Saturday, 31 October 2015

Ten reasons I love Brighton | The Small Desk

There are some places where you feel your heart lies, and where you just want to keep going back. Brighton is that place for me. I was born and raised in the capital, and still live here to this day, but somehow I find myself lusting after the Brighton life and it keeps calling me back. It's a city by the sea with so much character and personality. It feels alive, in a way that London used to feel like to me, but is quickly being killed by endless money. That phrase, 'Tired of London, Tired of Life', no longer holds true. It's more like 'Tired of London, Tired of Greed'. Brighton feels as though there is more humility, more sense of reality and more fresh creativity. I present to you the ten reasons I love Brighton...

1. The Sea
Whenever I feel stressed or low, I know that the one thing that will instantly make me drop my shoulders is to see the sea. When you look out to sea you see the big sky, the limitless ocean, and you gain perspective in such a literal sense that you don't get anywhere else. Simply to see the sea makes me happy.

2. The independent homeware shops
Abode and Bert's Homestore are my favourites. Don't get me wrong, I do like high street homeware stores but there's something about an independent one that makes you feel like you're buying something more unique for your home. You tend to get less well-known brands and a more carefully curated selection of products. I'm obsessed with homeware full-stop anyhow!

3. The independent cafes
There are so many vegetarian and even vegan cafes in Brighton and the majority are independent. No chains, just really good healthy and fresh homemade food. I have never been anywhere in the UK with so much choice for vegetarians. It makes me super happy.

4. North Laine
This is where you can find all these independent shops! As well as street performers and pretty buildings.

5. Characterful houses
As I was just saying, the buildings in Brighton are gorgeous. The little colourful terrace houses that are scattered in between the shops are completely adorable.

6. It's proximity to London
I love how easy it is to get from London to Brighton. From Clapham Junction it only takes 50 minutes.

7. Brighton Dome
I know most people might say the Pavilion, but I actually prefer the architecture of the Dome. They are very similar, but I feel there is a bit more subtlety to the Dome with nicer detailing.

8. The people
I've pretty much said this throughout, but the people in Brighton are amazing. Their alternative dress sense and warm attitude is something to be admired. Creativity is oozing out of them!

9. The promenade where you can cycle
Every time I walk across the promenade onto the beach I make sure to check for the endless stream of cyclists who cycle down there. What a dream to be able to cycle next to the sea on your way home from work.

10. It's proximity to the South Downs
And finally, I love how close Brighton is to the South Downs. It means you have the best of both worlds: sea and the countryside.

Basically, Brighton, I love you.


Saturday, 24 October 2015

What is project management? | The Small Desk

I am considering writing a project management blog... basically, this is what I do for a living. I project manage, as well as managing and commissioning content. I haven't done the content side of things for very long, but I've done the project management thing for two years now.

Before I commit to writing a blog purely on project management I wanted to challenge myself to write one blog post about it on The Small Desk. The simplest way for me to start is to explain to you what project management is. Hopefully it will clear things up for you if you are considering this as a career, and if not, then you'll learn what I do every day.

A Project Manager is someone who leads a project from beginning to end. Sometimes even from before the project starts; this means they'll help with the initiation of the project. Just because the title has the word 'Manager' in, it doesn't mean they are part of the management team of an organisation. They will normally have to report to a Project Director and to a Project Board. Basically, Project Managers need to know what is happening at all times of the project, and make sure it is completed on time, in budget, in scope and to specification. Now, I'll run through a bit more of this in detail.

1. Learning from the past
As a Project Manager you have to learn from the past, even if you haven't been at an organisation long enough to have experienced the past there. You can ask other members of staff what was successful and what went wrong in past projects, and hopefully you will have evaluation documents at your disposal. I did PRINCE2 training and through this methodology they advise you to keep a Lessons Log – so you should have access to old ones of these. It is good to remind everyone at the beginning of a project what went wrong last time and how you can avoid it this time!

2. Predicting the future
I always think an alternative job title for a Project Manager could be a Fortune Teller! The amount of times you have to try and predict the future is crazy! Project managing is all about monitoring risks. You need to assess whether or not you think something is about to become a risk, or if it's really just an issue that can be solved in a few days time. If you do decide something is a risk you also have to present it as a risk with consequences to the Project Board. If you just say something is a risk and don't say what impact the risk will have if it isn't resolved, then no-one will help you to avoid this risk. It is often down to the Project Manager to continually raise risks, but not to take them!

3. Know it all
Your best friend as a Project Manager is a jolly good Excel sheet! Depending on how long your project is you need to remember a hell of a lot of stuff! I had a review at work recently and my boss commented on how I seemed to remember everything, even all the little things. Now, that is because I have a Project Checklist and an Excel sheet with a timeline down the side of it until April 2016! I put reminders in my timeline/timesheet all the way to April! It also details the deadlines and work packages. I also have a column for things I am chasing from other people, which brings me on to my next point!

4. Communication
You need to make sure everyone knows what they are doing and what is expected of them, and what their responsibilities are. This might just be to the Team manager or it might be to a team. I mostly remind external suppliers what is expected of them, in terms of pieces of work. You might also have to arrange and hold weekly catch up meetings with a Project Board. As a Project Manager you are a type of middle management.

5. Adaptability
No one project ever goes to plan. You have to be flexible and always be thinking on your feet. No problem can't be fixed, as this could lead to a project failure. You have to come up with solutions, and put it to your Project Board. Basically, my general rule of thumb to avoid too many problems is that if you think something will take two weeks, put it in the timeline for three weeks, or even four! If you can get ANYTHING done on the project early, then do! You'll thank your lucky/organised stars later on, I promise you!

6. Seek quality
It's all very well getting a project completed on time and in budget, but if the quality of the product at the end is so bad that you need to start another project to fix it, then really the project failed. You must make sure that every step of the way you keep checking that the product is still on track to be of excellent, or even award-winning quality.

7. Manage in stages
Sometimes it can all be very overwhelming, so the trick is to manage everything in stages. Stages can overlap and bleed into one another, but you will find it easier this way. For example, if you were project managing an office move, you would think about stage one as finding the new office, stage two as moving the technology, and stage three as moving the people! This approach is especially helpful if you have to manage more than one project, or one project with more than one product.

Another more complicated procedure is if you have two or more timelines for different parts of the project and you have to read them next to each other to see that certain deadlines or pieces of work don't clash. It may be the same team working on both parts of the project.

8. Evaluate
This whole thing is a circle because the evaluation you do at the end of a project will help to inform your next project, which brings us back to point one, learning from the past. This evaluation enables you to do this when you get to your next project!

Would you be interested in reading more on a Project Management blog? I need blog name ideas too! Please, please, please comment name suggestions below!

P.S. Even though I did a PRINCE2 course this blog post isn't 100% based on PRINCE2.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Who is Ai WeiWei? | The Small Desk

Ever since Ai WeiWei dumped 100 million sunflower seeds in the Tate Modern in 2010 he has become one of the most famous living artists of our time. Popular in the West, but deeply unpopular in the eyes of the Chinese government, Wei Wei is an activist and accidental martyr to his cause. WeiWei is putting politics at the forefront of his artwork and it is impossible to ignore. 

In 2011 he was arrested by the Chinese government; his passport was seized and he was forbidden from leaving the country. Now, in 2015, he has his passport back and the Royal Academy is hosting a retrospective of his work, and by default a celebration of his returned passport. I visited this seminal exhibition last week and left feeling deeply moved by his pieces of artwork. The piece that evoked the most emotion in me represented a way to remember and question what happened during the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China. 

During the earthquake, which measured 8 on the Richter scale, many schools collapsed and thousands of students died. WeiWei points out that the materials used to build the schools were flimsy and the structures were never going to withstand an earthquake. This is a country that is prone to earthquakes. Builders cut corners and the supervising agencies reportedly did not check the work carried out. They were nicknamed 'tofu buildings' because they were made from iron wires instead of steel rods, and very low quality cement. The heart-wrenching thing is that due to the one child policy in China, many parents lost their only child. WeiWei has produced a few artworks on this subject and one is a list of all the students that died; a list that was not produced by the Chinese government.

His stance against the Chinese government did not go unnoticed and having testified for a fellow investigator of the earthquake, the Chinese police beat him so badly that he had to undergo emergency brain surgery for internal bleeding. People love the idea of the tortured artist; and the artist who is willing to die for his work. Ai WeiWei is this.

In China today the focus of teaching in art schools is on Realist painting. In order to diversify his skills and ideas Ai travelled to the US in 1981 where he discovered the work of Andy Warhol. If you're lucky enough to be in Melbourne in early 2016 or Pittsburgh in summer 2016 you can see an exhibition of WeiWei's work alongside Warhol's!

I'm currently reading Hanging Man, The Arrest of Ai WeiWei by Barnaby Martin, and hope to discover more about him. At present I'm reading the bit about Ai's father and his links to Mao. There is plenty more to read about WeiWei and I encourage you to listen to his Ted talk as well.

I hope you enjoyed another art post, and let me know which artists you would like to know more about in the comments below! Thanks for reading!


Monday, 12 October 2015

How to talk about art | The Small Desk

For so many years I would walk into galleries or exhibitions and think that if I didn't like an artwork it was because I didn't get the artwork. Well, ladies and gentlemen I'm here today to tell you, YOU CAN SAY YOU HATE IT. Art is personal; not every piece of artwork speaks to everyone. If one particular artwork spoke to everyone it might as well be talking to no-one. You CAN go into a gallery and walk straight out again because you don't like it. You CAN say you don't think the artist has painted the best picture and you CAN like an artwork that other people think is crap. Leave your preconceptions at the door, because this is how you can talk about art.

1. Look at the picture and describe it to whoever you are with.

2. Look at the tiny details and try and find something you might not have seen if you had just glanced at the work. Then point out the tiny detail to your friend and try and think why the artist has made the detail so subtle.

3. Think about what emotions the artwork makes you feel, even if it makes you feel no emotion. Why does it make you feel no emotion.

4. Look at where the artwork is in the exhibition or gallery. What type of space is around it. Why has it been put there, and is its positioning improving or damaging the artwork itself. Would you have arranged the space differently? Think about where the artwork may have originally been displayed.

5. Have a look when the artwork was made. Was there any major event that happened at the time the work was created that would have affected the artist?

6. Does the artwork remind you of anything? Another artist's work? An object? A piece of history? An event?

7. Does the artwork remind you of anything in your life? Does it evoke a memory?

8. Is the artwork telling you a story? Does it take you on a journey? Does it feed your imagination?

9. Would you like to see more art like this? If not, talk about art that you do like. Tell whoever you are with what you prefer.

10. Do you like it, love it or hate it? Be proud of your feelings and don't be scared to say what YOU really think.

Basically, what I'm saying is that it is EASY to talk about art. Anyone can do it, anyone can enjoy it and anyone can get involved. So, look up your local exhibitions, local galleries and go and show them support. Because after all, art is what it means to be human.


Sunday, 11 October 2015

Getting out of my blogging funk | The Small Desk

Lately I've been in a bit of a blogging funk. You may or may not have noticed that I haven't posted in two weeks! I've just not been feeling my blog. I've not had any ideas of what to write about, I've not felt inspired and I've generally not wanted to blog. It does make me sad that I haven't even wanted to post, but then I think it is partly to do with my job. 

Basically I've been given a new role in my job, which means I get to start commissioning content. I've put myself so into the mindset of coming up with ideas for other people to write that I haven't thought about anything for me to write. I've been trying to find the best writers for particular subjects; finding experts in their subject area, and it's sort of made me feel less well equipped to write about lifestyle. I'm no lifestyle expert and I started to worry that I'm not providing the best content for my readers. I've started to think about what I am more of an expert in, and whether or not I can fit that into my blog posts. 

My passion is art. I read art books, I go to art exhibitions, I work in the arts, I do pottery classes, I have a collection of films about artists, I live and breathe art. Yet, it's something that I rarely feature on my blog. At first I was simply crippled by the fear of copyright implications and didn't want to feature any works of art on my blog in case I was caught out on copyright grounds, but then I started to think I hadn't built up the right audience to warrant talking about art. 

Recently I've been listening to Jen Carrington's 'Make it Happen' podcast, which is an incredibly inspiring podcast that helps enable bloggers to turn their blogs into businesses. Now, I'm not necessarily looking to turn my blog into a business, but it did make me think about doing a podcast. Jen has taken her expertise in blogging and created a rather brilliant podcast. She's just a normal girl, younger than me and she's made a podcast. Basically, I think I'm going to make a podcast about art. And in turn, hopefully it'll make me more creative with my blog. We'll see!

Jen's podcast is accessible and friendly, and that is what I would love to do with art. I would like to share my feelings and some of my knowledge on art, but not make it too elitist. Whether or not this idea will actually happen is another thing!

But I will try and put more art posts up here because it is a massive part of my life, and I think keeping it out may be damaging my blog in the long-term. I still have a big passion for homeware, travel and books, so there will still be a lot of those posts too. Hope you understand, and thanks for staying with me through my blogging funk.

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