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Wiltshire artist takes on his greatest challenge – being a dad.

This article was first published in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on Thursday November 14 2013 and it’s reproduced here by request. 

Ever heard of the artist Syd? Or the Stencil Shed? If you live in the Malmesbury area, these names should be familiar.

Syd, whose real name is Luke Hollingworth, lives in the town, works in the town and has found his artistic niche in his adopted county. His street art can be found in the rural community and he uses the pseudonym ‘Syd’ which was a childhood nickname.

Even on the day I visited he was wondering who in Wiltshire would allow him to put an image on a boring wall or brighten up a dull space.

“I’m always looking for a space to create art. At the weekend I did an image of a green hare on a wall which was dull and needed brightening up. But I want to create art which is fun, sometimes thought provoking  and I want to create it legally with cooperation.”

Today Luke’s life as a 37-year-old husband and father in Wiltshire is a far cry from the ambitions of his childhood – when he vocally vowed he would never become an artist like his father Brian who is an accomplished sculptor.

Luke just didn’t believe there was any money to be made in the world of art. He went to university to study business and began a career in sales and marketing. He worked for big brands including Coca Cola and Dyson.

It was a job with the latter company which brought him down from Nottingham to settle in Wiltshire. Then he met his wife Mandie and gradually the art began to take over. He left his job to try his hand at being an artist who can earn money.

Locally, Luke became best known two years ago for entering the Shed of the Year competition – an event originally flagged up to him by his mum Shelley.

“My shed had become my workshop when mum told me about this competition. It really appealed to me and I decided to try some unusual marketing to get people to vote for me.”

In 2012, Luke spent a night hiding his art works around Malmesbury and on the back of each item was a note asking people to vote for him and his shed. His efforts led to local and national media coverage. In 2012 and this year, he’s come third in the overall competition and has also won the award for Best Workshop and Studio Shed on both occasions.

Visiting the shed is an amazing experience. Apart from gorilla guarding the path, there are eyes which stare at you as you approach and a silver skeleton by the door. Then on entering, it’s a cosy haven, complete with woodburner and mini-bar!

My favourite creation was Luke’s modern day take on the Michaelangelo paintings in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City – not the first thing anyone expects to see on the ceiling of a garden shed.

His art does have a Banksy feel but with a strong Wiltshire edge. Many make a subtle political point – and the jackdaw features heavily. Luke tells me that the people of Malmesbury call themselves jackdaws.

In fact Luke’s work has been mistaken for a Banksy before. He once did a piece of artwork in Glastonbury, showing organizer Michael Eavis dressed as a gangster.

Now, 15 months after the birth of his first child, Luke’s vision of success doesn’t look the same as it did before.

“I would be really proud if Daisy said at school ‘my dad’s an artist’. You do what you have to do to get by and to pay the mortgage but doing something you love and are passionate about is even more important to me now. I want Daisy to be proud of me and to recognize this or that art as my work.”

His passion for art is growing with age and experience. When Daisy’s first word was ‘owl’, he painted her an owl to capture that special moment.

“That painting in our kitchen will always be Daisy’s and will remind me of her with its bright, big eyes and piercing look.”

When Luke decided as a young man that he was not going to try to make a living through art, his chances of denying his creativity were ridiculously slim. Yet even at a very young age, his talent bubbled to the surface.  He won an award for his sculpting talent aged just eight. At home, creativity was all around him.

Wiltshire, street art, Banksy, Syd

Where did that hare come from?

“I’d often help Dad with the finishing off his ‘littlelies’ as he called them – small sculptures of frogs and hares that he made to sell. At Christmas we always had an exhibition at home and we always helped Mum and Dad prepare and invited people around to see the artwork.”

The reality and struggle of trying to earn a living as an artist was apparent then.

“There were times when Dad was stressed and anxious and now I realize these were times when money was tight, there were recessions and it was very hard to make ends meet.”

Now aged 37, Luke jokes that he’s become exactly like his Dad – clearly a personal hero in his life. He’s a working artist who also has a foothold in a ‘normal’ job too. He’s a gardener at local Abbey House in Malmesbury for the Pollard family.

“You do what you have to do. My wife used to laugh at me saying I was the guy with the business degree who was doing the weeding.

“But I have to say, all in all, I’m very happy and fulfilled in my life.”

 

Factoids:

 

Luke’s marketing stunt for Shed of the Year 2013 was to create a mock-up work of artist Damian Hirst, pickled in formaldehyde, and he put it in a field for cows to admire.

 

You can see Luke’s artwork at:

www.thestencilshed.co.uk or www.facebook.com/TheStencilShed

 

And his Dad Brian’s work (based in Nottingham) is:

 

www.animal-sculpture.co.uk

 

 

Tired Swindon dad spells out demands of being a father…

Guest post from my Twitter friend @Ianaf72 or Ian Francis from Swindon – we had a little twitter chat about being tired and I challenged him to write a guest blog. Here it is!

‘Man was made at the end of the week’s work when God was tired’

I’ve included this quote, not because it’s particularly relevant to this blog, but because I hope it would make me seem more intelligent to the mums who work in media reading this site.
I’m not intelligent.  The fact I’m typing this, when I could be taking the opportunity to sleep, is proof of that.
And in my case, that is my failing: that I don’t manage my time effectively and take the opportunities I have to rest.  I could play the sympathy card and state that I’m tired because I’m a modern dad with a two and a half year old daughter (which is partly true) – but she sleeps much better nowadays.  I’m just bad at listening to my body.
Now's the time to sleep? or is it?

Now’s the time to sleep? or is it?

Take last night.  My wife was away (she was working, not on a jolly) and I was solely in charge.  I managed bath-time and bedtime with efficiency, and got to eat before midnight.  I went to bed early (I was in bed by 8.30!) What did I do? Did I crash, safe in the knowledge that I’d get a few hours solid sleep? No – I did some work (I did work, promise) – 1 point to me; I then spent far too much time on twitter (as always) and then played Football Manager (you’ll know that ladies, it’s what takes loving partners away from you for weeks at a time).  Minus 2 points.  I finally turned out the light at 11.30pm.
So – I can whinge and whine that I’m tired; and I can tell myself that it’s the pressures that life places on me – but the reality is, I’m obsessed with the unimportant things which steal time from us all if we’re not careful.
I guess I can catch up with my beauty sleep whilst being made to watch Despicable Me for the 200th time.

Adoption – what was your experience? Good? Bad?

I can now write about the latest film I’ve produced for ITV Wales looking at adoption and special guardianship – called Forever Families.

Adoption is something you tend not to think about if you are a secure family unit – but the truth is that there are so many children out there who need help. But adoption has changed dramatically over the years and now we are in a situation where there are not enough people coming forward to adopt children. Note the use of that word. Adoption is rarely about babies now. It’s more likely to be about children and often siblings.

Why? Well, it seems from my research that it’s due to the fact that social services departments and the court system will give birth parents every possible chance to sort out their lives should their children be taken into care. This means that many children can be with foster carers for quite a long time before a final decision is made about their futures ie. should they be adopted? It’s a matter of debate about whether or not that’s a good thing.

Adoption - it ain't what it used to be.....

One reason, it’s suggested, for adoption not being as popular is the fact that the process takes a long time. A very, very long time. Adoptive parents have to go through a long assessment process, and if anything bad happens in their lives during that assessment period that can mean further delays. The families I interviewed both felt that delays were more about inefficiency and possible lack of resources, than about the child‘s welfare. However, one has only to think of Baby P to know that being careful can save lives.

I’d be really interested to hear any of your stories about adoption. Were you adopted? How has it affected your life? Have you tried to adopt and lost heart in the process? The Welsh Government is holding an inquiry into this issue and will be considering how to change the system by the end of 2012. It could lead the way when it comes to change….watch this space, I feel a follow-up coming  on…..

 

 

First day back at school – what’s it like for you? From one Swindon mum.

Today many children went back to school – as a mum of three, I have three of these days to deal with this year as all three children are at different stages.

Today will possibly be the most long-winded and it reminded me of the trauma that many working parents feel when they are trying to do the right things for their children at school – and get to work on time. It’s a daily battle.

Being self-employed I’ve deliberately kept all three days as free as possible and I’ve not regretted it. After years of children at school, I finally found that it’s best to be as free as possible on days like today. It’s brought the stress down to a bearable level.
Last Friday it was first child to secondary school – getting up far too early, stressing about uniform, putting a tie on for the first time and the horror of my daughter in realising that she has to master this every day for the next few years! What a trauma. Then it’s the ‘what if’ period – what if I can’t find my friends? what if I get lost? what if I can’t find the toilets? what if I’ve forgotten my PE kit?

Notice that these ‘what ifs’ are not the same as us parents? Like, ‘what if the work is too hard? or what if my child gets bullied? or what if my child is naughty?’

What I did not have to do was take my child to school – no it’s now an early bus there and back, but that brings it’s own trauma about safety, on the road and on the bus.

Still we got over that day and today it was child number 2.

 

This trip is a move from Yr 4 to Yr 5 of a very laid-back child who is having a new teacher and some new cardigans but everything else is familiar.

 

However, what a parent so easily forgets over the summer is the hurdles one has to deal with in simply getting your child to school.

The traffic is worse and finding a parking space that a) isn’t a daft and unsafe place to park b) isn’t inconsiderate to residents. And then there’s always the risk that residents will simply object to you parking outside their house, even if it’s not unsafe or illegal to do so. I had this the other day (not on a school day) but on a new estate where there were no road markings at all. I was a visitor to the area, there were no yellow lines, no parking signs at all but a resident wrote me a snotty note and put it on my windscreen informing me that I should ‘park round the back or else’. Clearly he or she thought I was psychic and would know by osmosis that there were parking spaces elsewhere.

 

Back to today, my child gave me a quick kiss and disappeared, eager to see her friends and to find her way around a new classroom.

 

I then had to have at least five conversations with other parents about their particular experiences. Some clearly were parents who were short of adult company over the previous six weeks. I had the time, so it was no problem. But when you are working it’s so rude to say ‘that’s great, bye!’. Then I remembered her new cardigans and also the medical form for her asthma medication.

 

On entering the school office, there was a queue of mums waiting to do similar things.

I could see those eager to be away, hopping from one foot to another – knowing how they felt, I was relaxed about letting them jump the queue.

But then the form-filling – is it really necessary to fill out at least two forms saying the same thing? My child has asthma, she can self-administer her medication when she needs it – which is about once a week. She’s proficient at it, she’s learning to carry her inhalers herself at all times – but she’s not allowed to at school. This I know and accept. But there must be a more efficient way of dealing with this. There was one form and then another, both asking the same thing. This exercise took about 20 minutes and then I had to wait for her new cardigans – luckily that took about a minute.

So my youngest child was pretty bored by the time we left school at about 9.30am – goodness knows what it will be like on Friday when he starts for the first time. I’ll be lucky to get a coffee in before I’ve got to pick him up at lunchtime. Oh joy!

First day at school can seem like a long, uphill slog

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