An English Class Assignment | Create a Self-Portrait Through the Tech You Use

What are You Working on? (Literally)

I have a grant application to complete, and I find myself writing this blog post instead.

The grant application is the Digital Boost Grant, which is up to £5,0000 available for small businesses, to help build up the digital side of their enterprise.

Winning this grant would enable us to upgrade the language school hardware before we launch our new online English course Sketchbook English ( Spring 2023).

I’m writing this blog post to share that you can start a good business without great tech.

Of course it helps! But fancy tech does not make a great business – ideas do.

This is our language school’s origin story told through tech.

If you have an idea – reach for it, and do whatever you need to do 

This is a tale of shared computers, stealthily ‘borrowed’ printers and iPhones falling out of the sky!

Shiny New Computers

The application process is making me reflect on how our English language school began on old and second-hand equipment.

New tech is great, but ultimately, it’s ideas which count.

I’ve seen quite a few online courses which are tech for tech sakes.

They fail at language teaching.

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Building Up a Dream

Top tech and creativity in combination are ideal – but so hard for early career artists, creatives and entrepreneurs to reach on limited time and budgets.

This blog post is a behind-the-scenes look at building our English language school, portrayed through the tech.

You can learn about your English teacher and out business through these objects.

It’s important to be well-matched with an English teacher’s values – as well as their teaching style. 

Only this will keep you showing up, and engaged  – and ensure the course content is relevant and interesting to you.


    Disney does iphones

    No Thunder up Thunder Mountain

    I have a trip to Disneyland Paris to thank for my first smartphone.

    My daughter, (age 3 at the time) and I persuaded a very reluctant Kenny to ride the Thunder Mountain roller coaster.

    It was a ‘white knuckle ride’, and he gripped the handrail with both hands  – when he should have been gripping his pocket.

    On one of the loop-the-loops, his phone tumbled out.

    When he had finished kissing the ground out of happiness at being alive he reached for his phone and happiness melted away faster than a snowball in hell.

    I regret that Kenny single-handedly closed Thunder Mountain for at least an hour while staff swept the track (more out of track safety than out of interest in his phone).

    He sadly left the park without it, and comforted himself by buying the latest model iPhone the day we got back home.

    About a week later, his phone turned up, and when it arrived (‘posted by Mickey Mouse”) and he very kindly gave it to me.

    Mostly it has enabled me to build up our Instagram following.

    I love having a good quality camera in my pocket.

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      My Mac Book Pro

      How I loved my first computer.

      It’s bashed on one side (by my daughter randomly tossing it to the ground at the age of 2).

      Much later on its trackpad stopped working.

      Most recently its battery exploded – but the computer still works!

      At least it works in a limited way. It doesn’t connect to the internet anymore as when web browsers updated, they left my Mac model behind.

      It is precious to me for its contents – Photoshop and Final Cut Pro which I no longer own to upgrade.

      Although I tend to use Canva and InShot/FMP combo these days, (they are much quicker to use), I love still having access to the ‘big gun’ editors. I still want the chance to edit film properly.

      I bought my Mac Book Pro computer with my very first artist fee – a flat payment ‘award’ of £1,500 for participating as

      Artist in Residence at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop – a golden month of having access to sculpture workshops, tools, foundry and foundry technicians.

      I was there with 4 other ‘early-career’ professional artists and it was a total blast!

      It’s hard to believe that I got paid to be there, as the opportunity was so good itself.

      The award and my purchase of this laptop made so much other stuff in my life subsequently possible.

        Applying for Art Jobs

        The first language school printer was a similar age.

        I bought it in Paris. In those days most job applications were still printed and posted. (Some were even handwritten, heaven forbid!)

        I need printer security.

        I have memories of Christmas when I lived in America, as a grad student at Southern Illinois University,  preparing job applications for teaching positions at American art colleges.

        In my final year of my MFA, I posted off around 50 job applications, individual letters, each accompanied by a packet of 40 slides (individually labelled) (20 student work, 20 own work), corresponding printed slide lists, return S.A.E. (the cost was astronomical – as was the plastic waste – so happy slides are obsolete in this process).

        We had a small ‘grad room’ to work in (or a big cupboard, it depends on how you look at it) with a communal Mac set up for different users and a booking sheet pinned to the wall.

        I also taught in the art history department, and thus had keys for their private office too, which included a PC and printer. 

        On weekends and holidays, I would cycle over to the art history building to pick up the printer and cycle with it tucked under my arm, over to the grad room, where, with my packs of expensive paper and neatly addressed padded envelopes, I would pass the night making up job application packs before smuggling the printer back before dawn.

          Ruth in USA art gallery
          That’s me on the left! I don’t have many photos of myself in America – no one had a camera on their phone back then.

            Analogue Days (and Nights)

            On the particular trip I remember, it was snowing lightly and a dark, New Year’s Eve. I was gliding across campus, under lit-up walkways, with a printer tucked under my arm.

            Nothing remarkable happened, New Year kind of etches into your memory what you were doing and that one, ethereal moment has stuck with me.

            That year, I printed seemingly endless job applications to the sound of fireworks, bagpipes and bells from the other side of the world, wondering which part of America would offer me work (and wondering where even, some of the places I was applying to were).

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              A Self Portrait Through Tech

              While we may not have had great technology, I have innovation and a steely determination which helps me through difficulties.

              What I know now, is that community and clear values are the most important ‘assets’ your business can have.  

              Hopefully, you have access to good tech and it will be easier for you, but do know that you can still help people in life-changing ways without it.

              As a creative entrepreneur, once you understand who you help and how you help them, the rest will quickly follow.

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                Further Information

                Discover my post-grad Life After Art School years.

                Scottish entrepreneurs, learn about the Digital Boost Grant.