Usually, when we talk about tourism and taking vacations, people imagine idyllic destinations, luxurious conditions, and a lot of sitting around, doing nothing. Such is the profile of the typical tourist; they want to escape their familiar environment to go to a sunny island where they can be lazy and indulge themselves, and they are willing to pay a pretty penny for the experience. But however appealing that may sound, is it really that satisfying? Sure, it’s completely relaxing, but it’s also mind-numbing; you don’t come out with anything after this experience. You haven’t learned anything, you have not become a better person, you haven’t taken anything of value away from it.

To counteract the “lazy” tourism of rich people who travel to faraway lands only to hang out at the resort for the entire time, there is a new type of tourism that has emerged – a practical, valuable kind of experience known as skillstourism. The term was coined by a couple of Australian bloggers who came up with the concept and turned it into a business. Travel*Learn*Create is their motto and they were able to combine the artisan with the traveller. That sort of adventure allows people to visit fascinating places and immerse themselves in those cultures. It gives you the opportunity to escape your status as an outsider and step inside a new culture and live like a local. And how do you do that? You essentially become an apprentice, and you learn a new skill from a local. It’s a win-win-win: you get to see a new place, you learn about it first hand, and you acquire a new skill.

What can you learn and where?

Dancing in Cuba – South American lands is where you go for dancing. Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and yes – Cuba are all well-known for the sensual, elegant art of dancing. No one here has two left feet, and Cuba provides a fascinating look into a culture that does everything on musical rhythms. For all people say about Cuba is that they are truly unique in the world in that they always have the “buen humor” to dance. Learn how to move your body to the music that flows through you.

Cooking in Italy – If we’re talking about culinary artistry, we can’t ignore Italy. By far the country most well-known in Europe for its food culture, Italy offers a lot of opportunities for culinary tourism. This beautiful country is so much more than pasta and pizza, so if you are interested in learning how to make real food that is organic, delicious, and hearty, Italy is your next stop. In addition, you also have the chance to discover the world’s most famous wines and wineries while you learn from a local how to make tasty dishes.

Silversmithing in Vietnam – Working with silver is difficult, but it’s a valuable trade that is usually passed on from generation to generation, and it is no different in Vietnam. Learn this practical, but beautiful skill from a local with years of experience,while also taking this opportunity to live like a Vietnamese. Enjoy the food, the sights, and the incredible things you can learn.

Textiles in Morocco – Surely you are familiar with the Medina of Fes, Morocco. A gigantic marketplace that is complicated with winding paths and thousands upon thousands of vendors, this is the perfect place to observe the incredible diversity of fabrics, textiles, clothes, veils, carpets, etc. The colors and the craftsmanship are exquisite, and most of these pieces are dyed and made by hand. All the textiles are colored with natural dyes and left to dry in the sun, and the intricate beadwork of a beautiful dress or veil are also marks of unique talent. If you’re looking to learn how the process works, this is the place to do it.

Blacksmithing in the United States of America – You may think that this seemingly medieval practice is all gone. However, it’s not only still around, but you can also actually learn how to do it right in the States. Technical institutions provide some well-equipped workshops where you can pick up on the tricks of the trade and practice your blacksmithing skills. Whether you want to fashion yourself a mighty sword, or just see what your hands are capable of with a hammer, an anvil, and a piece of hot metal, blacksmithing is a fascinating skill to acquire.

Sculpture in Africa – Some of the most impressive sculptures in the world hail from Africa and a lot of tourists bring them home to decorate their homes and remember their incredible experience in Africa. But what if you could actually learn how to make them? What if wood carving were a skill you could acquire while visiting Africa in the meanwhile? Africa is so rich in culture, and its sculptures are truly unique. It’s amazing what can be achieved from a simple piece of wood with the talent and artistry of a master.

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Mysore painting in South India – One of the most beautiful and unique forms of art is Mysore painting, which is practiced in South India. Thus, to learn the techniques, you need to travel right to the source and become the temporary apprentice of an Indian artist. Learn the significance behind the paintings, their history, and the methods for obtaining vivid colors and combining them to create beautiful, impressive pieces of mural art with gold leaf. You also have the opportunity to explore the breathtaking beauty of India, in all of its visual, olfactory, and auditory glory. You won’t be disappointed by this trip.

All in all, skillstourism is becoming an incredibly popular way of exploring a new part of the world and really experiencing a new culture. If you’ve ever wanted to master a trade, craft or skill from a foreign country, this is your chance to learn directly from the original and talented artists and craftsmen.

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The suffix -ism might only be three letters, but it’s a powerful little one. It can totally change the meaning of a word. Add it to social and you have socialism, while feminine becomes feminism. When you add it to the mix of craft and active, you create craftivism: a form of activism carried out through the practice of craft. And yes it’s a thing! It’s a worldwide movement based on creativity and altruism (another -ism).

Betsy Greer, author of Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism, is considered by many to be the godmother of craftivism and she succinctly defines it as: “a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.” [source]

Craftivism has also been covered academically. The Craftivism Manifesto 2014 was published by Kirsty Robertson, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art & Museum Studies, University of Western Ontario. It’s a series of essays covering the work, the history, the criticisms and the practices of craftivism.

“If we take control of production, we are taking that power back. This is a path for those of us who would nonviolently change society: change its commodities, its understanding of production, of distribution and exchange. Even the way we relate to things personally.” [From the Craftivism Manifesto 2014, Artist Statement, Common Goods, Travis Joseph Meinolf]

Bringing it to the masses, the V&A Museum in London held a 6-month exhibition, ‘Disobedient Objects’ in 2014. The focus was on grassroots movements and how they can affect social change. It was the first exhibition of its kind and displayed a wide-range of subversive works. The exhibition raised many societal issues and challenges, bringing awareness to the activism behind the exbitits.

Carrie Reichardt, a self-professed extreme craftivist, was one of the artists whose work was featured. The Tiki Love Truck was a piece dedicated to the memory of a death-row inmate. For the past 15 years, she has been using screen printing, mural and mosaic techniques to create intricate, highly politicised works of art. In addition to requests for her art installations, Carrie is often asked called upon to speak about the subject of art and craft as a form of protest.

Not all craftivist works involve extreme activism. London-base craftivist, Sarah Corbett, is a great example of one person who started small and is now enacting positive global change with her craft projects. Sarah was a discouraged and exhausted activist who was doubting her effectiveness. She was searching for a way to keep her passion alive and to fight for the change she wished to see in the world. After she discovered cross-stitching, Sarah found craftivism which she describes as slow and gentle activism where you start people thinking by involving their hands, heart and head. Sarah founded the Craftivist Collective in 2009 and now has a global following in the thousands.

At this point you may be wondering how you can change the world by practising a craft. Craftivism can start with one person at a time. It doesn’t have to be extreme. It can be as simple as you using your handcrafting skills for the greater good by starting an art or craft project in your local community, which might then spread to other communities throughout the world. Or if you‘d like to become involved with a ready-made project, take a look at the those that Betsy Greer at Craftivism and Sarah Corbett at the Craftivist Collective have happening at the moment.

A delightful one-man project that put the individual artisan firmly in the spotlight is Nick Hand’s Slowcoast. In 2009 this graphic designer decided to take the slow road and cycle around the British coast. Along the way he stopped to meet, record and post his conversations with local artisans. He followed this up in 2010 with a similar trip around the Irish coast. His collection of over 100 Soundslides document the making of useful and aesthetic objects that uplift people through their functionality and beauty. In the age of fast, it’s a celebration of slow. During the talk Nick gave at Do Lectures Wales in 2011, he talks about why we need to celebrate craftsmen and how we need to keep these skills alive.

An example of a grassroots movement that went global is yarn bombing. Aesthetically pleasing, it’s been used to brighten many a drab urban area. It makes a statement and is community driven. And it’s a project that has captured the imagination of knitters worldwide. Likewise knitting for charity projects have had great uptake worldwide.

Knitting is just one of many arts and crafts. Look around the world and you’ll see signs of a handmade revolution beginning. There’s a movement away from items mass production by big corporations to aesthetic works produced by artisans and traditional crafters.

From a humble start in 2003, Etsy has grown to be the world’s largest e-commerce platform for direct sales of handmade goods. Sales have risen dramatically since the early days with total sales in 2015 reaching over 2 billion USD. This would indicate that consumers have a strong interest in and appreciation for handcrafted products.

In 2012, BBC 2 produced and aired a 10-part series, Paul Martin’s Handmade Revolution. The aim was to put the British back in touch with their strong craft traditions. The crew travelled around the country to visit the various artisans featured in each episode. Pottery, weaving, silversmith, sculpting, master cutlers (scissor makers), and glass blowing were just some of the crafts portrayed. The show stimulated a lot of interest in the process of making products by hand and the show’s free Arts and Craft Handbook is still available to download.

In the States, the former motor city, Detroit, has long been a city in decline. Shinola is one Detroit-based business helping to buck that tread. Founded in 2011, the company’s tagline is: We’re building a tradition one thoughtfully crafted product at a time. The high-quality, handcrafted products – watches, bicycles, leather goods and journals – are made to last.

“We’re building a tradition one thoughtfully crafted product at a time.” – Shinola Detroit

Connecting the creative traveller with local artisans is Skillstourism (and there we go again, one more -ism!). They’re a niche tourism operator who believe in urban self-sufficiency, and creating a positive economic alternative through craftsmanship. Their tours offer an ideal way to combine your day job with learning a desired new skill. You’ll travel to exotic locations to learn handicrafts from traditional masters of the trade: wood, stone, metal, fabric, paint, music, dance, whatever takes your fancy.

And if your tastes veer more towards obtaining modern-day technical skills, Skillstourism has this area covered too. For the Maker / Inventor, they have tours which take place in Bangalore, the IT capital of  India, and offer you the chance to learn how to make a 3D printer, or a 60 cm quadcopter. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to code? That’s an option as well.

Whatever you decide to do, it’s a vacation that promises to transform not only your life, but the life of the person passing on their skills. It’s a contribution to sustainable tourism and how you can tip your toe in the craftivism waters to start making a difference.

So what skill will you choose to craft a new future?

Written by Angela Eldering at A Scribing Hand ( www.scribinghand.com).

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Anyone who’s travelled to a foreign country can tell you that a bit of creative thinking is sometimes a necessity just to get by. But can travel have long term benefits on our creativity? Is a learning holiday to rediscover our creative selves the perfect way to set free the creative gift in all of us?

 There’s no question that taking time out to explore the world has benefits that stay with us long after we’ve settled back into our everyday routine. Not only does travel give us the chance to set aside our daily preoccupations, reset and refocus, it expands our knowledge and perception of the world and deepens our appreciation of our own lived experiences. And it’s precisely this that helps us to not only become more well-adjusted, open-minded individuals, but also provides fuel for reawakening and revitalising the creative parts of our brains.

Travel and creative genius have a long association. From renowned authors such as Ernest Hemmingway to musicians like the Beatles and great painters of the likes of Gaugin , travelling to far-off lands has deeply influenced how, and why they create art.  But it’s not just the artistic giants who experience creative awakenings through their travels.

In recent years, researchers have been studying the link between overseas travel and creativity. As it turns out, travel can be an amazingly powerful tool for discovering, or enhancing your creative abilities, but it does depend on what kind of vacation you choose.

A week lazing by the pool in an all-inclusive resort isn’t likely to do much to ignite the imagination beyond learning a few new cocktail recipes. On the other hand, dropping yourself in the midst a foreign culture completely different from your own stimulates an explosion of activity in the brain. New sights, sounds, smells, tastes and languages all spark different synapses in the brain. Navigating our way through a world of unfamiliar scenes and sensations increases our cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component in creativity.

Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of several studies on travel and creativity, explains:

 “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.”

Essentially, immersive travel experiences are exercise for the creative brain, leaving our minds feeling re-engerised and reactivated.  But beyond the science, there are other reasons travel can give us the inspirational breakthrough we need to chase our creative dreams.

For people who set out on journeys with a creative goal in mind, it’s often not simply a change of scenery they’re seeking, but a determined effort to soak up influences and create whilst travelling, with their minds completely free from the daily distractions of home.

Travel can also provide one of the most invaluable experiences a creatively-minded person can have – the chance to see how their artistic medium is interpreted in different cultures, and to interact, and learn from other artisans and creators.

For many, travelling provides the chance to discover and connect with the roots of their chosen art form, and to meet, learn from and be inspired by masters of the craft.

From journeying to China to practice martial arts, to learning tribal drumming and dance in Africa, one can find themselves totally immersed in the practice and creation of art as a way of life, with an unbroken tie to traditions that span generations.

More and more, travel is being linked to a purpose beyond simply relaxing and seeing the sights, instead focusing on exploring the intersection between creativity and cultural exchange.

There are now tour operators who can arrange ballet courses in Russia, and teach the ancient arts of metal, stone and woodwork direct from artisans in India. Work alongside a sculptor in a traditional Indian village and you’ll witness firsthand how generations of knowledge have been passed down, something no institutional training course can provide.

Travel can put us in touch with skills, techniques, aesthetics and ways of thinking that we can learn from to develop our own forms of creative expression. It’s little wonder so many of the world’s artistic geniuses had a deep love for travel. After all, what is creativity but the exploration of the mind, and the world, as we see it?

 To learn more about overseas trips designed to travel, learn and create, visit Skillstourism, a small, ethical tour company that teaches handcrafted stone, metal, woodwork, fabric and painting skills for beginners to professionals, direct from artisans and craftspeople in a traditional environment.

Guest blog post Written by: Fiona Davies 20th May 2016

‘Fiona Davies is a Sydney-based freelance writer who regular writes for well-known publications on lifestyle, travel and adventure.” www.wordswanted.com.au

Not too long ago a craftsman would make a pair of scissors that would last generations.  When the blades became dull, one would return to the craftsman to have them sharpened.  In the rare case the hinge broke, the craftsman would repair that hinge as well.

Mass manufacturing began the demise of traditional crafts like hand-made scissors. Consumers began buying cheap scissors that cost a fraction of the price of a traditionally crafted pair. When a pair of mass produced scissors broke, consumers return to the box store to purchase another pair while sending the last pair to the land fill.

Even though the box store variety of scissors have taken the forefront, there are traditional craftsmen still handcrafting scissors, but they are becoming rare. Ernest Wright and Son Ltd may be the last scissor craftsmen in Britain. Like most traditional craftsmen, they faced losing their business in 2014 to the box store variety.

That changed when photographer Shaun Bloodworth filmed Wright and Son demonstrating the craft of hand-made scissors. (See the video at:The disappearing art of making scissors by hand – BBC News) The video went viral and orders began pouring into their shop. Many of the orders came from the United States of America and Australia. These orders demonstrate the growing dissatisfaction with cheap, mass produced products. People are more willing to pay for hand-crafted items that will last generations once more.

Not only are they willing to pay for these items, but there is a growing desire to learn how to produce items of quality and value by hand. People concerned with sustainability are learning traditional crafts. They are building a future where box stores are no longer needed and the traditional craftsman is once again supported and honored. This is one of the many reasons Skillstourism was created, to support and honor traditional craftsmen.

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Guest Post By Elizabeth Garvey

Photograph by Shaun Bloodworth

There are certain skills that every craftsperson will learn in time. Some are lucky enough to learn them from a mentor, others learn from life experiences.  Regardless of how these skills are learned, they will help an artisan in the workshop and in life. Here is a list of ten essential skills.

  1. Create Well: Do everything to the best of your ability. Even if you are unsatisfied with something you have created or done, as long as you have done the best you possibly can at that moment in time you have no reason to be ashamed.
  2. Prepare: Have a general understand of what you are trying to accomplish.  Do not be too rigid in your plans for things will come up that were not intended.
  3. Be Precise: When it comes to execution of your plans know exactly what is needed. You know the old adage, “measure twice, cut once”.
  4. Know Your Tools: Know how to use the tools you have available.  If you need a special tool for a project, see if you can find a way to complete the project with what you have.  You may develop a new technique or better way of doing a task. If this does not work, then consider a new tool.
  5. Stop Controlling: Even the best laid plans will have glitches. Be flexible and comfortable with changes.  That piece of stone may not want to be the bust you have planned.  Instead of being rigid, allow yourself to see the possibilities in all materials you use.  That bust may turn out to be a beautiful lion instead.
  6. Learn Patience: Not everything will go as quickly as you think it should.  Be patient and do not force anything.  When a blacksmith is working, he lets the steel get hot enough before striking. If he strikes before the iron is hot, the metal will not yield. It is the same with all things in life.
  7. Accept Criticism: Criticism is not to be taken personally. It should be used to improve your craft or at least make an item to the specification of your buyer.
  8. Practice Good Choices: Learn to make judgements based on wisdom and experience.  If you know that balsa wood is too soft even though it is classified a hardwood, you would not use it to create a piece of furniture. Make choices that reflect your knowledge and grow your knowledge every day.
  9. Become a Master: Every day in your workshop should be a day spent mastering your craft. Work to become the best in your craft that you can be.
  10. Find Your Place: Craftsmen typically work alone in a shop.  Even though their work keeps them separated from others most days, every craftsman needs a place to learn new skills and see what others in their field are doing.  Find a local gathering place or take a skills holiday to spend time with others who value your craft as much as you do.

This list is adapted from  Applying the Ethos of the Craftsman to Our Everyday Lives | The Art of Manliness.

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Recycling and upcycling in modern western culture is a matter of fashion: look at all those organic fair trade eco hipster shops mushrooming throughout your neighborhood, or multiple internet DIY resources that teach you how to create something from nothing, how to utilize plastic bottles, food containers and metal scraps to decorate your makeshift balcony garden.

The truth is, it seems that Africa has been ahead of us in upcycling for quite a while. While Rwanda a few years ago implemented institutional ban on non-biodegradable polythene plastic bags and replaced them with paper containers, all larger neighboring countries remain catastrophically careless with plastic waste. There are almost as many plastic wrappers and bags floating in the Kenyan sky as there are exotic birds in its national parks. Luckily enough, creativity of local people, on a small scale, does not allow these materials to go to complete waste.

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The skills of recycling and upcycling here come from economical need, not from fashion trends. While working for a small community-based organization in Nakuru, Kenya, I learned about a creative circle of local women who produce bags and household decorations from – well, garbage. Their preferred material of choice is plastic wrappers from candies and cookies the neighborhood children consume in astonishing quantities. They also use hand-crafted wooden and plastic beads, polythene bags, threads from old clothes and pieces of cloth to weave and sew handbags. This time-consuming process requires skill and imagination – aside from the obvious time spent on search for appropriate material. When prompted with the question how much time it actually takes to create a hand-woven bag out of plastic wrappers, the women shrug: maybe a week or so, but time flies faster when you gather with your friends for a chat over scrupulous handiwork.

Upcycling in Africa is driven largely by the inability to dispose of solid waste in rural areas: heaps of garbage keep piling up on the outskirts of large cities and smaller towns, and it never takes too long for somebody to find use for all the discarded materials out there, recycle or upcycle them. But some of the grassroots upcycling initiatives came to grow into large-scale sustainable brands: such as SoleRebels shoes that started in Ethiopia from traditional shoes produced of old tyres. All across sub-Saharan Africa, one can still find such tyre flip-flops on flea markets.

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Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, on the other hand, are known as major hubs for second-hand clothing, arriving in plastic donation bags from western countries. Some of these clothes are for grabs on flea markets, while others end up stitched together for catwalk: haute-couture is slowly embracing upcycling as a new source of fashion ideas, and old fabrics and jewelry are being remodelled into new stylish outfits. Another similar initiative is run by two sisters in Maputo, Mozambique: Mima-te is a Mozambican brand that uses donated second-hand clothes and turns them into vintage fashion that sometimes – see the irony? – ends up shipped all the way back to the countries where donations came from.

In a way, western culture historically happened to have enough time and resources to go through stages of unstoppable consumerism before acquiring its eco-consciousness. But Africa seems to be taking a shortcut to sustainable living and production of upcycled goods. There is still one problem, however: upcycled crafts do not exactly reach out to the upper-class audience of African society, and there are not enough hipsters here to generate the market for this type of produce. Upcycling start-ups in Africa appeal to foreigners, get support from western designers, and eventually start operating as online stores for international distribution. But smaller-scale initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa largely remain only the means of sustainable living among low-income communities. Carrying a bag made of plastic wrappers, wearing a dress crafted from second-hand clothing is simply not fashionable enough for those African people who can afford buying clothes from overseas. However, the success of such projects as soleRebels or WRENdesign gives hope to future enterprises that may open the variety of upcycled African produce to the wide world and within Africa’s upper middle classes.

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