Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Douglas and I never stop talking. No awkward silences. No wondering what to say next. No looking for an excuse to leave because we’ve run out of things to say.

It’s been like this for 16 years.

Fortunately for everyone else we now live over 100 miles apart and don’t see each other so often, but when we do the conversation instantly flows again.

We first met back in the days when I was web designer. I’d started my business just a couple of years before, and he’d launched his graphic design business around the same time. On the same day, we joined the Stirling branch of BNI (Business Networking International) – an organisation where you meet for breakfast once a week with other local businesses to network. It all seemed quite high-powered, with firm handshakes, “elevator pitches” and lots and lots of exchanging business cards.

While it was actually quite an effective way to get business, there was a persona you needed to adopt in order to make it work for you, which never really sat comfortably with me. It didn’t with Douglas either.

It ran from just before 7am to 8.30am every Thursday, with the idea that it didn’t interfere with your working day. But as we would wander out to the car park afterwards, Douglas and I would always be chatting and it wasn’t uncommon for 2 or 3 hours to pass, still standing in the car park, before we would head back to our offices.

Douglas has an exceptional talent for design. While my ideas would always veer towards the more conventional, he would always come up with something that would never have occurred to me but would look infinitely better and more professional. I got him to redesign my own logo and not long after started using him to come up with the visual designs for the websites I was building.

Recently Douglas has downsized his company from having employees and an office in a business centre, to working from home by himself. Without all the overheads and responsibilities he’s gained a new lease of life.

It’s also allowed him to concentrate more on another side of his business doing screen printing, often creating limited edition posters for bands and events – see

I’ve been promising for a while that I’d photograph him at work in the large shed in his garden where he has the screen printing studio set up, so as I was up in the area over Easter, I called in at lunchtime with my camera and a loaf of artisan bread from our amazing local bakery (who I did a shoot for last summer – see Earth’s Crust Bakery).

Douglas’s shed is laid out perfectly for him to operate with everything to hand as he needs it. It’s not designed, however, to fit a second person in with a camera. It was definitely a wide-angle lens job.

Here are a couple of the images I took of him at work.

Although the photography itself probably only took about 90 minutes, I was there for 5 hours and the only silence was for a few seconds while I took each shot.

If you ever need amazing graphic design, then get in touch with Douglas at Handcooked Studios. Or if you fancy a really cool limited edition screen print, then you can buy one from Handcooked Posters.

But if you just want a quick meeting, don’t develop a 16 year relationship with him...

Sunday, June 04, 2017

A Place Between Frenzy and Distraction

Is there a state between an intense determination to complete the task, and vegging out?

Is there a place between feeling “I’m on top of this and I’m getting it done” and “I feel overwhelmed, useless and can’t cope”?

Is there more to relaxation than being distracted by TV, computer games and eating (or insert your personal addiction of choice – drinking/gambling/shopping etc)?

My wife, Maggie, has just started reading a book about stress and de-stressing. In the lists of various symptoms and signposts that something isn’t right, she has found many that apply to her. And many that apply to me (with some overlap, but not completely).

And with quite a few of the ones she read out that apply to me, my first thought was, “doesn’t everyone?”

This made me pause for a moment and begin to wonder just how much of a blind spot I might have to the way I deal with life.

The thing about blind spots is we don’t see them – in ourselves, at any rate. They are so obvious in other people we are amazed they don’t see how their habits and actions are the cause of their own downfall, but all the time we are thinking this we are oblivious to our own.

It reminded me of back when I first started my journey on healthier eating and losing weight. I came across a thing online about food addiction that listed 20 behaviours – from whether you eat when you’re not hungry to if you’ve ever discarded food only to retrieve it later to eat. The notion was that if you answered yes to any of the 20, then you might have a problem. I could easily answer yes to 13. I knew that some of them were problematic, but many I just thought were normal “doesn’t everyone?” behaviours.

Our ability to assume that the way we do things is normal and those who don’t do it our way are the weirdos has become very apparent in recent years with the polarisation of opinions from Brexit to Trump to Scottish Independence. It seems everyone I know feels so strongly that their view on these things is right, they cannot understand anyone who thinks differently. I’ve even seen more than a few Facebook friends stating clearly that if anyone holds an opposing view on any of these particular issues they should “unfriend me now!”

The upshot of this is we end up surrounded only by people who will express a view similar to our own. This practice is now so widespread, the term “echo chamber” is commonly being used to describe it – in essence we continually only hear back the same voice, which reinforces our sense that it’s clearly and obviously the right one.

We create our own perpetually reinforced blind spots.

Back to me and stress then.

The brief conversation with Maggie this morning made me suspect something isn’t right – or is even more wrong than I’d previously considered.

And as our own blind spots can sometimes be blindingly obvious to other people, I want to ask you your thoughts on this (which will probably also indicate just how few people actually read this blog – or read to the end of blog posts). You can be anonymous if you want.

So my question is about this space known as relaxation and recuperation – a place that is not about the frenzy of trying to get something done, nor is it about vegging out or trying to distract ourselves from feelings of inadequacy/guilt/fear etc. Is there a space or activity where you genuinely relax and recharge your batteries? If so, what does it look like and how do you access it?

Please leave a comment with your thoughts, even if it’s just a single sentence left anonymously, or a "me too".

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Spring Fling and a Camera Phone

Auto settings are a great thing, until they auto-something you don't want them to do.

While everyone has been enjoying the latest fancy touch-screen phones for several years, for the past 5 I've been making do with the smart-phone's dim-witted cousin, paying way too much on an outdated tariff, so I finally got round to upgrading a couple of weeks ago.

Part of the attraction of the new Sony Xperia XA1 was the 23 mega-pixel camera built into it, which is pretty much the same size as my professional DSLR. I know the lens, sensor and general quality was never going to be as good as my Canon 7D mk 2, but it’s an awful lot more convenient to carry around with me when I’m not doing a professional photo shoot.

But in many ways it's like having to learn a new way of photography. All my understanding of adjusting apertures, shutter speeds and ISO to get the effects I want under different lighting is redundant, as I have to rely on the auto settings.

Under good lighting conditions, the auto settings are not bad at all, but in low-light they panic and slow the shutter speed right down. The consequence of this is the very act of pressing the camera symbol on the screen causes enough wobble to ensure the photo ends up blurred.

Despite being a professional photographer, I feel like a complete amateur again.

Where’s a tech-savvy teenager when you need one?

This past weekend was Spring Fling – an event across SW Scotland where around 95 artists and makers open their studios to the public. Maggie’s been doing it most of the past decade.

I took part myself for 5 years, then decided not to last year and instead went round various studios with my daughter, Meg. That was so enjoyable I decided to do the same thing again this year. But instead of taking my camera with me I thought I would just use my phone, as it would force me to get to grips with it.

I love the life and lines of Jennifer Watt's scultptures

A camera phone is never going to do justice to Amanda Simmons' amazing glass creations

The aroma of melted beeswax is never captured by a camera at Maggie's studio

I managed a handful of not-out-of-focus-but-not-particularly-inspiring photos and placed them on that other social media site, but in the end the the most popular photo of all – by about 5,000% was a selfie I took of me and Meg having a mocha between studio visits.

Still not in complete focus, but no one except me seems to care

Suddenly I understand why everyone is posting selfies all the time – it has nothing to do with the quality of the camera or the photography – it’s the equivalent of a hello and a wave to your friends.

It’s only taken 10 years and a new phone to realise it...