Moira Zahra

Blog

Edinburgh - a year later

I can't believe I'm saying this, but this week marks my first year of being a full-time freelance illustrator in Edinburgh. It has been fun, but hard at times. When you look at social-media profiles of people who have recently moved to live / work / study abroad, you tend to just see their good days. Yes, we have more trees here, I'm lucky enough to live close to Holyrood park in Edinburgh, and I do occasionally Instagram-it, it's hard not to! The city is culturally vibrant and the architecture is mind blowing, I honestly never tire of it. I can't complain about Edinburgh at all, but  of course I miss the ever-blue sea of Malta, and strangely the scorching Maltese sun too. I also kind of miss having a good capuccino in a busy street amongst the honking horns and the odd swear word or two. It is surprising hard to find a good capuccino here, and I've been complaining about it to every person I meet (so much so that my friend gifted me a coffee machine, that did help :)). Sure, we have proper afternoon teas here, the Balmoral Afternoon tea comes close to make you forget about coffee altogether, alas, the dream is still there. 

There's Edinburgh

There's Edinburgh

And then there's Malta

And then there's Malta

This is not my first time living abroad, I had previously studied in Canterbury for three years, but this feels a little different. When you're a student, you know you'll eventually go back 'home'. When you move for work (well we moved for my husband's work to be fair) you're not sure when you will return 'home' if at all. I'm putting home in quotation marks because one does lose a sense of what home is. Most of my relatives and friends are still in Malta, but I'm here, my stuff is here, going back to Malta feels like I'm going back home but at the end of my Maltese holiday, I look forward to going back to my other 'home'. Both places feel like home, and I'm fine with that.

One of the fascinating things about living abroad is coming to a realisation that all countries are beautiful and ugly in their own way, you just have to know where to look, and learn to appreciate both the beauty and the ugliness (except the ugliness that comes from over-development... but let's not get started on that). 

Home number 1

Home number 1

Home number 2

Home number 2

So after that bit of soul-searching, I wanted to use this post to celebrate what I've done this year, and perhaps if anyone is thinking about moving abroad in the near future, or has just moved abroad, I hope to be able to ease your nerves and although I did say it is hard, it does get easier, but only if you want it to! 

Let me put my little accomplishments in the form of a list, I do like my lists.

1 - In the cold-ish summer months of 2016, I'm celebrating that I managed to get over my home-sickness.  

2 - Around the same time, I managed to successfully install my own internet connection without having a technician do it for me.(Hey the little things matter too... although I would hardly call getting internet access a little thing. Having no wifi drove me mental!) 

3 - Opening my own bank account after going through endless hoops / registering as a self-employed person. Feeling like an adult again. Freelancing does make you feel like you're not adulting enough. Watching people on their way to work when I'm still at home eating my Cherios, is simulatenously bewildering and amusing. 

4 - After getting absolutely soaked in the August rain, I'm celebrating my acceptance of Scottish weather; that I can never go out in Edinburgh without a raincoat, and I do mean never. (I've learned to ignore people wearing tshirts in the rain. I'm Mediterrean, I'm allowed to add more layers). 

5 - I'm celebrating the fact that I've managed to turn an old flat into a home of sorts, this month I'm celebrating the first throw big enough to successfully cover up the entirety of the horrible sofa in my living area. 

6 - I've kept up my 1 hour of walking everyday, this has largely helped me keep my sanity. Working from home can be great, but also lonely and stuffy. 

7 - And finally, in early 2017, I'm celebrating that I've stopped giving a shit about Brexit.  

8 - I do feel like I have grown professionally and I don't mean getting bigger clients (although I have to admit drawing the hotel Phoenicia food menus made me fist bump myself a few times). Working full-time on something makes you better at it, if you enjoy doing it especially. I feel so much more confident in my drawing. I work faster, I come up with ideas on the spot and I have more time to pay attention to detail. I've stopped worrying about 'style' and experiment at will. 

One of my Illustrated Hotel Phoenicia Menus

One of my Illustrated Hotel Phoenicia Menus

9 - I've also been doing a lot of networking, and being somewhat of an introvert means I'm finding all sorts of excuses to avoid 'drinks' with people I have never met in my life. It has been a struggle for me to network,  but thankfully I do love putting myself in uncomfortable situations, and that has helped me overcome my silly fears. Networking isn't just for getting jobs and contacts, it's great just to meet and learn from people who have different experiences and who come from different backgrounds. I've come to appreciate meeting new people and with every new person, I'm excited to listen to a new story. As someone who draws people, this is basically fieldwork! 

10 - In June, my first children's book was published! Although I have illustrated several children's books, this was the first book that I authored! I co-authored it and co-illustrated it with my husband and the Merlin Publishers team offered plenty of editing advice and guidance, which made the book even better. 

My book!

My book!

11 - Also in June I was accepted as an artist in residence in Illustration with Edinburgh College of Art. This means I will be working from a studio at the college from September until June of next year, and I honestly couldn't be happier about it. I feel like I am naturally attracted to educational institutions. Learning spaces are always inspiring and they tend to motivate me to keep experimenting in my work. 

I have several projects in the pipeline but I have to admit that I still feel a little lost, and that's ok. Feeling lost is intoxicating in a way, and accepting that one is lost can bring many positives. I do get anxious about my future because my life has been turned upside down, but when I get anxious, it makes me want to try a bit harder. Inspiration comes from feeling lost. Ideas start pouring down almost as regularly as the Scottish rain. I'm out of my bubble, I don't know what's next and I can't wait to find out!

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