Rosie Johnson Illustrates
Freelance illustrator
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Creative blog. Or... Clog.

Care in my Community

We’re told that there is a loneliness epidemic. We are more isolated than ever before. Society is dead. Social Media is actually making us less social and we don’t call our mums enough (I might have added that last bit.) I’m not here to argue against that notion wholeheartedly but I am going to put forward the case for balance.

Sheesh, this looks like a long one. I hope there are pictures. 

This blog post is about some pretty amazing people. If you’re more of a fan of rubbish people then I’ll direct you here

I have always been very fortunate to have a supportive, loving family and a group of incredible friends who, despite the geographical distances, I have remained close to for many years. I have lovely former work colleagues, ex-school friends and university pals. They have always been my go-to supporters. Recently though, I’ve added considerably to my list of people upon whom I can rely. 

I’m going to pretend that I planned this post to purposefully co-incide with the March Meet the Maker challenge Day 29- Community. If you don’t already know, March Meet the Maker is an Instagram challenge set up by a wonderful designer, Joanne Hawker. She has devised prompts for each day such as ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Being A Maker’ to give creative types from all over the world a chance to show how they work and make connections with each other. It’s a great way to find creative, interesting people and for small businesses to reach out to potential new customers. She has even speckled the challenge with giveaways such as the one linked to today's prompt. The winner gets a ticket to the Blogtacular conference! Check out their stuff, it looks amazing.

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I’ve mentioned them before, but I’m going to again because they are wonderful and it’s my blog and I’ll bleat on if I want to... The Just a Card campaign, supporting independent creative businesses, is a community campaign run by volunteers who are all artists or gallery owners. Recently, they shared my work with their thousands of followers and within hours I had hundreds of new people commenting on my pictures and enquiring about commissions. The support of this campaign isn’t superficial, it’s already had a tangible impact. These aren’t my family or friends or neighbours. These are likeminded strangers, who understand how precarious working in this profession can be and are willing to give up their time and energy to make a difference to people they may never meet.

 I'm donating all the profits from sales of this print to the March For Our Lives campaign

I'm donating all the profits from sales of this print to the March For Our Lives campaign

There are personal reasons to build communities with ‘strangers’ too. When I was pregnant with my second child I joined a Facebook group of women who had babies due around the same time. I was nervous after miscarrying and wanted to chat with other women in the same boat. We used to share bump pictures. Now, four years on, we share photos of half drunk bottles of wine and horror stories about bedtime. We’re a community of people who don’t necessarily know each other in real life, but whose advice and compassion is nonetheless genuinely helpful. And whose stockpile of pictures of inanimate objects that look like willies is unending. But that’s another blog. 

Online communities are helping to change the world. Emma Gonzalez and her fellow Stoneman-Douglas students would not have been able to rally such support for the March for Our Lives demonstrations without being able to reach out to people on Twitter, Facebook and the like. 

Ok Rosie, so what you’re saying is that you want to be plugged into the mainframe and never to interact with your local community again.

No, random subheading. You loser. Why would I say that? I am spectacularly lucky to have an incredibly supportive network of friends and family where I live too. 

 Shedgate

Shedgate

Last month, in a nasty storm (technical meteorological term) the shed / studio where I work- the shedio, shedquarters- fell victim to strong winds and its roof was badly damaged. The worst of the storm was in the early hours so a lot of water had poured in before we got a chance to stem the flow. I stood in my pyjamas and wellies, swearing. Looking at drenched paper, light box, supplies and hundreds of pounds of stock, freshly printed cards and prints: all ruined. Arma-shed-don. I mentioned it on my business page on Facebook as some orders were affected, then my brilliant partner and our fabulous friend got on with securing the roof with a lovely blue tarpaulin shower cap. 

Two days later, there was a knock on the door and behind it a delegation of friends on behalf of a huge group. They’d clubbed together to give us money to help repair the shed and replace the stock. They’d all written in a card to show support. I cried big, disbelieving tears. What a bunch of beauts. That’s my community. You move house? They’re there with tea, milk and a corkscrew. You have a baby? They’re childminding the other kids and cooking your tea. You lose the roof of your studio? They’re giving you the actual felt nails you need to hammer your business back together again. 

And even the general public are pretty nice! They moan about dog poo and the disrespectful  graffitiers but they also freely give up their time and 4x4s to take people to hospital when their own cars couldn’t make it through the snow. They find lost pets and they champion independent ventures, like the fantastic Bumble and Sea beach cafe, opening very soon at Orcombe Point. 

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A really lovely local initiative has sprung up whereby members of the public are painting stones in bright happy patterns and leaving them for other people to find. They’re called Smilestones and they seem to be encouraging children to go for long walks in the fresh air, in search of a stone with a smiley face. Youth of today, eh? 

Fine. So, really Rosie, you love your REAL friends best. All that stuff about the online people was toadying BS.

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 The very glorious Glorious Art House

The very glorious Glorious Art House

Subheading- dude. You need to work on your inference skills. I haven’t even mentioned the crossover community yet!

So, not only do I find myself a happy and willing participant in communities online and off, I’m also part of some which combine the two. The Creative Business Network, set up and run by the best mentor ever, Helen Bottrill, has members predominantly from the South West, in business ventures like mine. There is a wonderfully supportive Facebook group, where meltdowns are treated with warmth, understanding, empathy and practical advice. (Speaking from experience, moi?) However, there are also monthly meet ups at the aptly named Glorious Art House in Exeter. Real people, drinking real caffeine and becoming real pals. 

Along with Jay Pea Art and The Beachcomber Devon, I’m setting up an Exeter Etsy team, to bring the success of the online marketplace to real face-to-face markets in Exeter. If you’re an Etsy seller in east Devon or its environs, come and say hi. 

It turns out I am part of, and party to, countless communities, all around me. Their value can’t be measured and I don’t need to choose between them. There’s room for the lot. The key is getting involved. I’ve never felt less lonely (and I work on my own in a leaky shed. )

To paraphrase the iconic Blanche Dubois in The Streetcar Named Desire: I have always depended on the kindness of strangers... and friends...and family .... and strangers who then become friends. (Tennessee Williams ain’t got nothin on my prose.)