Unaccustomed as I am…

I’ve given two talks in the space of a week. The first was to the Milton Keynes Embroiderers Guild which coincided with our new textile art exhibition there by ‘FIVE’ (here’s a photo of part of the exhibition – more about that in a later post). The second talk was to Wey Valley Workshop Textile Group in Godalming.  I’m delighted to report that I actually enjoyed both of them! No need to lie down in a darkened room to recover, although that bottle of wine later on in the evening did hit the spot. Both groups were lovely and welcoming, and everyone was really friendly. I was pleased with the response to both talks, and I’ve been pondering over why I was apprehensive about it beforehand.

Surveys asking what people worry about seem to suggest that fear of death only occupies the number two spot. Fear of public speaking comes in at number one. It’s that 3am kind of worry, when the house is silent, the dressing-gown hanging on the back of the door in the darkness is someone lurking silently in the shadows, and the people you are going to speak to the next day are definitely going to eat you.

I’ve done my share of giving evidence in Court for work, so I’m used to preparing myself for cross-examination by a hostile barrister whose purpose in life is to make you look stupid, or contradict yourself, or lose your thread, or burble. You do gradually learn the tricks that the barristers employ such as ‘The Withering Look’ or the facial expression that says ‘I Cannot Believe You’ve Just Said Something Quite So Stupid’. I have to remind myself that when I’m speaking to a textile group I am actually talking to a friendly group of like-minded people who have come along because they share the same interest in textiles, and who have come along in a positive spirit. Old habits die hard though, and it is lovely when I have got started and begin to realise that I’m not going to be eaten for breakfast. I start to see nods and smiles and no Withering Looks. The icing on the cake is that the questions are friendly and interested, not critical.

I think part of the apprehension is also an element of ‘So what do I know’. I get invited to do these talks on the strength of having won the C&G Gold Medal for Excellence in Stitched Textiles, rather than because of the years of exhibiting, teaching and publishing experience that many speakers have. I find myself thinking ‘If I had more years experience in textile art, then I would have more to say’. Let me confess something. Once, the night before giving evidence in Court, I dreamt that I was standing in the witness box dressed up in my formal Court clothes except that I had forgotten to put on my skirt. ‘Beam me up, Scotty!’ So, what actually is the worry? Being exposed, like the emperor in his non-existent new clothes? Being caught out? Being found lacking in some way? All of the above, I suspect. So it’s really exciting and liberating to have a positive response to my talks from these two lovely groups (and I’m pleased to say that I did remember to get dressed beforehand!)

I based these talks on exploring questions about why adults so easily lose the creativity that they had when they were children, and how we can get it back if we do lose it. This is something I’ve thought about a lot, because it connects with both my professional working life and my re-discovery of creativity and textiles later on in life.

When I did two previous textiles talks last year I found it very distracting using written notes. It was like someone switching on a fan that blew all my ideas around into heaps of chaos. Those two talks definitely had some Grade A burbling!  ‘The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public’. (Roscoe Drummone). So this time I decided to use the digital images as the prompts instead, and to have no written notes at all. This worked much better, I think. It did occur to me that it would be good to have a Plan B in case of technical failure, but hey, they say adrenaline sharpens the mind.

I guess it will take some time until I lose the unnerving feeling that when I speak about textiles, people are secretly wondering why I forgot to get dressed! I’m not quite sure where the transition comes between being an enthusiastic amateur and being a professional artist. I have a kind of reverence for ‘proper’ textile artists – the ones who earn their entire living through their art. I’m coming into this quite late compared to the bright young things who emerge from art college, so I think I’ll just carry on bumbling along and developing my work and I’ll see where it takes me. In the meantime, with these latest two talks I feel I have dipped my toe into the water. I’m so pleased to find that the water was warm and there weren’t any crocodiles lurking below the surface.

5 thoughts on “Unaccustomed as I am…

  1. Janice

    I’m so pleased to read that your talks went well Jane. I’ve never given a talk about textiles but I have performed (sung) quite a bit, and very much identify with the fears. It was many years before it dawned on me that the audience wanted me to do well, because that’s why they had come!

    BTW I’m in the middle of transferring all my favourite blogs from DWS to my previous blog which is now private. I’ll just use it as a way of accessing my blogroll. Any further comments from me will have different email etc, since the host contract for DWS will expire soon.

    1. Jane Post author

      Hi Janice,

      Good to hear from you. Mr Google-Analytics tells me that people visit my website and blog, but without feedback I have no idea who they are or what they think, so thanks for taking the time to reply!

      Singing in public sounds nerve-wracking. You must be very brave! Mind you, my 90-year-old Dad has started singing in public just in the last few years, so I guess ‘never say never’ may apply.


      1. Jane Post author

        P.S. Did you know that if you want to keep a blogroll that sends you new posts from each blog you follow, you can sign up with ‘Bloglovin’. It will send you each new post as it appears so you don’t have to actively look to see if there’s a new one. You don’t have to have a blog of your own to sign up for it, you can just be a ‘reader’.

  2. Isobel

    Hello! I’ve just “looked you up” because I bought one of your inspirational potassium permanganate cards at Ramster. I can really relate to everything you say here – I’ve only given two talks, with a few more in the diary, and I concur that “without notes” is definitely the way to go – I love your analogy of the fan blowing your ideas around and mixing them up, that’s exactly it. I think I probably burble on too much, and could probably cut down what I say by at least half, but like you I’m finding my feet and trying to not get caught out as a fraud or imposter!

    1. Jane Post author

      Hi Isobel,

      Thank you for getting in touch, and thanks for describing my potassium permanganate cards as ‘inspirational’. That’s lovely. I am normally drawn to very vibrant colours, so the brown black and white colours are unusual for me.

      By coincidence, I have been looking at your FB Artist page and your online videos. I was intrigued by how you apply tiny beads with a sewing machine – that’s something I’ve never seen before. I also enjoyed your film of making the circular piece that is on display at Ramster. So original and very striking.

      I also recently watched your video about whether to offer online courses or write a book etc., and I do understand your comment about taking ‘baby steps’ while building up knowledge and experience. It’s tempting to charge along at high speed because it’s all so exciting, but it’s also good to take time to consolidate. We just need several lifetimes each!



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