A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Isla at an Ice-cream bar in Leith. The sun was – sort of out – so it only felt right, before winter well and truly hit, to indulge in some ice-cream over conversation. This is Scotland, after all.
In amongst chowing down on ice-cream, Isla told me all about her passion project “100 days” which is essentially where you do something every day for 100 days. Having undertaken this project for two years, Isla also hosts an exhibition in September at the Edinburgh College of Art for people to show their work. If you search #100daysprojectscotland on Instagram, you’ll find a wonderful array of different projects. How amazing is that?! I’ve already started to think of what I might do next year. Which lead me nicely onto a couple of questions..
E: “Do you think everyone is creative”
I: “Yes. Though there are a lot of people who feel they aren’t creative because the world has told them they are not. The same way the school system tells you you’re intellectual or not. Bollocks. Anyone can draw for example, it’s about practice, it’s a skill. The 10,000 hours theory. We all show an aptitude or passion for something and it depends on the influences around us whether we are driven towards something or away from it. I think creativity is intrinsically part of you, and if you’re allowed to embrace that, then you’re more likely to be a creative adult
E: “So do you think you’re creative?”
I: “My parents spotted early on if they gave me paper and a pen and I would happily amuse myself for hours. Constantly drawing, happiest when making marks. Part of the reason I do that for my 100 days project as I often don’t get the chance to be so free in my day to day work.
My sister would say she’s not creative; she’s always had people telling her that I was the creative sister, so she compared her not-so-visible creativity with mine. Comparison kills. She did the 100 days project, despite her doubts, and did something with crisp packet triangles every day. They are hilarious and very creative!
Creativity is more about curiosity; can I do that? Why is that? What is that about? And that curiosity leads to creativity. Designers; it’s about decision making and intention. What designers do is use external information and a collection of gathered skills, experience and nuances to critically think about and develop a desired outcome. Or disrupt something to create new opportunities.
I don’t think of myself as being especially creative, I’m very practical. If you look at design and art as parallel lines at some point they diverge. I’ve always seen art as being more free and expressive; design is often seen as problem solving. It’s of course more complex than this, but design is about intention. Even when things go wrong, how do you use this? We often learn more from what went wrong that what went right. Sometimes you don’t know why things went right, it could be down to dumb luck. But when it goes wrong you can analyse why and learn. But if you then pare all that back, what if you aren’t curious enough to even try? That’s what I think being creative is, being curious.
So I think people can seem more creative than others, but it’s about what have they engaged with up to that point. Have they been encouraged? It might not even be about encouragement; it might just be about permission. About being ‘allowed’ to be creative.
Did your parents allow you to try different things? Did they say expression is okay? Some parents may have said ‘there is no money in art, or artistic creativity so why indulge it as a possible career?’
E: So with that in mind, what advice would you give to your younger self?
I: I am who I am because of everything that has happened. Own your life, don’t be scared even if it goes wrong. I want to try everything because I can – which goes back to my curiosity/creativity argument. You have the life you are willing to accept. There is no right answer, what might be right now might not be right in five years.
“I realised that everything I’ve done since graduating has led to teaching and design. Everything has led to education; I get excited about education and empowering others.”
Isla studied Interdisciplinary Design at Napier University where she won a slew of awards including D&AD in-book awards, RSA high commendation and an amazing opportunity in her third year to spend a month with Steelcase – a large furniture manufacturer in Grand Rapids, Michigan – working on projects at innovation labs and learning centres, which led to an Internship at Foster and Partners.
After finishing our ice-cream and polishing off another coffee, I came to learn loads about Isla and that her career trajectory has been anything but a straight line – from working in Architectural firms to working with brilliant furniture companies - and introduced me to this brilliant expression ‘Multipotentialite’ which I think sums her up brilliantly. Today Isla teaches at Edinburgh College of Art and Freelances a couple of days a week.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work” Anonymous