Category: Writing

Cleveland: an Accidental City Guide

Downtown Cleveland seen from the shore of Lake Erie

Downtown Cleveland seen from the shore of Lake Erie

It’s been a little while since I last posted, a lot has happened in the last six months which has meant I have had to take a blogging hiatus (moving flat, doing DIY on aforementioned flat, getting a puppy) but I’m back now with a slightly different post to kick things off – an homage to the city of Cleveland.

This Autumn I was lucky enough to visit Cleveland for the second time. Cleveland is one of those towns you either only dimly aware of (if you are British) or have bad associations with (if you are American). When I told most Brits I was visiting they would usually say “Where is it?”, and when I spoke to Americans they would usually say “Why?”. But contrary to popular opinion Cleveland is a charming place, the problem is it’s so much of a hidden gem that even when you are there it is difficult to work out what to do.

My beloved and I were in town for a wedding and had a couple of days to explore the city, but when we weren’t with the bride and groom we really struggled to find where to go or what to see. In the end we based much of our trip on the following forum thread on the Apartment Therapy website. This was posted in 2009, and I think the fact that we used this to plan a lot of our time shows how bad the problem is.

So in the name of telling the world how great a city Cleveland is here is my hit list of things to do and see in the city.

The People

Friendly people in Cleveland

Friendly people in Cleveland

The people of Cleveland are incredibly friendly, they are also astonished you are there. This conversation I had with a woman in the queue for security at Cleveland airport exemplifies the kind of interactions I had all week:

Lady – “I just heard your accent, where are you from?”
Me – “I’m from Scotland”
Lady – “And you came to Cleveland?!”
Me – “Yes”
Lady – “What did you think?”
Me – “I had a great time”
Lady – “Well imagine that!”

Also at the airport there is an electronic screen advertising the city which says “Cleveland – More affordable entertainment than other US Cities!”

There is so much more to Cleveland than a cheap night out. People of Cleveland: have more confidence in yourself. It’s a lovely place to visit.

Food & Drink

We stayed at an Airbnb in Tremont, a part of the city with some fantastic restuarants and bars all within walking distance. We loved Barrios for its tacos, beer and cocktails, and had fantastic American style pizza at Edisons. For breakfast we drove to Ohio City to Jack Flaps (which has delicious breakfast burritos and Vietnamese breakfast Bahn Mi).

For afternoon coffee and cake Blackbird Baking Company in Lakewood had delicious pastries and the best pumpkin spiced latte I have ever tried. Made with real pumpkin, apparently.

Real Pumpkin Spiced Latte anyone?

Real Pumpkin Spiced Latte anyone?

Cleveland boasts an embarrassment of new-wave brewpubs, notable places we visited included: Fathead (the beer is great but the branding gives me the creeps), Platform, Market Garden Brewery, and Great Lakes (special shout out to the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter). There are far too many for me to mention here – this is an opening selection, not a definitive list.

Shopping

Canopy Collective had an incredible fusion of mid-century furniture and knick-knacks combined with artist books and prints.

Flower Child Retro probably the best vintage shop I have ever been to – put aside a good few hours to explore the shop, it has everything from furniture to ballgowns. I walked away with three incredible velvet dresses. This is a must visit if you are in the area.

River Colors Yarn Store (next to Blackbird Baking Company) has a large selection of locally spun yarns and international wools.

If you love vinyl Separate Reality Records is overwhelming, with one of the largest selections of records I have ever seen, go there and lose yourself.

Separate Reality Records

Separate Reality Records

Machine Knitting and My Inner Critic

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I’m always scared of sharing a picture like this. I’m terrified someone will say:

“What are you doing?! That’s not the correct way to wet block a piece of knitting! You’re not using the right equipment – are you sure those are rust proof pins? They certainly aren’t specialist pins designed for blocking. If you don’t do it right the edges will be uneven and you will get little rust marks on your wool. 

MachineScarf-6

“And is that a yoga mat? Why don’t you have a proper foam base on which to pin your fabric? One with a wire at the top to hold the piece flat. Also why is it on the floor? It’s a trip hazard and someone could hurt themselves on all those pins.

MachineScarf-3

“And while I’m at it why do you have such badly finished black painted flooring? Don’t you know that it looks terrible in photos. This blog isn’t aspirational at all. Your interior design sense is terrible, and your project does not match your furniture.

“Also isn’t writing a blog post about this very self-indulgent? No one cares what you think about knitting or anything else.” 

This is exactly the type of inner monologue which runs through my mind when I make something like this and think about sharing the picture. I’m largely self taught as a sewer, knitter and designer and almost everything I learnt came from books or the internet, as well as a few helpful tips from friends and relatives and the odd evening course and workshop. So when I come to actually work on a technique a lot of the time what I am doing is actually made up.

But what am I so scared of? There are plenty of internet trolls out there but not many dedicated to knitting (or so I hope!). And if it is wrong who cares? Really who cares?! This scarf is for me, I’m not hurting anyone and if I move fast enough when I wear it no one will notice the mistakes anyway.

There are a lot of conversations being had right now around imposter syndrome, particularly in women, and I have been speaking with lots of friends about how perfection in any artistic endeavour is a fool’s errand. But why can’t I take this to heart? Why am I still thinking these things? Does anyone else recognise these feelings?

What I am slowly discovering is that machine knitting a scarf might be an 11 week project but having confidence in your ability is one that takes a lifetime.

MachineScarf-5

Culture Hack 2013

This post is fresh off the press after a blistering weekend at Culture Hack 2013 held in a brand spanking new space at The Whisky Bond. This wasn’t my first time at Culture Hack but it was my first time trying to make something.

Culture Hack is a 48 hour making challenge, where programmers, designers, artists and producers get together and try to make something useful and/or creative using data which has been released by arts organisations. Having looked at the data I decided to try to make a Twine game/choose your own adventure story which explored a series of paintings owned by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. As there weren’t many paintings in the set, I used data released by Tramway, Away with the Birds and Scottish Music Centre to add more depth to the project. I also added available online resources such as newspaper obituaries, youtube videos, library records and buildings data.

My final story is called the Forgotten Portraits. On one level it’s a simple walk through a gallery with label information, but if you explore more closely your character will be reminded of childhood events, images and music. It’s by no means a polished game but if you are interested in checking it out you can play it here.

Other Exciting Hacks

23 projects were finished in time for the show and tell on Sunday afternoon. Here are some of my favourites:

Sing for your stitches a sewing machine powered by singing #chscot

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A sewing machine powered by songs from Away with the Birds.

Interactive birdsong map of the isle of Canna #chscot

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An interactive map of the island of Canna which played bird song as you walked across it. Other exciting hacks I don’t have pictures of included a bicycle which let you explore data and a Creative Scotland Quiz made by Yann.

Workshops

I also got a chance to take part in a workshop learning to code Arduino led by the guys from MAKLab. Here is a short video of my flashing LED switch triumph!

Arduino workshop at #chscot

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It was an absolutely amazing weekend, a massive thank you to Suzy and Rohan from Sync for organising a brilliant event. I learnt absolutely loads, met some great people and I’m going back to work really inspired to take on new data challenges!

Apps for your Commute

Do you take your commute seriously? Then this is the post for you! First featured on the Lucky Frame Blog, this post discusses the best games for commuters with contributions from myself and Jonathan Brodsky.

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Apple are really loving Wave Trip these days…after featuring in Apple Stores worldwide and in the WWDC presentation, Wave Trip is now featured in the UK App Store as an “App For Your Commute”!

We certainly agree that Wave Trip is brilliant for commutes – short levels, non-punishing creative gameplay, a dash of level building to add creative spice to your morning – but we thought we’d take this opportunity to talk about some of our favorite commuting games.

First up, press and marketing guru Kristina, who you may remember from the “Hope With Added Strategy” blog post, or perhaps from the Lucky Frame stand at GDC this year. Kristina has another day job which makes her something of a commuting expert…


Kristina:

I have been a serious commuter for almost two years traveling from Edinburgh to Dundee and back again everyday (about an hour and twenty minutes each way). My experience isn’t unusual, new research shows that the average worker in the UK spends 41 minutes commuting daily and almost 2 million people spend over 3 hours commuting everyday.

Commuting isn’t always fun, especially when you have so far to go, but it does present you with a fantastic opportunity to do new things and spend time for yourself. Having an extended period to try out new games uninterrupted is one of these advantages. So with that in mind here are my recommendations for games designed for the serious commuter:

Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery

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So much praise has been heaped on this game that it may seem like an obvious suggestion but it’s worth pointing out why this game is particularly suitable for a serious commuter.

The storyline is complex and mysterious, and the writing is really excellent. It manages to keep you entertained, giving you something to think about in those moments at work when you find your mind less actively engaged. When I was working my way through this game I actually found myself looking forward to getting onto the train to play the next installment.

The levels can comfortably be completed in 40 minute segments. Just enough time to get settled in play it through and have time to put your makeup on and check your email before you arrive at your destination.

Other reasons to love this game: It has a female protagonist who isn’t a sex object. The game arc is time sensitive so you can only play certain elements on certain days of the month – delayed gratification just makes that commute all the more rewarding. Oh, and the artwork is beautiful. Negative points: after a while I got really bored chasing sylvan sprites and the musical element is a little too self aware, but the overarching story kept me coming back. Continue reading

The Ethics of Craft

A recent post I wrote for the Crafty Foxes blog on the Ethics of Craft.

Crafty Foxes

In light of the Bangladeshi factory collapse there has been renewed attention on the manufacturing of mass-produced, high street clothing. Brands like Gap and Bennetton have come into the firing line for producing their clothes under poor working and pay conditions. This has resulted in moral condemnation and a few op-ed pieces on sustainably and ethically sourced clothing, with an outcry for better regulation and legislation to protect garment workers.

Made in Bangladesh

Meanwhile those who make their own clothes have sat on the sidelines, comfortably assured of their position on the moral high ground. If you make your clothes yourself then you can be sure that the conditions under which they were produced, right? The only worker who was harmed in the process of making that dress was you, as you battled to finish it before that all-important wedding or party.

But can we in the crafting community be so sure that…

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Hope with Added Strategy: DIY Marketing and PR for Indie Games

This post was orignally written for the Lucky Frame blog, and was subsequently featured as a guest post on scottishgames.net and Develop.

The other day I had two dramatically contrasting experiences: In the morning I attended Digital 2013 where I watched Edward Rumley, COO at Chillingo, a division of Electronic Arts, give a presentation entitled ‘Games Strategy: Publishing Indie Mobile Games in Today’s Competitive Marketplace’. His impressively bleak presentation championed the idea that in an ever-crowded marketplace mobile indie game developers can never achieve the publicity levels needed for success without the help of a publisher.

That afternoon, with Rumley’s forbidding words echoing in my ears, I visited the Apple Store in Glasgow to check out their new billboard marketing campaign which features the independently produced and self-published app Wave Trip from Scottish independent studio Lucky Frame. What my experience at the Apple Store shows us is that Rumley’s dismissal of self-published indie games is baseless.
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Stepping over the obvious irony of asking a major publisher to talk about indie games, and some of his more outrageous comments (“Just because I publish my book on Kindle that doesn’t make me a published author” – tell that to EL James), I found his presentation to be profoundly negative in its outlook, implying that if you work on your own you have simply no chance of finding an audience. It inspired me to dispel some of the myths around PR and Marketing of indie games (or in fact any artistic product). This is not a comment on whether or not you should use a publisher, Chillingo or anyone else for that mater; it is just designed to give you a starting point to promote your work.

I have been working as a PR and Marketing Professional for just under 10 years. I began my career working at a private art gallery and from there have worked for a range of public and private arts organizations across the UK including New Media Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland and most recently as Head of Marketing at Dundee Contemporary Arts. In addition to this, since 2008 I have worked with Lucky Frame as a Communications Consultant to help them plan and implement their PR and Marketing strategy for games such as Pugs Luv Beats, Bad Hotel and Wave Trip. Experience has taught me is that if you have a great indie game, and you want to self-publish, then you can get the publicity you need to be successful.

Hope is not a Strategy
One of Rumley’s more chilling statements was the most accurate: hope is not a strategy. This isn’t ‘Field of Dreams’, you are not Kevin Costner, if you build it they will not come. The App Store is littered with the dead corpses of apps that were never downloaded and whose marketing strategy was built on a wing and a prayer. The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to get your work out there.

Continue reading

Yeah Yeah Yeah I’m Luminescent

Last month I went to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the O2 Academy in Glasgow.  The gig was fantastic and you can read my review on the Skinny website or check it out in the magazine which is out now.

Apart from the music the Karen O’s fashion was as inspiring as usual in a leopard print leotard accessorised with a selection of mono screen print capes and scarfs (for want of a better word) in simple tribal designs.  Half way through the set she added a flourescent pink face mask decorated with a swirl of electro luminescent wire which began at the nose.  Unfortunately my mobile phone completely failed to capture the moment and google has let me down in the search for someone who did.

What impressed me the most about her look was how easy almost every element would be to recreate at home whilst still looking effortlessly cool.  You could get the leotard from American Apparel (the new Zig Zag design is a close match), print the fabrics yourself on white cotton (even old sheets would do) even the face mask would be fairly simple.  Ever since then I have tried to pick up some EL wire but haven’t managed to find a supplier outside the US but fingers crossed I’ll be able to wear a bright pink mask out on the town some time soon!

Yuck’n’Yum

I’ve just found out that I will have a piece in this Summer’s edition of Yuck’n’Yum magazine. My piece is part of a project I’ve been working on for a while about spies… You’ll have to check out Yuck’n’Yum to find out more.

The issue is being launched tonight at the Hannah McClure Centre in Dundee. Wish I could be there!

2:1 Discussions with artists of Chinese descent in the UK

I have just finished reading 2:1 Discussions with artists of Chinese descent in the UK an interesting book which basically does what it says on the tin (that is interviews 21 artists of Chinese discent in the UK).

Published by the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester this is a really brave book as is it questioning the centre’s reason for existance. Arts organisations have no god given right to exist. Sometimes what an organisation should be striving for is to put itself out of business. The book also manages to be an interesting read too, you can see my full review on the AN interface website.