Meet Cherry Jeffs – a mixed-media artist and creative practice coach, with a thing about wings! In her artist persona Cherry makes Artist’s Books which in her case are like a cross between origami and pop-up! And as a coach she helps people establish sustainable creative habits, develop their creative strengths and get their creative projects or businesses off the ground. Connect with Cherry and check out her work – www.cherryjeffs.com.
How did your professional journey start?
In terms of being an artist, I studied theatre design at Wimbledon School of Art, then I worked as a graphic designer, and then a jewellery designer-maker before eventually being stopped in my tracks by a repetitive strain injury and making the decision to finally do what I’d always wanted to do – which was make my own art.
In that journey I overcame a lot of creative blocks until I eventually arrived where I am now – making work that feels totally natural and right for me.
In terms of being a coach, that came in the second half of my life through a confluence of circumstances. Because of my own experiences, I wanted to find a way to help people overcome creative block so I’d been toying with the idea of creating courses. But recording myself talking to a video camera isn’t my favourite thing.
I was teaching Yoga locally but my partner and I decided we wanted more freedom to move around,so I was letting that go. Then I got an email from a company called Coach.me – I was a user of their habit-tracking app – asking me if I would like to become a coach. Within a week or two of giving my last Yoga class, I got my first client. A classic case of one door closes and another opens!
What does your inspiration come from?
I suppose, ultimately, we’re all influenced by what we experience in our lives aren’t we?…I portray my life – and my creative journey – but in an allegorical or ‘symbolist’ way. I love magic realism literature and traditional folk tales…so my pieces are mini-stories. And I often don’t know how they end until I’m done!
The different areas I’ve worked in add their own slants to the work – so from theatre I have stories, from jewellery I have my love of metallic colours, and from graphic design I have the precision of measuring so that things fold where they should, and so on.
I also do get influenced by where I am physically – so when I’m in Spain, the colours are different from when I’m in the UK.
How do you approach roadblocks to creativity?
With a lot of patience! I’m never truly blocked any more, only stalled at the incubation phase of creating which is frustrating but doesn’t induce despair.
There’s a big difference. I’ve learned to wait it out. Once I feel like I can’t put any more fuel into the furnace, I just wait for my subconscious to start the fire.
But I did plenty of due diligence in the creatively blocked stage. And I fought my way out of it, trying every technique that I could get my hands on.
I remember once feeling so frustrated that I decided I would just sit down with a stack of blank paper and a pencil and draw until I stopped hating what I was doing. That worked!
From that I learned that there is no thinking my way out of a creative block, I have to work through it in the art itself.
Who is your business role model and why?
I’m a big fan of Alyson Stanfield. She wrote a book called “I’d rather be in the studio.” She was very early into the world of coaching artists in business skills and she’s very knowledgeable because she came from working in a big art museum.
There must be thousands of artists out there that are indebted to Alyson’s insatiable sharing of useful approaches to being a professional artist. She’s a person with really strong values. That’s often hard to find in a world where there are so many here today, gone tomorrow gurus, with artificially inflated numbers of followers. Alyson knows her stuff and she has the track record to prove it.
Tell us about having a ‘regular creative practice’ and do share some top tips!
So I used to think that to get over our creative blocks, that we needed to do some sort of psychological work which deconstructed how we got blocked in the first place.
But I now see you can actually circumvent the necessity for that. You need to think of creating like training for a marathon. You don’t try to run a marathon on the first day. You build up to it really slowly. Day one, walk 5 mins, run one, walk 5, kind of thing. And you buy yourself a decent pair of shoes to entice you, and keep you comfortable.
So my approach to creative practice is the same. Start with something so easy you can’t not do it – like put the lights on in your workspace. And commit to doing that x times a week at the same time. And gradually build up from there. Eventually a kind of muscle memory kicks in and you know it’s 10.30 a.m. and you should be at your desk or in your studio or wherever.
And give yourself comfortable shoes – so work on something that feels so nice you almost feel guilty about it because it doesn’t feel like work. And do it in the way that feels the most natural to you. Forget all the ’shoulds’ because there aren’t any. I really believe that when we love our process and we love what we’re creating, the blocks just sort of imperceptibly melt away.
But regularity is key because it stops you feeling hung up on how successful you are today. There’s always tomorrow for another attempt.
Tell us about wings?
Ha! I think the origin of the wings must be that when I was a kid I had a budgie. I must have felt instinctively that a bird shouldn’t be living in a cage! And I felt quite caged in myself because I was an only child and I didn’t have a lot of freedom.
One day, after I’d been making art regularly for a few years, I realised that a ton of my work featured women either trying to take flight, or reaching upwards in some way. I’d developed this motif for myself quite unconsciously.
Then maybe 5 years later, I was going to attend a networking event in Granada and I was working on an elevator pitch. And it just came to me that ‘Grow creative wings’ was what I was trying to do, and what I wanted help others to do.
Favourite project creation tool and why?
Ooh, difficult because I’m definitely a bit of a geek!
At the top level, it’s probably Trello. My entire life is in Trello! I love it because I can add images to my projects. I’m a visual thinker and I just zone out when I see a long list of bulleted text. I’m much more motivated when I have an image in front of me. Right now I’m working on piece which has a wolf in it and I changed my Trello desktop to a wolf photo so it reminds me every day that this art project is my No.1 priority.
I also like creating templates for repeating tasks so that I don’t need to re-invent the wheel each time, and Trello is good for that. Plus it’s on every device, so if I have an idea, I can capture it straight away.
What book did you read in 2018 which made a difference to your life and why?
Can I have two?
The first was Jon Acuff’s “Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done” because it really helped me see for the first time that NOT finishing a projects is actually just warped perfectionism. If you don’t finish, it can’t be imperfect. I’d never thought about it in those terms.
I used to be a serial starter but I’m much better at finishing these days and reading that book has pushed me up even a notch further, I think. As a bonus, the book is also funny which makes it a really easy read.
The second is a book by a fellow blogger/artist/designer Nela Dunato,called “The Human Centered Brand: A Practical Guide to Being Yourself in Business”. (https://humancenteredbrand.com)
I was a beta reader for the book and it blew me away because it totally reorientated how I think about branding: Rather than it being something that you kind of superimpose on your company, instead it’s a filter through which you sieve your audience so that you’re left with only the people whom you resonate with, and who resonate with you.
And the book is also brimming with practical exercises to help you develop the concept for your brand.
What is your superpower?
It has to be flying, doesn’t it? I love helping others fulfill their potential and I’m constantly attempting to get closer to fulfilling mine.
What will you achieve in 2019?
Probably less than is on the list!
No, seriously, I’ve designated 2019 as “Year of the Product” I have a ton of content – both visual and written – but a lot of it isn’t for sale. This year is about turning the content into products and getting it all ‘out there’ bringing in extra income.
How can we best connect with you?
If you’re in South Devon or the Granada region of Spain, send me a message and maybe we can have a coffee!
Otherwise, where I’d most encourage you visit me is at my virtual home which is my website and blog at:
I am – inevitably – also on social media: