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  1. Do What You Love interview: Madeleine Casey

    Today I am delighted to share an interview with visual artist, designer and filmmaker Madeleine Casey, a fellow participant in the Marie Claire Inspire & Mentor campaign last year, who won a mentorship from interior design guru Kelly Hoppen.  Madeleine was born in England but emigrated to New Zealand with her family when she was 10 where she grew up.  She now divides her time between London and Perth, Western Australia.  Today Madeleine shares her thoughts on juggling three careers, and on the highs and lows of setting up her own design label.

    [‘Maria’ Oil on Canvas, 40 x40 cm, Madeleine Casey]

    BN: Can you share a bit about your creative journey to here?  
    MC: I have always been really creative since a child and started out determined to have a career in music until some very honest friends told me I was a much better painter than a singer. I studied art history and film at university and am self-taught as far as painting goes.  I have been painting professionally for over ten years and had several successful solo exhibitions and participated in many group shows.  Painting is my number one love but I also like to branch out and express myself in other areas creatively.

    I have been working as a freelance homewares product developer and designer for about five years, which led me to establish Madeleine Casey Design.  Still in its infancy, Madeleine Casey Design incorporates a bespoke interior design service, an art consultancy and my own product range of homewares designed exclusively for the business.  I’m completely obsessed with architecture, homewares, textiles and design in general. The homewares brand will include dinnerware, art objects, wallpaper and a luxury organic bedding range. The head office will be in Australia, but the idea is for it to be a global company.

    Alongside my art career and design business I also work in film. Two years ago I made a short film in New Zealand with a former partner that was selected to premiere at the Berlin Film festival. I was fortunate enough attend the premiere at the 2009 Berlinale, which was an amazing experience. The film was also selected for several other major international film festivals around the world.  This is also something I would like to continue with – I want to write and direct films and documentaries.  So many things to do and not enough time!!

    In terms of any career milestones or “aha” moments, ten years ago in 2001 I went temporarily blind and that was a scary experience. I was living in New Zealand at the time and as my father drove me to hospital the predominant thought that ran through my head was that I would never be able to paint again. I’m definitely a visual person and that unsettling experience was the catalyst needed at the time for me to gain leverage on myself to work harder. I try not take anything in life for granted.

    [“I Was Told There Would Be Cake” Oil on Canvas, 122 x 138 cm, Madeleine Casey] 

    BN: You were pretty set on a career in music before your honest friends advised you to paint instead, which seems like it was good advice!  How do you know when to take advice like that, and when to ignore it and just follow your instinct?

    MC: Oh, that seems like several lifetimes ago now! That’s actually a great question but also a difficult question to answer too. I think I am lucky enough to have some very intelligent and honest friends and family around me that don’t mince words. My closest friends are people I’ve known since I was really young, so I trust their opinions and I’ll definitely take any criticism or advice on board without taking it personally. That said, however, it is incredibly important to also trust your own intuition as an artist but you also have to be realistic. There is definitely a fine line between idealism and realism and it can be hard to find the balance sometimes. 

    Perseverance is paramount to achieving your goals, but also in this day and age you need to be flexible and be able to realise when something isn’t working. I’ve certainly never been precious about any creative endeavours and feel lucky that I am able to be brutally objective about my own work, a lot of creative people don’t have that ability and their ego can get in the way. There have been many times when I feel like I have  been battling against the current and it is sometimes hard to know when to give up and change tack or to push on through. I’ve never been afraid to scrap something that isn’t working even if I have spent hours and hours on it. There is no point deluding yourself if something isn’t up to standard. That said though, I don’t think I have ever been fully happy with a piece of work…..I’m certainly my own worst critic!

    [“Valley of The Frozen Tears” Oil on Linen, 122 x 61 cm, Madeleine Casey]

    BN: What is it that you love so much about painting?

    MC: Art has been my first love since I can remember. My mother and my aunt Cath were both really good artists so I think it was encouraged by them from a young age. One of the great things about painting is that it is just you and the canvas. In many other creative pursuits, whether it’s making a film, playing music in a band or designing an interior, they are all collaborative efforts and you are reliant on others and also continually making compromises. That kind of collaboration in the end can be challenging and also immensely rewarding, but the solitary aspect of painting means it’s just you and your ideas and you’re not answering to a boss or working to the specifications of a clients brief. It’s the ability to step into a pure stream of creativity and self expression. I also find painting quite meditative and surprisingly grounding.

    BN: I am fascinated to know more about the ins and outs of being a homewares product designer.  Can you describe a typical day?

    MC: As I work freelance, there is really no such thing as a typical day! Usually it starts with a brief, perhaps with an idea for a dinnerware range.  I will be given the initial ideas or feel for the product range, often with suggestions for a colour palette in keeping with the season forecasts.  I then come up with a few ideas based on the brief and I’ll then email them for review.  I may be asked to make some changes or expand on my ideas. Sometimes I will hand render some illustrations or patterns but about eighty per cent is computer-based. The designs then get mapped onto decal wraps and then get sent through to the factory for sample manufacturing.
    BN: How did you get into that and what is the best part about it?
    MC: I really fell into product design and was quite lucky. I have been obsessed with anything to do with interiors, textiles and home design my whole life, and as product development is a very niche industry, positions don’t come up very often. About five years ago after doing an Adobe CS refresher course,  I applied for a freelance position for a company called Omni Presence in Australia. I think I was chosen more for my creative background in art as opposed my technical skills. There was a lot of on the job learning and the position also involves designing the packaging for the product ranges too.  It has been a great learning curve and I’ve learned so much about the industry which has been invaluable for branching out on my own.

    BN: How different is it designing products for your own company, compared with designing them for someone else? 

    MC: Designing products for your own company is great in terms of creative autonomy and freedom. I’m not working to a brief or creating something that is someone else’s vision, so that is very freeing and rewarding from a creative standpoint.  The main disadvantage is that if you create a product or range that is not viable from a commercial standpoint then the failure of that range and the financial shortfall rests solely on your shoulders. It is important to research and know how your product will work in the market place.

    BN: Not only are you a painter and a designer, but you are also a film-maker.  Can you tell us a bit about that and how it complements the other work you do?

    MC: Film has been something I have loved forever. In some ways it incorporates all the things I love – visually speaking it can be a work of art, with the photography and set design, yet it also tells a story and takes you on a journey.  I have a couple of short films in the pipeline and I am working on a script for a feature length film. Film is more of a labour of love at this stage and tends to be more of a financial drain than a money making venture. I’m so fortunate that the other parts of my career allow me to be creative and express myself in this area. In the future I hope to focus a lot of my energy into making films. I started out in my late teens just helping out the art department on music videos and then went on to study film at university for three years. Film definitely complements all the other creative work I do on several different levels. Often I will get an idea for a story that will evolve into a script that will then perhaps inform an idea for a painting. Creatively speaking I think the various things I do bounce off each other and a concept can always be reworked in the different mediums.

    BN: What are you most proud of? 
    MC: There is not one particular piece of work that I would say I am most proud of as I am so self critical and never 100% happy with anything.  However, there have been some rewarding moments in my career, such as being five minutes late to my own art show and walking in to find all the paintings had already been sold! There were people jamming the phonelines from overseas wanting to buy a work without having even seen it. Walking the red carpet at the Berlin film festival was also another really rewarding experience.

    I think the thing I am most proud of would have to be my resilience and perseverance. In the creative industry you constantly face rejection and it can be quite disheartening at times. I’ve definitely had the occasional Rumpelstiltskin moment when every door has seemed closed, or where things are not working on any creative level whatsoever. That can be frustrating and challenging but I imagine it would be much more frustrating not knowing what you wanted to do in life. I feel so lucky and blessed that I have always had a goal or something to work towards. I’m also certainly a lot tougher than I used to be. To be a creative person you have to maintain a certain level of sensitivity to be open to ideas and inspiration.  You almost have to be a psychic sponge. Yet ironically to make your creativity work in the real world you also have to learn to be a good business person and develop the ability to separate business and emotion.

    BN: What is the big dream for your creative business?

    MC: Oh…I have too many. Presently I am establishing my business Madeleine Casey Design.  I’d like to create an identity with my own brand of homewares within the design industry. I also want to pursue my art career and continue to exhibit my work internationally.  At the same time I’d also like to see several film projects come to fruition in the near future. That’s the plan anyway. I’m juggling a few balls in the air I guess which is challenging but never boring!


    All images courtesy of Madeleine Casey.  See Madeleine’s website to learn more about her and her work.


    See here for more Do What You Love interviews with inspiring people doing what they love


  2. Papery discoveries

    Here are a few of the lovely stationery and supplies finds I made at the gorgeous Salts Mill in Saltaire.  Just love the way they are displayed…

    See here for yesterday’s post about the lovely building that houses all these finds.

    This is my kind of shop… what’s yours?

  3. Converted beauty

    One of the things I love about the north of England is the old industrial beauty of some of its buildings.  This place used to be a thriving hub for the textile and other industries, and many of the old buildings have been saved and converted – and are still very much loved.  I lived in Manchester for several years, firstly in a converted cotton mill and then in a lovely area of the city by its working canal, where the old wharfs now serve restaurant goers and picnickers.  Now I live in Leeds I have fallen for buildings like the Corn Exchange, a 150 year old Victorian building which used to be centre for trade and is now a beautiful home for independent shops, delis and cafes.  Today I wanted to share another gorgeous building with you – the Salts Mill in Saltaire, which has been converted into an art gallery (featuring David Hockney) and huge open space selling paper, books, stationery – all things I love!

    I love the way they use a hotchpotch of furniture – from this designer sofa…

    … to this old school desk

    … and even a garden bench.

    Their displays are wonderful, with everything laid out as if it is in someone’s home being shown to friends. 

     They sell all sorts of things – from artists’ palettes to potted plants. 

    If you ever find yourself near Leeds it is definitely worth a visit, and if you are feeling energetic it can be reached by a lovely long cycle up the canal towpath…

    Pop back tomorrow to see what gorgeous papery finds I discovered…

  4. *shared stories* (19): Fran Riley and Sonya McCllough



    Today’s *shared stories* come from artists Fran Riley and Sonya McCllough.


    Fran Riley


    I was a day dreaming girl who got through childhood and school mostly by inhabiting a rich fantasy world… that and a passionate love of horses.

    I was diagnosed with hearing loss, a source of struggle and loneliness.  But as with any loss, there is always a gain. I learned to use my eyes more, and I am good at telling how people are, not so much because of what they say, but how they BE.

    I had a stubborn determination to pursue creativity, despite being failed at art at school, I went on to get a BA Honours First class degree in it, hah!

    I became passionately interested in psychology around this time and felt torn between choosing between art and psychology, until one blessed angel told me about art therapy and I realised I could marry my two loves.

    And so…. I trained, built a successful practice in London which I ran for seven years, married my darling, and lived happily ever after.

    Well, not quite! We then decided the city was not where we wanted to be, said many weepy farewells to friends and colleagues, took a deep breath and jumped.  We moved to Cumbria in the Lake District.  It took a while to get established again, but we turned our home into a palace of inspiration, made friends, sang songs and made loads of art.

    End of story? Not quite! Two years ago I resigned from my very sensible  but soul-strangling job, rented out the house and took off travelling for two years. We have been back home for a year now, and are about to take off for a round-the-world trip in August.  This time I am taking my newly fledged blog and business with me via my blog The Inspiration Station. Join us!

    [All images courtesy of Fran Riley. Find out more about Fran on her website.]


    Sonya McCllough

    What I love to do is create designs, artwork and stories with images and words that spark and or inspire the viewer or reader to react. I’m a natural, extreme creative. Doing what I love to do on a daily basis allows me to continue a creative heritage that my parents and their parents have passed down from generation to generation. 

    I’ve been a crazy creative all my life. For many years I worked as a freelance graphic designer for small businesses, holding all my ideas at bay. Until one day in November 2009 … I just decided to take matters into my own hands with some of my ideas.

    I had a number of a-ha moments while in the midst of Kelly Rae Roberts’ e-class Flying Lessons, which armed me with a more definite plan of action to achieve my creative business goals.

    The sacrifices have been many and brutal, but worth every twist and turn of this journey. Just this week … we have moved into a more accommodating home which will be the foundation for much business  growth.

    At some point last year I briefly forgot about the importance of both online and offline community, and I am now working very hard to create more of a balance in the online and offline world.

    My big dream NOW is to continue the publishing arm of my business while creating a creative, active life for my family.

    [All images courtesy of Sonya McCllough.  Find out more about Sonya on her blog.]


    Would you like to share your story on Do What You Love

    and reach a new audience of creative souls?

    Please see here and contact me for more details


  5. This green and pleasant land…

    Such a glorious day today – just perfect for strolling through the English countryside chatting with old friends

    Have you been out for a stroll in the countryside lately?

  6. Powering through

    Doing what you love isn’t hard, but it can be hard work.  This is turning into a week of powering through.  There are some incredibly exciting projects in the works (secret for now but I will share more soon I promise!) and as with anything worth doing, it is worth laying the groundwork properly.  This can take a huge amount of time and effort – negotiating contracts, planning timelines, fleshing out details – and sometimes there is nothing for it but to give yourself a deadline, sit at your desk and power on through.  That is what I have been doing all this week, and it feels good!

    Do you have a project you really just need to power on through with?

  7. On perspectives

    Is the blue paint peeling away or being revealed?  Depending on how you screw your eyes up, either could be true. It depends which way you look at it. 

    Ahh perspective.  Been thinking a lot about this lately, and how important it is to seek out and listen to other people’s perspectives, and then make your own call on things. 

    There is so much wisdom all around us – and so much inside.  It sometimes just takes a few words from someone else to make us think about things in a different way, or from a different angle, and that can be so valuable.


    What about you? Have you found someone else’s perspective helpful lately?


  8. The Creative Connection Event

    So excited to have been invited to moderate a panel at The Creative Connection Event featuring textile and craft guru Heather Bailey, inspiring artist Kelly Rae Roberts and creative business mentor Kathy Hansen.  We will discuss ‘The Nuts and Bolts of Launching a Creative Business’. It will be a fantastic opportunity to draw out real insights and practical advice from three women who have achieved so much in a relatively short time, learning some incredibly valuable lessons along the way.

    The event is the brainchild of Jo Packham, the creative force behind Where Women Create.  It will be in Minneapolis in September (more details here).  Will I see you there??

  9. *shared stories* (18): Kat Sloma and Jane Hinchliffe



    Today’s *shared stories* come from American photograher Kat Sloma and British artist Jane Hinchcliffe.


    Kat Sloma

    You don’t have to do what love to make a living, but you need to do what you love to truly live.

    A few years ago, I had a conversation with a good friend. She and I worked together at the large corporation where I’ve earned a living as an engineer for the last 19 years. She asked, “Do you want to stay working here forever?” I laughed and said, “I don’t know, I don’t have anything I’m passionate about. I don’t know what I’d rather do. I guess I’m here until they don’t want me anymore.”

    Looking back, that conversation is a significant indicator of how I was living (or not living) my life. I was floating along, letting other people plot my course. I was expecting someone else to fulfill me. Was I alive or just going through the motions of life? I had given up my power. The power to choose, to decide, to own my life. I wasn’t even seeking to find what I would really love to do.

    Since then, much has transpired. Layoffs at work made me realize I couldn’t float along any longer. Watching the same friend leave the company for something she truly loved forced me to acknowledge there are other ways to approach life. Such as, approaching life with intention. I was ripe for a change, so when the opportunity to live and work in Italy for two years came along, I took it. And it cracked me wide open.

    I finally did the work I needed to do, digging through the hidden corners of my soul, to find what it is I love. I discovered I love to create. I love to capture the beauty of the world around me, through my camera lens, words, paint and pencils. I also discovered, more than anything else, I love to teach and encourage others to create too.

    Today, I’m still at the same corporate job. It is still how I make my “living” and support my family. But I’ve found what I love to do as well. I’ve taken back my power and the ownership of my life’s happiness. Along this journey, I’ve found it is doing what I love that makes me truly alive.

    [All images courtesy of Kat Sloma.  Kat is an artist and photographer with a passion for inspiring others to find their unique vision of the world. For the last two years, she has been living in Italy and traveling Europe with an eye to finding the beauty of the everyday, whilst also working in the corporate world. You can see more of her photographs, read about her creative journey and learn about her Find Your Eye photography e-courses on The Kat Eye View of the World.]


    Jane Hinchliffe


    I was a dreamer, an insatiable romantic and a big thinker as a young girl…  My Granny lived 100 miles from us and so my parents and I made that journey many times throughout my childhood. This gave me oodles of dreaming/thinking time.  I always pictured myself as an adult living in the countryside, married to a loving husband and enjoying the chaos, laughter and fulfillment that having children would bring.  All of these things came true.  However, I always had the sense that there would be ‘something else’ wonderful occupying my waking hours. 

    As a child, hours would fly by for me whenever I drew, painted, got sticky or tangled up in thread or wool.  Sometimes my Granny and I would go outdoors on a creative adventure.  We would pack a picnic, bring our sketchbooks, paint and other supplies, a couple good books and a cosy blanket.  These were truly magical expeditions…

    Later, adulthood kicked in… I moved to the USA, got married young, worked full-time, and had a son. Responsibilities soon engulfed me and my connection with art and the passion I had felt for creativity, slowly ebbed away without me even realising it.  I had forgotten how precious and intrinsically part of me my creativity was. 

    As time progressed, I used to feel envious of people who were doing what they loved…  Then I would ‘scold’ myself for not feeling grateful for my life as it was.  I felt something was missing from my life.  It seemed like a vital piece of the puzzle was just not fitting together.  Then after my first son was born, I started to suffer from depression and would see-saw between feeling sad, angry, resentful and utterly lost.  I never saw my life being mapped out like this when I was that little girl with curly hair, skinny legs, freckles and a sense of adventure.  Was this my destiny? 

    For some years I lived a life that seemed as if I was just existing day to day.  Over time, I got help with the depression and was able to move beyond that long-term block.  Bit by bit, I started to open up to the magic of life again; the possibilities and preciousness of it all…  I re-married and we had two sons who are now six and eight.  When my middle child started school, this opened up a little more time for me to explore who and what I was about.  What was going to make my heart sing? 

    I began to do some art/craft projects with my youngest son and something started to stir deep, deep inside.  It took a while to put my finger on what was awakening within but I instinctively knew this was important.  Then, slowly but surely, whilst helping my son create his little masterpieces, I began experimenting too.  I bought muslin and we did some stitching together and framed the results.  We did a bit of knitting, sewing, crochet, cooking, modeling with salt dough, clay, cake making, painting etc.  Then I started to look around my home and added little creative touches of love here and there.  I started to write poetry and write a journal.  Colours seemed to look so vibrant and fresh.  I was beginning to ‘really notice’ the beauty in nature, the everyday stuff and the people around me.  I was transformed… My soul felt alive and it felt marvellous!  A miracle! 

    Then synchronicity leant a hand. Coincidentally, a friend who was a professional artist, was offering her studio and experience to help a few women paint. Very soon I was painting pictures I wanted to display with pride.  Memories and all sorts of ‘connections’ came flooding back from when I used to create art as a child.  The ‘old’ narrative in my mind’s eye was rekindled and renewed and it felt like I was being wrapped up in that cosy blanket that my Granny and I had used on our special picnics all those years ago.  I was remembering what I had treasured all along but had not allowed into my life since my childhood…  It was like meeting a long lost friend and it was beautiful, nurturing and healing all at once.  I had finally ‘come home’.

    Now, I am passionate about helping other women find their creativity, passion, their very essence.  I believe we are all creative beings and that by tapping into our innate creativity we can re-discover our true selves.  It is for this reason and my life experiences, that I have a strong urge to help other women on their spiritual path. 

    My artwork is very much driven by my gratitude for life, love and spirit.  My blog – Blank Canvas Waiting – is slowly being developed and reflects heartfelt truths, words of wisdom and positive, loving energy as well as information about my artwork and occasional free artwork to download and share with others.  I offer mentoring sessions via telephone or in person. 

    Thank you for reading my story and may you weave magic into your everyday by ‘Doing What You Love’…  

    [All images courtesy of Jane Hinchliffe.  Jane  is an artist, a life, spirituality & creativity mentor, and author of the blog Blank Canvas Waiting.  Jane is a devotee photographer, and is a passionate believer in the healing powers of creativity (for all), laughter, nature, a good book and a large mug of tea…   Find out more about Jane on her website.]

    Would you like to share your story on Do What You Love

    and reach a new audience of creative souls?

    Please see here and contact me for more details


  10. Cafe life

    I spend far too much time in cafes. 

    When I go travelling I tend to gravitate towards cosy, welcoming places and love sitting with a steaming coffee watching the world go by. 

    This picture is of one my latest discoveries, in Oia on the Greek island of Santorini.


    What about you?  Where is your favourite cafe and why do you like it so much?  Recommendations are always very welcome…