Is this Art?

I slayed as an Artist-in-Residence in Cape Town, South Africa—  and here’s how

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Table Mountain and the Woodstock Neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa

Who am I anyway that I can give you advice?

My name is Kieran Elise O’Brien. The thing you should know about me is that I moved from my hometown of Victoria, BC to Montreal, Quebec in 2011 to get back together with my ex-boyfriend, which was exactly as bad an idea as it seems. When we broke up a year later, I ran away to Japan. In Japan, I fell in love (again) and in fairly short order I moved to Da Nang, Vietnam to chase that love (good news: we lived happily ever after). I want you to know that I have made some impulsive travel decisions (why yes, I am a sagittarius) and as much fun as it is to fly blindly into adventures: I propose that an Artist Residency is the best way to travel.  

Why?

  • Break out of your routine: You perceive time differently on vacation. I think there is nothing more inspiring than traveling. If you feel creatively stifled, If you feel bored by your day-to-day routines, then I am talking to you, dude. You don’t need to plan a trip to another continent. You can look for artist residencies in or near your own town. Look for short-term artist residencies. This one in Banff is only eight days long: https://www.banffcentre.ca/programs/winter-writers-retreat/20170213
  • Make time: You have a great idea for a novel. You used to paint and you’ve always meant to pick it up again. Take your creative work off of the backburner! Enter into an exceptional space where you can prioritize your creative work- and perhaps most importantly, where you can set yourself a deadline.    
  • Get access to resources: The architect behind Side Street Studios, Elad Kirshenbaum, was extraordinarily helpful to me. He was my host, tour guide, patron, collaborator and friend during my time in Cape Town. Through him, I had access to resources and connections that I would never have been able to source on my own.
  • Get to know a place: By setting aside a week (or four) to visit just one city, you are allowing yourself to fall in love with that place. Go for the thrill of something new and stay long enough to become a regular at your local cafe, to learn the street names, to notice all the glorious little differences made by a rainy day.

How it all began…

I had it in my head from the very beginning that I wanted to travel and be a graduate student. I am writing about my mother’s immigration to Canada from South Africa, and I study African Literature, so given my research interests, Cape Town became my desired destination early on in my academic career. I might have applied to a conference there, or applied to be a visiting student, both are good options for graduate students. Instead, I applied to be an Artist-in-Residence on the recommendation of my friend Zola (who writes a naturalist newsletter and is an all-round magnificent human being). She sent me a link to the website resartis, a “worldwide network of Artist Residencies” with a database that you can search by country. Unfortunately, there were only three residencies in South Africa listed on their site and none of them was quite the right fit for me. I decided to broaden my search. I googled “Cape Town Artist Residency” and from there I found Side Street Studios. Yes, that’s the big secret to my success: I literally just googled it.

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The Rooftop Residency at Side Street Studios in Cape Town, South Africa

Warning: Plan your trip well in advance to access travel grants

I contacted Side Street Studios by email and I sent them a project proposal. After that, the trip came together quickly- so quickly that I was not able to apply for the travel grants available through my department and through the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. I also missed out on applying for funding through my city, province and country. For example, I might have been eligible for funding through the Ontario Arts Council, which offers a “National and International Residency Projects” grant of up to $10,000. Don’t make the same mistake I did! I suggest you plan your residency a year and a half in advance, keeping funding deadlines in mind, as well as the particulars of your destination. For example, it’s a good idea to plan around weather conditions and national holidays.

Although I was not able to apply for the grants I’ve mentioned above, I did run a successful gofundme campaign. Through my campaign, I was able to raise enough money to cover the residency fee. Some Artist Residencies have fees, some don’t. Even those that don’t will certainly have associated costs like travel to and from the residency. Although some residencies have financial aid or honorariums to help you with your expenses. While you’re considering a particular residency, I recommend making a budget and estimating potential costs before you apply. It will come in handy when you try to access funding.      

40 days in Cape Town

With the help of family and friends, I made it to Cape Town. There in ‘the mother city,’ I met distant family members and I charted out a family tree that goes back six generations. I did as much sight-seeing as I could, and of course, I made art. I published a small zine that included the work of three local writers. I hosted a poetry reading and panel discussion with those same writers- and I designed a neon sign! It was my first foray into visual art. Looking back on my time in Cape Town, I am both proud of the work I did and grateful for the collaborative spirit of the many, many people who encouraged and inspired me to get creative. I hope that I can be one of those people for you. Go and get weird, my friend.

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home is no longer here. 2016. Neon sign. OneK collection. Cape Town.

P.S. Here are a couple of Artist Residencies that have caught my attention:

  • Cafe Tissardmine in Rissani, Morocco: The most important information we need is the reason you feel the desert is the right place for you to be.” 
  • The Kerouac Project in Orlando, Florida: Each residency consists of approximately a three month stay in the cottage where Jack Kerouac wrote his novel Dharma Bums.”

Good Luck,

Kieran

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Kieran Elise O’Brien is a poet and a student at the University of Toronto where she is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing. She loves flowers, ice cream sandwiches and the pond in the courtyard at Massey College. She is currently working on a collection of poems about the adventures of her alter-ego Bad Cowgirl. You can find her on tumblr, twitter and instagram.

 

“Be Really Good at What You Do” and Other Advice From GirlBoss Sharon Lockwood

Writing this piece was really special for me. Sharon Lockwood is a Toronto-based designer, business woman extraordinaire, and –simply put — a creative genius. She is also my wonderful mum! Sharon has founded not just one but two businesses in her lifetime and we at If She Dreams have wanted to pick at her boss-lady brain for a long time now. I can easily say that my own entrepreneurial spirit was ignited by her example. Running my own business was never an impossibility and success was not off limits – she proved it. Interestingly, at around the same time that I took the plunge and started my own business(es), Sharon did the same for the second time! She expanded her graphic design firm Line of Sight Design with a new adventure in textiles called ZayZay,  an exotic brand of luxury linens. Read on as The Boss shares her insight and wisdom as an entrepreneur, a mother, and a woman of colour.

 So, tell us about your empire.

My first business was Line of Sight Design, a graphic design firm that I founded in 1985, which has been growing and creating ever since. Our expertise is in branding that includes marketing and promotional materials, websites, signage, multimedia exhibits, packaging, and event promotions. We even design wedding invitations!
In 2015, I launched ZayZay – a vibrant collection of luxury duvet covers and bed linens. We have 25 limited edition designs, all my original paintings and creations, printed onto the highest quality 100% Egyptian cotton. ZayZay linens transform a neutral space, the bedroom, into living art.

Why did you start ZayZay at this point in your career? You already had a super successful design firm going!

I have run Line of Sight for 30 years and have enjoyed every second of it. But I have been working primarily in the corporate realm all this time, which is consistent with revenue but a bit of a straight jacket in terms of creativity. Well, not always, though it is true that corporate graphic design is not generally very spontaneous or fun. What I longed for (and suppose what I got in small doses when I taught at Ryerson and OCAD) was an injection of spontaneity and joy from the creative aspects of design. I wanted to blend my business knowledge with something that would go back to my initial attraction to art college in the beginning: textiles. I spent several years thinking about how to leverage my experience and find an avenue to apply my creativity legitimately.

Eventually it came to me to create and design duvet covers – a duvet cover is essentially an 8-foot canvas for your bed! There is a lot of room for creativity there. From a business standpoint, I thought this would garner more revenue in a way that was very different from the billable hour model of graphic design.

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I put in about three years of intense research before launching ZayZay in October 2015. Skin health and the planet matter to me. Central to the philosophy of ZayZay is adherence and certified eco-integrity in the manufacturing, for example water recycling, no chemical additives, and fair and safe labour practices.

What have you learned on this new path from graphic design to textiles and retail?

 I am learning so much, honestly. I realized I had been so ignorant to many things about this new world we live in terms of communication.  But I also realized that I would have had to learn it with Line of Sight as well, even if ZayZay didn’t come about. Communication has changed drastically. There has been a profound shift in the way people talk to each other. So design, marketing, must change, too.
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Why did you start your own business in the first place and what do you like about it?

I love the flexibility. When I say flexibility, it’s a little bit delusional, but when you say you are your own boss it means you don’t have to ask permission – to pick up something or delay your arrival if needed. Not to say you can do this too often because you can’t (if you do, you won’t have a business). But you have the choice. That totally changes your relationship with work. Could I ever work for anyone else now? No, never. It’s the sense of freedom on a moment by moment basis that keeps me going.
When you say you are your own boss it means you don’t have to ask permission
When I was working for someone else in my early days as a designer, I made a lot of money for other people. I realized I could be the one to benefit financially from my own hard work. This was a huge, huge incentive for me to go off on my own.
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Accommodating a family was also a big factor. Having my own business, I could be flexible as a mum – I could even have my kids in my office (and I did at times). I don’t believe I would have held a job having three children within the space of four years because I was perpetually pregnant that whole time. The downside to being a small business owner while a mother was not being able to take maternity leave. On the other hand, the ability to say “I’m taking my kids to the doctor” or “I’m looking after my sick child today” without asking permission of anyone was huge. Mind you, you do have clients. In this sense, instead of having one boss, you have several people to answer to!

What advice do you have to other entrepreneurial women?

Being really good at what you do, really really good, and knowing you are good is a necessity when you have your own business. And you also can’t underestimate getting experience working for someone else because, in the end, it can be very costly learning lessons on your own.
Managing people well is also enormously important; that’s going to make or break your business. You have to have a policy for how you want people to behave, how your business should function, have a set of rules in place before you start, even before you have a staff. Lay down the game rules, make a wish list of exactly what each role entails and who you’d like to hire. So that you know before you’re in a position of panic what type of person you can and want to work with.
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However, none of this I knew when I started. When I started off on my own with Line of Sight, it was out of fury and rage because someone told me I couldn’t and I was determined. When people tell me I can’t, that propels me.
With my second company [ZayZay], it started very differently. I am older now but I am not ready to stop working. I wanted to change how I worked and have reason to be out of the office, exercise my creativity, travel, and put my signature on something. Design is often very anonymous and you create something beautiful on behalf of someone else. But ZayZay is mine, it’s my project. And, of course, I want to get really rich and indulge myself (and my children). Make money first and then go for the bohemian lifestyle 😉
When people tell me I can’t, that propels me.
 Looking back, anything you’d do differently?
Would I change anything? No, I wouldn’t.  Not at all. Even the last 12 months which have been very challenging, I have learned so much. And I’m grateful for that.

Pssst….ZayZay is having a massive sale for Valentine’s Day! Check out http://www.zayzayshop.com to see the deals – 40% off until February 14th! If you want to feel and see these beauties in real life, check out their pop-up shop at 216 Ossington Ave (just south of Dundas) from February 10-12th!

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