Never Too Old To Learn

This lesson about confidence is one I have been teaching students of all ages since time began. Saying that, if it’s true that doctors make the worst patients, perhaps Teachers don’t make the greatest learners. Still, we are never too old to take on something new, and my latest learning is this: confidence really is the key to everything.

A Little Background

You may remember from my Year In Review post back in December, I mentioned Creative Partnerships that had been blossoming. One such partnership has been with the fabulous SKIPPKO – a community Arts organisation which has been transforming the lives of people across Leeds for over 30 years.

A project we’ve been collaborating on, designed to improve adult literacy in some of the poorer areas of Leeds, has been a huge learning curve for me. In more ways than one.

The project involves four branch libraries, and four artists. I should add that SKIPPKO’s background is Visual Arts. Ever since returning from LA at the end of 2009, I have worked with them on an ad-hoc basis, as their token Drama Practitioner. This time, however, there are two SKIPPKO old-timers, and two of us with Performance backgrounds.

Get To The Point

So, this particular project, titled A Curious Chapter was to begin with a visual installation in each of the four branch libraries. It doesn’t take a genius to do the Maths – four artists and four libraries equals one library on which each artist would take the lead.

Cue Delayed Panic

Well, I have no problems when it comes to creative vision. So, on viewing all the libraries and being allocated our project venue, the cogs began whirring almost immediately. Designing for the Compton Road Library in Harehills, I knew exactly what I wanted to create. I could see how it would look, how magical and enchanting it would be, and how much it would grab the attention of all library users.

I pitched the idea to my SKIPPKO team, who all loved it. I ran it by the library staff, who thought it sounded fabulous. I used my partner (who is a professional maker) as a sounding board. Even he thought it sounded wonderful.

In other words, I knew how to fulfil the brief to the letter.

In concept-form.

Fantasy Vs Reality

The reality was a different story altogether.

I had this enormous hurdle to clear before I could even begin making anything for the installation. All I kept thinking was – but I’m not a visual artist. Now, I know this is ridiculous, as I have lost count of the number of props and items of scenery I have made, all by myself, for community projects over the years.

Yet, somehow, this was a different prospect entirely. The word installation meant it didn’t need simply to serve a purpose, it needed to be ART. Add to that, the pressure of knowing that the pieces would be moved to the Central Library for a lasting exhibition in August, and my fear was compounded.

I was paralysed by an extreme lack of confidence in my Artistic ability. I suppose, if we’re looking to apportion blame, I could point the finger at the GCSE moderator from the 90s, who deemed my portfolio just two marks too low to pass. That’s right. I got a D grade for my Art GCSE. It devastated me at the time, partly because I was at a high-flying school where students did not fail. Partly because I had put my heart and soul into that work and, whilst I knew I was not an A grade candidate, I thought I was worth more than a D.

I am aware that little rant probably sounded bitter. In actual fact, I attribute the greatest learning I ever did to that D. I had never failed anything before that point, and at 16, it was a valuable thing from which to learn to recover.

Water Under The Bridge

In all honesty, I think enough time has passed for me to take ownership of my terror, regardless of its roots. The point is, I was unable to move beyond the first stepping stone. I couldn’t even take my foot of the accelerator and make a start.

Until I remembered the writing course I went on last May. In one of the final sessions of the course, we were asked the question: If you actually get started writing, what’s the worst thing that could happen? 

Our collective response? We could fail.

To which the facilitator answered: Exactly. And that would be good. Off our very puzzled faces, she continued: You would pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and begin again. At least you would have moved away from the starting blocks to know that the world wouldn’t end if you slipped and fell.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Nobody will die. The world won’t implode. Life as we know it won’t cease to exist. We may gain a battle scar or two, which, dressed differently, is just another lesson to learn from.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Indeed they do. Interestingly, once I had meditated for a while on the writing course mantra, I was able to start. I began small, making leaves out of decommissioned books from the central library.

My overall vision was for a large enchanted vine to wrap round one of the pillars near the sign-in desk at Compton Road Library. There were other elements too, including stained glass-effect lettering on the windows and above the doors, as well as stained glass-effect fillers for the portholes in the steel girders along the ceiling, but the main event, would be the vine.

Our plan was to link the four installations by using old books in all of them, giving new life to something that had been discarded.

Finding My Rhythm

It didn’t take long before I had found my rhythm. All of a sudden, I was making leaves every evening after work. Our lounge became home to mountains of supplies. (We are still finding shards of laminating pouches now!)

Each time I discovered a new technique for the leaf-making, it made me buzz the way Acting always has. I found it therapeutic.

Some might say I was a little obsessive with it – making leaves throughout insomniac nights could possibly have been the foundation for that assertion – but I have a Type A personality. I will always approach things as a perfectionist; that’s something I won’t apologise for.


It is fair to say that I remained terrified of how the installation would actually go up. So many thoughts were keeping me awake at night – How will we hang it? What if it falls down? What if it looks shoddy? Will it stay in place? … 

The list goes on.

Yet that is the beauty of collaboration. Installation day was not my beast to tackle alone. Armed with invisible sticky dots, hooks, fishing wire, cable ties, brown tape, scissors, pliers, carpet tape, ladders and all manner of tools, the four of us, plus the SKIPPKO manager, Cath, rocked up at Compton Road Library to some very odd looks from security.

Moment Of Truth

With our collective vision, and our can-do approach, we got the vine, and all the stained glass pieces up. We generated a lot of interest, even at this point, and the library staff were delighted by the buzz we were already creating.

It’s not in my nature to say this, but it looked good. I was proud of my design, and our team effort to bring it to fruition.

In the month since, the staff at Compton Road have asked to keep the installation. Permanently. (Or, at least, until it falls down!)

Lesson Learned

I suppose I’m not so bad at Art after all, despite what the moderator thought.

In truth, all I needed to do was get over my own hurdle of terror, and get started. The rest of the creative process came naturally after that.

I have since applied the same lesson to my play writing. Having stalled two-thirds of the way through Act II, I finally took the plunge and finished the play I started on the writing course last year. It will, of course, need re-drafting several times before it is ready for any public outings, but that isn’t the point.

The point is, that confidence was the key to unlocking my ability to complete it. Just like confidence was the key to unlocking my ability to bring the installation to life. Just as confidence is the key to unlocking our potential for any kind of success.

See? Confidence really is the key. 

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