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  1. Parisian markets

    A feast for the eyes and stomach…

    More Paris posts here: Parisian markets / Paris story / Les papeteries / Parisian cafes / Paris details / Window shopping in Paris

    I was in Paris researching The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design – join us for the next course starting in April!

  2. Paris story

    Stole away from my desk for a little trip to Paris a week ago, visiting my first ever trade show and trying out my new camera. It was just what I needed, even though it was for ‘work’. I also had the most wonderful crazy serdipitous happening occur, but more about that another day.

    All this week I am going to share some photo stories of my wanderings. Forgive me for my lack of words this week – running, running, running – and anyway, Paris doesn’t need words…


    More Paris posts here: Parisian markets / Paris story / Les papeteries / Parisian cafes / Paris details / Window shopping in Paris

    I was in Paris researching The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design – join us for the next course starting in April!

  3. *Shared stories* (52): Britt Berg and Stephanie Levy


    Today’s *shared stories* come from Britt Berg and Stephanie Levy


    Britt Berg


    Every day I pinch myself, wondering: How did I get so lucky? Have I really been able to find a career that I am passionate about? I am so thankful that every day I get to do what I love.

    What am I doing – what is this thing that I love so very much? Every day, I get paid to write about pregnancy, fertility, and women’s health. And I get to do it from home. I write health articles and blog posts about reproduction, babies, and birthing. I love this!

    Before I begin, I must confess that becoming a writer was never my lifelong dream. I always liked writing, but I wasn’t the girl in high school and college who was constantly dreaming of becoming a writer. So how in the world did I get here?

    I guess you could say that I let my interests, not money or other people’s expectations, or any other conventions, guide my career. In college I threw practicality and convention to the wind. I studied what I loved, what fascinated me: issues of race, class, and gender, radical feminist theory, breastfeeding trends around the world, natural childbirth, meditation, and more. I took yoga and dance classes. I did what I loved. This combination of interests led me to go on to complete a Master’s degree in counseling psychology, with a focus on yoga and dance therapy as healing methods. Yoga therapy. Yup. Sigh.

    And then it was time to get a real job.

    Yoga therapy was awesome, but I wasn’t sure that I could really make a living as a yoga therapist. So I took my psychology expertise and started working at Emory University on psychological research studies. I worked with great people and started climbing the ladder into upper level research management positions. But I never felt fulfilled. I always wanted more. I wanted to love my job. I wanted to make more money with the time I had. I wanted to feel passionate about what I was doing. And I wanted to feel more connected to my home and family.

    There was just one problem. My husband and I had two children, and he was in over his head in graduate school working on his PhD. I was supposed to carry this family of four financially until he was finished with school – several long years later.

    Patience, however, was not my strong point. I was determined and I decided to go for it. In October 2008, at the beginning of his third year of graduate school, we sat down with spreadsheets and talked extensively, planning out how we could make my dream job a reality. We crunched numbers, drew up a very austere monthly budget and saved everything we could. Three months later, I cut my research job down to part-time and I tried to get as many freelance writing jobs as I could. I attended writing workshops, met other writers for coffee, and brainstormed ways to make this work. I networked and was very fortunate to have some very big “ins” into the world of health writing (you know who you are!)

    I worked part-time for a year, slowly building my writing portfolio, writing for major online health websites. That year, I co-authored my first book – the second edition of Making a Baby – a book about pregnancy and infertility. Then, right after Christmas 2009, I was offered a two-month contract writing about pregnancy and infertility that paid really well. The money would allow me to save up enough money to leave my day job. I took the leap and quit my day job. I was a writer!

    During those first few months, I became pregnant with our third child. So here we were: a graduate student, a brand new freelance writer, and three small children. Not exactly the most secure existence imaginable.


    Thankfully, my career was blossoming. I was busy. I was full. As 2010 continued, I was making a surprisingly good hourly rate. I had to turn down multiple writing jobs because I was so busy. Recruiters would call and I couldn’t even consider those offers. Two years after taking this wonderful leap, I am still full – beyond full. I am making a very satisfying income doing what I love.   

    Doing what I love isn’t just about the writing or the women’s health focus, though, although I truly love my job and have a passion for these things. Doing what I love also means that I have a better work-life balance than I was able to have when I worked outside the home. As a mother of three, this is beyond valuable. While I miss the social contact of working outside of the home at times, I am so blessed and thankful that I can make a living working here at home.

    World community, I believe that it is possible for you to go out and achieve your dream job. I am living proof that you CAN do it. Yes, you will have to make sacrifices. Yes, you may have to give up many things that you enjoy to make it happen. Yes, you will have to work your arse off. But as I continue on this path doing what I love, I am meeting more and more people that are finding creative and fulfilling ways to make a living doing what they love. Through telling my story here, I hope you will understand and believe that your dreams are within your reach.

    Every day I pinch myself: Is this really true? Am I really so fortunate to be living my dream? Do I really get to wake up every day and do this job that I love?  Thankfully, gratefully, miraculously, yes! YES! It is real, and it is so wonderful.

    So think about what it is that you love, what it is that moves you, what it is that drives you…

    …And do it.

    [All images by John Berg. Find out more about Britt on her website.]


    Stephanie Levy

    Several years ago, while I was studying art at the University of Tennessee in the USA, I met a student from Germany, who was working on his Doctorate degree in Physics. I suppose opposites attract, and we fell in love.

    My first trip abroad was to visit his family for Christmas in his hometown village in the Black Forest. It was a unique experience for me to get to know this German family and share their Christmas traditions of homemade Christmas cookies and cakes, fondue dinners, mulled wine, and German songs around the big, evergreen Christmas tree with real, lit candles. We stayed in Germany for an entire month and visited his friends in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Cologne as well.

    It was a completely new experience for me, and I loved Europe right away! I loved travelling on a train and walking through the old cobblestone streets of quaint villages. I loved the food, my senses were heightened and more aware, and I felt as though even the food tasted more intensely – the butter, the bread, the eggs, the milk, the honey. We went to France, we visited castles in the Alps, it was magical.

    I remember visiting a tiny, “standing room only” bakery at the subway station in Berlin to get something quick to eat. We ordered a coffee and a croissant – and the croissant was served on a real, ceramic plate and the coffee in a real, ceramic cup and saucer – even though we were just standing at the bar table to eat and drink! As an American student who was used to being served take-away food and drinks in paper or plastic, I was amazed. I remember thinking – okay, this is Europe!

    We went back to the US to finish our degrees, and afterwards my boyfriend asked me if I’d like to move to Germany and get married. He told me that I could paint as easily in Europe as in the US, and with my romantic visions of spending summers painting outside in the South of France, I said yes! I was both very excited and a little scared. In June 1996, I had two suitcases packed and I was ready to fly to Berlin to begin a new life. I was so nervous at the Memphis airport, I am sure I visited the bathroom at least 10 times while waiting to board my plane.

    Because German bureaucracy made it so complicated for people of different nationalities to get married, we went across the border to Denmark for a simple wedding together and had a honeymoon weekend in Copenhagen. Our married life began in a teeny, tiny apartment in former East Berlin – where at that time almost no one could speak English to me. I remember the small things – like that I couldn’t find dental floss in the stores, and we heated the apartment in winter by making fires with bricks of coal in large ceramic ovens. (Don’t worry, times have changed since then!)

    As a girl from rural Tennessee, Berlin was huge, overwhelming, and terribly exciting. Eventually I signed up for German classes and I met people from all over the world who were also new to Europe and just learning the language. Many of the students were women who had also come to Germany to be with their husbands. It was fascinating to meet these women and hear their personal stories about how they had arrived in Europe. Later, we moved to the city of Heidelberg because of my husband’s work, and then we moved back to Berlin so that I could complete my Master’s degree. After several years together, our marriage eventually came to an end in Berlin. 

    Luckily, I soon met my current husband Florian, who is from the Bavarian region of Germany near Munich. Florian is also an artist and it was clear from the beginning that we shared many of the same interests. Our favorite flavor of ice cream is even the same: mint chocolate chip! We both loved in Berlin and still do, but eventually we relocated to Munich because of Florian’s work. We got married here, and soon after, our daughters Sophia and Lucia came along. A happy ending to a story that had many complicated twists along the way. My road in Germany has been a sometimes bumpy one, but it has never been boring! Would I do it all over again? Definitely yes!

    What is the point of my shared story? I believe we all need to embrace adventure in our lives, be open to the opportunities that come along, take chances, and trust that everything will be okay. You do sometimes have to take big leaps into the unknown before anything new can happen. This can be scary, but when you are listening to your intuition and really following your gut feelings and instincts – you make your best decisions.

    Our personal destinies are full of positive and painful experiences wherever we live. You don’t have to leave your home country to have an adventurous life, but travel can open your eyes to new cultures and help you see your own culture in a different light – for better and for worse!

    Sometimes it is necessary to get out of our “comfort zone” and be forced to make new choices in our daily lives. I know that living abroad has changed me as a person in a positive way. Perhaps it has made me more courageous and more open-minded, at least I certainly hope so!

    This year, I turned 40 and to celebrate, I started an art/travel/interview project called 12 Countries in 12 Months  For this project, I am challenging myself to visit a new country in Europe for a few days each month this year, and so far it has been an incredible experience with many new impressions, new connections, and visual inspirations that I will remember for a lifetime.

    I’m also leading ecourses to promote creativity and courage in women who are interested in discovering, exploring, and traveling on their own true, individual paths.

    [Image courtesy of Stephanie Levy. To find out more about Stephanie visit her blog]


    See here for more inspiring *shared stories


  4. Pattern spotlight: Halfway there (3)

    Following on from part 1 and part 2 of our pattern showcase, here is another fantastic selection of surface pattern design work from our highly talented Module 2 students from The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design. We really encourage individuality throughout the course so it’s great to see such a fresh and diverse selection.  Enjoy!

    Beautiful ‘Japanese Lanterns’ from Natalie Alexander

    Bright ‘Triangles’ from Eva Carlavilla

    Elegant ‘Free as a Bird’ from Nicky Luck

    Unique ‘Cafe Heart’ from Liza Lamas

    Quirky ‘Fly Foxes’ from Kim Hawes

    Striking ‘Morning Glory Flowers & Stripes’ from Melanie Pearson

    Contemporary ‘Berry Mix’ from Vanessa Haggerty

    Striking ‘Tangerine Tiles’ from Miranda Mol

    Contemporary ‘Birds’ by Victoria Oatway

    Fresh ‘April Petals Diary’ from Mel Smith

    Uniques ‘Eyelet Lace in Tangerine’ from Jo Ditt Williams

    Delicate ‘Birds & Butterflies’ from Bethan Westran

    We are running the course again from April (and there is a special discount if you sign up by Wednesday!) More details here

  5. Pattern spotlight: Halfway there (2)

    Organic ‘Seed heads’ from Phyllida Coroneo

    We have been so impressed by the talent and enthusiasm of our students in The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design! Here is part two of our spotlight on students’ work  just a small selection of the hundreds of beautiful patterns that have been created so far on the course. We hope you enjoying looking at the designs as much as we do.

    Fun ‘Good Boy’ from Rachel Gresham

    Bright ‘Tulip Scatter’ from Tammie Bennett

    Pretty ‘Blossom Floral’ from Elizabeth Smith

    Detailed ‘Verbena’ from Helen Billett

    Unique ‘Lace Tango’ from Leslie Doughty

     Contemporary ‘Deconstructed Flag’ from Faye Brown

    Simplistic ‘Blue, Blue Vines’ from Jacqueline Auvigne

    Quirky ‘Abstract’ from Onabolu Omokehinde

    Contemporary ‘Woodland Berry’ from Sonia Whitehead

    Bold ‘Floral Dieter’ from Wendy Kendall

    Graphic ‘Arch Floral’ from Susan Lloyd

    What another stunning showcase! I hope you agree! See here for further information about ‘The Art & Business of Surface Pattern Design’ . More tomorrow!

    PS The course will run again from April and there is a special discount available for anyone registering before next Wednesday 29 February. Don’t miss out! More here

  6. Pattern spotlight: Half way there (1)

    Striking ‘Berry Floral’ from Abigail Sims

    We are on week 4 of of module 2 of The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design already – can you believe it!? Rachael and I have been blown away by the positivity, enthusiasm and dedication shown from our talented surface pattern e-course students – not to mention the sheer talent!  We asked the students to submit their favourite piece half way through the module and I’m excited to share these with you.

    NB We had a lot of lovely submissions so we’ll be splitting the showcase across  a few posts.

    PS I’ll be back soon with photos from our trip to Paris!!

      Beautiful ‘Bouquet’ from Bonnie Christine
    Contemporary ‘Avant Garde’ from Maike Thoma
    Bold ‘Art Deco’ from Dee McConville
    Detailed ‘Twisted Vines’ from Femi Ford

    Quirky ‘Outline Apples’ from Lisa Budden
    Beautiful ‘Magnolia’ from Anna Berger
    Pretty & fresh ‘Wild Daisy’ from Katy Clemmans
    Striking ‘Whimsical Peacock’ from Justine Aldersey-Williams

    Unique ‘Geo Floral’ from Ange Yake
    Lovely 50’s feel ‘Wandering the Wilderness’ from Maraya Rodostianos
    Retro, bold ‘Digicutilol’ from Lauren Britchford
    We are thrilled to announce that we are running the e-course for a second series starting in April! For more information you can visit the website here.
  7. Do What You Love interview: Andrew Ooi

    Today’s Do What You Love interview is with Andrew Ooi, a Canadian ‘free folding artist’ who creates exquisite works from paper. I am slightly jealous of Andrew as he has exhibited at the ‘World Washi Summit’ which sounds like my idea of heaven! I delighted to be able to introduce his work to you, and get a glimpse into his life surrounded by paper.

    Please can you share a bit about your creative journey to here. How did you get to be doing what you are doing?

    It all started with a paper crane. I watched on, eagerly, as a friend transformed a square sheet of paper into wings, tail, neck and head. I desperately wanted to learn how to make one.

    I spent every free moment folding paper. Soon, it became an impulse. Even on the subway! Nearly every station had a stall of the free daily. Hours of commuting, cutting and creasing the newspaper, went by in minutes. It was a struggle to look out for my stop!

    As my skills progressed, I challenged myself continuously. When I felt I had mastered a particular fold, I attempted others more intricate and complex. With each new crease, I came closer and closer to forming and defining my work. ‘Folding’ was an art and art form combined.

    I searched books, magazines, art galleries, and art-supply stores to build upon my perspective and practice. Origamists offered technique. Furniture and interior designers demonstrated the beauty of negative space. Artist, Bridget Riley, provided clear inspiration; Jun Kaneko, indistinctly, but equally vital. A selection of papers was tested along with many kinds of folds. In the end, what I most responded to wasn’t the fold itself, but what the fold could express.

    I gave this abstract expressionist attitude of folding paper the name ‘free folding’. It’s the distinguishing mark of my aesthetic. It’s the particular context of emotional space I aspire to create. And, as an artist, it has been the fundamental approach to my art.


    What is a ‘free folding artist’ and what do you create?

    A free folding artist is someone who uses folds – improvised or organized, multidimensional, and in any media – as a way to express the world around them if it were of their own making.

    What is your motivation for creating what you create?

    My main motivation in my artwork is re-presenting my reality. How do I come by my point of view of the world? How can I convey that certain feeling to another person? Intuitively, I fold, which acts as both my canvas and my paintbrush. The final artwork is an impression of my mood in time and space, through all of its changes and transformations.

    What is special about paper as your material of choice?

    Paper really is a unique medium. Different kinds of paper behave in different ways. Weight, texture, translucency, and memory – the ability of the paper to retain a fold – are essential components to assess in creating an artwork. Bold marks are best in heavier, fibrous papers. Subtle creases illuminate in fine, handmade. Ultimately, what paper I decide to use depends on the intended environment I want the viewer to experience.


    What is your favourite paper to work with and why?

    It’s not so much a “favourite” as it is the “right” paper for a piece. Watercolour papers, like Fabriano Tiziano, are ideal for work subjected to excessive folding, or requiring a strong, definite structure. Understated marks, creases made and smoothed out, have this brilliancy about them in handmade Japanese papers, such as Gampi Udaban. Again, the paper of choice really depends on the specific work I’m creating.

    I noticed that you exhibited at the ‘World Washi Summit’ - sounds like heaven! What was that like?

    Incredible! It was great to be among other artists using washi, Japanese paper. The range of artwork, sometimes with the same kind of Japanese paper, was staggering. The paper makers from Japan, also in attendance, were rapt too. The opportunity to share the mutual appreciation of each other’s craftsmanship, paper maker to artist, artist to artist, and paper maker to paper maker, was one-of-a-kind!


    What does ‘doing what you love’ mean to you?

    To me “doing what you love” means being able to make art, even if it wasn’t my profession.

    What is the best part about working as an artist?

    The best part about being an artist is exhibiting my work and getting immediate feedback. It helps me guage how well the art is relevant to the times.


    What is your big dream for your creative endeavors?

    For now, I’d love to show my work, internationally. The feedback would be terrific and the exposure would help me establish free folding as an accepted art and art form.

    [All images courtesy of Andrew Ooi. To find out more about Andrew visit his website or connect on Twitter (@scotfr33)]


    See here for more interviews with inspiring people doing what they love



  8. *Shared stories* (51): Pauline Leger and Janet Forrest


    Today’s *shared stories* come from Pauline Leger and Janet Forrest


    Pauline Leger

    We all have our own definition of success. To me, success is waking up in the morning and feeling energized and inspired to face the day.

    I’ve known people with full bank accounts and empty hearts, so I learned at a relatively young age that although money can certainly make life more comfortable, it is worthless if it is earned in a way that dishonours who we are.

    It took me a while to find a career that suited me. I always knew I was an artist at heart, but like many others of my generation, felt the pressure to put my artistic endeavours aside and get myself a “real” job.

    I did many things from being a bank teller to a prison guard, and finally in my mid twenties, at the advice of an old artist friend, I got a degree in Graphic Design. It was the closest profession (for me) to being an artist with the comfort of a regular paycheck. After graduating, I got a job as a designer with a large corporation. The work lacked challenge and creativity – but the salary was good and overtime hours were kept to a minimum –  two big pluses for me at that age – so despite the boredom and the mundane meetings – I stayed… for 11 years.

    Until that fateful Monday on May 17th, 2004, when I and several other colleagues, were downsized – a fancy way to say fired. My husband and I were in the middle of building a new home and we had an eight year old son. Two weeks after I lost my job, my husband was laid off. Our worlds crumbled.

    When I look back on this time, I remember a feeling of failure (although I had done nothing wrong) and the unsettling feeling of not knowing how we were going to manage. But I also remember a feeling of freedom. I had the choice all of a sudden, to DO WHAT I WANT. I had been in a corporate environment for 11 years, and although it had its benefits, I was suffocating.

    I read somewhere that when we’re unable to make important decisions on our own, they’re made for us. It took me a while, but I eventually saw the loss of my job as an opportunity. All of a sudden, there was hope. I felt powerful and free to finally make my life what I wanted it to be. We always have this freedom, but money is often a great demotivator and we often stay in unfulfilling jobs for the wrong reasons.

    In 2005, after much soul searching, I started a small homebased business and began freelancing. My initial reason for becoming an entrepreneur (I hate to admit) was based on fear. I didn’t want to put all my eggs in the same basket again. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else’s rules, someone else’s decisions – especially when those decisions affected me directly. I wanted to drive the bus from now on and I was going to do everything I could to get myself at the wheel.

    This initial fear transitioned into passion, and the passion into love, and I’ve been at the wheel now for seven years. With each passing day, I find myself more and more energized and inspired by what I do. I now divide my time between graphic design, illustrating children’s books, and teaching at a local college. I am totally fulfilled and I love waking up in the morning, knowing that I get to do what I love all day. By my standards, I am successful.

    Doing what you love doesn’t mean it’s always easy, or that every day is filled with rainbows and sparkles. It means you’ve made the decision to follow your heart and you’re willing to do the work it takes to live the life you were meant to live. There are ups & downs and moments of doubt – but the rewards are huge & meaningful.

    The Do What You Love e-course, with Beth Nicholls, was definitely a catalyst to guide me towards an even more fulfilling creative life. It opened so many doors for me, and confirmed that I am indeed listening to my own heart. I am so grateful to Beth, and others like her, who have chosen to share their courage with the world and inspire us to follow our own paths.

    [All images courtesy of Pauline Leger. Find out more about Pauline on her blog.]


    Janet Forrest


    I am very fortunate to have spent the biggest part of my working life doing what I loved – I opened my own gift shop, and operated it for 20 years. There wasn’t a day during that time that I ever woke up in the morning wishing I didn’t have to go to work. I was able to use my creativity daily – buying merchandise, designing and implementing displays, promotions, doing newsletters…every once in awhile I even got to actually create product.

    Then life changed, as it has a habit of doing, and I sold the business, or, as I’m fond of saying, I traded it in on grandchildren. Being a grandma (or Gaga, my grandchildren’s pet name for me!) is a wonderful experience, and caring for my babies while their parents work allows me to have a closer relationship with them than most grandmas get to have. But, they’ll soon be in school full time, and life will change again.

    This year I will turn 60 <groan> and it has occurred to me that unless I’m thinking I’m going to make it to 120, I’m way past middle-aged and into (dare I say it?) elderly <big shudder!> territory. That means that if I have any goals or desires to accomplish anything else in my life, I’d better get to it! I like to think I’m a very young 59, (isn’t 60 the new 40?) but let’s face it, the years don’t lie!

    Last year I began to feel the creative urge welling up in me in a big way. I had a vague notion that I wanted to paint, but I didn’t even know where to start. Roaming through the bookstore one day, I stumbled upon Kelly Rae Robert’s book “Taking Flight.” As I looked at her paintings it was as if my heart had been poured onto her canvas.

    That led me to signing up for her class “Flying Lessons” and to an incredible group of women, and between the classes and the support of my new tribe, I found the courage to begin a blog, and ultimately to paint. I’m still developing my style, but I’m painting. I’m actually painting. I am doing what I love!

    Additionally, I’ve learned to dream, and to dream big. Kelly Rae put out a call for an unpaid internship to help her with a project she wants to do. Thanks to the confidence I’ve gained, I actually applied for the position, sent in the “audition” pieces she asked for, and just learned that I have been chosen for the position.

    I have no idea what kind of adventures life still holds for me, but I’m looking forward to each and everyone of them, knowing I will spend the rest of my days doing what I love!

    [Image courtesy of Janet Forrest. To find out more about Janet visit her blog]


    See here for more inspiring *shared stories


  9. To do list done. I’m off to Paris

    Making notes with the help of Pia Jane Bijkerk’s lovely book ‘Paris: Made by Hand’

    So excited to be heading off to Paris tomorrow with Rachael Taylor for my first ever design trade show. Love Paris. Cannot wait!

    Any recommendations gladly received (especially of the papery or wine-related variety!)

  10. *Shared stories* (50): Alison Bartram (celebrating one year of *Shared stories*!)


    I started sharing other people’s stories of doing what they love one whole year ago today! Since then we have had 50 postings with nearly 100 people from all over the world sharing their stories of courage and hope, chasing their dreams and making choices which allow them to do what they love, for life.

    It seemed fitting that to mark one year of these *Shared Stories*, I should share a special one. Today’s powerful and inspiring story comes from Alison Bartram, owner of the (appropriately named) Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge.

    Quite bizarrely, as I shared here a short while ago, Alison’s email about submitting to *Shared stories* arrived on my phone at the very moment I was standing outside her gallery on a day I happened to be visiting her town – how odd is that?


    Alison Bartram


    I don’t really know where to start with this as writing these words down is painful – far more painful than the spoken word as it is so much more permanent. However, I do feel that the time is right to tell my story, so here goes:

    I opened and ran a very successful business with my first husband in the eighties – Bradford’s first and only punk, goth, metal shop called Fizz! We quickly opened another 2 outlets in Leeds, one shop and one unit in an ‘Afflecks Palace’ type of warehouse.

    However, our personal relationship wasn’t good after our son was born in 1988 and so in 1990, when Adam was only 2, I made the decision to leave. This was a really difficult decision to make at the time as I was putting my own needs first before those of my son, Adam.

    I had great support from my mum who encouraged me to go back and study and she loved looking after Adam whilst I took evening bar and club jobs to support us both.

    I actually did not know what I wanted to do with my life at this point, I just knew I had to gain lots of office skills to enable me to jump out into the world of employment as I had been self-employed since getting married after traveling for a year. But I also knew that one day I would be my own boss again .. I just didn’t know when, where, what or how, but I knew .. call it feminine intuition!

    When Adam was 7 I met a wonderful man, Bart, who loved me – warts and all! And believe me, after being single for some time (apart from the few really lovely relationships with guys who were sweet but not for me), there were a lot of warts as I was fiercely independent!! He had his work cut out romancing me as I was convinced I wanted to be alone with Adam and didn’t need anyone else in my life. Yet, a year later, to the day, we married and Adam gave me away and Mum made the speech ‘traditionally’ reserved for Dad. (I should say at this point that over the years my relationship with Dad was like a roller coaster, we weren’t really close since Mum and Dad split when I was 13. He was in my life but things were very strained between us.

    Sadly Mum died the January after our August wedding and at the time of her death (11 weeks after her cancer diagnosis) I was 11 weeks pregnant. I knew that as her life was taken from me it would be given back and I would have a beautiful daughter .. which I did, Rebecca Kaye in 1997.

    I missed mum dreadfully, we were best friends, but life goes on as we settle back into our routines doesn’t it? My sister, Rachel, seemed to cope much better than I did at the time, she’s 3 years younger than me, she was quite robotic as we organised the funeral and I was an emotional wreck. Yet inner strength was found at Mum’s funeral as we both got up to say a little piece – funny that, where does strength come from at a time like that? Little did I know I would need it again 8 years’ later.

    After years of moving from one office job to another – I got bored easily once the challenge had gone – I found my ‘perfect’ admin job working at The Yorkshire Craft Centre, part of Bradford College. This married my admin skills in a creative environment and suddenly I knew that maybe I wouldn’t leave this job quite so quickly as those before! Every day was different as exhibitions were planned and I was just loving it. I was on cloud nine until something came along and burst my bubble.

    My sister took her own life, January 8th 2005. I’d called up for a cup of tea as she hadn’t been well and the family were worried about her. I was the only one with a key and as I pulled up outside I just knew that something was wrong. All her curtains were drawn and the house was deathly quiet with a strange smell I can’t describe. I found her naked on the bathroom floor, a brief note saying sorry in her bedroom and empty packets of tablets by her bed. This just wasn’t happening, it all felt so unreal as I made the call for an ambulance, rang Paul and Dad.

    Rachel was diagnosed as manic depressive in her early twenties and struggled for many years with mood swings but I never thought she would take things to the next level. My world fell apart that day.

    All arrangements for the funeral took place at my house with Dad, Bart, and Sandra, Dad’s partner, and a lot of it is a blur but one thing stands out for me which was a turning point in my relationship with Dad. He took my head in his hands and told me he loved me, something he hasn’t done for many, many years. Out of the negative came the positive.

    Leaving home the day of Rachel’s funeral we followed the brightest rainbow, which was so poignant as Rachel was carried into church whilst Eva Cassidy sang ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ – there wasn’t a dry eye in the room and it was standing room only. That inner strength came back to me when I got up to speak a few words and has remained with me in my hour of need. That rainbow followed us to the crematorium also and appears in my life when I need it.

    Losing my sister made me realise that nothing in life is certain and we have no idea what is around the corner so I quit my job and took a part-time job in an organic café whilst I thought about what was important in my life. Rachel had always told me I was wasting my life working for others, she had always told me that I should go out and grab that opportunity, she had always told me to open my own shop, she had always told me that nothing was impossible, she had always told me that tomorrow never comes .. and for her there are no more tomorrows. But for me there are and her death gave me the kick up the backside I needed to realise that dream – my when, where, what and how had arrived finally.

    So the when was 2006, the where was Hebden Bridge, the what was a Contemporary Jewellery and Craft Gallery and the how was with support from my family … those still living and those that are now my guardian angels. Heart Gallery became a reality and no longer a dream, named because Rachel knew that having my own business was something I held close to my own heart for so many, many years.

    Again the positive comes from the negative and I try to live every day as if it is my last. The passion I had the first day I put my key in the big black door of a former Baptist Chapel I had converted into a warm and inviting Gallery space is still with me today. I love my life, my home, my family, my friends, my customers, my designer/makers, my Gallery and my work. I still feel a great sense of pride when a new customer discovers me for the first time. No two days are ever the same and no two days ever go by without me thanking Mum and Rachel for looking over me, propping me up when I need it and celebrating with me when my achievements are recognised.

    In 2008 I won Best Newcomer in the North and Scotland for gift retailing as voted by Progressive Gift and Home Magazine. That was a fantastic honour for me because I can pat myself on the back a hundred times a day when I know how hard I have worked so to be recognised by someone else makes me realise that it is all so worthwhile. In 2009 I was shortlisted for the Best Jeweller in the UK, also as voted by Progressive Gift and Home Magazine, and although I didn’t win I already felt I had just to get so close! In 2011 I was voted One of Top Five shops in Calderdale as voted by the people of Calderdale and also presented with a Magic Tenner Award.

    I have refused to buy into all the negativity we are fed daily by the media. I go to work every day with a smile on my face, open my door to Heart Gallery, concentrate on my customers, enjoy my day and go home and enjoy quality time with my family.

    I opened Heart Gallery because I am passionate about introducing new and emerging UK designer/makers specialising in beautiful jewellery and craft to Hebden Bridge. I opened Heart Gallery because I wanted to. I opened Heart Gallery because Rachel wanted me to.

    It isn’t easy, 2010/2011 were very challenging years, and to take that leap of faith you have to be prepared to live and breathe your passion. Leap into it for all the wrong reasons and I sincerely believe that it will fail.

    Heart Gallery is my dream and I will live it until old age creeps up and bites me!

    [Image courtesy of Alison Bartram. To find out more about  Alison visit her website or blog, connect on Facebook or Twitter, or pop into her gorgeous gallery in Hebden Bridge!]


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