We had the good fortune of connecting with Lucy Alexandra Harper and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lucy Alexandra, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I used to think of myself as someone who was pretty risk adverse. I hated gym class, mainly because being asked to do a rolly-polly was one of the most traumatising event of my younger teens. Leotard on – very risky. Bum in the air and lots of girls waiting for you to flop sideways – abhorrently scarring. I always thought I’d break my neck or something else equally as dramatic. I’m still not a very confident gymnast, or climber, but I’ve definitely changed my attitude towards what it means to take risks in life.
During the pandemic one of the ‘riskiest’ things happened to me when I lost my job. If you had told a younger me that I’d be made redundant at the age of 29, I might have thought that sounded like the worst thing in the world. I quickly realised that being thrown into that risky situation was the best thing for me. Before I was furloughed, I had always thought the idea of freelance was very appealing but far too unpredictable for me. But after my redundancy, I realised that either you try freelancing which has no guarantees… or you find another full time, secure job, which also ironically has no guarantees – after all I had just lost one full time job. I was lucky that wonderful people came out of the woodwork, needing me to help them with a couple of different projects and paying me for my time. As soon as I was able to choose my work load, my colleagues, my time off, my morning routine, my evening routine – the benefits quickly outweighed the things putting me off.
A business CEO once told me there are people in life who thrive on taking risks, and those people ‘win’ more because they put themselves out there more. I felt diminished by this at the time with overwhelming memories of hiding in the toilet during gym class coming to mind. If you’re too scared of losing, surely you’re missing out on all the opportunities of winning? On reflection I think this is advice to be taken with a huge pinch of salt. I don’t want to be part of a rat race where people are ‘winning’ and ‘loosing’. I’d like to curate a lifestyle that is resilient against the peaks and troughs of real, everyday life. Sometimes that involves healthy risk taking which results in great work opportunities and good times. Sometimes it’s more about hiding in the loo, which I’m also ok with.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
It is only since going freelance last year that I feel like I have been able to truly embrace the fact that my skillset is multi-disciplinary and broad, rather than specific and concentrated. My course at Uni was great because we got to try out so many different aspects of design, typography, printmaking and photography. Naturally in your final year of study there is a lot of pressure ‘specialise’, not necessarily from our tutors but we put pressure on ourselves. It’s a scary time and fitting into a box seems far simpler than ‘not quite knowing yet.’
7 years on I have worked in a small design studio with clients in the cultural sector, as well as in house for a food brand on the marketing team. These were two very different experiences. Now that I’m freelance I’m able to mix up what I work on, who I work with and when I work. In the last year I’ve done creative strategy, book design, web design, a digital report and I’ve been able to explore creative facilitation by working on a community project in Bergen focused on human-centred design and eco-systems. The purpose of the project is to encourage a deeper, more empathic understanding of people and place. I’m really enjoying exploring the different creative parts of myself. I’m still learning lots and trying to let who I am as a designer unfold naturally which is mainly energised through conversations with people.
For my personal work I’ve tried to focus more recently on developing my ‘creative practice’. For me, this means the discipline of turning up every day to give it all another go. It doesn’t matter if I don’t like what I’ve created at the end of the day, the main thing is that I continue to turn up and aim to leave my ego at the door. This isn’t easy and often I find excuses not to do it. Earlier this year I embarked on the 100 day project (where you make something- anything – every day for 100 days in a row – lol) I decided to make short animations every day, and the first 20 were really consistent. At about day 57 other work took priority and my consistency wained. I’m proud of the 57 creations I made, but the fact that I didn’t finish shows me that I still have work to do with regards to my practice. I love illustration, collage, writing and acting – all of these are things I want to incorporate more into my daily practice. Finding the time can be hard, but if I’ve learnt anything since graduating it’s that to get anywhere in life, you just need to put in the work. Try not to question it too much. And don’t let anything stop you from turning up for yourself, but don’t be too hard on yourself either.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
As a North Londoner, born and bred, I guess I am pretty biased when it comes to my favourite spots in the city. I love wandering round the streets of Islington with a stop off at Maison Bleue for a coffee and cake near Highbury fields. If you travel further up North you get to where I went to school in Camden and Highgate, which also has plenty of cafe and park options. Hampstead Heath is one of the largest areas of open green space in North London, and a swim in the ladies ponds is pretty idyllic (when it’s not winter!) There is an epic cafe down the road from where I used to live called Jans, run by the friendliest guy in the whole of Archway.
Now that I’m based in East London I’m finding lots of lovely spots closer to home. If you’re in the mood for a drink in a pub garden then the Spurstowe Arms is gorgeous and entertaining, or there are multiple Turkish restaurants on Dalston Kingsland Road, my favourite currently being Dukkah. There’s also a great second hand shop which I’ve only recently discovered called Little Crumbs which is a short walk away from Dalston. I suppose I’d recommend a stroll through De Beauvoir taking in all the little surprise squares and cafes along the way.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
So many wonderful people have helped me along the way, and if I’m lucky many more will also be part of my journey moving forwards. – Everyone at The Do Lectures – my first internship after uni and a wild time where I lived on a farm in Wales, and was trusted to try loads of different things out. The people there helped me feel safe in exploring what I want from life.
– Thomas Matthews – My first proper design job with an incredible studio with wonderful women at the helm and a great team of designers. I learnt so much about what it means to be a professional designer, both in client relationships as well as my own creative practice. I have so much to thank them for.
– Cecilia Martin – My mentor as well as an epic cultural and brand strategist. She showed me by example what life could be like if I continued down the freelance path. Her energy and beautiful soul helped me in so many ways to stick with it even when things felt unstable. She gifted so much to me and I’ll forever be grateful for her support of my mission.
And of course Nic Mac – my best buddy and creative soul mate. She is the one I go to whether times are good or bad. We’ve been on our creative journey together since uni, trying to understand who we are and what sort if life we want to create. She’s my rockstar.
Peter Clarkson @ Thomas.Matthews (for the mural image)