Going it alone

I’ve just realised its pretty much five years to the day since I registered as self-employed. Five years since I took a massive leap into the unknown, and five years since I went through one of the most traumatic periods of my life in order to climb out the other side and (quite literally) cut my own path.

The world at my feet… Graduating with my MA, July 2000.
A lot can happen in five years. For me it’s included a complete career change (from very stressed-out national magazine editor to mostly-relaxed papercutting artist), rediscovering the love of my life (my fiancé was also my secondary school sweetheart), a house move of 211 miles between two different countries, a serious health scare which miraculously led to the arrival of our enchanting, energetic daughter, several huge life experiences from which we’ve learned a lot, and two too many tragic family losses.
A couple of the awards I received during my time as  journalist.
So a lot can happen in a short space of time. A very lot.
I first put scalpel to paper in December 2011 when I was designing a Christmas card. Prior to that, Holmes-made was set up as a sewing-driven sideline to my publishing business – a creative escape from, well, being creative (as a writer). I showed the card to some other papercutters I knew via Facebook. With open arms, they welcomed me into their secret little groups where tips, advice and knowledge were shared, helping me to hone my skills and give me the confidence to develop my own hand-drawn style (something that’s vital in this sector). Friends placed orders for family trees or asked for important song lyrics to be rendered in paper – it was all a learning curve and it helped me realise that practice really does make perfect.
IN AT THE DEEP END
It had been a long 12 years or so since I’d even picked up a pencil to draw anything – since finishing up my A-Level Art course back in 2000, all my creativity had been via writing, sewing or photography. But it wasn’t long before I figured out my papercutting direction and the orders started coming.
And coming.
And haven’t stopped.
Fair enough, I’ve had a few hiccups along the way – atrocious pricing at the start which saw me make pennies an hour, a couple of major cock-ups with spellings on personalised items, a huge pizza-induced grease mark on a well-progressed A3 family tree (I work at the kitchen table and *always* scrub it down now before I start) and of course the obligatory copycats and imitators who have caused me so much stress I’ve wanted to jack it all in. 
As if I would. My clients would kill me!
CHOOSING FAVOURITES
I’ve been papercutting for 18 months now and, for someone who has had a whole bunch of different roles since graduating (learning support worker, college lecturer, magazine editor, pub cleaner…), I kinda feel like I’ve found my niche. Papercutting is a role I can (kind of) balance with motherhood, running the house and enjoying my life. I’m not chained to a desk for 18 hours a day with other people making such demands of me that I end up having a nervous breakdown (no joke). I’m not answerable to anyone. In fact, I’m only answerable to myself, so if I bugger it up big time, I’ve only myself to blame and no one is going to bail me out. 
Scary huh? That’s self-employment. It can be a lonely path, sitting at home, putting in a lot of hours and not even planting my arse on the sofa for weeks on end. But with a supportive fella and an incredible bunch of talented artists and adorable Facebook likers keeping me company (at a safe distance) day by day, it’s definitely my favourite job so far.
Last week on the beach with my daughter – I’m very happy in my own skin now!
DOING MY BIT
So I may not be saving lives, or changing communities, or doing vital research, but I am making a difference. I’m often reminded that my work brightens people’s lives everyday. And that’s just fab. Client feedback gives me such a boost, like this today: “You have a phenomenal talent and your love for what you do really comes through in the pieces that you produce.” What a fantastic compliment, ’eh?
Busy working hard at the job I love.
So. Here’s to five more years of self-employment. And then five more. And maybe a whole bunch more after that. If I can keep making people happy through my work – and importantly (given my own past experiences) keeping myself happy through my work – then long my it continue I say.
I’ll drink to that. But drinking means I can’t cut straight, so I’ll have some chocolate instead.
Cheers 😉

Stop the world, I want to get off


How often do we dash through life without stopping? Not stopping to smell the flowers, to relish a cloudless blue sky, to breathe in that indescribable smell of our child’s hair, or to give ourselves a couple of minutes to just be?
As an artist working from home, with an order book that’s full into 2014 plus an active two-and-a-half year old, two slightly bonkers cats, a loving partner and a house to look after, one of my biggest moans is my complete lack of ‘me’ time. So often I’m emailing, plaiting Barbie’s hair, sketching, cooking, washing up – I was even sending out client quotes while brushing my teeth the other morning. And when I’m not in headless chicken mode, I’m zonked out in front of the TV or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook to find solace amongst friends who are in the same predicament.

Sound familiar? 

One of my bonkers cats

In fact I’m so busy, I often forget myself. And I forget to take in those important things – just to ‘be’. 

Cuddles with my daughter, snuggles with my fiance, five minutes aside to stroke the cat – this is my ‘me’ time. And you know what? It’s more than enough for me. 

As I write this, a live version of Sinead O’Connor performing Nothing Compares 2 U has come on the radio. I seem to recall that in the song’s famous video, the single, solitary tear that falls down her flawless cheek was cried for her own mother, who’d passed away not long before. It’s very apt, as I sit here with the realisation just dawning that, yet again, I’ve missed the anniversary of my own mother’s death. 

It was eleven years ago yesterday that she died, with her daughters and husband beside her at home. And at four o’clock, when it happened, the blackbird on the barn (which Mum so loved to hear singing, to the extent she requested the words “May I always hear birdsong” on her grave) burst into song, and a jet – not one of those standard passenger planes, but a noisy, booming jet – whooshed by. 

And what was I doing at four o’clock yesterday afternoon? 

Working. 

Working on a commission yesterday

Listening to David Bowie, cutting a filled letters piece while my daughter napped, and relishing the fact that I actually have one of the cushtiest jobs going. I do recall feeling very happy and relaxed yesterday afternoon as I was truly into my cutting stride and making good progress on a commission. 

I was indeed just ‘being’.

So what should I have been doing yesterday afternoon at four o’clock? In previous years, to mark the anniversary, I’ve taken a boat out on to Loch Lomond (where I spent happy family holidays as a teen) and literally wept into the water; I’ve taken myself to Alnmouth beach, where some of her ashes were scattered, and screamed into the sea (one of Mum’s favourite stress-relieving exercises!)… 

So it’s fair to say that, today, I feel more than a little guilty that (for the second year running) I’ve bypassed the important day.

On Alnmouth beach with my little girl

But do you know what? Mum wouldn’t mind. She’d be happy that I’m happy, thrilled that I’m so wrapped up in what’s going on in my little family’s world that I overlooked that bloody painful day. 

I often tell a lot of my fellow work-at-home mums that “busy is good, busy is good” – especially as we tear our hair out over our overflowing order books or fret over what precisely it is we can do to keep our customers happy. In the case of yesterday, busy was good – it took me away from the moment and I was deeply focused on the job in hand. Mum would have been proud of me; she’d be proud that I’m doing so well and that my life is moving on, with my family and work to keep me busy.

I was fully aware that the anniversary was coming up (I’d convinced myself the 14th was tomorrow) and we are heading to Northumberland for a caravan holiday this weekend, where I’ll get to spend a bit of quiet time on the beaches that are important to me and my family. 

But in the meantime, I will carry on being busy; carry on with every day life; carry on working, playing, jumping in puddles with my daughter, carry on cooking, shopping, eating and doing all those ordinary things. Because that would’ve made Mum happy. 

Puddle jumping – nothing beats it

They say time is a healer. I’ve so often disagreed. But perhaps – just perhaps – the distance that time brings has brought a little healing. 

Amongst all the rushing about, stopping just for a few moments to enjoy that special song on the radio, to dance with your little one, to give your lover a squeeze, to read a chapter of that book you’ve been putting off for ages or listen to the birds sing… Well, it’s enough. Just enough to bring you back to yourself, to make the world stop spinning and the clocks stop ticking. 

And it’s so important to do that. Because it could all be gone in a heartbeat.

I don’t know if you know the Auden poem. But Mum was my North, my South, my East and West. She still is, and not a day goes by when I don’t think of her. Which is why I would usually beat myself up about forgetting yesterday. But my compass has realigned now, to include other important people who truly are my world – my entire universe. As Mum herself would say: “Life goes on”. As always, she was right.

Seeking peace at the beach

And guess what? I should be working right now. Take a deep breath, and back to it I guess…