I am a visual artist, recently graduated with an MA from Edinburgh College of Art and relocated to the Highlands of Scotland. I am at the stage in my career where I want to focus on my practice, including the skill of creative project management. This strand of artistic practice has developed through the initiation, conception and organisation of collaborative projects whilst engaging with peers and organising artist led activities and schemes.

I applied for this bursary to aid the focus on developing my skills and to do this through continual self development by experience and guidance from a knowledgeable mentor.

I believe mentoring is an underutilised area that we could be doing much more with. It is an incredibly valuable system which can work on many levels, which I aim to be part of in my own peer network.




After leaving art school first time around, I really wasn’t clear what I wanted to do with the experience of the four years behind me. Some folk seemed quite well prepared and focused on what to do next, they appeared to have a natural trajectory (or at least it looked that way!). I felt I had used up a lot of my energy in getting through it all, I don’t think I had thought about what would constitute “life after” – however, I was involved in a collective and did maintain my practice by being away on residency for example, but plenty of ideas fell by the wayside when the realities of life crept in and I found myself working full time and halfheartedly attempting to maintain a studio space with little time or energy to be of use.

Going back into full-time education was one way out of that stagnant period and I approached postgraduate study determined to have a better idea about how my practice would progress after being within the bubble of the education framework. Combined with a move to a completely new rural location, this new “life after” was an opportunity to use fresh challenges to adapt and prioritise areas of my practice I felt I could develop.

One factor that has assisted is having the support of a mentor. I suspect that if I had had access to something similar after completing my undergraduate degree, I would maybe not have gone back so soon to full time education or perhaps my practice would have evolved in different ways. Another aspect I am aware of is the peer network you build around you – as much as I am good at relating to, collaborating and working with others, I didn’t do as well as I could have in this aspect – your peers can be a fantastic source of knowledge sharing and opportunity making.
However, through a combination of a little luck, being in the right place at the right time, shared interests and proactively seeking connections, I have formed a good relationship with a mentor. Applying for the a-n bursary came at just the right time. Despite plenty of rejections, as many artists have, the act of applying and writing proposals forces you to think and plan about what you really want to do and evidence it. It can make things clearer and is particularly beneficial when there are a number of options. Using the bursary structure as a formal agreement with a mentor made having one much more “official” and added weight to the process – in that it wasn’t a loose chat every so often, more like planned time set aside to properly discuss what I was working through and areas I wanted to focus on.

This success is partly to do with the way I prefer working – having a plan suits me and means I can work towards objectives and tangible outcomes in the context of my practice. Having a peer group is of course highly valuable when discussing your practice but having a mentor is another level to this exploration – not merely because it is likely they will have had more experience in your area of interest, but they will perhaps have an alternative viewpoint and be able to question things in different ways.

I have spoken previously about the two way aspect of mentoring – to reiterate, it really isn’t a one sided thing and I believe both mentor and mentee are able to gain benefits from working together. I probably hadn’t thought about it prior to this experience, but mentoring is something I would like to get involved with in the future.

The other use of the bursary funding has been worthwhile too – setting aside time and resource to attend events and specific professional development training. I suppose it reflects on how having an artistic practice should be seen as a professional thing – in any other job there would be a training and development plan (to a greater or lesser extent) which would be overseen by a boss. You would have annual reviews and self-evaluation. I am not suggesting I suddenly start spending a huge amount of time on these things and become a bit corporate, but I do think some beneficial aspects can be taken from more traditional business models – actually valuing and creating time and resource for professional development, seeing it not as an add on but something as integral to how your practice evolves. It is also about viewing professional development as quite a wide area – for different people this will mean different things – perhaps an accountancy course is essential for an artist who needs to be able to do her finances but for another a course on learning a new glazing technique for ceramics is more appropriate. It is all relevant and having time for developing these things is essential.

For me having had the opportunity to do both things – go on courses and have the support of a mentor has made me think more specifically about my own professional development and what I want to get out of my practice longer term. It doesn’t mean I have all the answers (and indeed these will shift and change as life does) but certainly have a more focused outlook and more aware of how to proceed. Thank you a-n!


Having completed the online course I was studying, a little behind schedule, I can now review it. In principle, online courses are great, especially if you live in an area where the educational provision does not meet your requirements. If you are self directed and motivated to study you will gain more from what is on offer – conversely if you need the stimulus and drive of physically being present in a class online learning may be a challenge too far!

I prefer learning in a class environment face to face, but have got on well with on-line in the past so I didn’t expect to have difficulties. Unfortunately due to other commitments I was unable to “attend” the lectures in real time – one observation from watching them later, although there was some opportunity for people to be more interactive, it didn’t seem to be a great part of this course. This could be for a number of reasons – if you are not accustomed to this kind of communication, it can seem intimidating to dial in and speak or perhaps it was too short a course for people to get fully involved and able to participate.

There was a forum for adding comments in each week of the course but this wasn’t used much – which is a shame as it could have been a good platform for people to have exchanged ideas. Perhaps there was quite different interests and experiences which made it more difficult for the participants to feel comfortable in commenting on each other’s ideas. I felt quite a time pressure between each week and was unable to look at other participants work fully to be able to make any kind of useful comments or start a thread of discussion which was worthwhile – so that being said, perhaps it is important to look at what sort of time commitment you can give to a course before embarking on it to make it more of a valuable experience for yourself and other participants.

There are positives to having completed a course in this way however – I felt on the whole the course was useful. I do feel I had quite good background knowledge of the topic beforehand but did learn some new things and got some good pointers on how to further my knowledge and where to look for more information and good examples of organisations to study. There was an individual task to complete for which I received feedback – having some sort of validation is always helpful and despite not having the class dynamic, by having some dialogue it is beneficial for developing ideas and feeling you are on the right path. Having also the opportunity to study something over a period of a month and hear from people from all over the globe was valuable and made me think a bit more about my own ideas in context.

In general it brings to mind the need to be organised and informed – highly relevant when the other thing I have been concentrating on is starting to look at an application for funding to further the exchange residency project I started earlier in the year. Our group are keen to put in a proposal to allow us to work on something with a bit more scope than before – seeing that we all work well together and have common interests we’d like to pursue. I had the opportunity to chat through what was expected in the application with my mentor at our last session – just going through and talking about the basics is really helpful to iron out any obvious things that won’t work, or things that need to be said. In addition to that, Susan invited an archaeologist round to chat to me about her current projects – we had felt there may be scope to either work together or have some sort of crossover or mutual support. This is yet another way that having guidance and insight from an experienced practitioner can help – their network which allows you to contact people and resources you may not otherwise have been exposed to or be readily able to access. I am in an incredibly fortunate position and hopefully the forthcoming application bears fruit. The next stage of writing it will be a little more taxing…


Aside from the main activity of mentoring, another activity I identified and proposed for this bursary was attendance at a number of professional development workshops and events. I have previously attended great events at the Cultural Enterprise Office on writing proposals for example and have researched other workshops at places such as Tate and Whitechapel in London who offer a range of courses. I haven’t been so successful in finding suitable courses when I have been able to attend, but was keen to use the bursary well in this way so searched for alternative courses and forms of learning.

One thing which came up recently, and fitted in quite well with my desire to further my teaching and facilitating career, was a half day course in becoming an Arts Award Advisor with Trinity. I probably would not have normally gone for something like this for a few reasons: it doesn’t fit entirely with my aims for further and higher level teaching and rather than being linked to an organisation it is more of a freelanced offer. However, I think after having participated, these factors are not entirely relevant. Despite being aimed at a younger demographic – I can see the relevance of taking people through an award or qualification; it will give me practice in this area as something I identified was my desire to offer a course which included developmental aspects, rather than offering one off or stand alone courses. There appears to be a good level of support from the training providers and by being able to offer this as an extra when completing freelance work, it will certainly be of benefit and allow me to design and deliver courses.

It was a short half day course, but there was plenty of material to take away and the on-line resources appear more than sufficient to get started. Sometimes these kinds of awards and the processes you need to go through to complete them seem a bit bureaucratic and have many steps to follow – but in reality, it usually comes down to evidencing what you are doing and showing this come assessment time. As a facilitator, I feel I have the skills to do this and feel confident I could offer this award as an extra the next time I have a chance to work with a group on a project which is not a one-off and has some more structure over a period of time.

The next step after having completed the training will be to find a suitable project/group that I can advise and take through an award and see how this works in practice.

The second thing I started was an on-line distance learning module with Node Center. They offer a range of e-learning courses usually with a curatorial interest, lasting for about 4 weeks. Lectures are done in real time online and you can connect with the other participants. The course I have signed up to is Developing a Creative Platform or Creative Organisation. This seemed really relevant in terms of the kinds of themes I want to research and develop in my practice. Interestingly there are more than 20 people taking this course from around the world with quite a wide variety of experience. I hadn’t appreciated that that would be an added benefit of participation; hearing others’ stories and learning in a group environment. I have reassessed my perception of distance learning as it appears more participatory than I first thought. The homework for this week is research based, so I will take some time to look at artist led organisations which are similar to that which I am developing to see what knowledge can be gained – it is quite exciting being a student again!


Although I have not finished all the activities I outlined to use the professional development bursary for, I think now is a good time to look at how I have used the mentoring sessions it was mainly for.

For part of the proposal of this bursary, I was keen to have mentoring sessions which were more formalised than the irregular chats my mentor and I had previously had. I felt that this could keep advice more focused and a real tangible outcome for my development would occur.

At the beginning of the year, we were involved in a project together applying for funding to provide workshops for a local youth group, so there was quite a bit of crossover. This included looking at how to write the proposal and formalise the budget, both areas I wanted to improve upon. Although the sessions we had together were not so formal, this was a good way to spend the time working on a live project.

We looked at mentor agreements, and what we both wanted to gain from the arrangement – this is an important point to note, in that mentoring should not be seen as a one way thing or service, but more of a conversation and agreement between both parties. There has to be something to gain for both sides, otherwise there isn’t balance.

Time has often been an issue – getting time together which suits both on paper seems easy but has actually been quite hard! This by no means has been through lack of commitment, merely the product of both working freelance and other obligations to fill; family life and so on. In the middle of the year, we drifted back to regular conversations and emails.

However, last week we had a planned long catch up session. Having the chance first to exchange stories of shows, exhibitions and places visited and put these in context was great. In relation to our geographical location, it is so important to get out and visit museums and galleries elsewhere on a regular basis, as the surrounding area does not offer enough. By sharing these experiences and having a forum to discuss them, it keeps it current for me and maintains the habit of critical thinking and discussion.

I felt there was a lot for me to discuss at this session and wanted to keep focused as I find I can get distracted into talking at length on one thing to the detriment of others – so I printed out a list of topics I felt I needed to touch on. Although this felt a little business-like, it certainly worked and kept us on track. We steadily worked through each one, which of course seemed to lead into each other due to the nature of things being discussed – a project I had recently worked on and reflections on that, where next and deciding on a future funding applications, this then led onto work I have been doing, which led onto ideas for career development and so on.

Although the list felt formal, the conversation did not and we were on the same wavelength about many things – Susan would start to suggest something and I’d have it written down already to discuss! This is a great reflection on how mentoring or coaching should work – not perhaps seen as advice, but facilitation for me to make my own decisions and enabling my skills to develop in these areas.

I believe a good mentoring session should leave you really positive with many things to go away with and look at and get excited about – it should be motivational whilst reassuring you that you are on the right path and to have confidence in your abilities.

We’ll continue like this for the remainder of our sessions up to the end of the year, but I am sure our exchange of ideas and forum for discussion will continue for much longer.


One of the main projects I have been working on this year has been Exchange Residency North.

Earlier in the year I secured local funding though the Highland Visual Artist and Craft Makers Awards for a project I had been developing since moving here last year. When I first moved here, I started to look for other local emerging contemporary artists to network and collaborate with. I found this to be quite a different experience from living in a larger city – these two things seem to happen in different ways for a number of reasons: travel issues, distances between people, (sometimes) lack of local support, less events to naturally meet at to name a few. I felt that instead of applying for funding to make a body of new work and exhibit it, my organisational and collaborative side of my practice would be better developed in using funding to pull together artists like me to explore rural and urban identities and look at how artists network and collaborate in places like this where I now lived.

One of the areas I have been developing with my mentor Susan, is writing proposals and setting budgets. It was really encouraging to see this application successfully received – and this project was an ideal opportunity to see if my budget estimations were correct and how the project as a whole would pan out, from what I had originally planned.

Alongside looking at artists and how we work where we are, I felt there was real scope to involve and learn from the communities in which we live. I was keen that although the plan was for a group of artists to work together for a week, that it would be accessible to all. I devised a loose schedule which was open to work on really anything (I kept the output as undefined so we could all own it) but interspersed with particular events. Events included artist presentations, where we all had a chance to present our work to each other and the public. This was extremely beneficial in learning the similarities and interests and ways of working, which really aided in the development of the week. We had a roundtable discussion – having researched some suitable texts on the themes we would be investigating, these were shared with the group and presented and discussed informally in an open event. It felt really good and relevant to have a critical and contextual focus behind the other investigative work and collaborative outputs we had on the go. Lastly we had a closing event where we had the opportunity to present the work we had done over the week and reflect on possible next steps for the project – I had always thought of it being open ended, that the weeklong residency would be a starting point for other activity.

Next, I’ll write a more reflective piece to discuss the project in more detail. Although this sort of task can sometimes seem a little tiresome, I feel it is important to give time and importance to reflective activity so we are not just stuck in a routine of working through ideas and projects without looking and their success, failures and potential alternative routes of investigation.