Step Up Create

December 20, 2021
E16 – Life by Design with Lynn Stewart
The Step Up Create Podcast
The Step Up Create Podcast
E16 - Life by Design with Lynn Stewart

Show Notes

For our last Creative life episode of 2021, Katie interviews Lynn Stewart her design teacher and head of department from secondary school. It’s been 20 years since they last spoke and Lynn is an inspirational as ever, with her thoughts and experiences on life and design.  

We discuss, how design is an integral part of life, teaching and education. How using creativity to look at problems from different angles can help you overcome even the most complex issues. How creating safe spaces for experimentation develops and values other types of intelligence and much more.

This is our last episode of 2021, we’ll be back in the new year in the second week of January.  

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Follow Katie’s art at an on Instagram at @katieannice

Original music written and performed by Jonathan D. Mellor licensed to Step Up Create S.L.

Hi everybody and welcome back to the step at create podcast. I just wanted to give a quick introduction before we get on to the interview with Lynn because this will be our last podcast of 2021. This has not been an easy decision for me to make. When I started the podcast, I decided that I needed to do it every single week, and I pretty much done that at times it’s been quite tough and LIS time if I was trying to get out the next two episodes would be really tough because I’m going to be a way and I needed to have done that before. The next one that’s coming up is a book episode and the book had chosen how to do nothing I thought sounded like the perfect book to read over the Christmas period where I knew I’d be busy and sounded like a quick read. It’s got flowers on the fence. So this might be quite light. And it’s totally not actually a really intellectual stimulating book but not the type book you can read after teaching Design Thinking till nine o’clock or dealing with kids or whatever else. So I haven’t finished the book so I can’t do the book review. And I haven’t done a solo episode either. And I could try and push myself to do that today. But I think I’m going to choose to live better and leave that I know you’ve got better things to do than listening to my podcast over the next few weeks. So I’ll let you get on with that. I will be back on the 10th if not before, if I think there’s something burning and interesting and exciting to talk to you about before, then I’ll go ahead and record that. But otherwise, let’s plan for the 10th and I wish you all the best for this holiday period. Whatever you’re facing, whatever you are planning, whether that’s Christmas and New Year and raise three magic Kings Day for those of you outside of Spain, or whether it’s other holidays just have a fun, safe time with your loved ones or on your own if you want and we’ll be back in the new year. So listen to this interview 

Hi everybody, and welcome to a special Christmas edition. There’s not much Christmasy about it really. And I have the honour of having you today Lynn Stewart, who was my design teacher when I was back learning design from when I was 11 to when I was 16. And Lynn has a really amazing interest on my life I think and I did say this to you earlier so I hope I’m not gonna make you cry now. But but it’s it is amazing the incidence that a secondary school teacher can have on you and I was very lucky in my secondary school to have Lynn to have Janet Wignell in drama and to have Irma Roberts in German and a few other people in in different subjects that would all deserve mentions, but I won’t mention them all now. But what Lynn really did was, I think, kind of made me realise that there was a world of possibility in design. And that that wasn’t because I was going to become a designer. It was because design could be useful for other things and it could be fun. So Lynn, thank you for coming on the podcast. We need to have to follow that actually. That’s very touching. Thank you. I really appreciate that. And I haven’t actually really spoken to Lynn for a very many years. You can do the maths on that. But yeah, it’s been over 20 years since we’ve spoken really until today. And so that’s also a really nice thing. And you continue to teaching until you retired recently and teaching design all the time, right. So my question I always ask people on this part of the podcast, this creative life, part of the podcast is, what is creativity for you? And I suspect you’ve thought about this a little bit couturiers. Even now to define it, because it’s been such a major part of my life, all of my life, I think. Looking back, I think I was a non digna undiagnosed deaf child. For very, very many years. And I think I use creative my, my art ability. So refuge if you like, from drawing, to working out a way of understanding what was a very confusing world for me. So designing was a way of understanding for me, it was a way of doing things, taking things apart to work out what I was presented with that I couldn’t understand from, from what was spoken to me. And it was a refuge I just go and hide away on tour. Of course, I was considered a bit of a weirdo kick because people thought I was just ignoring them with a natural photography error. So I got around by doing creative stuff that would either make people laugh or do portraits of the will make things that they would like. So yes, it’s integral to the whole of my life. And the reason I went into teaching actually was because I didn’t want other people to be in the situation where our desire is in where I was told, actually, I’m so good at something just because I could do this doesn’t mean you’re any good. And it was a bit of a rebellion against that because I thought, well, actually, if you gave it a chance, perhaps I could be good at something else. And that, to a large extent, was the basis of my teaching and design. Do you remember that that you the people that would hang around in the pottery studio or in the graphic design studio that you would encourage to sort of be there were not necessarily the positive the popular kids, and it was a bit of a mix, mash and that was nice. I kind of found because I wasn’t obviously I’m thinking of a few people that you would just sort of be sitting there with our hands in the clay and you’d come around and chat to us or we’d just be designing stuff I didn’t know. And it was a really nice safe space. And it felt like we were valued for more than just an exam. I think you hit the nail. Exactly. On the head. People can be creative most effectively. If they feel safe and secure. They’re not going to be ridiculed or criticised for what they’re do. People need that safe, quiet, secure space to experiment to click to get things wrong to learn from your mistakes. And that’s that’s something I’ve always been really irate about that people no longer have the understanding that in order to learn, you have to mistakes just because you can’t do it the first time. Doesn’t mean you can’t do it. With just means you haven’t got it right at this time. I’ve just used the word rights, and that’s been one of my bugbears throughout my whole career. That my belief is that every person is uniquely creative. Every child is quite happy making drawing. But somehow by the time they’re into second for school, they’ve been told that that’s not actually good enough and therefore, they assume that they can’t do it just because of one possible occasion they were criticised or they were in trouble. So it was always really important to me that I tried to find something for every student so that they could, they could succeed and they could find satisfaction. It didn’t always work. It was something I tried to do was, I am in touch with one of my former students and I shall call Sam who was actually predicted a graded, graded design technology. I knew there was something there but I could not find a way of accessing it. He got a resource grade, but he’s now an award winning filmmaker who may cover to talk about it later. But I do really want to paring down with our education in current times. Let’s come back to that a little bit later. I just wanted to sort of pick up on what you were saying about how you tried to support each each child or each each young person and that’s that’s definitely what I felt from you. And I also felt that you weren’t a walkover at all. You were a little bit scary. I don’t think that was to do with also having this wonderful balance between believing and helping us to find the things that really inspired us. And at the same time going Yes, run with that. Push it further. See, see how far you can take that? Because I remember that you definitely didn’t take some kind of half assed piece of work from hours ago. Yeah, that’s fine. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It should be done properly. How to describe before I believe that someone was capable of better I wouldn’t let go until they did. Because that would be that would be me. Yeah, I think that’s probably scary and lots of people have told me a scary thing you weren’t you were just that you were very very stylish and you spoke nicely you’re very impressive. I’m not using Word because I you know, I haven’t been I don’t really know you so well now not saying you were like this and now you’re not. But at the time, you know, tools stylish, elegant and also very intelligent. And interested in the students. So that’s, that’s what I felt anyway. If I wasn’t interested in the students who I was teaching, why why those whatever you’re going to teach them if they didn’t want to get the very best out of every single student. That’s a very good question. You know, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to be interested in the students. And if you’re interested in the students, you want the student to succeed and to be the best they can. You can’t allow them to get away with less than feel that they’re capable of achieving. I wouldn’t be I wouldn’t be doing the child justice. Anything I remember was that you did let us play as well. I remember one thing that we did in pottery or that I was doing in pottery, which is just making the same kind of ugly pots. I think I made it like 12 different times. But essentially, the idea was to try out all the different places and really, we didn’t I mean, I got the impression that you didn’t actually know either what would happen when we mix them together? I didn’t I was learning as much as you want, you must understand is that I had never done pottery or actually went to the school. And as I was, I was in the pottery because that was the only rule which didn’t have an existing teacher. So I was learning revelation. He might say a week I was doing an evening class so that I could teach what I’ve been learning the night before. This person Yeah, well, you should really tell Toby’s excited always learning myself. Yeah, I love doing but yeah, I was learning and that was just a nice thing about design is that you never actually stop learning. Because technology’s changing all the time. And I had to be learning all the time to keep on top of technology because if I was just doing old fashioned stuff, then I’d have no relevance to this teaching. But I didn’t realise for years that you know, the reason that when when I sort of discovered what’s now called design thinking that we use a lot in business and how to redesign processes or user experience, all of this was oh, yeah, this is I know, this didn’t seem at all surprising to me. This newish thing that came from California. And all of this was basically GCSE just so there’s a way of saving money everyone just do GCSE design and then don’t do an expensive Design Thinking course. You probably remember me saying that, as far as I was concerned. Design was the most important subject on on the curriculum, because it was inherent in every aspect of our life. From the moment you woke up in the morning on a bed that someone designed in sheets that you someone have designed, wearing pyjamas that somebody signed and acquired Kumbaya, the alarm clock that someone designed and you got up and you went and had breakfast guy using crockery and tableware that someone had designed eating food came out of packages that someone had designed. So you know, the list used to go on Yeah, design thinking is inherited everything don’t business could get by without some elements of design thinking whether they call it design thinking or not is a different matter altogether. It is inherent as our modern society can’t cope without it. So it’s interesting then isn’t it take to link back with what you were saying before about the curriculum that we’re actually seem to be we seem to be taking design and art and design the arts in general out of secondary school curriculum. And then people are spending loads of money to learn how to do this when they’re older. And it just doesn’t seem to make sense. Doesn’t make any sense to worry because by taking it out at a stage when people are most receptive to that kind of thinking to that creative thinking. You’re actually setting up problems for later in life where people are trying to work out problems with a mindset that has been stifled if you like. Creativity is too important to get rid of in that respect. Because I will realise if me and everything that I’ve gone through it, you know, positive and negative really one of the most important design questions is what’s possible from here. And it’s something that’s simple, isn’t it? People don’t think they are creative. Or they want to think about how they can be more creative. All they got to do is be curious. What happens if I did it this way? What happens if that happens? What what happens? If I use this instead of that, and be prepared to experiment and follow it through? Your creativity will start to come as a result of your curiosity. And it’s interesting as we were born with that curiosity, it seems Yes. Somehow it gets lost along the way. For education, so. School education to start with is now it’s about passing tests that allow children to experiment and explore and develop their brains channelling them into learning facts and figures and those have no necessary relevance to their lives, and won’t necessarily enhance their existence or their lives in any way, shape or form other than to conform to some. Some persons ideally, a normal child should be for God’s sake. What is it what do you think is happening there? What Why is this word they stripped back all of this cop stuff they don’t perceive it to have any value it doesn’t. If they can’t see it as a monetary value, if they can’t see, they can see they can understand maths because ultimately leads to accounting. They think that maths is the basis of science. Accepting English because basically people have to be able to communicate. To build this everything else is an irrelevance as far as those people are concerned. fact that English language is constantly changing, whether they like it or not, and consequently is a creative environment if you like a creative medium is lost on. There’s lots of research around that, that people learn language through stories. And through reading and through literature and drama and all the rest of it. And then you learn maths first by actually see what’s relevant to learn science best by seeing its relevance, and in order to create exciting and interesting maths and science and whatever else listens. You have to be creative. You have to make it relevant and interesting and exciting. And to do that, you have to think about curious about how can I make this an interesting thing to do? And that’s a creative experience. Here’s a question for you. It sounds like it was really tiring towards the end of your career when this design was being stripped away. And you just felt like you couldn’t have the same impact that you’d had earlier on. How have you managed to deal with that? What was your creative process for dealing with that other than in the end, retiring? What was this this was difficult part because I was fighting against losing all the very, very valuable aspects of my design department. And in order to maintain that I had to take on other roles as well. So I say taking the Gifted and Talented aspect. I was doing this I was doing the examination stuff I was doing staff development stuff I was doing, setting up a national competition for question stuff. And I realised actually it was getting to the stage where my teaching was autopilot. On I was teaching it simply because I knew that was what I had to do and that’s when I realised I had to retire because I thought if I had made this new choice by teaching, how could it be a joyful experience for students as well. So retiring was in a way, a way of escaping. To save my creativity to save my sanity. It was wearing me away. Not just if I carried on doing just my department job, running my department, creating curriculum and teaching subjects then that would be wonderful because I could be as creative as in the past you being a head of departments that I could teach whatever I wanted. So if there was a gap, so in lessons for food technology, then I could teach through technology. I could teach textiles I could teach, and that was lovely because it was I had to learn to teach that but it got to the stage where I couldn’t do that anymore, because there’s too many other pressures. I remember you teach you get graphic design, and I don’t know why we had you for that. But it was something about logos and we did the logo, we had to do a logo for a pizza company or Italian food company. I think mine was called pronto pizza, no points for originality on the name. But I remember you take us through logo design, and actually I’ve designed probably about 10 different logos for different things. And obviously I had to learn new technology to do it and you know, Photoshop or whatever else, but I used all of the skills that you taught me on that. So basically, you save money through those two, so it was a bit of a tangent but it was so fun. Because you always finding out all sorts of wonderful things. See what people could do. So yeah, why wouldn’t talk to you? But one of the things that I’ve done since I made a pact with myself when I retired that I was going to learn a new thing, which what have you learned so far? Or taking a doctor to three or not to I cannot do it adequate portrait production, botanical painting and our soul to do portraits. And all sorts of stuff. selling things that I’ve never been up to. Yeah, I’ve just been having fun. And the nice thing is I don’t have to do it where I’m actually allowing myself to got to be really good at something which is quite hard. So I can’t I always felt that if I didn’t, I wasn’t a top of the game. I couldn’t teach it. Or as I’m doing have to teach it now I just need to learn it to my satisfaction. That’s, that’s really good. That happened to me a bit with some of the things I teach. I feel like I need to be really good at storytelling in order to teach it and you actually don’t but you know, it’s good to be to be able to work. I have to be confident about it. That’s that’s the difference is not necessarily being really good at it being confident enough to teach it is the key that confident and confident enough in your abilities with that subject, whatever it is, will give you the confidence to teach it as well. But how do you think your creativity has changed? You were saying in the beginning, it was a sort of different take on creativity because you were on diagnosed deaf child then we’ve got the sort of the middle bit of teaching. How has your creativity changed over over your life so far? When I first started teaching, I was I was the first female metal teacher in the country. Appointed over the heads of the department. I was joining an all male department and I was being set up to fail all the time. So I had to be creative in the ways I taught it because in the words of Maggie Sasha Well, one of the things she searches for several women do they have to do twice as well as men to be thought half as good? She then added Luckily, this isn’t difficult. And it was something that spurred me on because I actually had just decided to look at things differently. I had to teach engineering workshops through practice and technical drawing, and metalwork. I looked at the way it was being taught and how is it relevant to those students when the world was already starting to change and this is back in the 70s the first computers were beginning to raise the hurts those looking at what these students were doing and thinking. This doesn’t mean anything to them. They’re just going through the motions. So I had to look at other ways of teaching that. That made it interesting to them or not I can cope with and actually the moody took off much the sugar was headed and yeah, it was simply what you’re doing. Do technical drawings of shoes, things like that. Measuring stitches and measuring the angle was tragic. But it was radicals. They understood what they were doing, why they were doing it. It actually made them a more observant, perceptive person. So when they were looking at things they understood better about how it was constructed for doing sections of electric kettles, and as a result, they may they realise that the kettle they were working on was a rubbish kettle that much better in if they did this, that and the other. So it wasn’t just a technical drawing exercise it was an understanding exercise a design exercise. So yeah, using looking at things sideways looking at things from a different angle, to get around a problem sometimes works quite well certainly was a turning point for me when I realised actually I can get round to its problems. I can get around people’s prejudices by doing things, not the way they’re expected to do it but doing it in a way that suits Yeah, interesting how, yeah, how creativity can help you to overcome these kinds of challenges. And did it get a did it get easier or not? Just out of interest? Oh, that’s a good one Waukesha got a lot it was here because they stop trying to interfere and when once the results started coming in, they realised they were all too good thing and then they got me into the exam panel started to get I started writing the exam papers and things which made other people change the way they were teaching. So I felt quite pleased about actually she was I’ve actually had some some influence on making technical drawing or less boring subject analysis showing that you can be a female design teacher and teach the traditionally male things in Ireland we the school that you we were at was one of the first I think in allowing girls to do metal work in wood work and stuff like that. And plastic moulding which was great because there’s a vacuum former which was really fun to play with when I moved to school you were at. It was still very traditional. The girls had needlework Home Economics at one end of the school. And the boys have been lucky workshops. And I think the reason I bought the job was because I walked into the workshops. I went oh my god. There was the dirty stripped out into half stripped engines on every Workbench The place was filthy. There was a boy on the lathe with no goggles no overall and a tie dangling on a dog called Turn around. So let’s switch over and hit the safety button on the wall. So I don’t see how you could possibly allow this to carry on. And the headmaster just smiled so yeah, and I Yeah, it was the boys subjects and girls subjects of effective important change. I’m glad you did because I would I would not have done very well if I could only do home economics and needlework. It was with up to five years. Yeah, it was. It was a difficult time but an interesting time and a challenging time. Yeah, so my then my creativity and creativity had to come to the fore working out how to how to balance things. So that I could get girls interested in traditionally male subjects and boys. Kicking and screaming back into the food room went into the new work, which became the textiles and appointing new staff as well. Which was also challenging, again, getting over existing prejudices about what they should have triggered. It was a fun time. 

So What haven’t we covered? What tips you have for someone who’s not creative? Because find something you like the workout how it works? Go to yourself, and then don’t give up. Just keep go look around, use the expertise that’s available. Don’t give up. Keep staying curious. That’s the most important thing really is interesting because sometimes people think that design is about the making, but it’s not about the making. It’s mostly about the observing. And then that then reflecting about it. Yeah, absolutely. Ideation bit. comes after quite a lot of other stuff. The thinking of the investigation that the being curious. You can’t come up with ideas to draw to think unless you’ve thought about it unless you’ve understood started to understand and then the making itself can help you understand further pushes your by exploring by playing around with materials and, and ideas that gives you a better understanding. And then you can go back and think and reflect a little bit more and then do it again. Building up your experiences, and you don’t lose that experience because you start something new and suddenly you realise that you’re doing something that you hadn’t thought about at all, but you just realised that would be the appropriate thing in this case. So you have created a memory bank if you like that just kicks in automatically. thing about doing things with your hands as well as this kind of like a different intelligence, muscle memory as well as, as a kind of 3d intelligence. It’s almost as if your fingers and your body have hovered intelligence of their own if you think about it, your senses aren’t just your sighting or smell or what have you, your fingers your whole body relates and reacts to the environment around you. When you’re making something all those senses come into play, especially pottery in particular is can be an incredibly sensual experience. And it can be a really physically difficult exertion as well. And all that trains your body to learn and understand about things that you will actually start to do automatically. Throwing on the wheel for example, I’ve never been very precise I can do the basics but never doesn’t manage to get to anything. of structural size. It’s it is like riding a bike you don’t do it the first time or the second time you will fall off your tire and again but bike happens the first time to accelerate experiment. And it’s the same with painting. You work at a painting difficult regardless. But when it starts to just suddenly falling and you’ve no idea what it is such a change, but some of the senses your your brain has and your fingers have started to to just work on their own almost and it’s and I felt are exhilarating experience that you’ve suddenly produced in white my botanical paintings, I work and I work and I think it’s just never going to happen and all of a sudden is there in front of me. So it almost happened before I realised that it’s creativity can be such an exhilarating you know, you’ve been talking I remember the feel of the clay. There were two specific types of clay that we had and one was like a really smooth one was like a terracotta if I remember correctly, and the other one was like a grainy one that was good for making the building. Yeah, structural steel, that both of them were just really nice and almost you could go in and go now I’m in the mood for touching the smooth one today or I’m in the mood so that’s gonna be another one. And you could just sort of play with it and see what came out and that was nice as well to not sometimes you don’t actually have to have an amazing plan and vision of what you want to create that actually sometimes you just go in and start touching it and see what happens. Absolutely also so just be curious will happen. Just stop just just a start and then just keep going and see where it goes and not be afraid to make mistakes because you just learn from them. If you don’t learn from any network effort, learning that seems like a mistake and good message to end on really, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and for talking to me after all these years. And for inspiring me and so many other students because you must have had 1000s that have passed through your classrooms of which a high percentage I’m sure you’ve influenced in one way or another. And I would like to think that is the case. Certainly. I hope I’ve made some small difference. But I loved every minute of teaching. I may have been scared but I actually I think we knew that as well. 


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