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Keeping Curious with Polly Orton

Hi, I'm your host Polly and I am really pleased you followed your curiosity and found this post. I believe curiosity is the first step to creativity and I created Keeping Curious to connect creative people at all stages of their journey. Whether you are just starting out, feeling stuck or just need a distraction for endless hours alone in the studio- welcome to the site. I thought it only fair that I answer some of the questions I will be posing to my guests, so here it is:

What does Creativity mean to you?

Creativity means everything, without it you are just a consumer. I started keeping curious because I believe creativity and curiosity are intrinsically linked. After several years of not feeling creative and feeling very stagnant, my first steps towards creativity were to blindly follow my curiosity wherever it wanted to go. Podcasts were extremely helpful in introducing learning into my everyday routine. It also allowed me to expand my definition of creativity. I had always wanted to be an artist but when I wasn’t making a specific artwork or working on a project I felt I was worth nothing. Over time I have come to celebrate all acts of creativity whether that is baking or writing or even singing in the shower. I am a creative person- I may not be the artist as I once imagined I should be but with a broader acceptance of creativity, I am a lot more fulfilled and in this process I am slowly getting into making again.

What have you been working on today/this week/ this year?

This year I am focussing on creating this podcast and website. I am stepping out of my comfort zone but I am motivated by the prospect of having in depth conversations with some of the most interesting people I have ever met. I am also excited about the possibility of meeting new people along the way, to gain further insights into the subtle variations in creative living. I am also working on a book that I tend to write when I’m in airports. I also want to start drawing again and have several pieces in mind. Curiosity really has been the first step for me. Since opening my mind to new learning experiences I have found out so much and it really have kick started my creativity. I finally have itchy fingers again and I am very excited.

What do you do for a living?

I am a project manager for a company that designs and creates artwork for hotel and restaurants. I love it.

How do you schedule time to be creative?

This one is tricky and I think this is why at the moment I am exploring writing. I think about the plot and characters while I’m driving then write my ideas down when I am waiting for meetings or planes. I do want to have more time for hands on creative activity as I get a lot of pleasure from working with my hands.

Have you always been creative?

Yes but I believe everyone has the capacity to be creative but it needs to be nurtured and developed. I feel sad not everyone has the opportunity to have the creative childhood I had and instead are observers of the worlds rather than participants.

Did you enjoy school?

I always loved school as I love learning but I found the curriculum very restrictive. I was always asking questions off topic and some teachers indulged me with answers way above my comprehension at the time. However, many didn’t want the complication in their day. Art allowed me to create my own framework of learning. Through art projects, I researched philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, biology and literature. Anything could be adapted into my framework and it felt limitless.

What was your childhood like? What were you like growing up? Messy? Tidy?

I had a happy childhood. My mum went to art school in the 60’s but was also a teacher so often tested the boundaries of my knowledge simultaneously encouraging my creativity. My dad was more practical and interested in woodwork. When I was very small I was often found shadowing him building things around the house. My sister always gave me the sense of fun but she moved out when I was young so I was on my own a lot when she left. My brother was a big influence on me growing up, by the time I was 10 he was already in university studying fine art and all I wanted to do was to grow up and be like him and have friends with pink hair. We discussed politics and philosophy from a young age- he introduced me to his music collection so while my friends at school were fully caught up in Spice Girl fever I was singing along to The Doors and The Velvet Underground. I guess I was always destined to go to art school- it was the only place someone like me would be considered normal.

Did your family support your creativity as you were growing up?

Always, my family have always been incredibly supportive of my creativity. I think because I always had a strong academic side my parents didn’t worry I would be a drop out. I have always been too sensible for my own good.

Are there any skills you wish to develop?

Everything and anything! I am always looking to improve and learn new things. At the moment I am doing a weekly sculpture class which is testing my technical skills. I want to get back into drawing and I would also love to learn to paint- that one passed me by,

What was the best advice you have been given?

Its not really advice but I always remember my tutor in college who said that I was blessed with the arrogance of youth. Its taken me to lose it to know what it was he meant. It is that un-blinkered confidence in your ability when you are younger. Early on in my artistic journey I was fearless. If I wanted to sculpt something for my final project…no problem (despite never sculpting anything ever before!) Everything was new to me but nothing scared me... it was exciting. I never once thought... what if I am not good at it? Of course, I wouldn’t be good at it but I would become good at it and that’s fine. It’s a journey and I found the whole thing incredibly exciting. As I get older I find it more daunting and tend to stay where its comfortable- a habit i'm trying to break.

What’s your favourite material to work with?

My degree show was in charcoal drawing on paper and I find drawing a meditative practice but the materials that excite me are sculptural. I love sculpting. I did work experience in a foundry and I loved the scale and processes that go into monumental pieces.

Describe your perfect creative day? Where does in start?

My perfect creative day would start early, I would awake naturally- stretch, walk my dog somewhere near water – I find that being near water really helps me think. I would then make a cup of tea and sit in my studio and just soak it in for 5 minutes. Then I would get to work. I would play music or listen to podcasts and get really messy and absorbed. At around 10 I would realise I hadn’t eaten and go and make myself something nice like avocado on toast or cinnamon porridge. I would check in with emails quickly and then go back in the studio. I would work alone in my own little world all day until my husband came back from work and then we would have a nice dinner by ourselves or an informal dinner party with friends. I would be in bed by 9 with a good book.

Do you prefer to work in silence? If not, what do you listen to when you are working?

I prefer some background noise, so music or a podcast or a book on audible. Sometimes when I really need to concentrate I have to play the same album over and over, at the moment its Laura Marling but when I was in my degree it was Les Miserables soundtrack!

What is the best book you have read to inspire you?

I listened to it but the book that has had the most profound impact on me and started me on the path to creating this podcast was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic- literally saved me from stagnant coma and I felt like Dorothy and suddenly my world is in technicolour. Brilliant book and a message that so many of us, particularly creative women need to hear. Read it!

Do you ever have blah days? What’s your remedy?

I had blah years! I resolve to have as few blah days as possible. I like what Elizabeth Gilbert says about dressing for inspiration. I certainly think that the best way to get out of a funk often starts with a shower! Once you feel better on the outside you tend to get clearer on what you need for the inside. Fresh air also helps so I would take a long walk along the canal by my house and just let my mind wander. Often if I’m having a really crappy day. I just forgive myself and move on- some days you just need a pj and movie day and as long as they are not all the time -that’s fine!

Do you have a favourite quote?

It’s a bit depressing but its 'hope is the denial of reality'. It was in a fantasy fiction book I read years and years ago and it stuck with me. I think its about facing up to the situation and recognising the need for action not hope. Hope is good but without action its pointless and bears no correlation with reality

Has work work changed over the years?

Early on I was interested in installation art then for my final degree show I decided to do drawing as it was a skill I could carry on after my degree. This show and work towards it got me my scholarship for my masters so I carried on drawing. My MA wasn’t suited to me and 6 months in I gave up drawing and focussed on my writing. I didn’t realise when I stopped that I wouldn’t start again for over 5 years. After my MA I then got a job in a publishing company and focussed on building my career. I saw a job in the arts industry as the prize I had always worked towards and working with artists everyday sounded glamourous and creative. Over time I realised that I had given up on my own creativity and felt very stagnant. During this time, I only really did a few sketches for birthday presents. In 2016 I moved jobs and that was the start of the idea for this podcast. I missed the conversations I had with artists. Keeping Curious was born out of my desire to keep those conversations going, but at the same time I thought that these conversations also might help other people that find themselves in a similar situation or simply looking for ways to be more creative. I am now starting to make again so you are joining me at a very exciting time of exploration.

What are you curious about?

I am curious about everything but I am particularly interested in anything regarding psychology and philosophy. I love ideas around consciousness and reality.

How do you explore these ideas?

I like to keep notebooks. At the moment I am exploring these ideas through writing a novel that combines everything I am interested in. For my current day job I travel a lot so I find I often have a lot of thinking time. This has allowed me to dwell on ideas and create characters. I never have intended to be a writer but as I am expanding my definition of creativity and losing my idea of what I should be, I am instead embracing my creativity however it wants to emerge. Writing suits my lifestyle at the moment.

Who are your favourite writers?

I am trying to read a lot more but when I was stagnant for those 5 years I barely read at all. I pacified my tired mind with endless box sets and mindless TV. Last year I vowed to just read whatever took my fancy and boy did my teenage self emerge triumphant! I devoured Twilight, hunger games and game of thrones, I also read Dan Brown. These may not be high brow but they were enjoyable and I have made it my mission to just follow my joy for a change. I also listened to Elizabeth Gilbert and now I am listening to Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and lots of podcasts.

What’s your wildest ambition?

My main aim in life is the freedom to be me. My wildest ambition is that I can dictate my days and fill them with creativity.

Is is your favourite creative memory?

Watching my first bronze pour- it was really exciting and dangerous.

What are the most important life lessons you have learnt?

Follow your joy. Life goes by pretty fast when you don’t pay attention to it. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to do what makes you happy. Don’t expect anything from your creativity other than joy. It may not make you rich but I believe a meaningful life is better than any riches.

Do you hope that your children will be creative? How will you encourage them?

When I have children I can’t wait to see how their creativity will emerge. I will encourage them to be themselves and to be passionate. I can’t wait to see the world through new eyes again. I look forward to learning from them.

What do you think of art programmes being cut from schools?

Honestly I have mixed feelings. I don’t think art should be graded so I don’t necessarily think it should be a subject. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get good grades and I think a lot of the time I missed the point that art should be fun. On the other hand I have no idea where I would be if art was not there. In a dream world, children would have access to creative time during school hours and it would be incorporated into the wider learning experience. This way everyone would benefit from feeling creative without the pressure of expectation. I feel the same way about PE- if they actually taught me to love sport during school I would be much healthier now. Really I think the whole education system needs to be rethought out but that is a topic for another day!

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained a new skill, what would it be?

I would love to learn Italian then I would book a flight to Rome and immerse myself in the artwork.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Enjoy yourself, don’t worry about grades. Find time to follow your heart and do what you love as life is short. A job in the arts is not always the best way to be creative. Your time is your most precious commodity- spend it wisely.


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