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  • Emily Powell

Complementary Passions

Transformation and improvement, drawing and creating visuals, and taking care of my children – these all go hand in hand. It may not seem obvious, but it’s true!


As well as being a freelance artist and illustrator, I’m a mum to two beautiful children, and I am Head of the Transformation Programme Management Office at Portsmouth Hospital University NHS Trust. These things are the pillars of motivation for my entrepreneurial spirit; being a mum and my professional role in improvement and transformative change.


Bringing transformation and illustration together

Embracing creativity, visualisation, process mapping, simple communication and engagement are all central to achieving quality improvement and transformation that sticks. It’s not about lengthy written plans or documents, it’s about vision.

The power and simplicity of visual controls makes them incomparable to complex written instructions. We need to clearly visualise processes, develop keen observation skills and see what really happens rather than what we think happens when we are examining NHS processes in order to make lasting improvements. The same skills are needed to really see every aspect of a subject in order to draw it. It’s a mistake that people often make in trying to create what they think something looks like rather than carefully observing the colours and tones and shapes and outlines of what is really there.

I trained as a certified leader in quality improvement at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, where I learned that "training in quality improvement alone is not a simple recipe for success, but the inherent thinking it embodies can become a driving force for positive and engaging change" (quote from Ian Railton, Veranden Ltd).


The drawings I have created to support team development sessions and bring customer and service user voices to life are all about positive change, solving problems, and engaging in a personal way with my audience. As an illustrator I also use creative and personal ways to engage my audience through visuals, whether that’s creating the perfect memory of a beloved pet or loved one, helping a finance team work through their aspirations or sharing what a ward round in a mental health unit should look like from the patient’s perspective.


With the visuals that I create, the brief is so important. I spend time getting to really understand what my clients want so that their ideas are at the heart of what I create, because they know best what they want from a drawing, and when they see the finished product they feel as if I have brought their ideas to life on paper.

It’s the same with lasting change and improvement, it’s the people who do the job who know what the real problems are and how to fix them, and they know best what they need from a change, because it simply won’t work if they aren’t included in designing the solution, or creating that initial brief.


I also apply these same skills at home, although in a different way. My children are unique individuals with thoughts and feeling all of their own, and I need to spend time understanding what they want and how to see things from their perspective. Just as I do with colleagues at work or with clients as an illustrator, I bring myself into their world and try to hear them clearly so I can help them learn and grow with support and caring. I’ve mentioned it before, but the lessons I learn from my children are part of every area of my life, and there are many parallels between parenting and managing change at work, in how to effectively involve, listen and engage people to ensure change can happen smoothly and effectively.


Bringing my passions together


My dedication to creating stunning visuals is matched by my commitment to my professional role within the NHS, and to my family. I want to have a fantastic relationship with my children, enjoying their time and company and helping them grow to be kind, caring, passionate, authentic and strong.


A big part of bringing up children is guiding them to find answers for themselves, giving them the learning and tools to make their own decisions, to test things and see what works. This is exactly what we apply in transformation projects too, listening to what people want for the areas they work in, helping them make plans and giving them the autonomy to try it out.

Some of the key principles of quality and service improvement are mirrored in the skills needed to be an illustrator too:

· Pursue value and quality as defined by the end customer. Tick!

· Understand through observation. Look, see, measure. Tick!

· Make it visual so you can really see what is happening. Big tick!


So you see what I mean when I say that all these parts of my life go hand in hand together. I learn things from being a parent, an NHS professional and in using my talents as an illustrator that I can apply to every other area of my life, and all these things combined make me better at whatever role I’m performing each day!


In the end, all the skills I have learned come down to people. To being kind and open, to actively listening without judging or projecting my own opinions, and using my abilities to help people make their ideas a reality.


If you’d like to find out how I can help you get your ideas on paper and bring your vision to life, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line at thomkatillustrations@gmail.com.

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