Darwin-based photographer Jett Street takes images of her clients through her wedding and family photography work, and shares everyday adventures through her Instagram page Little Karama Gangsters.Read More
What would you say if someone asked you, “Are you a leader?” Would you stand a bit taller and give an authoritative “Yes!”? Or would you hesitate, not wanting to seem a bit, well, pompous?
For those who work in large organisations, leadership is a hot topic and something staff are expected to aspire toward. The Centre for Workplace Leadership found that sixty percent of the Australian organisations they surveyed offered some form of organisational leadership training. The ability to lead and manage others is not only something employees are prepared for; in many companies, staff are told “we are all leaders” regardless of position or title. Leadership: it’s a vibe.
Is it different, however, for those in the creative sector? Leadership, as outlined in my post published in April, is a fluid concept. We talk about it a lot, but we don’t have a solid idea of what it actually is. With this in mind, do creative practitioners aspire to be leaders?
I’ve spent the past four years talking to creative practitioners about leadership across four states and nine different disciplines, from visual arts to digital design and theatre. The vast majority of those I spoke to were undertaking leadership roles: running organisations, managing staff and volunteers, influencing cultural debate, and representing their communities. However, when I asked them, “Do you consider yourself a leader?” I discovered that their relationships with leadership were complex.
Emerging leaders were often hesitant to embrace the title of “leader.” Some worried that it made them seem “up themselves” (a very Australian concern); others didn’t recognise themselves in the media portrayals of successful leaders.
My research considers how we define ourselves as leaders—not only through our internal thoughts and feelings toward leadership, but also how outside forces shape our leadership identity. Some of them may be familiar to you.
Leaders are often held up as an ideal. “Good” leaders are those who win awards, make a lot of money, inspire praise, and receive attention in the media. Think of the late Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and even Sophia Amoruso, whose book #Girlboss inspired the new Netflix series of the same name. Emerging leaders have a tendency to compare themselves to these ideals, which are often highly constructed and marketed versions of leadership. We also compare ourselves as leaders with those around us. For those who work in organisations, you may look at your managers and peers and consider your skills, knowledge, and experience in light of theirs. Many creative practioners with whom I spoke saw being a leader as something they were not yet equipped to do. They believed they needed more skills, more experience, more recognition.
But being a leader is also something bestowed upon us by others—for example, by being promoted from team member to team leader, or by having “supervisor” or “manager” added to your job title. Many creative practitioners felt the weight of organisational expectation when it comes to leadership, especially when a new role or organisational progression meant moving away from individual creative practice to the management and organisation of others to achieve creative goals. Creative practitioners often felt comfortable being recognised as a leader in their discipline, but were resistant to the idea of managing other people.
There were also personal identity factors that influenced creative workers’ relationships to leadership. Australians like to see themselves as egalitarian in nature, especially in the arts, and have a tendency to shoot down “tall poppies.” Creative leaders are concerned about remaining humble, wanting to be seen as one of their peers rather than putting their hands up to lead.
Gender is also an inescapable topic when considering leadership. Many of the women I spoke to were uncomfortable calling themselves leaders, while these feelings of inadequacy were less likely to be expressed by their male counterparts. Participants in my study—of both genders—also noted that there is an (incorrect) perception that female leaders in the arts are bitchy, catty, and not supportive of their peers. In a number of sectors, leadership was closely associated with competition. Those in positions of power did not have a sense of generosity toward the development of others; their focus was more often organisational survival and gaining access to scarce resources or opportunities.
The result of all these pressures felt by emerging leaders in the creative sector is that they are less likely to identify personally as leaders. We might ask, “So what?” As long as they keep acting as leaders, as many are, who cares if they don’t proudly wear the “leader” label?
If the next generation of cultural innovators, pioneers, and trailblazers are reticent to call themselves “leaders,” they may also be unwilling to apply for leadership opportunities, development, and positions. Leaders require confidence to reach out and grasp what the future offers.
In addition, Australia needs strong, vocal, creative, and cultural leadership. The economic challenges facing creative industries, cuts to funding and arts education, culture wars—all of these all require leaders in the community to be strong not only for their organisations and individual businesses, but for the sector as a whole.
When a leadership opportunity arises, will you be ready to step up to the challenge? Or are you a reluctant creative leader?
Kim Goodwin is an academic researcher and arts manager with a background in leadership, human resources, and career development. Since leaving her corporate career, Kim has focused on building understanding in how creative leaders are developed while working in a variety of arts organisations and academic environments. She can be found on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter (@KimAroundTown).
Have you ever wondered how your personality type impacts your creativity? You’ve probably heard of the Myer’s Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)—it’s a widely used psychometric tool for assessing personality. I sometimes use it in my coaching practice to help clients make sense of their personality preferences in the context of their creative lives.
About the MBTI
The MBTI has been used for decades as a tool for enhancing self-awareness and development in business and personal life. It’s based on four dichotomies (pairings) that interact with each other to produce a total of sixteen possible personality types. The preference dichotomies are:
- Introversion (I) vs. Extraversion (E)
- Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S)
- Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
- Perceiving (P) vs. Judging (J)
A person’s preferences will fall on one side of each dichotomy; across the four pairings this results in a “type.” For example, my type is an INFJ: Introversion/Intuition/Feeling/Judging.
While the complexity of personality can’t be explained by any single assessment, and there are some validity issues with the MBTI, I still find it a useful tool if the results are considered within a broader life context. In my experience, the MBTI genuinely helps people make greater sense of how they interact with the world and how they perceive and process information.
How does your type impact your creativity?
The realm of creativity isn’t “owned” by any one type, although some preferences may help or hinder creativity in different ways. Let’s explore some of these below.
Introversion (I) vs. Extraversion (E)
Contrary to popular belief, “introvert” doesn’t refer to a quiet, shy wallflower, but instead a person who recharges and gains energy from time alone, regardless of how outgoing or friendly she is.
When it comes to building a dedicated creative practice—something that requires a lot of focused, solitary time—introverts may have a head start. The challenge for creative extraverts is to balance social and creative time to meet both needs. Conversely, when it comes to promoting one’s creativity, extraverts’ social ease and larger networks offer more opportunities for connecting with potential collaborators and supporters, a task introverts often find daunting.
- If you’re an extrovert, determine how much time per week to spend on your creativity and block it out in your calendar, so social events don’t creep in over the top.
- If you’re an introvert, learn ways to promote your creative practice that are more aligned with introversion, such as blogging. Also, challenge yourself to get out there as the face of your practice.
Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S) T
he N/S dichotomy describes how we perceive and gather information. People with N preferences are described as big-picture people, abstract thinkers, people who make gut decisions. S people are more concrete and focus on details, data, and evidence; they are the “seeing is believing” type of people.
When it comes to artistic creativity, Ns are all about the expression of ideas, while Ss tend to focus on execution and craftsmanship. In coaching, N clients often need guidance with choosing ideas and implementing them consistently, whereas Ss need more help thinking “outside of the box” and “connecting the dots.”
- If you’re an intuitive person, remember that sometimes, the devil is in the details. You may have a great idea, but if it’s executed poorly then will it be appreciated? Take time to learn your craft and hone your technique.
- If you’re a sensing person, be sure to regularly expose yourself to new and interesting people, places, and events to feed your senses and expand your creative ideas.
Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F) Thinkers make decisions based on logic and facts, as opposed to feelers, who tend to decide based on feelings and perceived impacts on other people.
Because feelers perceive their art as extensions of themselves, they often get caught up in beliefs of how the world will perceive them, which can lead to fear, self-doubt, and creative blocks. Thinkers, on the other hand, tend to dissociate a little from their work and treat it like a project to be delivered, rather than an aspect of themselves. This emotional distance may make it difficult to connect with audiences—something that comes far more naturally to feelers, who are in tune with themselves and the feelings and drives of others.
- If you’re a thinker, consider the impact your creativity and work have on other people—asking them is a good start! When sharing your work, notice how people respond to it and use that knowledge in your future projects.
- If you’re a feeler, remind yourself that creative failure doesn’t equal human failure. We all need mistakes and failures to learn and grow. Creating a bit of psychological distance between yourself and a creative work can be healthy.
Perceiving (P) vs. Judging (J) Another common misconception is the J label, which doesn’t mean that a person is judgmental. Instead, “judging” refers to the preference for closure, certainty, and organisation. Perceiving, at the opposite end, is a preference for flexibility, open-endedness, and spontaneity.
When implementing creative projects, judgers prefer a structured approach; they set goals, manage timeframes, and follow through to closure. Perceivers, on the other hand, often feel confined by plans. They tend to procrastinate and go off on tangents (albeit sometimes very interesting ones!), which can lead to half-finished projects. Because judgers are so focused on following through, however, they often fail to notice (or even dismiss) opportunities that open up along the way but feel disruptive to the original plan. Perceivers, on the other hand, are quick to recognise new sources of inspiration and information—and take advantage of them.
- If you are a perceiver, keep in mind that while it’d be nice to use all your ideas, is it actually doable? Figure out your best ideas, focus on one thing at a time, and follow through even when you’re tempted to jump ship. Hire a coach or get a friend to support you in reaching your milestones.
- If you’re a judger, remember the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” The best plan in the world doesn’t make a project a success, so learn to tolerate more uncertainty and take advantage of new opportunities.
Creative self-development and the MBTI When developing your creative self, it’s sometimes useful to tap into one of your preferences more deeply. Other times, it’s beneficial to challenge them and try the opposite. For example, on the J/P dichotomy, I’m very strongly a J. This is great when working solo, because I know how to balance my need for structure with idea exploration, but when collaborating with others my judging tendency can stifle the creative process. I’ve learnt over time to let go and step in as the structure queen only when necessary.
- Take the MBTI
- Consider whether you’re taking full advantage of your preferences. Tap into the preferences that are working well for your creativity.
- Think about where your preferences are holding you back. Be brave and challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone.
Bronya Wilkins is a creativity coach and founder of Creative Cocoon, a coaching practice dedicated to helping people connect with their creativity. Bronya is passionate about psychology, self-development, and creative expression. Some of her hobbies include dance, graphic design, music composition, and photography. You can find her Facebook and Twitter, or follow her on Instagram (@creativecocoon).
One of the greatest gifts that illustrator, teacher, and soapmaker Dawn Tan gives her students is the permission to make mistakes. Having taught art since she was seventeen, as well as working as an illustrator, Dawn embraces the art process as changeable. “If you make a mistake, just go for it,” she said. “Change it up a bit. See how you can do something new out of that mistake that you’ve made.”
Dawn’s “Making Space” Dawn welcomes me into her Yarraville home in Melbourne’s inner west. We can feel it is going to be a warm day, but for the moment we are both thankful for the coolness of her kitchen and dining room.
Dawn’s studio space has a gentle filtered light. The Victorian terrace she shares with her husband, Darren, is filled with art by friends and by artists she admires—such as good friend Madeline Stamer—as well as objects collected on the couple’s travels. A recent trip to the U.S. and India has prompted new designs featuring images and patterns inspired by the American desert and India’s magical colours and spices.
The long wooden table in her dining room is where Dawn creates her illustrations. On the day I visit, the table is neatly arranged with resources for a work in progress. The watercolour painting she shows me is of her client’s grandparent’s home, which Dawn carefully paints with fine detail as a precious memory for her client.
A Creative Life Along with working as a freelance illustrator and having her work published by such clients as Frankie and Hooray magazines, Dawn teaches workshops for adults in her home, and for children as a school art teacher.
In the last six months, Dawn has also discovered a love of making handmade soaps—enticing in both looks and aroma. The packaging for her soaps bears Dawn’s signature watercolour drawings, and the scents include apple cider, Joshua tree cactus, and chai milk tea. “I started making soaps not only because I wanted soap for myself, but because I was going through quite a rough patch when I was teaching and working in my previous school,” she explained. “I found that I needed a way to relax and not think about anything else, to do something different for a change.”
In high school, Dawn had great support from teachers who recognised her natural artistic ability and encouraged her to pursue an artistic career. Her friends and family have also encouraged her to keep going with her art, in part by ordering prints and custom house portraits, buying soaps, and sharing her posts on social media. “A lot of my colleagues were amazing, super troopers, cheering me on,” said Dawn.
The Little Art Yurt In June 2017, Dawn will fulfill her dream of opening her very own art school: The Little Art Yurt. “I’ve always known that I wanted to teach,” she said.
As Dawn awaits delivery of a large round tent, which will fill the entire outdoor space in her courtyard, she prepares for the school—planning, designing brochures, and adding students’ names to the ever-growing waitlist. She already has the most elegantly made aprons ready and waiting for the first class, hung on a plywood rack made by her father-in-law. The Hedley & Bennett aprons are examples of Dawn’s attention to detail: she is sensitive not only to the ways children engage with art, but also to how they feel physically while creating art. The aprons let children move freely without being hampered by stiff, bulky art smocks.
Dawn possesses a true joy of teaching, describing it as something that feeds her creativity. “I find that, especially working with children, they have this sort of crazy, fun energy about them. It makes you learn how to let go and just relax,” she said. “I see it as an exchange of knowledge. I see kids as teachers as well.”
Dawn comes from a family of teachers. “Being able to share what I love—which is art—helps me be inspired. I enjoy having conversations with people, sharing experiences, food, laughs. All these things help me create better as a maker.”
Being an Artist At the end of each day, Dawn makes a deliberate effort to pack all of her work away onto her shelves, a method she has recently adopted. “I used to leave everything out lying on the table,” she said. “I used to have a separate table in a little corner, but then we bought this bigger table and I realised that having this big kitchen table forces me to put everything away. It actually helps me think better and work better because every day is a new fresh start.”
Dawn’s watercolour illustrations are distinctive, with their use of fineliner and watercolour. Layers of watercolour in elegant tones capture doughnuts, cakes, food, plants, houses, and packaged goods. Dawn decided a while ago that drawing people was not for her, preferring to draw inanimate objects. Her style brings the subjects she paints to life, as if we are experiencing them through her eyes. “One word that’s kept coming up over the years is ‘raw’: how my work is so raw, almost like reading through someone’s journal. I like that,” she said.
Dawn is open and honest in the way she shares her life and work online. “When you have a very personal voice—when you’re just you and when you don’t hide, when you don’t make it all look nice and fancy—I find that people actually appreciate it more,” she said. “I always wanted to be the sort of artist where there’s no hiding, so, yeah, I think I’ve achieved that.”
Dawn’s Tip Dawn encourages women who want to start their own creative business, or who struggle to juggle their business with other demands, to believe in themselves. “Don’t doubt yourself,” she said. “I’ve learned over the years that if you’re going to sit there and hesitate and doubt yourself and think, ‘What if? What if?’ then it’s never going to happen. Just do it. If you fail, you fail. Dream big; go do it. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.”
Photos and podcast audio production by Jenni Mazaraki
Jenni Mazaraki is an artist, designer, writer, and podcaster who helps women tell their stories. She is particularly interested in the ways women make time and space for creativity. You can see more of Jenni’s work at localstoryspace.com, on Instagram (@localstoryspace), or on Facebook.
Based in the seaside suburb of Sandgate in north Brisbane, Wallflower Floral Design is the brainchild of Renae Handy, florist and all-round creative lady. Wallflower has had a steady rise since it started in 2015, and Renae and her four staff are kept on their toes arranging and delivering flower orders, creating floral bouquets and installations for weddings, and being part of events and photo shoots.
How did you come to being a florist?
My parents own a wholesale nursery and I grew up surrounded by plants. My first job was putting things in pots when I was six years old, working in the nursery. So it’s in my blood, the horticultural thing.
It all really started when I did the flowers for a friend’s wedding. I cut a whole lot of sunflowers from my dad’s neighbour’s farm and just arranged them. People loved it and I really liked doing it. So I started doing flowers for friends’ weddings for free and for fun… using Woolworths flowers!
Then I thought, maybe I could make this into a business. I registered the name and created an Instagram page. I did a cert II and cert III at a flower school after I opened the business. I didn’t write a business plan; I’ve just been following the tumbleweed!
I was that person who was always chopping and changing jobs. I went to see a career counsellor and said, “Look, I don’t know what to do with my life. I want to start a café, be a real estate agent, or be a florist.”
And she said, “If you want to start a café, you need money and a business degree. You’re too nice to be a real estate agent; that whole industry will destroy you. And florists, they don’t make money so don’t be a florist.”
For so many years I tried many different things, which has meant that this business has a really solid grounding.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I go to the market on Mondays and Thursdays and pick up whatever we need for our week’s orders and for the shop. On market days, I get up at four am—so if someone wants to be a florist and she’s not a morning person, it’s not the job for her!
While I’m at the market, I’m thinking on my feet, making decisions about what is going to work. If I’m buying for a wedding, I try to imagine the bride, which colours she looks good in, and what her vision is. When I’m buying for the shop, I have to think about what’s going to look good, what’s going to sell, and what’s going to last.
If you don’t make quick decisions, the florist behind you will probably snatch up the flowers. It’s a bit of a scramble in the mornings! It can be stressful, but also fun.
At around seven am., I bring back the boxes of flowers. Then the girls and I spend time preparing them. We use tools to take the foliage off the stems, then cut the stems and put them in water. That takes a long time. We do a lot of work to ensure the flowers last as long as possible. We then do all the orders, talk to customers, and make up arrangements. We get a lot of walk-in enquiries. I also do bride consultations, so I’ll talk with brides and do up quotes. We often get stylists and photographers coming in, too.
Then we might do some deliveries and close up around four or five pm. It’s a pretty busy day.
Describe your floral philosophy. What does a Wallflower arrangement look like?
Our arrangements are whimsical, textural, eclectic, and natural. We pride ourselves on not being predictable.
Traditionally, florists are trained to have a hero flower, like a big rose or lily, then a complementary flower, a filler flower, and some greenery. That’s the basic recipe; florists have used it for so long, over and over again. I think that’s one reason I was so passionate about starting this shop—because of that recipe and tradition. Flowers are so beautiful, but because they were being presented in such a bland structure, people lost appreciation for their natural beauty. I’m passionate about showcasing flowers in their natural form.
What are the challenges of being a creative and an owner of a small business?
Some people think being a florist is a fairytale job, which sometimes it is because we do get to play with flowers. But sometimes it can be high pressure; it’s stressful to come up with something creative when you don’t have enough time.
It’s hard to be a creative and a businessperson at the same time. I’m split down the middle. There’s the voice saying, “You’ve got to protect your brand. You’ve got to make money.” But then there’s the other side saying, “Stick to your true self, do what you love.” As an artist, you’re emotionally attached, and you take time to make something beautiful, but as a businessperson, time is money… It’s such a battle.
Another challenge is to ensure my staff are happy. I want to encourage them personally and to help them find their place in Wallflowe. If my staff isn’t happy, nothing works.
In my family, my dad’s the businessman and my mum’s the creative. My dad is my business mentor. Every Thursday, we have a family dinner and I talk to him about my business challenges. He gives me great advice.
What does the future hold for you and Wallflower?
It’s important to keep learning, so I’ve got my eye on some courses I’d like to do to challenge myself.
For Wallflower, I’d like to increase the scale of the work we do, and do more installations, events, and weddings. More connections and collaborations. I want us to stretch ourselves and what we can do. It’s an exciting time.
Kate Shannon is a freelance writer based in Brisbane after many years living in Darwin. She spends a lot of her time in the garden with her two little girls, and loves writing and learning about creative people, flowers, and plants.
Photos by Renae Handy (top, middle) and Kate Shannon (bottom).