Creative Dundee

Blog: Exchanging Knowledge Through Ampersand+

In this blog, illustrator Jen Collins talks about how our new peer-to-peer support project Ampersand+ has helped her tackle a new challenge whilst helping out a friend.

When I graduated from a degree in Illustration at DJCAD in 2009, I deduced that there were three things I would miss the most upon leaving art school behind: the facilities the art college offered; the support of my peers; and hash brown rolls from the Cantina.

Over time, with luck in location and the finances required, I’ve managed to find the amenities needed for continuing to create work—whether that’s been a spare room, a rented studio, or open access facilities. I’ve held onto and built networks with peers; some of whom are those same friends from DJCAD, but many are folks I’ve met since. You’ll be relieved to know that I’ve also learned you can create a perfectly acceptable hash brown roll at home. And whilst certain equipment and potato-based fuel* are still important factors in my continuing to work as an illustrator, I’d still find ways of working without them. But nae pals? Nae chance.

After graduating, I wasn’t immune to the idea that I was supposed to aspire towards working as a ✨full-time, self-sufficient creative✨ of some description. But for illustrators that can often mean sitting alone at a desk, communicating largely via email. As a result, something that’s been harder to replicate since leaving university is the immediate, responsive tap of support from peers; literally being able to turn to someone and go “hey, can you help me with this?”. I’ve relied on Google more than I care to admit, searching for things like ‘day rate illustrator uk?’ and ‘public liability insurance artist’ when it’s felt too awkward or intrusive to ask someone else—I don’t want to take advantage of someone’s knowledge they’ve worked so hard to build (and all too often it’s because I feel like I should know these things already after ten years). And when I do ask for help, I inevitably feel guilty and worry that I’m wasting someone’s time.

What I’ve long needed was something that essentially gave me permission to do the thing I find so difficult. When I learned of Ampersand+ it seemed like a way to climb past those negative feelings I associate with seeking advice. Knowing that someone is fully on board with having some sort of exchange removes the sense of me imposing myself on them and their insight—it’s consent to pick someone’s brain! And it came at the perfect time for me: I was about to purchase a kiln for firing ceramics.

Spending a considerable sum of money on equipment will be a relatable stress for anyone running a small business. What model should I buy? Who’s a reliable supplier? What best suits my needs? How do I use it? Will I burn my studio building down? Enter my good pal and fellow Amp, Steph Liddle—the person who many will think of if you mention “ceramics” and “Dundee”. I should note that it wasn’t so much that I felt like Steph wouldn’t want to lend a hand and answer any kiln-based questions I had; rather it was that I had A LOT of questions, and I know all too well that time is precious when you work for yourself.

We’ve been able to log some time with Ampersand+, and agree to a fair exchange: her giving me (what ended up being hours of) time, helping me figure out the logistics of what I needed and troubleshooting firing work for the first time. In return, she’s going to borrow my pottery wheel and work on her throwing skills. And whilst we could have come to this agreement ourselves, it feels good to make it official. I’m so appreciative of her knowledge and tips, replies to texts, and for relating to the kiln-based nightmares I started to have (who knew!). I’m likewise glad to know that the time she lent to me can be returned as something that’s useful to her.

*(To friends of mine reading – yes I’m playing down my love of potato-based goods for the sake of this blog).

Join the Amps Community and take part in our creative sharing project Ampersand+, which enables you to swap small favours and arrange informal conversations with each other to share your experienced-based knowledge and skills, benefit from constructive feedback on specific projects, discuss a topic that matters to you, or simply connect with someone new.

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