Helen Hunter has recently launched ‘colourful beautiful things’ a website, showcase and blog that features beautifully designed and lovingly made things.  For me her website is the perfect Artists’ date  – an ideal way to coax your inner artist out of hiding and give a very clear message that creativity and joy are highly prized around here.  Having witnessed Helen’s inspiring commitment to search out a channel for her considerable creative talents I wanted to share this with others who appreciate the search and the gifts we gain in the process.

Helen Hunter

What inspired you to take this new direction in life? 

The desire and the need to reintroduce creativity into my life. Starting my website colourful beautiful things seemed the perfect way to combine so many of my interests and passions – colour, pattern, design and craftsmanship, along with travel and meeting creative, inspirational people.  The majority of the work we showcase are things I don’t have the space, place or budget for in my home and my life, but I get to write about them, look at amazing images and photographs, meet the artists, designers and makers, and feast my eyes on all this gorgeousness on a daily basis – it really does make me want to jump for joy sometimes!

Tell me about your journey to get here

This is very much part of an exit strategy from my current work, which is physically demanding, and something I won’t be able to do for that much longer. With colourful beautiful things I am creating something that will hopefully be my third and final “career” and keep me going well into old age!  It has been hard to actually take this first step; my current career is something that comes very easily to me, and that I’m told I have a talent and aptitude for.  Also after doing it for 20 years it’s familiar and comfortable, plus it’s nice to feel quite “expert” and competent.  The idea I had, that has become colourful beautiful things, involves several different areas of knowledge and expertise, none of which I had any real grounding in – so it feels very risky, and quite a naïve thing to do, as well as lots of hard work and study.  My mental image of what I’m embarking on is that I’m standing in the foothills of a large mountain range and I have to climb each peak, right from the very bottom.

What has helped you to do this practically and emotionally?

On the practical side of things, firstly my current work is extremely flexible and I am self-employed, so it’s relatively easy to fit working on colourful beautiful things around that.  Secondly, my husband Ron is tremendously supportive and luckily for me (and I mean extremely luckily!) his background is in the IT industry so he is my technology adviser/help desk.  In truth he is definitely the co-founder of the enterprise, as I wouldn’t have been able to get so far so quickly and easily.  The thought has also just occurred to me that I wonder if I’d actually have gone ahead at all if it had meant buying in this expertise, and having to find a freelancer to help me, right from the very beginning?  That would have made it so much more difficult and challenging and demanded an awful lot more commitment.  As it is, I feel as if I’ve been able to almost slide into it relatively slowly and easily, although it has been a lot of work, time-wise.

Emotionally, there has been lots of help from different sources.  Again, I have to thank my husband for his support and belief in me, and wanting me to do something that I love.  I think, too, that 20 years of self-employment has given me a fair amount of resilience, and although I consider myself unskilled in areas like design, writing, blogging, and running a website, there are probably lots of little things I’ve learned and done along the way that are helping.

And of course, I have to mention you, Jo, an especially dear friend (disclosure!) who always believes in me and my possibilities, and also your work and your wonderful website and blog; the inspirational stories that I read there really do help me believe I can do this.  Particularly significant was Miriam Darlington’s account of how she set out to be a published writer and otter expert.  Her story made a real impact, and galvanised me into action – just replace “otters” with “colourful beautiful things”!

Did you have any doubts or take any U-turns? If so how did you overcome them?

I have a black belt in self-doubt!  I don’t really know what it feels like to feel certain and sure about things … I try and make this work for me by using the constant questioning as a way to always make things better.  I only quite recently learned just how destructive being a perfectionist can be, so I try to be much more relaxed about things and be more realistic about achievements.

I also take a lot of inspiration and comfort from the words of an American collage artist, Rex Ray, whose work is now quite extraordinary – epic canvases of stunningly gorgeous pattern and colour – but started out as simple cut-outs from newspapers and magazines.  On creativity he says: “A lot of cultural conditioning goes on today, restraining us from doing certain things that might seem silly or useless at the time, but that may have great significance in the end.  Anything that can help break down those barriers and provide an opening for other ideas to emerge is welcome.”  And on fearlessness: “I’m not as confident as I am fearless.  I have a lot of doubt and a lot of insecurity when I go into a given situation.  But I don’t let it stop me.  It took a long time to find that.[…] I needed to learn that you can fail and survive, and that you can learn great things from those failures; ultimately that failure can be a positive thing.”  And at the risk of sounding incredibly trite, I read something else recently that really tickled me – that it’s OK to stumble and fall when trying something new, because when you fall you generally fall forwards.  OK, end of sermonising!

And U-turns?  I think there may well be some up ahead; I’m still at the “finding out what I don’t know” stage, so I envisage the project possibly turning into something very different to what it is now – but I think that will be a good thing, and part of its natural development.

What was the biggest obstacle and how did you manage this?

I think that has yet to come.  Working on the website part-time has its limitations; I want it to be the best it can be, and I’d also like it to make some money.  I don’t know if that is going to be possible without working on it full-time, so as with all new ventures, there will come that tipping point where I have to finally give up the old job and take the plunge.  That will be very hard as it will mean accepting support and giving up my current independence, even for just a while – and accepting help is something I’m really not very good at.  Even though you’d have thought I’d have learned by now that I absolutely can’t do it all myself, and when I insist on doing so, it usually results in making me, and loved ones, miserable.   So, it seems I’m still struggling with that one.  Can I let you know how that goes?

In the meantime, what I have learnt so far is just how scarily all-consuming websites and blogs can be.  It’s possible to sit at the computer literally all day and all night, and still feel like you’ve seen only a fraction of what is out there to see and learn about.  The biggest current challenge is tearing myself away from the screen and the internet, and re-engaging with real life.  It’s easy to put huge pressure on yourself, but the truth is that you’d burn out in a very short time if you didn’t learn how to pace yourself.  And it’s so easy for relationships and friendships to suffer and your own well-being and health too if you’re not careful.  I’ve already learned a few hard lessons about that.  I read a great tip from a professional blogger recently who has made her number 1 rule: “Family and friends first”.  Also, I’ve learned that sitting on my bum all day is actually really, really tiring!

What advice would you give others?

Not sure I know what to say to this, as I feel such a beginner again, but this is the advice I’m giving myself right now: reach out, ask for and accept help; don’t compare yourself to others – use what they do to be inspired, not intimidated; believe in your own vision and unique creative offering; and finally – learn when to step away from the computer!

What next?

Choosing which mountain to scale next.  Although, and this wouldn’t be possible with real mountains, what I’m actually trying to do is to inch further up several peaks all at the same time.  So that means improving my writing skills, devouring design and interiors books, getting my head around social media, learning graphic design skills … the list goes on

What else?

We’re always on the lookout for new talent to feature on the website, so would love to hear of any work that fits in with our philosophy and aesthetic – we’re at www.colourfulbeautifulthings.co.uk – please do come visit and have a look around.