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…

My wonderful, creative, inspiring family

As a little insight into my life, I’m sharing work by members of my very talented family.

IMMERSED IN ART


I grew up with art in my life; from those magical moments I remember from a very young age, when my dad took his parents’ massive art folder out from under the bed to show us their incredible, fragile works, to my A-Level in Art when I immersed myself in museums and books, and my Masters degree at the University of Glasgow during which I studied History of Art. 


With so many creative types in my family, it’s no wonder I’ve always had an interest in making things. Whether hours spent as a child painting away with my tongue sticking out in rapt concentration (dad has the photo evidence to prove it) or hours spent leaning over my desk to create my papercuts, it’s clear I’ve always had it in me!


Me at work!


MY CLEVER GRANDPARENTS

First off are the two biggest creative influences in my life; my paternal grandparents. 


Sadly, I never met my granny and grandad – Mary Millicent and Ronald Frederick Holmes; they were killed in a car crash before I was born.


Both were immensely talented. Granny was a milliner, dress designer and wonderful artist; she could just look at my sister and run her up a perfectly-fitting dress in minutes. She was a classically beautiful woman (I must find a photo to show you) and all the old pics I’ve seen of her just ooze effortless style. I’m the proud owner of her beautiful Jones sewing machine.

R. F. Holmes: Hartlepool Docks, early 1950s (colour lithograph)

Grandad was a very skilled artist and graphic design teacher at Leeds College of Art. He also designed textiles and worked in commercial graphics (our family claim to fame is that my grandad redesigned the ‘g’ on the Carlsberg logo because he spotted that it wasn’t typographically correct!). 

This painting (below), which hangs in my kitchen, is a study for a lino cut. Grandad was renowned for his printmaking, with some lino cuts featuring upwards of 30 colours. He was also a great typographer, graphic designer and photographer. Several of his prints are held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (some viewable here) in London and many remain with the family.
R. F. Holmes: Plaice, early 1950s (watercolour)
Granny and Grandad both studied at the Royal College of Art and were evacuated with the college from London to the Lakes during the Second World War. They and their fellow students caused quite a storm when they arrived in rural Ambleside! Both were involved in the post-war British arts scene – I really look up to them for their style and just wish I’d had the chance to meet them!
INCREDIBLE ERIC


Closely linked to my grandparents is Eric Taylor. He was my Dad’s godfather and a close friend of my grandad. I had the pleasure of meeting Eric, who died age 90 in 1999. I remember him as a very elderly man; I remember his house which was full of fascinating objects. I also went to a retrospective of his work in a Hull art gallery (I think it was Hull!). At the time of first meeting him I don’t think I knew anything of his war background; I just remember looking at the ceramic fish and wrought iron sculptures around his home and thinking he seemed a real character.


Eric was an established painter and printmaker (like my grandad) who studied at the Royal College of Art and Central College of Art (now Central Saint Martins College of Arts & Design). 


During the war he served with the Army and took part in the Normandy landings. 


Doctors Attending a Wounded Soldier in a Shattered Building behind the Rhine : Immediately after the crossing, (by Eric Taylor, 1945; Imperial War Museum) 



Eric was among the first of the Allies to arrive at Belsen Concentration Camp. Although not an official war artist, he used to his skills to document the horrors of the camps. I will never forget during my art A-Level finding one of his holocaust paintings in a book while I myself worked on a project about war. I don’t think I knew anything of his experiences so it was quite a shock to me.

HORRORS OF WAR


As Eric himself put it: “I drew the dead and scarcely living people when Belsen concentration camp was overrun, and I witnessed at first hand all the other appalling horrors of war. To me, any attempt to explain in words the overall influence of this experience on my work appears to weaken what I endeavour to say in my painting or sculpture. It means so very much.”


A Young Boy from Belsen Concentration Camp (by Eric Taylor, 1945; Imperial War Museum)


This painting needs no explanation; there are many much more harrowing pieces by Eric (many of which are held at the Imperial War Museum London and viewable over two pages via this link) which I won’t post here but needless to say I truly admire this man’s work and life – to be able to capture all of that horror and emotion in such simple line and form is a true talent and I hope you guys don’t mind me sharing it with you.


MY CREATIVE AUNT


Granny and Grandad’s daughter, my aunt aunt Christine, is now based in Napier, New Zealand. With a background in textile and graphic design, Christine has excelled in ceramics, textile arts, silk painting and wearable art. She’s now a Community Arts Manager and works with Creative Napier to organise festivals and events like town-wide yarn-bombing. This photo (taken from a book, sorry for the quality!) shows one of her creations for the World of WearableArt (WOW)


Fantale (by Christine Heaney)


MY CLEVER SISTER


My sister, Steph, is a busy mum of two who still manages to find the time to paint beautiful pieces like this stunning canvas (which is in my bedroom). Now based in the Yorkshire Dales, she studied art at degree level and has had a solo exhibition at a National Trust property. Now her girls are at school, she’s set up her own business page to sell her paintings, which include botanical pieces like this, gouache works and 3D mixed media canvases.


Lillies (by Stephanie Owen-Standford)

Clever ‘eh? Once she lets me know what her brand new FB page is called, you guys will be the first to know!
I’m very proud of my big sis 🙂


Moonlit Lovers competition: WINNER!

Good evening everybody!

Thank you so much for all of your entries for my latest giveaway – a competition to win a fine art giclee print of my Moonlit Lovers papercut. 

I was inundated with entries and they were so lovely too, with some really kind messages, some personal stories shared and even a poem written which was inspired by the lovely quote. 

As always, I used a random number generator to select a winner, and classed the first entry received as number one, the second as number two, and so on. 

The number chosen was number four…

So I’m pleased to announce that the winner of the print is the very lucky sender of the fourth entry (counting up from Andrea, who was the first)…

Stef Pugh!

Congratulations Stef, I have already emailed you for your address and your print will be in the post tomorrow 🙂

For everyone who entered, I wish I could give you all a prize; especially those of you who sent me such lovely comments. Thank you.

Your support of my little business means the world to me; I still struggle to believe how much this has taken off but of course I couldn’t have done it without you lot. Thank you so so much x

Although my order books are full for 2013, I will be opening up occasional order slots throughout the year so please keep your eye out for those if you’d like a bespoke piece. I’ll also be offering original papercuts for sale too, such as my shiny happy Sunbeams piece, which has just been released for sale on Folksy here. Prints are always available to pre-order from here, and I’m hoping to offer some new products and more greetings cards over the coming months too. 

Till the next competition… (which I’m sure will be soon!) All the best, Melissa x


Another giveaway!

Hello all! It’s time for another Holmes-made giveaway! To celebrate hitting (and totally surpassing) 2,500 likes on my Facebook page, I’m giving away one of my fine art giclee prints.

Up for grabs is a print of my Moonlit Lovers, which features a wonderful Audrey Hepburn quote (“The best thing to hold on to is each other”), a loving couple in a nighttime countryside scene and a moon-gazing hare – an ancient symbol of fertility.

Original papercut: Moonlit Lovers © Melissa Holmes/Holmes-made, 2013

This professionally printed piece is A4 in size and will be supplied unframed and unmounted, leaving you to choose framing options to suit your decor. It’s printed to Fine Art Trade Guild Standards (so the colours will stay true for a loooong time) on beautiful Somerset Enhanced Velvet paper, a scrummy textured paper which oozes quality. The print will also be signed. 

Fine art giclee print: Moonlit Lovers © Melissa Holmes/Holmes-made, 2013

Entering is simple. For your chance to win, send me an email to holmesmadecomps @ gmail.com (without the spaces) with the title “Moonlit Lovers comp” in the subject line. If you fancy, you can even write me a message if you like, but all I need is the email – that’s it. Couldn’t be simpler!! Emails must be received by 7pm on Friday 1st March, and I will announce the winner that night. The winner will be notified via email with a little nod on Facebook page, since FB rules don’t allow me to state winners on my page! 

So what are you waiting for? With my order books chocka for the whole of 2013, this is a great way to get your hands on a bit of Holmes-made loveliness for no money at all! You could give it to your Mum for Mother’s Day, gift it to your other half or maybe even keep it for yourself.


Good luck! x

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Terms and Conditions:

The main prize is an A4, unframed, unmounted fine art giclee print entitled Moonlit Lovers. If you already own this print, an alternative print will be offered from what I have in stock.
Entries from the UK only please people – although I’m feeling generous, I’m only going to cover UK postage. The winner’s print will be posted out to them on Saturday 2nd March 2013, First Class.
Competition entries must be sent to holmesmadecomps @ gmail.com (no spaces) and received by 7pm on Friday 1st March 2013. Any entries received after this time will not be included in the draw. I will draw the competition and let the winner know via email and via an announcement on this blog on the same night.
I promise I will never pass your details on to any third party, they will just stay stuck in my email account forever – although I might use them to get in touch with you about future offers or products (let me know if you’d like to opt out).
The winner will be chosen using a random number generator (each email will be numbered and the winner will be selected that way).
This giveaway is in no way endorsed by or associated with Facebook at all, in any way possible. Ever.
If you have any questions, please give me a shout – holmesmadecrafts @ gmail.com (without the spaces).

We have a winner! Well, three!

A huge big thank you to all of you lovely lovely people for entering my giveaway! 

The lucky winners have been chosen via Random.org random number generator. I entered numbers from 1 to 74 (74 entries were received) and then asked random.org to generate me three winners (with the first, earliest email sent being number 1, and the final, most recent email being number 74). I’ve done this totally randomly and honestly, choosing just three numbers and triple checking the numbers of each email. 


So.


Drumroll please….




The two runners up, each winning a multipack of three Holmes-made Christmas cards, are:


Jess Hutchinson and Lorraine Murphy!


Congratulations ladies, I have emailed you both and once I have your postal addresses I’ll post out your multipacks (tomorrow!) 


And the winner of the grand prize is:


Kym Ombler!


Well done Kym! I will fire you over an email tonight and we will get the ball rolling to have your owl designed and cut in January! 


For those of you who weren’t lucky enough to win tonight, I will be running a special offer in January, offering a limited number of slots for bespoke personalised owls available at the special price of £25 (rather than £30) – this is for an A4 owl inc P&P. Details will be up on my page soon.


Also keep your eye out for new product lines and designs launching next year – I’ve got great things planned for Holmes-made in 2013! 

Thank you once again to all of you for taking the time to enter, and for supporting my page. It’s gone from strength to strength this year and I’ve got you lot to thank for it… You make me feel all warm and fuzzy!

All that remains is for me to wish you an utterly fabulous Christmas/cool Yule – may it be filled with fun times, delicious food and fantastic company. 

Here’s to a happy, healthy 2013… And perhaps another giveaway soon! 

Melissa x

The great Holmes-made 1,500 likes giveaway!

Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 13.19.45

Hello! You’ve probably found this blog because you’re a fan of my page on Facebook, where you can find all sorts of bespoke, hand-drawn and hand-cut papercut loveliness.

As a huge THANK YOU to my fans for helping me hit this wonderful milestone and supporting my little kitchen table enterprise (and for helping me live out my creative dreams!), I’m holding a little giveaway…

One lucky Holmes-made fan could win a unique, personalised papercut owl featuring the colours and fabrics of their choice, which will be cut and delivered in the new year.

You could be in with a chance of winning an unframed A4 papercut owl, personalised to your specifications1

You could be in with a chance of winning an unframed A4 papercut owl, personalised to your specifications

Two lucky runners up will each bag themselves a multipack of my printed Christmas cards (three cards, one of each festive design – for more info see http://www.folksy.com/shops/HolmesMadeCrafts). The runner-up prizes will be delivered before Christmas (all being well with Royal Mail!).

DSC_0592

Entering is easy. For your chance to win, all you have to do is send me an email to holmesmadecomps @ gmail.com (without the spaces) with the title “Christmas comp” in the subject line. Heck, you can even write me a message if you like, but all I need is the email – that’s it. Couldn’t be simpler!! Emails must be received by 7pm on Tuesday 18th December, and I will announce the winners that night. Winners will be notified via email with a little nod on my FaceBook page, since FB rules don’t allow me to state winners on my page!

The winners will be chosen using a random number generator (each email will be numbered and winners will be selected that way).

Erm, I think that’s everything, although I think I’m meant to say that this giveaway is in no way endorsed by or associated with Facebook at all, in any way possible. Ever.

So, if you fancy providing a home to a little feathered friend in the New Year, drop me an email and enter NOW!

It’s just my way of saying thank you for all your likes and love… Just spreading a little Christmas cheer 🙂

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Terms and Conditions:

The main prize is an A4, unframed papercut owl, featuring a personalised name in the leaves.  The winner gets their choice of paper colours, fabric and glittery bits, to be organised in consultation with me in the new year. Prize will be posted out in the new year (mid-January at the latest).

Two runners up will each receive a multipack of Holmes-made Christmas cards; a three-pack featuring one of each design. You can either give them away this year or keep them till next! These will be posted before the last first class posting date (20th December).

Competition entries must be sent to holmesmadecomps @ gmail.com (no spaces) and received by 7pm on Tuesday 18th December. Any entries received after this time will not be included in the draw. I will draw the competition and let the winners know via email and via an announcement on this blog on the same night.

I promise I will never pass your details on to any third party, they will just stay stuck in my email account forever – although I might use them to get in touch with you about future offers or products (let me know if you’d like to opt out).

If you have any questions, please give me a shout – holmesmadecrafts @ gmail.com (without the spaces).