“A brain to pick, a ear to listen and a push in the right direction.” John C Crosby
That, in a nutshell, is how I see my role as a creative practice mentor. I’m not – and don’t aspire to be – a coach, counsellor, facilitator or tutor. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a mentor as a trusted and experienced guide and that’s what I aim to be. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to meet some great people who were ready to share their time and skills as I wrestled with the practicalities of establishing myself as a freelance textile artist.
I came to appreciate their opinions when it came to growing my business, finding exhibition opportunities and learning how to develop a professional approach. For me, however, it was never about focusing on the next invoice or grant application . I loved being creative for the sake of being creative and this was a really tricky concept for my business mentors to grapple with. Most of the time there wasn’t anyone around who wanted – or was willing – to give me room to throw ideas into the air and play with the possibilities they offered on their flutter back to earth. I never came across someone who just would listen as I thought out loud or who would instinctively know the moment to empower me by simply saying “go on, then.”
Like many people I have had to juggle creative opportunities with other demands; at various times relationships, work commitments, family responsibilities and financial constraints have all pushed their way to the top of the priority list making my artistic journey more of an erratic ramble rather than a sprint. As a result my creative practice takes place – and always has done – in isolation. I’ve learnt to become self-reliant, self-directing and my own best critic. From personal experience I know how new ideas, clearing a creative block or spotting a new direction of study can come about because of a chance word or unexpected encounter.
So I’ve decided to let other people have the benefit of my hindsight, successes and failures – you can read about them here. In my version of creative practice mentoring, objectives are agreed through informal discussions and can be reworked at any time. I listen as mentees explore ideas and options which are appropriate and authentic to their personal situation. Meetings are on neutral territory, usually in a coffee shop (with cake rewards when we both feel we’ve achieved a breakthrough – this happens more often than it should!).