About a month ago I was invited to speak at the County Durham Cultural Partnership Conference in the Great Hall of Durham Town Hall. This event provided a fantastic opportunity for all strands of the creative sector within County Durham to come together to build networks which will help make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
I live in an incredibly creative county. The city of Durham itself is a World Heritage Site, but the wider county (especially the rural areas) hide all kinds of creative people. There's me of course - a jeweller - and I also know personally a textile artist, a shepherdess and wool-wrangler, a printmaker and a potter.
As well as representatives from the larger creative enterprises that the county is known for - such as Beamish and Durham Cathedral - there were many practising artists like myself who attended. But I particularly enjoyed the presentations from sculptor Ewan Allison and Backscratch Theatre, as it was so interesting to hear the "case studies" of other creative practitioners.
The lunch was pretty good too! I could eat one of those brownies right now...
I spoke about my own work, with reference to my commissions for the Baltic and Durham Cathedral and how they came about through the bulletins I received from Durham Creatives. Durham Creatives are an organisation who run a fun programme of free workshops, practical advice and support for anyone with a creative spark who's living or working in County Durham and thinking about starting - or is in the early stages of running - a creative business. All of their events and workshops have been free to attend, which is immensely helpful for small scale practitioners such as myself, especially during the set-up stage when money is tight...or non-existent!
It was incredible that so many people came up to me after my presentation to congratulate me on how fast my business has grown, the commissions I have won, and my work in general. I'm so used to being hidden away and just 'getting on with things' in my own way it was quite a shock, albeit a very pleasant one. It helped me to see my work in a new light and to reflect on how far I have come in such a short time. It also made me realise that often I take my skills and achievements for granted - making jewellery, designing custom pieces, sourcing stones, building my own website, doing the finances, paying the bills, hunting for antique jewellery, dealing with enquiries, taking and editing the photographs - when I actually should celebrate how damn good I am at juggling all these balls. People don't often realise (and I often forget) that I'm a one-woman show and that I do every single thing in my business myself.
But I have grand plans for the future. I’ve totally outgrown my current workspace, so much so that it’s time to move on.
But I’m staying in County Durham - we are soon moving to Weardale where I am planning a purpose-built studio. I will be running “make your own wedding rings” day-courses, and at some point I want to start up a Weardale Open Studios and involve other local creative practitioners, to encourage visitors to the area and promote county Durham as a tourist destination.
But one step at a time, of course!