On creative block, not being good enough, and not giving up.

‘I used to be a papercutting artist.’

‘I was a self-employed creative, but I’m taking a break while I decide on a new direction.’

‘I worked as an artist, but…’

No matter how I try and phrase it, it doesn’t sound right. What is all this ‘used to be’, this ‘was’?

What do I mean, I’m ‘taking a break’?

I’ve never taken a break. I don’t take breaks. My brain never stops. I have always been creative. It runs in my blood, from my grandparents to my beautiful daughter, there’s a creative root that’s grown and flourished and blossomed throughout my life – whether it’s painting from my imagination as a toddler, working as an arts co-ordinator to support young people with disabilities, writing articles for national magazines as a journalist, or creating bespoke keepsake papercuts for great clients.

I’ve never not created.

But suddenly that blossom has withered away. My petals have fallen.

Trying to get my head round the concept of taking a break from my creativity, or even – heaven forbid – actually stopping papercutting… Well, it’s difficult.

For a few weeks, I haven’t created much at all. It seems to have started a while back, perhaps triggered by some rather nasty personal insults which caused me to question myself a little too much (apparently, I’m “just a mum who cuts holes in paper in her daughter’s bedroom” – the things people say when they have a keyboard to hide behind). I’ve been going through the motions. I’ve posted out Etsy orders in between being mum and caring for my family during the Easter holidays. Commissions have taken a back seat while I wrestle with ‘just not feeling it’ – thank you to those understanding customers. I’ve spent time with family, time alone, time online trying to breathe new life into my creativity with the support of a network of amazing fellow business owners. I’ve spent time exercising, meditating, reading… But very little time at my cutting mat.

The feeling of not creating is a very strange one indeed. I’ve come to realise that the minutiae of running a creative business (and the vast amount of non-creative time that involves) has started to overcome me. Keeping up with the admin, marketing, accounts, social media, getting my product photography just so, setting out plans for the future… But wait a minute. When did I last sit with a pencil and just draw? When did I last go for a walk in nature and not check my iPhone for Etsy stats or Instagram likes? When did I last spend an evening with my family without responding to client enquiries or updating product listings in my online stores?

IMG_0905

It’s Spring – time to gather up my petals and start blooming again.

I’ve come to realise that what I’ve been experiencing isn’t creative block. It’s creative overload. Surrounded by highly talented peers who are consistently coming up with bestsellers and new concepts; constantly seeing apparently perfect, organised lives and brilliant businesses on social media… I won’t be the first creative person to tell you that my ideas don’t feel original, that I can’t come up with anything new, that people must be bored of what I do, that I feel like I’ve no sense of direction, that I’m just not good enough. But all of these thoughts have whirred around my head in recent months.

Ah, self doubt. How I loathe you.

I wish I knew how to quit you.

And it’s been so hard, so hard when everyone else seems to be doing great, and when working alone (when I usually really value my solitude) can make me feel like the loneliest person on the planet. Not physically alone, but also alone with those isolating, almost self-indulgent thoughts.

I’ve reached out. I’ve spoken to other creatives, to friends, to people who follow me on social media. I know I’m not alone – in every sense of the word.

From my best friend: “You’re such a talented person. Taking some you time is maybe what you need.”

From a brilliantly creative online friend: “You may find you don’t need a massive break,  just time to remember how to be you again. You are a papercut artist, that’s what you do.”

Who is this ‘you’ that they speak of? I’m not sure who she is… I am my business and my business is me, and if I never have another decent creative idea ever again OH MY GOSH THIS IS THE WORST FEELING EVER!

And yet another wonderful original creative talent: “You are more than capable. Please don’t think you’re on your own with this, you’re not, at all.”

Of course, when you’re in the mire of creative numbness, feeling like you’ll never have an original idea ever again (while simultaneously beating yourself up about having such narcissistic thoughts when there are so many more important things going on in the world), these loving, supportive words bounce off your psyche like raindrops on a leaf-laden forest floor. Just not in such a beautiful way.

Because, when you keep telling yourself the same thing over and over, sometimes you start to believe it. Even when, deep down, you know it’s not the truth.

When you’re used to always being creative, creative block is a very scary feeling. None of my ideas feel like mine, you tell yourself. I will never be able to create anything ever again – you’re convinced. What if I never have any more ideas ever again!? My brain is empty. Literally empty. And this sketch looks too much like this other artist’s work. And I can’t do this design because everyone is doing this style and I don’t want to look like I’m jumping on some sort of bandwagon. And I can’t even put my pencil to paper as I’ve talked myself out of having any sort of talent or four years’ worth of happy, satisfied customers. That never really happened, did it? Face it, you’re just not good enough.

And so it continues, round and round. The nasty cycle.

Weirdly, all I’ve wanted to do since this murky creative fog descended is to write. Which is what I used to do – and do well – before my daughter was born. In a cruel twist of post-baby nose-diving self-confidence, I gave that up (not good enough! Are you spotting a theme here?) to pursue papercutting, which I loved (love). So perhaps I do still have a little creative ember burning away inside of me. Maybe I just need to find that spark to light it up again.

At times like this, I seek advice everywhere. I want to know what my favourite thinkers and influencers think about creative block, about self care, about keeping going and trying new things. The brilliant Austin Kleon quips: “You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it” and (pertinently, for me) “You have to remember that your work is something you do, not who you are.” Phew. Well that’s a relief.

Meanwhile, my beloved Elizabeth Gilbert tells me: “Done is better than good,” and “Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.”

Elizabeth? Is that you? Actually inside my mind??

I could read every opinion and every theory about the situation, continue my procrastination and prolong my fear of getting wrong the commissions that a few of my wonderful (and patient, and understanding) clients are waiting for. But I still wouldn’t find the answer. Why? Because only I have the answer. And I know, through all my denial, dilly-dallying, self doubt, lack of confidence, anxieties over my abilities, that the answer is very, very simple. Too simple.

Do the thing.

Draw the sketch. Create the piece. Cut the paper. DO THE THING.

Actually doing the work, getting my ideas down (preferably free of my own judgement and self-criticism) is the only way I can get past this block. To rediscover my love of the process, to reignite my passion for the craft. It is truly the only way.

So that is what I’m going to do.

One pencil line, one scalpel cut at a time.

I’ll see you on the other side. Who knows what may happen…?

Words and images © Melissa Holmes :: HolmesMadePapercuts

Launch of The Paper Artist Collective

I’m thrilled to let you know I’m now part of The Paper Artist Collective; an international group of hugely talented artists all working with the medium of paper.

Proud member of The Paper Artist Collective.The Collective is made up of some 50 members from 22 countries and, since our formation in early 2015, we have been working together to share opportunities and information.

My artist's page on the PAC websiteAs a member of the Collective, I’m excited to be involved with such a diverse and interesting group of people. I consider it a real honour to have been invited to be part of this internationally renowned group of artists. We have a number of events and exhibitions planned, so I will keep you posted on those over the months ahead. Please feel free to visit the website, follow our Instagram or find us on Facebook or Twitter to learn more about the many individual artists involved, and our future plans, which include a pop-up shop in Oslo and an exhibition in Geneva.

In the meantime, I am busy with commissions, Christmas planning and organising more workshops (despite it being the Summer holidays and me saying I would take less on!), as well as filling my lovely new Etsy shop with goodies. So yes, I’m certainly very busy just now! My order books are filling up for Christmas, with limited slots now available from mid-October onwards, so if you’d like a bespoke piece like a family tree, quote papoodle or filled letters papercut, please contact me.

Till next time,

Melissa

Busy in the kitchen!

Kale... From my veg patch to my green juice!

#TeamKale… From my veg patch to my green juice!

My love of being creative extends to the kitchen, so trying new recipes and food ideas is one of my favourite things… I even love to grow my own food.

Those of you who follow my Instagram feed will know I’m a huge fan of juicing and healthy eating, but that I also have a seriously sweet tooth.

So imagine my delight – thanks to the big surge in popularity of whole foods and clean eating – when I discovered a simple recipe for homemade chocolate hazelnut spread, and when I found out about the marvel that is ‘nice cream’.

Homemade pancakes... One of my favourite naughty treats just got a smidgen healthier thanks to homemade chocolate spread.

Homemade pancakes… One of my favourite naughty treats just got a smidgen healthier thanks to homemade chocolate spread.

Nutella is a go-to for me; whether I’m spreading it on homemade pancakes (here are some I made earlier!), dipping my pretzels in it, or just eating it straight from the jar. On a spoon.

But the ingredients list isn’t all that appetising, with palm oil high on the list. Since my large jar was down to its last dregs, I decided to attempt to make my own. Right after I finished eating those pancakes! Homemade hazelnut chocolate spread is actually really simple to make, with just a few ingredients. Here’s how I made mine, with my recipe slightly adapted from this one which I found in the Guardian.

You’ll need…
200g whole hazelnuts
One teaspoon of cacao powder (if you don’t have this, you can use regular cocoa powder, like you’d use in baking)
Four teaspoons of caster sugar (you can leave this out if you prefer)
Two teaspoons of groundnut oil
One teaspoon of vanilla essence

Roasted hazelnuts, before removing the skinsFirst, spread the hazelnuts out on a baking tray and pop in the oven at 180ºC for about ten minutes, maybe fifteen. Once the outside skin of the nuts has gone dark brown, wrap the hazelnuts in a clean tea towel and massage the tea towel ‘bag’ vigorously against your worktop. Give the bag a good rub back and forth to loosen the skins of the hot nuts (so many opportunities for sniggering here, sorry) – it’ll take some doing but you’ll be left with a pile of clean hazelnuts (you can pick any stubborn skins off by hand, or pop them back in the oven to roast a little longer).
Once you’ve got skinless nuts(!), pop them in the food processor with a teaspoon of the oil and whizz for a few minutes till the mixture takes on a buttery consistency. You can then add the rest of the ingredients including the remaining teaspoon of oil, along with a pinch of salt. Whizz all of this up for a few more minutes in order to get chocolate hazelnut spread. Once done, pop it into a clean jam jar and store it in the fridge, where it’ll keep for a month. If you can actually keep it that long!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Mine has a lovely roasted nutty taste (I left a few stubborn skins on the nuts) and a rich chocolatey flavour (I used a posh block of pure cacao which is meant to be for hot chocolate, but I grated it and it worked fine!). My spread was also quite crunchy (I could’ve blended it for longer) which is really tasty, especially with the little crumbles of salt I can taste in it. It might not look as smooth or as dark as the original recipe, but… Mmmmmm… Pass me a spoon!

Next up was tea (roast chicken, blanched kale and summer potatoes, in case you’re wondering!), then – more importantly – pudding!!

If you’ve never heard of nice cream, you’re missing a treat. It’s dairy free and divine. What’s more, it’s been taking over my Instagram feed for months. Just look at these beautiful examples…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


So how do you make it? Next time you have overripe bananas (a rarity in this house), simply slice them up and put them in the freezer. Then when you want a refreshing, cooling dessert, just grab those frozen banana bits and whizz them up! It’s as simple as that. With frozen bananas as the base, you can then any other frozen fruit into the food processor at the same time (we used strawberries tonight) or even cocoa powder or matcha. It’s a great reason to raid the reduced-price fruit in the supermarket – just bring it home and pop it in the freezer. After a couple of minutes of blending, you’re left with a delicious, creamy nice cream!

Strawberry and banana 'nice cream'

Strawberry and banana ‘nice cream’

It’s definitely something I’ll be making again… She wolfed it down in minutes!!

Strawberry and banana 'nice cream'... Didn't last long!

Strawberry and banana ‘nice cream’… Didn’t last long!

Well that’s enough of my foodie chatter for now… I just had to share the homemade choc spread and more importantly the nice cream with you! Definitely worth a try this summer. Why not give them a go?

All images and words © Melissa Holmes :: holmesmadepapercuts, unless stated/otherwise credited. Please do not use, alter, copy or redistribute without my prior consent.

Holmesmadepapercuts is on Etsy!

After almost four years of creating my hand-drawn, hand-cut papercuts and lovely printed products, I’m thrilled to let you know I’ve now created a shop on Etsy.

You can visit it here.Holmesmadepapercuts - now on Etsy!

Etsy is one of the world’s best known marketplaces, and it brings together creative entrepreneurs like me with lovely shoppers like you. Since being founded in 2005, Etsy has grown to have 1.4 million active sellers (I’m a little fish in a huge ocean of talent!) and a huge 20.8 million active buyers. It’s a safe and secure method of shopping online, and I’m pleased as punch to be part of it.

For now, I’m maintaining my website at www.holmesmadepapercuts.com while I shift everything over to Etsy and decide whether to do away with my old site and stick with just Etsy, or if to maintain both sites at the same time. Bear with!!

Right now you can order a small selection of fine art prints, a bunch of beautiful originals and my fabulous printed mugs, notebooks and greetings cards. You’ll also find my Beginner’s Papercutting Sets and a new addition – papercutting templates, for those of you who’re keen to try your crafty hand at my designs (instant download templates will be available soon, all templates are for personal use only).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, much of my time is still taken up with wonderful bespoke commissions, which are an absolute privilege to cut, and I’ll soon be adding slots for these to my Etsy shop once my order books are a little quieter. In the meantime, you can always email me to reserve your own commission slot via hello (at) holmesmadepapercuts (dot) com

I’ve also joined my local Etsy Team, so expect to hear news in the future about local events I’m taking part in alongside fellow Leeds-area Etsians.

I hope you like the new shop and find buying from it a pleasure! I’d love to hear your thoughts, so if you have any comments or suggestions (be kind, I’m completely new to Etsy!), I’d love to hear them.

That’s all for now,

Melissa

All images and words © Melissa Holmes :: holmesmadepapercuts, unless stated/otherwise credited. Please do not use, alter, copy or redistribute without my prior consent.

York Makers Spring Fair and papercutting workshop

york makers posterIn early May I took part in a fantastic event with York Makers, a collective of craftspeople, artists and designer-makers based in York. I had a stall upstairs in the lovely Clements Hall, selling my originals, prints, cards, notebooks and mugs, plus I hosted my very first Beginner’s Papercutting Workshop at the event.

The day was a huge success, with more than 400 people through the doors (it’s not really central, so that’s a great number!). There were lots of beautiful stalls downstairs in the main rooms (which I was unfortunately too busy to look at!).

Manning my stall – a rare quiet moment!

Manning my stall – a rare quiet moment!

My stall was really popular – people always love the chance to look at my detailed work up close – with a very busy “till” (i.e. tupperware box containing my float!) plus lots of enquiries about commissions too.

The pre-booked workshop was a hit. The attendees (who came from as far away as Doncaster, Lancashire and Derby!) really enjoyed themselves and went home with completed papercuts (some used my Holmes-made-designed templates while others drew their own) as well as Beginner’s Papercutting Sets. Oh, and full tummies from the delicious homemade cake on offer!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m currently in talks with a couple of local venues about hosting papercutting workshops with them in future, so please keep your eye on my online shop and Facebook page for more information. I’m also planning a number of other craft fairs and events for the rest of 2015. If you’d like to be notified of a future workshop or event, please sign up to my mailing list by clicking here.

I just love this photo of Steph as she pulled her finished papercut away from the paper!

I just love this photo of Steph as she pulled her finished papercut away from the paper!

All images and words © Melissa Holmes :: holmesmadepapercuts, unless stated/otherwise credited. Please do not use, alter, copy or redistribute without my prior consent.

Spring update

spring pic

March already! Yikes. Life continues at a hectic pace here at HM HQ. New designs, more commissions and new products seem to be appearing left, right and centre! To match the blooming daffs and blossoming crocuses, I am going through a wonderful period of creativity and productivity – it’s fab! Alongside that, my little girl is really flourishing and showing me more and more of her creative side everyday, which is just wonderful! At four and a half, she’s quite the little artist, and I’m proud that she sees that as a viable job option for her future! I must share some with you, being a super-proud mum and all…

She has been helping with some order packing too… Sticking on stickers and my return address labels. Well, I have been kinda busy!

It's a good job I get on with the folks at my village Post Office!

So, what’s new? Well, I recently had my first small exhibition through in beautiful Harrogate at the stunning RHS Gardens, Harlow Carr. “Let’s Get Creative” saw a host of designers and makers come together to showcase their work and also do demonstrations of their craft, in a bid to encourage others to take up new crafts for the new year.

Papercutting demonstration by Melissa Holmes at RHS Gardens Harlow Carr, February 2015.

In preparation for the event, I was asked to put together Beginner’s Papercutting Sets. These feature everything you need to get started with the wonderful hobby of papercutting, including a couple of Holmes-made templates, spare papers, the same tools and materials I use, and of course a hints and tips sheet which condenses more than three years of my self-taught knowledge and experience! Feedback on the kits has been great so far; you can get yours here!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m absolutely thrilled to say that my work will be exhibited and for sale again at RHS Gardens Harlow Carr from March 17th until April 12th 2015, with a selection of originals, prints, cards and other products available.

Which leads me nicely on to those ‘other products’. 2015 is very much a year of new things for me here at Holmes-made, and I’m delighted to share with you these new products, which first went on sale in January and have been really popular. I have introduced a range of notebooks featuring some of my favourite designs, including my very popular ‘Creative Minds’ piece, which is a new original completed in January. These notebooks are perfect for doodles, daydreams, and dull stuff like shopping lists. I’ve also had two sizes of mugs printed with my ever-popular rainbow hearts design… Just to give you that extra boost with your morning cuppa!

Just some of the new items available from Holmes-made

And finally, I’ve also been working on more beautiful fabricy pieces, including extending my flora and fauna range with three new originals featuring British birds (pictured below are my robin and blue tit prints). I’m still working on this range, with more flowers and creatures to come, all featuring gorgeous fabric infills which, much like my tiny colour infills have in the past, are becoming something of a trademark to my work!

I think that pretty much covers it… For now! More mug and notebook designs are on their way, along with more new original pieces that I’m so excited to complete.

I hope you like what you see. Thanks as always for your support of my business!

Melissa x

PS – I’m very excited to be hosting my first ever papercutting WORKSHOP in early May! Further details of this will be announced in early April… Please keep your eyes on my social media for more info.

My papercut designs on your phone case!

I’m absolutely delighted to introduce an entirely new product to the Holmes-made range.

I was approached by SwagMyCase; a young British company which prints images on to high quality device cases, about having my work included alongside a number of other brilliant artists featured on the site. Of course I jumped at the opportunity (and was quick to order a case for my own phone too!). We actually launched my range just before Christmas and so far the feedback has been really positive.

My own phone cover with my own designs from http://swagmycase.com/collections/holmesmadepapercuts

You can buy some of my most popular designs through the SwagMyCase site, with more designs being offered in future. I wouldn’t put my designs on just anything, and I’m proud to say hand on heart that these are beautiful quality with a really good finish. I myself have the tough case (which has a silicon lining) in my rainbow heart design for my iPhone 5C and it makes me smile every time I see it!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The cases are made using a patent printing process which infuses the image right around the case, wrapping your device with a glossy image that doesn’t fade over time. What’s more, postage is free for UK orders. SwagMyCase offers slimline and thicker ‘tough’ cases for more than thirty devices, including iPhone, iPad, Samsung, Sony, LG, Blackberry and Google products. More are being added all the time, so do check back on the site soon in case you don’t see your phone or tablet on the list.

I hope you like them as much as I do!!