Thursday, August 04, 2011

Unleashing the Creative Spirit in Morocco

The Ancient Medina of Fez is justifiably famous for its history, culture, cuisine, music and its friendly welcoming spirit. However, for those people lucky enough to live their it is an exciting place to be as interesting people come and go constantly. There are also many opportunities to enrich yourself through immersion in cultural activities and now visitors can do the same, as our reporter, Rose Button explains.

A wonderful thing about living as an expat in Fez is that I meet some amazing people - expats and locals - with different backgrounds, stories and talents. From writers, journalists and photographers, to food experts, engineers, bankers, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, web designers, interior designers, yoga teachers, marketing experts, teachers and artisans, we all have one thing in common - that we have chosen Fez, Morocco as our home for this part of our lives. I am able to mix with people that I would not meet in my ‘normal’ life in England and New Zealand.

As well as being a great source of conversation and amazement, the variety of skills on offer also provides an opportunity to learn a new skill from an expert. This is why I decided to embark on a Creativity Workshop with Sefrou based artist, Jess Stephens (Morocco Bling).

Let me first paint the picture: I have worked as a process engineer for 12 years and I last did art two decades ago at high school. As a process engineer, my professional life is in the pharmaceuticals industry. This means I am problem solving, making things work, making systems safer and making more product for less money. It mainly involves thinking and more thinking, then ensuring sure it all functions. My motivation for meeting with Jess and doing her creativity workshop was that I wanted to open up my creative side in a way that I could learn to use this in my everyday life as an engineer, which I regard as very uncreative.

Rose and Jess

At my first meeting with Jess, she encouraged me to explore what I really wanted to get out of the course and we set out on what she referred to as a creative snowball - and snowball we did. My course was one-on-one tuition to learn techniques so that I would notice details when I look at life around me, then to sketch these with an open mind and not worry if what I was doing was right or wrong. What was important was I was being creative and present with life in that moment. Before this, I would be afraid to try something, in case I didn’t do it using the correct technique.

Jess guided me through the process, and also participated with me so that I saw how a ‘real artist’ would do things. She adapted to my style; quickly learning what I liked and enjoyed creating, then helping me to develop it in organic way. We started with a variety of papers and what artists describe as ‘mark makers’-anything that makes a mark on a piece of paper, including pens, pencils, pastels, crayons and highlighters. In our first session, I learned about different mark makers and drew what was around me on my Fez roof terrace - without looking at the piece of paper so that I wouldn't worry about the end result. Eek! This sent my structured brain into turmoil, but with Jess’s guidance I was able to relax into this and learn more techniques.

At the end of the first session, we ripped my drawings into the pieces to make a collage. During the next session I learnt more techniques, such as using chalk and how to use shade and colour to sketch an object. Again, the bits I liked were cut out and we added to my collage. From the collage I did more drawing; adding colours, using different mark makers and having fun. It didn’t matter if I made a mistake, I was allowing my mind to think freely in that moment. Jess encouraged me to use mark makers from my home – spices, tea bags, beetroot, anything I could find and with this I learned that I could be creative anywhere and with any media.

This was thinking outside the box and so it was a surprise that I ended up by creating a box! (See photo above) I saw that by going with the flow of the creative process, I ended up making something that came together well.

I also learnt which styles of art I like and this has has inspired me to want to do the next stage that Jess can offer; to learn further techniques to apply to my art, such as drawing and painting. She has given me an artist’s set of papers, pencils, pastels and pens, so that I can continue to be creative. Last night I found myself sitting in a cafe sketching what was around me.

One surprise for me was to see just how other parts of my life are creative. Even in my engineering job I recognise a problem and then have to be innovative to identify a solution.

As well as art techniques, Jess also offers workshops for working with local artisans in wood craft, embroidery, pottery. Whatever creative aspect you want to explore during a one-off session or longer course while you are visiting Fez is likely to be possible.

Contact Jess Stephens at or +212 645 223 203.

1 comment:

Alice said...

what a fantastic idea! and i couldn't think of a better lady to get creative with. bravo for your motivation rose