Paper planes and honest work

Last week, I encountered a former ‘professional garbage designer’.

I’ll explain…

I first came across the intricate paper art of Suhail Shaikh in autumn 2023, when I visited his exhibition at the Atkinson, Southport, UK.

Mandala by Suhail Shaikh. Image shared with kind permission of the artist.

I was there again recently to hear him talk about the exhibits and also the work that got him where he is now.

Along the way, he worked as a designer of promotional products (pens, hats, keyrings – basically anything you could fit a logo on).

But he stopped after it dawned on him that the lives of these items could be measured in days and hours (and sometimes minutes), rather than years or even months.

He’d become a ‘professional garbage designer’!

The art of living

Nowadays, he makes beautiful renderings of abstract imagery and human stories in the form of paper and card. A fragile medium in some ways, but this art is longer-lasting in its impact than those promo products.

Feather mobile by Suhail Shaikh. Image shared with kind permission of the artist.

For example, his replica Lancaster bomber tells a wartime story that connects different cities, countries and generations and resonates powerfully with audiences.

I have a very different relationship with paper! Years ago, I worked for a recycling co-operative, where my duties included forklifting great weights of paper into skips. I won’t say there’s no artistry in forklifting, but some days you have to dig deep for it.

And nowadays I work with the words that go on the paper, or on the virtual paper of screens.

Ascension by Suhail Shaikh. Image shared with kind permission of the artist.

Still, I think there’s a lesson for us all here about crafting a legacy. About steering our daily pursuits as far as we can away from the role of ‘professional garbage designer’.

Whether we’re artists or not, doing that in our consumerist world takes all the creativity we can muster.

How do you approach this core challenge of our times?

Answers on a postcard, please. Or a paper plane.

Does your work change the world for the better? You can boost your impact by improving the texts you use – your web copy, your articles, your summaries and pitches.

For a no-obligation chat about how I can help you do more good with great writing, please get in touch.

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