14 Jun 2019

Our Museums + Galleries: An Untapped Wellbeing Resource



A familiar theme forms when I'm preparing for a trip away; book my travel, research, research, research, then pack my bags. With heavy weight given to the middle bit, I consider the planning and map-making to be the key to a decent couple of days away. Good for my head, and good for whoever I'm with.

Always on the list; local cafes, coffee shops, craft beer bars, design stores and museums + galleries. As I've got older my tastes have changed; I'll now seek out the coffee shops with a more considered approach to service and the interior, and cafes with a nice balance of personality, but one constant which hasn't altered are the museums. Since a teenager I've always loved spending time nosing around museums; an hour's wander at the British Museum in London with a buddy, a solo visit to the Manchester Art Gallery taking in a photography exhibition, or learning about something more historical like the Trencherfield Mill in Wigan. It's part of what I've always enjoyed.

Art Fund recently approached me with the subject of how 30 minutes of leisure activities a day is the key to improved wellbeing, which got me thinking about why I've always liked making time for these exhibitions + well designed spaces around the country. It's the perfect thing to do when you're riding solo, but when a buddy tags along you'll find yourself chatting about subjects that generally don't cross your mind. 


For context, here are some of the findings from Art Fund’s Calm and Collected report, a study into how regularly visiting museums and galleries can contribute to a greater sense of wellbeing:

- 53% of adults said they had recently felt some level of anxiety on any given day, with 34% describing that anxiety as being at a ‘high level"
 
- 27% of adults feel guilty about taking time for themselves
 
- Only 41% say they have a hobby or activity that they regularly make time for, there is still plenty of scope for improvement – and that’s where art can play a more significant role
- While 51% of those surveyed say they would like to visit museums and galleries more regularly – and 63% say they have at some point visited specifically to ‘de-stress’ – only 6% of us actually visit at least once a month
 
- Those who regularly visit museums and galleries as part of their overall lifestyle tend to feel much more satisfied with their lives, and in the social study, those who visit a museum or gallery at least once a week report a range of benefits, from learning new things to finding space to reflect



So why are we increasingly feeling so anxious? I'd be the first to say that I feel the pressure which social media and a freelance lifestyle seems to evoke. I have great days and crappy days, and it's generally down to the pressure I've put on myself to be earning, to always be "on" and by comparing myself to others. I am finding the balance though; switching off totally isn't the right tact for me, but if I pinpoint the times where I do feel de-stressed I would have to say a lot of those moments are when I'm making time for the things that feel right. Museums + galleries fit in perfectly.

I'd never proclaim that the job role I've found myself in is "hard work" - it's a job I love, and therefore I feel fortunate to have found my place - but it would definitely benefit my own wellbeing to pursue more of the things I love to do in my spare time. I visit a museum maybe once a month, and leave feeling content and usually a little closer to the person who I'm with, so why don't I make more time for these visits? I'm not sure I have an answer to that.

"Do more of what feels right"
What I tell myself when things aren't going to plan 


Investing in yourself maybe isn't a subject we think about all that often. The Art Fund study shows that we are aware of the benefits of pursuing activities which contribute to our wellbeing (listening to inspiring podcasts, reading, exercise, socialising without phones etc), but it's the keeping it up bit that I reckon I struggle with. So this is me making a pact with myself to do more of what feels right, on a regular basis. The UK’s museums and galleries seem to be that untapped resource to wellbeing that many of us are seeking.

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Through the National Art Pass (an annual membership which gives you free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historical places across the UK + 50% of entry to major exhibitions including those at the British Museum, Tate, and the Design Museum) the Art Fund is encouraging us to say ‘yes’ more often to the things that make us happy. So when was the last time you dedicated a bit of time to visiting a gallery, what did you see + how did it make you feel?⁣⁣

20 May 2019

Meanwhile, in Orlando | Travel Diary




It's the weirdest thing, when I'm away holiday, that moment in time really is the only thing that matters. I've got quite a bit of work that needs doing and a few deadlines creeping but they can wait, 'cos beers by the pool + planning what restaurant to eat at next is all I can think about.

We've been back from Orlando for about a month now, and a few days after getting home I found myself on a plane heading for Lisbon - for a fun work trip with my mate Jordan (more on that soon). There aren't that many other jobs that I can think of where these kind of last minute trips make sense - I tend to have a reality-check moment while I'm away and think to myself - or sometimes out loud - "oh know what, how cool is this job!?" It's very cool, and I think it pays to remind myself this, but also what it's taken to get to this point in my life too.

I'd never say it's a hard job, I mean, it comes with a lot of stress, anxiety and hard work, but then if I compare it to, say, hospital workers, the policeforce or even the pilot up front flying the plane, then it puts things into perspective. It's all relative though.

I like to use these trips with Hollie as a bit of a release from work, but I never really switch off my camera. I guess it's ingrained in me now, as a geezer who just loves to take photos. It makes me happy - and it's not just for sharing on social media sake, but for my own sense of purpose. Maybe it helps me look at life a little deeper; to notice more, see things that don't seem to matter but ultimately have a meaning, living day-to-day by being aware of how cool normal life actually is.

Mat.

1 May 2019

Deeply Coffee, Downtown Orlando

deeply coffee speciality coffee shop downtown orlando
deeply coffee speciality coffee shop downtown orlando
deeply coffee speciality coffee shop downtown orlando
deeply coffee speciality coffee shop downtown orlando
deeply coffee speciality coffee shop downtown orlando
deeply coffee speciality coffee shop downtown orlando



Well, I wasn't expecting to be visiting this place any time soon, but with some veeeeeery last minute booking provided by Hollie, we found ourselves stepping off the plane at Orlando airport just two days after we bought the tickets. Turns out she's way more spontaneous than I ever imagined. 

We've been visiting Orlando most years since we first got together (13 years ago, whoa), so anything too touristy doesn't really register on our radar anymore - other than the occasion visit to Universal Studios, cos we can never grow bored of that. The speciality coffee scene has slowly but surely becoming a pretty big deal in the city, and thanks to tools such as Instagram we've found ourselves sitting inside some absolutely stonking places.

Deeply Coffee has set the bar extremely high for the city, with a unique interior which featues a polish concrete floor, an impressive poured concrete shared bar + seating set-up, light natural wood cladded walls, hairpin leg tables and stools, mid-century seating and the odd fig plant dotted around. Due to the perfect positioning of Deeply, the whole plot takes advantage of the endless hazy natural light from Orlando's infamous long days. The kinda place you can imagine working away in for hours?

Coffee-wise, they were using beans from Stockholm roasters Drop when we visited; the filter came in a Kinto pouring jug, and for flat whites 'n' smaller these were served in tactile ceramic cups by San Diego-based Tiny Badger. Hollie grabbed silky and sweet cold brew, and the cakes came as big as your hand. The salted raspberry brownie and a banana muffin were both mega. Now this is the real side of Orlando that needs to be explored more often.

Deeply Coffee - 111 N Magnolia Ave #50, Orlando, Florida 32801

12 Apr 2019

Visiting Geneva + the Caran d'Ache Stationery Factory, Switzerland

geneva lake at sunset
abstract street photography in geneva, switzerland
vintage cars in geneva, switzerland
archiecture in geneva switzerland 
 In partnership with Caran d'Ache

From the early days of starting this blog - just over 11 years ago now - I said that sharing creative ideas + interesting stories from people and brands was one of the main factors why I actually started Buckets & Spades. If I was sharing a fashion piece, a city break, a interesting magazine layout, some cool looking packaging or a more personal journal I always wanted there to be a narrative and reason behind why I decided to share it.

My own journey - from a slightly lost student bursting with ideas but no clue how to make them happen, to a 30-something full-time freelancer with mortgage and fulfilling yet hard-to-explain job - has definitely been colourful. A mixture of rewarding opportunities, anxiety, self-doubt, and sometimes weeks of hardly having any time to think about what I've experienced at all.

An email dropped into my inbox a few weeks ago, simply entitled, "Visit the Caran d'Ache stationery factory in Geneva"...I don't think I've ever been more excited by a line of letters sitting next to each other before. I've been using Caran d'Ache products for a couple of years, after receiving one of their iconic 849 pens from their collaboration with Paul Smith, and since then used their pens on a daily basis. But the name Caran d'Ache might not ring bells to a portion of you, so here's a super brief bio on the brand;

Caran d'Ache started life in 1915, in the centre of Geneva - an area of Switzerland known for its natural mountainous materials. Originally known as"Fabrique Genevoise de Crayons", the brand was renamed to something a little more catchy.

Across Europe the name Caran d'Ache became synonymous within the world of pens, pencils and art equipment. It's one of those brands that you'd be exposed to from an early age at school, grow fond through your teens, and become attached to as an adult. The words Caran d'Ache originally come from the Russian word for pencil, “karandash”, which in turn derives from the Turkish root “kara tash”, referring to the origins of graphite.

In 2015 Switzerland's first pencil factory turned 100 years old; a testament to the brand's ability to evolve over time, stand by its original values and eagerness to collaborate to create something new.

A month later I found myself stepping off the train in Geneva Central Station, for the second time (the first time was back in 2015). Buzzing from the fact that in a few hours I'd be taken around a stationery factory - for someone who absolutely loves stationery and "how it's made" documentaries, the next morning couldn't come quick enough. The first afternoon wasn't wasted though; me and Emma Jane Palin - a travel, culture + design writer from Margate - took to the streets to see what the city was made of. It's a whole lot more colourful that expected!

geneva old town at sunset
abstract street photography in geneva, switzerland colourful
geneva old town streets at sunrise
aesop store in geneva switzerland shop window
colourful architecture in geneva

The 8:30am bus ride to Eaux-Vives region of Geneva couldn't come soon enough. Never has a building took me straight back to the school classroom quite like the Caran d'Ache factory; the smell of wax crayons and Californian cedar wood wafted through the corridors just like freshly baked bread in a bakery.

We heard from longstanding members of the team: the enthusiasm for the smaller design details such as the weight of an ink refill or the hexagonal shape of the aluminium body on the Caran d'Ache 849 ballpoint pen (so it doesn't roll off your desk!) is the kind of passion I love to be around.

First let's take a look around the pencil making process:
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland colourful details
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland natural dye
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland school crayons
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland school crayons
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland pencil making process
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland pencils
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland yellow pencils

If you've been reading my blog for a few years you'll know that I've visited a bunch of factories - from baseball jersey to distillery - and while not all of process can be shared, what I can say is that I've never been inside an operation with such grace, curiosity + science lab-like precision than these walls. If Wes Anderson designed a factory...super ordinary details every direction you turn. 

We followed the pencils from start to end; starting with the colourful pigment room and cutting line, to their inception inside cedar wood blocks and the mesmerising seven stages of vanishing finishing room. Living inside a "how it's made" documentary is fun!

And then it was time to see how they make their pen range + the iconic 849:
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland claim your style collection
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland machines
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland offices
visiting the caran dache stationery factory in geneva switzerland

There's something very pleasing about being involved in the making process of a product. It's a similar feeling to cooking a meal from scratch, then serving it to friends - a sense of accomplishment. On my visit to the factory had the opportunity to have a hand in constructing my very on 849 Caran d'Ache ballpoint pen from the new Claim Your Style collection, and it gives me the same satisfying feeling every time I see that pen sitting on my notepad at home. A timeless piece of  I made an item that has become a huge part of my own creative process. My craft skills might not have been up to much, but you can't knock my enthusiasm!

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be 
useful, or believe to be beautiful."
William Morris

Sometimes a fleeting visit to a new city happens so quickly that I don't always fully appreciate what I've experienced, but there's something about these two days in Geneva that felt different. There's a great excitement towards a brand, and I was also surprised by just how much I enjoyed the city. There's good stuff here, you just gotta know where to look for it.

The recipe for a meaningful relationship between a brand and individual cuts much deeper than using a product. To build a genuine connection over time in a way which feels natural isn't easy, that's exactly what I'm experiencing here with Caran d'Ache. True, I am a part of a paid partnership with the brand, but I'm never told what to write on these pages. These are for me. If I could tell my younger self that he'll one day get to visit a stationery factory to build his own pen, the answer would be the same every time: "It's a big yes from me".

To be in with a chance of winning a set of the new Claim Your Style collection 849 pens head over to my new Instragam post to enter.

This blog post is in partnership with Caran d'Ache. Thank you for supporting the people and businesses that help make this blog happen.