and this personal medical experience of mine – I decided to give up my planned life of being a full-time artist and retrain in healthcare (with the perspective of an artist). This was because I needed to get closure, to understand the human-body, to gain some control from this knowledge, and a routine – to try and ease the fatigue (that turned out to be a LOL – there’s no rest in healthcare): but most of all, my biggest motivator was  to try and make a difference and really care for others.

This was because the NHS was the first place I had been shown any real true kindness  from complete strangers when I was at my most weakest. I felt (& I feel it even more now than ever) this pit of gratitude at the bottom of my stomach when I think about the care I have been given & continue to receive – from everyone in the NHS, not just doctors & HCP but to the students, receptionists and porters, ect.

From my GP (the awesome Dr. Marco Pieri) who would say we’re friends. And in the beginning, I thought that saying we were friends was weird.  I was suspicious. It’s just his job? I knew nothing about him.  But as I grew older with him, and cried on him when I was at my lowest (i don’t ever cry in front of people), and moaned, and repeated the same endless complaints at him -much to his dismay – he built up this incredible knowledge about me as a person – not just what was wrong with me. He asks me about my work, my life in general and about my fears. He asks me what I want to do in regards to my care and he gives me lil’ prep talks (even unsolicited NHS job interview advise) by telling me to keep going and just to live life to the fullest (fo’ serious). He was one of the first people I told (by chance) that I got this awesome fully-funded PhD scholarship. He stopped me from jumping around from random GP to GP, because I didn’t understand the importance of continuity in care at the time. I feel like he intrinsically cares – not just for my wellbeing – but for the whole population of Doncaster after discussions with him on his passion for improving life expectancy & outcomes for the Donx to meet the rest of the population (thus his role as a clinical lead in the Doncaster CCG).

It turns out that he is in fact both Physician and detective, and through time, he also became both healer & friend. And through experiencing a lot of his kindness, his humor, his knowledge, his time & care – I felt like I needed to return it.  I wanted to be that person he was for me – for my patients; to make them feel cared for and valued. To not feel insignificant when you’re at your most vulnerable.

What I’ve learnt is that patients have been my best teachers, but some of my lessons have been painful.

I  have learnt from their  incredibly life affirming stories of hope, humor, achievement and tragedy and heartbreak. There was a woman whose volunteer hospital transport driver turned out to be her long-lost niece – found and reunited together through daily drives to & from radiotherapy treatment. I’ve treated gold-medal winners from the Olympics 50 years ago, pilots, magazine publishers. I’ve seen people go home and back with nothing but the clothes on their back- for 7 weeks, heard stories of amazing neighbours and learnt a lot about people’s pets. I’ve heard horrific stories that just needed to be told and heard – of death, loss, and abuse. Every day is a day where I take at least someone home in my head. Some fade away, eventually. Though 3 years on – there’s some patients who are etched onto my mind and I don’t know why some really stay with you.  I stopped checking up on them post-treatment because quite a few have died since- and it makes me feel incredibly sad. These people who we often just shared 2 or 3 weeks together at 10 mins + at a time become significant to me. And  I hope I never loose this into qualification.

 

It will be weird not being with #teamleeds, every day; My friends who we’ve gone through and seen a lot together. These stories bound us together. They’re like brothers and sisters now. I imagine this is kind of how joining the army feels, but instead it’s a healthcare course.  It will be weird not joining in on a random Facebook conversation, not having to panic about the endless deadlines and  unclear learning objectives. My closest friends (most of them younger than me) on the course have taught me a lot about growing up. I’ve managed to have a second ‘coming of age’ experience through being good friends in their journey. We’ve travelled when we could together, hosted parties and feasts of food. Shared and supported each other through tragedies, deadlines, successes and the crazy profound things life throws at you. I am completely in awe of these now 21 year olds who are mature before their years. And I think about how their strength is true testament to how I’ve managed to get here – 3 years on. At the beginning of the course, we said that we would drag each other through to the very bittersweet end. And here we are, 3 weeks to go, still dragging each other. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for them, egging us on.

Then there is the staff at the place where I’ve trained, they have been incredible. They’re passionate about education and patient care and safety. They love radiotherapy. They’ve shown me time, enthusiasm and exactly what being a compassionate healthcare professional should look like. I’ve learnt how to ask questions, without being too leading. I’ve learnt to hear for things not actually said, but implied, by patients so that I know if they need more extra support. I feel incredibly indebted to them for their knowledge and time (and patience!). I hope that we stay friends at the end because they’re such great fun people. And I can’t thank my tutors enough for all of their guidance and knowledge in helping me shape me as a healthcare professional!

What I’ve learnt in my Healthcare education (both officially and as a patient) is that everyone in the NHS has a reason to do what they do: It’s almost never about money or our quality of life. It’s because we can make a difference. All any of us ever want to do is to make other people’s lives better. Sometimes it’s life-changing, sometimes it’s something much simpler.

Sometimes things don’t work the way we should. The system isn’t perfect. Neither are the people in it. But it is fundamentally decent and good and whole. That’s why I am absolutely committed to the principles, to the ideals of the NHS. I think it’s just about the best thing this country has ever achieved. It is remarkably robust, but the pressures facing it are immense, and there are few easy solutions. But we – the people of the NHS – ALL STAFF- are absolutely committed to it.

What I’ll always remember from my education in radiotherapy – and that crazy 3 years of unpaid labour – will be the stories that made these people into NHS.

Being a radiotherapy student has given me a lot of perspective and new skills I never knew I could do.  I’Ve learnt that whenever you can’t think of something to say in a conversation, ask people questions instead. Even if you’re next to a man who collects pre-Seventies screws and bolts, you will probably never have another opportunity to find out so much about pre-Seventies screws and bolts, and you never know when it will be useful.

Life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLING EXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.

And life can be incredibly short. So see as many sunrises and sunsets as you can. Run across roads to smell fat roses. Always believe you can change the world – even if it’s only a tiny bit, because every tiny bit needed someone who changed it. Think of yourself as a silver rocket – use loud music as your fuel; books like maps and co-ordinates for how to get there. Host extravagantly, love constantly, dance in comfortable shoes,  and never, ever start smoking.

Thank you to the whole of the NHS for your love, and kindness, and education. It turns out studying Radiotherapy turned out to be WAY more than just a degree at the end. 

I have learnt, through pain,  that I am more than my pain, more than what was built & burned, more than all I’ve lost. You will get to build again. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to share this adventure with the people who’ve helped you.   Remember it ain’t always about where you start, but it’s about where you’re going and end up.

To the last 3 weeks!

13012868_1156401094378821_8448868135841666435_n.jpg0-4.jpg

0-5.jpg *Hope I pass!*

 

 

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What should you be spending more time on?

I’m self-employed, and a full-time clinical based health-care student – and professional poorly person.  So I can’t stop thinking about work. When you’re by yourself, it’s easy to overwork yourself.

I’ve realized recently that my family (my mom & my bro) is full of people who work very hard. They all work extremely hard and they enjoy it. It took years for me to figure out that that’s a trait that was passed onto me.

When I’m working, I’m being functional and useful to someone, but I’m also making money to pay the rent. When I can, I like to work on personal projects because it gives me an avenue for self-expression – and to try and make change. I can put work out on the Internet that people might like and, by extension, hopefully like me. Which is secretly a lot of what I want from my work.

What I’m realizing is that there are other areas of my life that need that same sort of focus and rigor that I give to work & sleep. There are friendships and relationships and things that are every bit as important.

There’s half of me that is very proud of the work that I’ve made and where it has taken me. But there’s another half of me that knows that I live in Leeds/Sheffield/Doncaster and that I’m very privileged to already have a masters,  be studying radiotherapy and making the work I’m making. When I was growing up, my mom worked 2 low-paid jobs – just to make rent. These days, she only works 1 low-paid job to try and make rent. No one ever told me i could or should go to university – because it wasn’t ever a thing, no one does that in my family. I just discovered it some how in the last year and half of school but my mom has always been so supportive of everything I do, she basically told me ‘Don’t just do something to make money, find something you love and find someone who appreciates you for it. And then try and get a job.’ Whilst she was drunk last weekend she told me to, “Try, take risks, fail doing stuff, because it doesn’t matter – this is always your home. You will always have a roof over your head. I just want you to be happy. I don’t care if you fail or get 100% – because you’ll get there — and I’m proud of you anyways.”

I’m always  aware of where I come from.  My friends parents know all about the league tables of the universities they attend, and their parents help them pay the rent.  They come from homes with hot-tubs, and convertible cars.  No one in my family understands the value of higher education. But it doesn’t mean they don’t support me – even if they think what I do (my art-freelancing stuff) “isn’t a real job” lol.    But I’m also aware of where I am now and how I can help more people get to where I am. Maybe a little thing that I do can make a difference, even if it’s just very slight.

That’s probably a bit naive, but these are big things that sometimes need to be reduced so we can start to deal with them. A tweet, blogpost, whatever, isn’t going to solve the problems we have with inequality and privilege, but it might help us slowly move incrementally to something better than what we currently have.

Empathy is first an act of imagination. I know how difficult it is to get from one side to the other. But if we spent more time teaching, sharing, learning, listening — I think we could make something better.

 

 

The Heart of The Matter: Hope.

About 2 weeks ago I found out that I’ve been shortlisted for another award, this time for — “Most innovative student-driven digital tool” — for the design of my *future* Radiotherapy Treatment Patient Information App – “RADcare”. And I’m still blown away by the shortlist. I don’t think I’ll win, but this definitely feels like one of my most proudest moments of my life so far, and I don’t know why? I’m just so honoured and surprised by being shortlisted!

My story is one we can all relate/resonate with. I got stuck. Like, really stuck. I encountered an illness I never saw coming – and for the first time in my life – felt really lost, and out of control.  At such a young age too, in the middle of building my artist career, and shaping the rest of my life. I felt so misunderstood. And when you’re not understood, you feel almost worthless. Dealing with these feelings on top of very distressing symptoms whilst trying to continue to run your life as normal as possible is actually really hard.  I had experiences with the healthcare system – both amazing and poor. As a patient I often felt powerless, stupid, a hindrance — and ultimately — voiceless. This lead itself to personal anxieties. Sometimes I felt like no-one cared. (But this was not true at all). But also I got treated every-now-and-again-like family. Like an old friend, with kindness, love and care. I’ll never forget those moments. And I soon realized that, that’s all I wanted to do; To make people feel cared for & important, and needed, and even loved. And as with my art practice, all I’ve ever wanted to do is make a positive difference. To help people. To make people think, think of the injustices, to act upon these inequalities, to feel better, to make the world a better and more just/equal place. People are struggling all around us. Every single one of us has something we’re struggling with each day – although the degrees of struggle are massive.

People need people, and they need truth, heart & hope. Authenticity wins, every time.

I look to the world around me, with this continuing experience in hand. And I see that we need coffee shops, sunsets and roadtrips. New & old songs, planes, trains and food. Fast internet connection & Twitter – but most of all – we need other people in our lives.  And at some point in your life, you will need to be that “other” person to someone else who needs you. You will be their living breathing, screaming, invitation to help them believe in better things.

We do not know how long we’ve got here. We don’t know when fate will intervene. What we do know is that with every minute that we’ve got, we can live our lives in a way that takes nothing for granted. We can love deeply. We can help people who need help. We can teach our children what matters, and pass on empathy and compassion and selflessness. We can teach them to have broad shoulders. And that’s all I want, really.

My friends say that I’m a “Smizz of all trades, master of none” – because I go out of my way to learn new things if I can’t understand it. That’s why I do work in all areas, from art, to printing, to photography, to web and app coding and designing – I’m very well read in political & economics too – and now radiotherapy/healthcare.  If you’re unhappy with something – don’t wait for someone else to make the change for you.

So every encounter that I have with a person at work (colleague, friend, patient, ect), or outside work, I try to make them feel understood, AKA – valued/respected/dignified. 2 days ago, I did a first day chat with a patient & at the end I said I was a student – and she said, “That explains why you’ve spent more time with me & listened to me.”  Time is extremely fraught in all of our lives, but we must make time to try to understand people and their journey.

So that’s why I decided to make my Radiotherapy app (RADcare). To hopefully help patients and their careers understand what’s going to happen, be able to feel like they can take more control by knowing what’s going on and have good, coherent, interactive and personal information covering all aspects of their radiotherapy treatment journey.  I hope that by all of us having a better understanding, we can make time for the really important things. I hope the app will be really useful in the future, and really helps patients and their loved ones going through their journey, a better – less stressful – journey. (It’s worth pointing out here that the app is just an addition to a service & MUST NOT be used in place of information contact in person with healthcare professionals).

Living with an illness, or after, is really, really hard. Normal life is never normal again.  It makes changes – both psychological and physical – that you had never anticipated. But it’s not all bad. I now feel more empathetic to other struggles than I ever did before, I cry more than ever at injustices (not on you- so no worries), and I know now that time is what ever you make it – the days are long but the years are short.  It’s not about your grades, or your clothes, or car, or house. It’s about being with those who love you, doing what you love, and trying to be the change we need.

I hope I can bring big heart to every thing I work on. I especially hope I can achieve it with the app. Life is hard. And I wouldn’t have got here today – feeling extremely loved – without the support of all my amazing friends (you guyz!), course-mates, my mom & bro, my colleagues (NHS, uni, art, Doc/Fest- ect), my doctors & other healthcare professionals and everyone else.

Hope you can help me evaluate the prototype app soon! Much love, Smizz!

I want to work for something other than myself:

I’ve been keeping something secret for a while now. Mainly because I don’t want to jinx myself. And whilst it’s more-or-less official – I still have to pass ‘professional requirements’, which are things like CRB checks and the dreaded health-check. But – hopefully – if nothing bad happens & I pass all my ‘professional requirements’, in September I will be going back to university (as the Americans would say ‘med-school’ -sounds so cool) to study  Radiation Oncology. Yep.

This doesn’t mean that I’m giving up art, or indeed giving up on art. Quite the contrary, – if anything I believe this will become an extension of an already multi-disciplinary practice.  Art’s beauty lies in its ability to spread far-and-wide into other disciplines. Good art transcends something. I will still work as an Artist. I will still make art. I will still do commissions for clients – perhaps not as often as right now. But i’ll still be doing it – and I will still be teaching & working at SHU. Everything will be the same, except I will be studying on the side.  I’m always an artist first & foremost. Art is, and will always be, my passion!

Not many people know about my decision (something I decided  to commit to do just under a year ago now), and nearly everyone who I have told looks shocked (not in a good way). “Why? I don’t get it?” They all ask. (After what is Radiation Oncology?)

There’s many reasons for this. You might call it a quater life crisis. (it’s not but seems it).

After being told you might have Cancer, something fucks with your head. Like the rug gets pulled from under your feet. You might keep it together but you feel fragmented, you realize nothing at all is ever certain. You rationalise everything. You’re  completely in denial.  You’re strong – not only for yourself, but for your friends & family who are worried. You don’t make it a big thing, even though I think it’s something you just want to talk about all-the-time (or never speak of it?), just to make sense of it. But quiet doubt seems to consume part of your alone time.   The questions and the uncertainties seem endless.

Slowly I came to understand what could/might be/might have been happening. Part of this was writing on this blog to help let the pain out and I decided not to hide behind the mystery illness, but to go out into the world and live as best I could. In my spare time, I researched EVERYTHING about all different types of Lymphomas. The survival rates, how people discovered it, how it’s super tricky to diagnose, how it spreads, it’s genetic make-up, treatment plans, ect, ect.  After I read everything available on the first 10’s of pages on Google & many websites later, I started looking at other blood-cancers. I was fascinated. Curious. I wanted to know more. It became somewhat addictive.

I’m currently still having a bazillion tests, but the journey has already left its mark on me forever. I feel like a different person. It sounds cliched and it sounds weird, but I literally think and feel differently. Things I thought were important before seem trivial now. Before, my artist ego always wanted to be stroked. Now, I’m just happy that I’m doing what I love and meeting awesome talented people in the process. There’s no necessity to do a billion-things-at-once. It’s okay to smell the roses.  I have this whole new level of empathy that I never had before. Nearly every experience/emotion has been heightened. Which leads me on to reason number 2.

Since October last year, I have had 4 friends (or friends loved ones) diagnosed with Breast Cancer. My reaction to finding this news out, is completely different now than from a year & half ago, before all this crazy health stuff started with me. I don’t know why the reaction is different but now I feel like it’s personal – even though it’s so obviously not. It’s just a genetic systematic failure, that’s random or could be trigged by an environmental factor – but even that is in luck. 1  in every 3 of us will get cancer at some point in our lives.

Cancer nearly took my moms life in 2000, it nearly took my friend’s life, my friend’s moms life, the person down the street, on the bus, in the supermarket’s life – and i’ll be damned if it tries to take mine. This personal alignment has made me realize that I want to work for something other than myself, and i know i gots the skills to help. I want to help make cancer be no longer scary. Like getting chicken pox or something. I don’t want us to have this hurt. Because, the thing is, if caught in stage one, and even stage 2- They’re completely curable now! Which is awesome! But we often misread the early signs. (You gotta check-yo-self-before-you-wreck-yo-self!?)

Reason 3. In radiation Oncology it’s providing exceptional patient care without exception through developing & delivering radiation treatment plans & providing emotional & social/psychological support, it’s amazing research to cure or detect cancer early, it’s working with amazing advanced technologies & engineering technology. It’s working collaboratively, within a multi-disciplinary team of medical professionals, equally, doctors-nurses-nuclear physicists, ect – to create the best line of treatment to being cured (or to ease symptoms in palliative care cases).  I know that my background in art & technology will provide an interesting spin onto the research in this area. For example, 3D Printing (something we’ve been doing through the GRAVITY lecture series project) would be an awesome & much more easier/less stressful way to create moulds for patients for their treatments. BOOM! I have way more ideas. My over-all goal is that I want to go into the research side of it. It’s much easier to take what I learnt from art & apply it to oncology research, than vice-versea – but i’m super sure it will start to influence my work in someway.

The truth of the matter, however, is that when you go through some crazy dramatic life experience – such as this or something else. Things change. Even if you don’t want them to. When you live with this nagging small thought in the back of your mind that you might be dying, you feel like you deserve to spend the rest of your life on permanent vacation. And the reality is, you can’t. You must return to real life. I’ve been  finding it a bit difficult to go back. It’s like, how do you slip back into the ordinary world, and your ordinary routine and being your ordinary self when you don’t feel like yourself? My world view has been shifted, thus my whole line of perspective. It would be an untruth if i continued on being & making the exact same work.

I didn’t think I was going to get accepted onto an academic program this year. I thought that they would have made me get more science knowledge. So I was genuinely shocked when I got offers. I’m proud of myself for getting accepted to all 3 universities I had an interview at. I got interview invites at all 5 places I applied to. It’s all funded by the NHS so places are small. Once I got my unconditional offer from Sheffield, I withdrew from the last 2 interviews in Cardiff & London South Bank and accepted the S-Town. So here’s hoping that nothing bad happens between now and Sept & I pass my healthcheck – something I’m super nervous about since I’m still feeling really poorly.

I can’t explain my affirmation with this new area, other than it has poignant roots – and I know through it – if successful – I will be making a genuine difference. (The very thing that all I ever wanted to do was to make a difference). It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be less sexy. But I genuinely can’t wait for this new challenge. I want to work for something other than myself.  But remember guys, I’m still an artist – and will ALWAYS be an artist. Please don’t forget that.

It is to this end that I am committed to art but equally committed to creating/working on life-saving-research & I hope to make sure that  we work on developments which mean we will never loose someone young (prob up to about 80 years old) to cancer in the near future.

 

Photo on 27-03-2013 at 23.19

DRAWING THE WORLD 1 BUILDING AT A TIME

I’ve found a better way to keep all my crazy street drawings all together. On what the cool kids are using. TUMBLR (i have 4 now!)

keep it locked HERE and FOLLOW ME for some crazy drawings of NYC, London, Sheffield, Boston, your street! Where ever i go! Holla!  (http://streetarchitect.tumblr.com/)

(above, no i haven’t lost my mind, it’s a drawing my mom asked me to do so she could pretend that she’s done it at work for an attempt to win a bottle of wine… some things never fail to amaze me..)

nearly a year after graduating, reflection: everyday i’m shuffling

Technically speaking i didn’t graduate until November when I officially got my certificate and that. But by transcript and exam board standards and the expiration of my  university log-in username – it has been since June 2010.   It’s nearly been a whole year!

Last night I was online stalking some of my favourite artists/people and seeing what they’re up to when I came across a blog post i wrote for debbie ainscoe’s blog http://downbythewaterfront.typepad.com/ . Debbie’s an amazing person and artist. And on read what I wrote even I was impressed with my 4 years of work at University! Ha! but suddenly i felt panicked at what have I been up to since?!  Have I fell off the bandwagon?

So it’s been nearly a year graduated.  And what have I learnt?

I have learnt that the new government coalition can kiss my ass. IT SUCKS. What little life there is left in the arts is going to become purely problematic and idelogical. Posts in today’s Guardian about cutting arts education shows just at how little knowledge people in politics have about the industry arts generates here in the UK.  the cuts within the arts council were depressing (although could have been worse) and the film council closure was just dreadful (esp after the success of The Kings Speech, which was funded by the film council) The short sighted, short term, planning of this government is killing what little economy and wellbeing our nation has.

Since graduating, I have been officially unemployed 3 times (although admittingly for about 2-3 weeks at a time).  My mom makes me  apply for JSA and I have to at least a part-time job whilst I do my commissions or other freelance gigs. It’s difficult being from a working class family because they don’t understand what freelance is.  All she  sees is me doing what I love. I’m terrible at saving and I think this is why she doesn’t believe I actually get paid to do what I do.

In June 2010 I went  back to America and did a teaching/ artist residency job. It was great but tiring. I had a great time!

Because I love teaching, i always apply myself 110%> I love to re-invent the wheel and to make people feel good about themselves. this is done by self-esteem building. i love encouraging people to believe that they can do something. I guess with my good natured team building skills and good evaluations I won a $3,000 award, which was a bit of a bribe to come back next year (I got half then – i get half if i go back the next year).  At this point i thought, hey maybe i’ll have something good in my life by then.  the coalitions power hadn’t kicked in just yet so it was only natural that i still felt hopeful on where i could go and what i could do!

After the job, i did a residency at Syracuse University in NY State. It’s this amazing program called the Art School in the Art School. It has so much relevance from its placement of being supplementary to the artschool or as part of an antagonistic  debate on the merit of art degree rewarding courses.  The people of Syracuse were very giving and generous with their time. I went away wanting to create a art-school in the art-school journal. Of which I’m about half way through putting it together and getting better and more submissions. More info on this in another post.  You can hear an awful interview with me here: (i need press training clearly) http://www.artschoolsound.org/2010/09/interview-with-sarah-smizz/

 

After the residency I travelled around the West Coast with some friends where i started to really think about LA and it’s myths and social history that’s kind of hyper-real.

 

I got back to NYC and I got some Freelance work with Time Warner for some illustrations for a bilingual kids book on cities! couldn’t believe my luck!

Institutions illustrations, by Sarah Smizz

I arrived back home signed on for the 1st time for 2weeks until late October and already had the awesome opportunity lined up to work with the amazing Sheffield Doc/Fest!

Debbie had asked whether the film councils closure had affected the great festival. The over-all answer is no. Because even though the film council was awesome, it rarely funded documentaries.  I believe that documentary film making is like contemporary art in the sense of how it’s made, how it engages with a subject and it’s audience and how there is an urgency its ideas. And obvs its lack of funds during the making of it. There’s an integrity that lies within the documentary film industry that doesn’t really exist in other art/media/film/journalism industry. Perhaps maybe it’s how Doc/Fest is structured and organized but it made me think that  there’s so many more opportunities that documentary film industry can offer, in comparison, and it seems to be one of the more accessible industries – knowledge rather than someone you know. I think this comes from its openness to co-production and collaboration in all forms from social media, games, film to even art.  But more on these thoughts in another post also.

After this amazing commissioned experience. I worked over the christmas period at Waterstones. They never kept me on but offered a job for next xmas. thanks!

So I kicked around enjoying my new found freedom. Planning a trip to NYC I was aware that if i did go in feb. I would be DEAD BROKE. so I went to Barcelona and had some drawings in a bigger show there. Which was a great excuse to go!

I came back looking for more work. signed on the dole for 2 weeks again until my friend got me a job at a candy store. Oh I know I know!   I did some small work for the Open University with the skills and ideas i had learnt from Doc/Fest.

After I finished working at a candy store (of which I quit because i’m sure they’re not legal- they didn’t pay my tax!) when we had to fill out the census, i saw that my mom had put me down still as working at the candy store instead of freelance work (which was more accurate picture of right now). So i made her change it. After all this is how I roll now.

We became super serious at relaunching CAKE (we have a new website address http://www.cakeeveryone.com) and did the first SlamJam in about a year. Unfortunately the disaster happened in Japan so we donated all money that we raised to Japan Red Cross ! something I’m proud of.  As part of an on going discussion #artWORK We have crit-group sessions,  a zine-day coming up, FEAST and an exhibition and event around Temporary Services ARTWORK: Art, economics and labour publication. This is VERY exciting! In addition to this, our new webste launch will have a launch party. so keep your eyes pealed!

 

I’m currently working freelance. I got a website commission for this amazing art conference series. And Doc/Fest invited me to come back to work with them (something I’m super grateful for and I’m gonna super make sure they get every single penny’s worth of their $$$ with me). more posts on this later too

In addition to this, I have some work in a show in Chicago and London coming up. And I’m going back after Doc/Fest to USA to collect the rest of my reward money and have a great summer (hopefully ha).  Afterwards i have 2 small residencies (both at publications – more posts later!?), a bit of work at DUMBO Art Festival in Brooklyn and I hope to visit friends around the USA including the AREA Chicago crew in Chicago and michael corris in dallas!

When I come back home in October i have another amazing opportunity to draw some talks to turn into animations for e-learning materials! And of course, if i want i have my waterstones job back Ha!

There’s some other stuff in here that i’ve forgotten but hey, if i’ve forgotten it it’s not that important ha!  what i need to do when I get back in October is to get a studio space. or travel and find work that way. i can’t tell you from month to month what i’ll be up to. it seems to happen all at once.  some months are super quiet and depressing. others are awesome.  It’s difficult positioning yourself as a graduate artist from Sheffield in a world where there’s hardly any normal jobs going, standards of living are slipping, and arts funding is becoming increasingly more difficult to get. But I have to remember what Michael Corris wrote/said in an article recently:

Artists: do not let your voices be hijacked.

everyday when i feel like i’m letting myself or my mom down, i think of this, or other inspirational advise. and everything is put into perspective. i’m doing pretty good despite the odds and i’m only 22.

Classroom Rules

Classroom Rules

I read this on frank chimero’s blog (the coolest, most awesome designer person i’ve discovered over the past few months) and it spoke to me – not just as a sylabus of which he intended it – but as a basic guide to life as a creative practitioner. great advise i had to share!

  1. Give it your best. Work hard. Be respectful. Show up on time. Be physically & mentally present. Anything less than your best is a waste of your time, mine, and that of your classmates.
  2. Show the work every day. Tight feedback loops allow for an iterative process. More turns and revisions produce better, more refined work. Missing class, and thus discussion, dramatically decreases the quality of your work. If you are absent, you will be lapped by your peers.
  3. Question everything, propose answers. Everything is an investigation. There are no nevers. Valued phrases: “Maybe if…” and “I’m not sure, but…”
  4. Momentum matters. Creativity is equal parts momentum, insight, and craft. We will move fast to build stamina. Art is long, life is short.
  5. Don’t wait for permission. Go off and try it.
  6. Every classroom is a lab. Investigate. Experiment. Report back to your peers.
  7. Assignments are incomplete until one is competent. If it’s not good enough, change it. If you don’t understand the premise fully, redo it. Failing and moving on isn’t an option because every bit is important.
  8. Grades are a false metric. Numbers assigned to a communicative endeavor like design is only done based on the needs of the university. You should care about your grade only insofar as it helps you maintain momentum in your creative pursuit.
  9. Getting better. The point of all education is to get better. Better designers. Better citizens. Better workers. Better thinkers. Better people. Any other objectives are false and superfluous.
  10. Rules are stupid. Be smart. Be respectful. Work hard. Reflect often. Strive for insight. Work to get better.

 

London on a budget (travel)

I recently read the new post on the NYT’s frugal Traveller blog in London. Seth seemed to have gotten a bit of a raw deal. As a Northern UK person, we all know how expensive London is in comparison to the rest of England, never mind if you had to change your currency to half of it’s worth! (meaning you need double $$ to get just £). Plus our recent bump up in VAT  from 17.5% to 20% (although as an NON-EU citizen you can claim this back)

When I visit London (on a somewhat often basis for Art reasons)  I meet others from the North and the majority of conversations don’t sound like this, ” hey, did you see that amazing exhibition? or where have you been? any advise on places to go to?”

it’s more like this: “how’s it going? gosh, it’s expensive innit? i just paid £1.50 for a CAN OF COKE. It’s 60p in Sheffield?!  did you know how much it cost to eat out? how expensive it was to go to the movies?!”

I leave feeling wallet lighter and a nagging feeling that I could have got a Ryanair flight to Barcelona and stayed in a hostel for  2 days cheaper than spending a day and a night in London. But my love of art keeps me going down, despite having not bonded with the city. (Main reason why I have resisted moving down there to ‘make it’ in the commercial art world).

So this is for you all who will be attending London in 2012 for the Olympics, perhaps visiting for the Royal Wedding (lol), Gap year, summer holidays, business, ect. I’m going to save a few ££ and avoid you falling for Wetherspoon pub chains (which are ok – but you don’t go to America to keep eating at McDonalds or TGI Fridays)

First things first, when in london TAKE OR BUY A MAP.

straight up. FREE STUFF

There’s a bunch of free stuff to do in the Capital behind it’s face of expense and extortion.

MUSEUMS. In NYC you have free nights or pay-what-you wish hours, or suggested donation that makes you feel like your cheaping out the museum of $ when you only pay up $1. In London, the majority – not all – museums are free with a donation box. National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britian and TATE Modern’s collections are all free to view.  This will radicalize the way you treat viewing art. Special exhibitions, however, are NOT free.  Tate Modern for a special exhibition will cost you £10.00 a go (without concessions). So if you’re on a budget – my suggestion is to check out the gift/ bookstore and have a look at the exhibitions catalogue/book. Does the work interest you? Yes- then go ahead. No, then don’t bother.

Commercial art galleries are free too, like they are in NYC, Paris, Berlin ect. But are located all over the place. Every 1st Thursday of every month, the galleries on VYNER STREET [the main commercial area for galleries] (east London, tube stop Bethnal Green) are all open for business at 6pm with many free drinks and food. Get you art-clothes and networking hat on. This is where all the artists come out to play from all over London and the UK. Here you will probably get invited to drinks to a well known bar and find out where all the hip-cool places are at and possibly make some new friends. And not to mention you might get trashed on free cheap wine!

TOURS. if you’re stopping at a hostel, then tours are often free with the option of tipping at the end. if you’re not – Don’t fear. DON’T pay big companies to get a bus and look at stuff. no-way-oh-zay. instead just  get a free, funny and personal tour here: http://www.newlondon-tours.com.  I’m not a tour person myself, but for those of you that are: try and get a different sort of tour. Get one of the cool street art scene around london or the architecture.

BBC PROMS. In the summer the BBC puts on classical music (trust me on this) and theater on for FREE in the parks around London, bringing you the most talented people from around the world. It’s a vibe and experience you can not pass on.  You need to check out the BBC website for more details. But it is flat-out amazing. Bring a picnic and drinks, bask in the  luke warm, probably a bit over-caste weather (great british summer!) and feel your IQ level rise.

PARKS. are all free and beautiful. enough said.

SIGHT SEEING. Like everywhere. seeing sights is free to do. (so long as you don’t want to go inside!)  London has LOADS. How about instead of spending lots of £££ on your Oyster Card or Travel Day pass – rent a bike. The government has a new scheme unfortunately for long periods of time, it doesn’t work out that cheap. But for less than 30 mins, it’s free to rent a bike off the street at located stalls.   I would suggest a real hire bike place : with a bit of research to what would suit you: http://www.lcc.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=171  free official maps avilable here: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/11682.aspx.  Then enjoy the architecture, the sights, the small food places you can eat on the road and meet new people without the bustle and squeeze of the underground.

NOT SO FREE but cool.

FOOD:

A pizza place near goodge street tube stop (northern line) – you leave the tube stop, turn right, take your first right again. You continue up the street, past a Tescos and a cool Cupcake store called Candy Cakes ( recommended for those with sweet tooths, will run you £3 a cake) until the corner of Charlotte Street and Goodge.  Best italtian Pizza in the place for the best price!  A whole pizza (£3+) proper italian style- thin base, and a beer will run you only run you £5-6.   In the summer 100’s of people sprawl out onto the streets from the pub between the cupcake place and tube stop called The Fitzrovia.

If in the UK, you need to eat good indian food. Those new to this food won’t know the difference between Pakistani food and Indian. Indian is more sauce/curry – Pakistani food is more rice and spice. Brick Lane is where you’ll find most cheap-ish Indian food. But beware, most of them claim to have ‘chef of the year!’ Time Out website/magazine and online reviews will help you search out the best on the area.   Brick Lane at first looks a bit dingy, but this is its charm like a Brit vision of Williamsburg. Not too gentrified it holds many secrets.  Whilst in the area, great bakeries that do the best bagels and chinese treats will run you a nice £1-3 depending on what you buy, open until late.     Sunday Up Market as you guessed happens on a sunday and it’s a cool hip-happening place of art, funky foods and cool crafts to try.   Close to here is the ‘Vibe-Bar’ which is a bar with an amazing beautiful courtyard (pictured below)  in the summer months free live music happens. a beer will bust you about £3 – but at night you can probably sneak your own booze to the courtyard.

If you start at Whitechapel side of brick lane, head to the newly furnished Whitechapel Gallery (free and great) and end your long walk up BL at LCB surf store that combines surf and skate with great organic coffee. What a mix?

Like every Chinatown, London’s SoHo chinatown has many treats.  Chinese Bakeries with goodies to fill your pockets up for train journeys and picnics.  Avoid buffets, and go for a sit down menu meal. Depending where you go, a meal here will usually run you about £10 including drink if you don’t order starters.

Hidden greasy-spoon cafes hide behind back streets of the main streets.  The further out zone 1 you go, the cheaper and more authentic food gets.  Near Vyner Street you can grab a proper english breakfast for £3, so big and lovely you won’t need to eat for lunch.

You can’t go to London without having Afternoon teas and cakes – the stereotype of Britain.  TEA, is for all you urban folk – this place is the place for every fair-trade tea goings on. Another cool place is bob bob ricard all polished brass, buttoned green leather and booth seating – it’s just the place to hide away for a discreet nibble and chat, and it serves tea and cakes all day. The only problem is that an afternoon tea here could run you £10.

Like Seth mentioned, great markets are dotted around the city will provide you with amazing, fresh food from around the world at modest prices below £6.  Including and certainly NOT limited to Covent Garden markets.

By now you’ll probably know that alot of UK culture is on binge drinking. We love our pubs, clubs and boozey drinking offers (if near student campus’s you can find a cheap vodka and coke for £1).  One of my favourite pubs/bar is called “Venn Street Records” in clapham. Venn ST Records wants to be a cool hip rock n roll bar.  whilst it might lack the dirt n grime of a real dive bar, it makes up for  it in drinks and coolness with bonding in with the Clapham crowd. Cocktails cover twists on some classics and tongue-in-cheek kitsch with options including the AC/Daiquiri, thePina Colada.  On Tuedays its 2-4-1 cocktails, so bring a friend and on sundays they sometimes have live music (but i have no idea if it’s good live music – check it and find out!)

If you fancy wondering out to Battersby then a place called LOST SOCIETY (no joke) is said to be happening. I avoid this place on a weekend cuz it will run you £5 but it’s worth it for the cool DJ’s spinning great tunes. On a budget though, i am sure you can find the same music somewhere else for free. At the Lost Society they have created their own society full of imaginative cocktails ( a list of 60 on the menu) and this is where you can try many different liquors from around the world.  In the summer, yuppies and hipsters come out and talk pretension in the fancy courtyard.

Mason and Taylor on Bethnal Green (yep i love the East side of LDN) is a place for anyone really wanting to get to grips with the many cool beers that London (and the UK) have to offer. It’s industrial looking within but I find this intriguing. Local London beers include Kernel IPA and Meantime Raspberry while a blossoming British artisan brewing community is rightfully well-represented in the shape of beers from Marble in Manchester, and many more from Wales, Sussex and the world including American.

 

In terms of film – a movie theater within zone 1 will cost you a limb. tickets start at £10 for multiplex’s with Leister Square being the most expensive of them all (for obvious reasons). Unless you want to go to the movie theaters where the premieres happen, I would advise to avoid seeing films here.  Cineworld is a great Multiplex cinema in the UK and has a few within London starting from Zone 2 outwards. 1 ticket here will still run you about £8+ onwards (don’t see a 3D movie) but lots of leg room, and many screens to choose from including the latest releases and Hollywood’s blockbusters with the odd arthouse or limited release movie showing. If hollywood or multiplex cinema isn’t your scene,  then the  Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is a great place to go. They usually have fantastic contemporary art exhibitions on – and since early 2010 it’s now free to see them – a fantastic bookstore, and cafe/bar which doubles up as a gig/live music place at night. This place is happening and won’t even brush you a penny. The ICA has great choices of films from foreign films you won’t see anywhere else, artist films, documentaries, classics to BAFTA choices. The tickets are also priced here slightly less at £7.

If you’re a true film buff, when in London the British Film Institute is your guide to what’s happening and showing. They do various film festivals all year around with October BFI film festival being the most significant. For those of you wanting to see a 3D movie, then the IMAX complex is the place to go, pay out an extra £2 for the real deal instead of a normal cinema that doesn’t have the technology to get the full effects across to you.

GETTING AWAY FROM LONDON

If you’re in London for longer than 4 days then perhaps leaving London is a good use of your time. Actually see a bit more of the UK than what’s simply portrayed in the movies. Brighton is next to the sea and is seen as a London suburb and only an hour train ride away. Many Londoners like to get away to here on a weekend. The clubbing scene is cheaper and more openly lively. Drink in cafes that will only cost you £1 for a cuppa, or eat an ice cream on the pier. perhaps go on a ride or chill on the beach. Brighton has one of the biggest gay and lesbian populations in the UK, so come and feel the pride and enjoy the loud brash culture here!  A return ticket will cost you about £10.00

If the gay sea-side isn’t your thing, then how about Oxford. Heading further up North – a return ticket on the train will bust you between £2.50 – £10.00 depending if bought in advance or not.  The train ride is 45 mins long. Oxford is the home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Here lies even more history than you would have ever expected! Spend the day watching people train on the rivers, or seeing more bikes on the road than cars.  See a scene you can only imagine would be on Harry Potter, or go to the library that has billions of books underground!  Take in the rich green fields and the limestone architecture.

If countryside is more your thing, and you’re in the UK for more than a week. Then perhaps a MEGABUS or an advanced bought train ticket will get you up to places like Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester in less than 3 hours. The further out of London you go, the further your ££ will go too.

In short, after accommodation – London is your Oyster. (literally if that’s your main use of transport) Spending your day divided by museums, food, bars, music, and sights it’s easy to be cheap with a bit of perseverance and research. you can wander the streets and live off baked goods and fresh fruit from market stalls. You could spend your money on cocktails you’ve never heard of and see artists studios.

Oh and I forgot, you must all see if my good friend Myra DuBois has a show, critically acclaimed by Time Out London, and go. Seriously.

Because art should be made through the process of discussion (CRIT GROUP)

ANOTHER CRIT GROUP – FOR YOU!  BANK STREET ARTS, TUESDAY 12TH APRIL 2011, 5:30

ALL WELCOME.

Are you interested in art? Or are you an artist? Do you want some some critical discussions about art, sheffield art scene and/or your own artwork? Do you want to build a network of artists?!

THEN THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED.
You can bring your own art/ideas/exhibition flyers/reading materials/friends for engaging, critical and fun chats! To resolve problems you might have or to inspire your next works.

If you have a presentation coming up, bring that along. If you’ve hit a wall with an idea, or would like another voice to help you out – this is your place. Or simply have an exhibition – we can go and see it!

Anyone can bring anything to discuss.

ANYONE ATTENDING CRIT-GROUP should try and see Bryan Eccleshall’s Residency work that ends 9th April ! Find out more: http://bryaneccleshall.co.uk/

Anyone else can bring work to this months crit platform!

Any more info contact me: sarah smizz @ smizz.fo.shizz@gmail.com 🙂