I used to paint gnomes, now I make websites and do creative things with NFTs.
From gnome painting
to blockchain creativity.
Many of the things I’m good at as an adult can be traced back to things I did as a kid.
Not building websites. Websites didn’t exist for most of my childhood. And blockchains were not even on Satoshi Nakamoto’s radar.
But I was creative in general, and I liked to experiment with new ways to be creative.
As a kid I:
—Made and sold candles on a market stall. Most of which were probably a fire hazard.
—Made funny cards and sold them on the stall. Most of which weren’t funny.
—Drew pictures of cats and sold them. Most of which were bought out of pity, I’m sure.
My first job (i.e. being paid by someone to do something) was painting football kits on garden gnomes for a tat shop in Newquay, Cornwall.
It was brilliant.
Being creative at uni.
Towards the end of school life I’d grown disinterested in most subjects apart from Graphic Communications. My main graphics project was on Mercedes Benz. I got an A.
I’d also made my first website by this point. A dreadful Angelfire site that just had links to football related sites if I remember rightly.
I dropped out of biology and got an E in Geography.
It’s hard to know what to do with your life at that age. I was 32 before I had clear direction. More on that later.
But I liked being creative.
In order to do something, I applied to do a Design & Techology teacher training degree. Other than the drawing and making parts, I hated it, and dropped out.
I wasted the remainder of the year working in Sainsbury’s bakery. Although I did eat a lot of doughnuts.
Then started a new degree: 3D Product Design.
This was great. I enjoyed it. Though I was a bit behind those who had developed skills from a foundation course—when I was busy jamming doughnuts.
But I grafted and caught up.
Successfully finished uni.
Now the creative work-life begins.
Or not. I became a postman.
(After a two week demoralising stint as a carpet cleaning services telesales operative).
It had it’s good points. I was really fit—”the running postie” they called me. You got to go home when you finished your round, so I legged it. Sweaty letters for all.
If you could handle the tiredness, you had the afternoon free. I used these afternoons to learn how to make websites. With the help of real books, made out of paper.
My product design portfolio was the first site. Blue Tomatoes I called it. Can’t remember why, just thought it was memorable I guess.
It didn’t get me any product design work, but word got round that I could make websites. A rare skill at the time.
I got my first web design gig. A shop selling circuit boards. I muddled through it and produced something decent for the time.
That led to a job designing a care magazine and website. Low paid, but more practise making websites under my belt. Still no plans on becoming an actual web designer. It was 2006 by now, there weren’t many people who called themselves web designers.
A really bad job interview.
I had been trying to get in to company called Worlds Apart. They made kids furniture and toys.
I’d failed to get in as a product designer thanks to a dreadful interview day. The kind of day you look back at and cringe. I don’t want to talk about it 😆.
But I eventually made it in as a ‘creative artworker’. An artworker is basically someone who works up other peoples designs.
I was pleased to be at the company but the work was boring at times. I was supplementing creative yearning in the evening with art, illustration and freelance web design.
Luckily for me creativity was valued at Worlds Apart. I was able to show I had potential and became the ‘Creative Packaging Designer’. Which meant I got the best and most important packaging design work.
I’d also been the biggest player in designing and building the company website. So in addition to the ‘Creative Packaging Designer’, I also became the ‘Lead Digital Designer’.
I was the equivalent of a middle manager with two departments, both comprising of 1 person. Me.
I was 32 when I finally decided what I wanted to do.
The best part of my work at Worlds Apart was the web stuff. I liked the packaging, spending a lot of time in the cutting room bodging boxes together. It was like uni.
But design and code was my future. I was doing freelance web stuff in the evenings.
So I applied for new job, senior digital designer at a company called SEA Communications.
At SEA I built websites for BT and Cornwall Council. A great company, and a great team trying to do good through design.
One of the nice things about a small design shop is you do a wide variety of creative things. Suits me. Plus I was still freelancing in the evening.
SEA became Made Open. We designed and built version 1 of our community platform.
Initially it wasn’t the success we’d hoped it would be.
I took a tough decision to leave and became full time freelance web designer.
Blockchain-wise, at this point BitCoin was a thing. I was interested in the tech and thought about mining. Sadly for my bank account, never got round to it.
The freelance life
Full time freelancing taught me a lot.
It’s not just designing and building websites. You are account manager, financial director, project manager, and your own marketing department.
I didn’t enjoy the admin. Or the stress.
So I found a regular client; an early stage start up called Twenty Over Ten. I was making websites for their US financial planner clients across The States. All from my little bungalow in Cornwall.
It was a great experience. I introduced systems for managing 20 clients at once.
It helped that the US clients loved my British (with an occasional twinge of Cornish) accent.
I gained insight in to how high level American start-ups operate. Plus the exchange rate was pretty favourable at the time… $$$
Never go back? Rubbish!
Inspired by my friend, ex-boss and future boss, Rob Woolf’s vision. I returned to Made Open to lead the design for a version two of Made Open’s community platform.
We had a good team already at Made Open. Rob, Kathryn co-director, Phil project manager, and me on design and front end. But we lacked technical.
The five of us made it happen. Some team.
We’ve hired more great people since and it’s a brilliant place to work. I’m eternally grateful, and proud of what we’re building.
I continued to freelance too; forget 10,000 hours to mastery, I must be on 30,000+.
It was around this time I first heard of Crpyto Punks. I considered buying some for my kids birthdays. If only I did. We’re talking generational wealth now.
Ah well, another pot of gold missed.
Balance in life is everything. Work/life. Family time/your own time. Making money/doing good in the world.
I’m feeling pretty balanced creatively these days.
I work on Made Open’s platforms for most of my working week. Which in itself is varied and challenging. I’m lead designer and front end developer, but I also do some back end development, copywriting, marketing, illustration… loads of good stuff.
Creative tasks in adjacent fields fuel each other with ideas and possibilities.
The platforms are going really well and make a positive impact to communities all over the world.
I still freelance on my non-Made Open days. Only taking on projects that stretch me creatively.
Then there’s blockchain art.
As of this writing in June ’23, after years of watching the space, I’ve finally launched my first proper NFT project.
Polaroid diaries: Cornwall’s beaches. It’s a very exciting long term project.
I’ve got another project in the works, generative.photography. I’m not sure when it will launch. The core of it is built, I’m just deciding on mint mechanics etc.
I have a list as long as my arm of other NFT project ideas.
Between the creativity of my design and code at Made Open, my freelance clients, and my own creative projects, I’ve reached a good balance.
A sustainable balance that helps me grow creatively.
A reward for you
You made it all the way to the end! You may be the only one 😆.
As a reward I’ll give you a clue for where to find the the secret word. If you find it, email me and I’ll send you an edition of a polaroid shot. It’s not part of Polaroid Diaries, it’s a stand alone limited edition piece.
Secret word clue: Look for the most perfectly imperfect image on this website.