Celebrating the Goddesses walking among us, Jenny Dyson talks love, loss, creativity, logo design and naughtiness with her beloved art director and treasured friend, Cat Howard.
How do you describe yourself?
Tired? I’m quite complicated…well, a complex work person but a very loving mummy and wife. Because I’m creative, I’m interested in so many things that I spread myself too thin. I’m always trying to learn something new. But as a person I am really straightforward.
Why are you complicated?
I have quite a lot of extremes. I am sweary (yep, Cat swears a lot, but this is a mark of her honesty) but I’m soft. I’m just as hard as I am soft. I’m not a very middle person. I’m either one or the other, but those aspects balance themselves out, I might whiplash you with my sweary mouth but I will also give you a big hug to make you feel better. It’s not really in me to be middle.
When did you first realise you were a creative human?
I remember doing colouring competitions with my friends when I was really young, because I realised I was really good at it. I spent a lot of time drawing as a kid. At about 11 years old, I realised I wanted to be a graphic designer. From that day on I made it happen, steered myself straight through Central St Martins, which I didn’t like as much as I thought I would. I loved it for the friends I made, but it didn’t feel quite right for me, so I left and went to the London College of Printing. When I left, I was working on art books, fashion stuff, brochures. I’ve never really looked back.
How has it been, to work in the world, as a woman?
I’ve always worked a lot with women and I’m a pretty strong person. I had some bad experiences during my twenties, was sexually harassed a few times by male bosses. At the time, you just don’t know what to say, you freeze. By the time I landed a job as an art director at GQ I was quite happy to hold my own in the workplace.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a mother?
Since birth. I’ve always been very mothering. I didn’t feel a time bomb but just knew I wanted to be a mum. I knew eventually the time would come and now I have two amazing children, Paloma, 5 and Santiago, 2 plus I am a step mum to my beautiful twin boys Sachin and Connor.
After giving birth to both my children, I literally thought I was a fucking genius. Your body is so powerful that you are able to produce an actual person, it does impact on everything in your life. That sort of renewed respect for yourself – I had that. Motherhood means you become so busy. It’s definitely been hard on my brain having children as it’s in more pieces. It’s not one brain it’s like a fractal brain in a million bits. When I speak even I get mixed up. It’s a very busy brain, but I feel like the world is my oyster, that I can achieve much more. When you have children to teach, you want to do really well so that you can show them what is possible. It’s really important that they see you can love what you do and make a living from it.
Who are the Goddesses you look up to?
My wonderful, tenacious, funny and brilliant mum, I don’t think anyone has shaped me as much as that woman has. My thoughtful and deeply kind sister, my grandmothers, their lovely hands, my daughter Paloma, she is magic and has the most beautiful soul – all the women in my family. Malala Yousafzai, I think she is amazing. Frieda Kahlo is my spirit animal, I just love her. I see myself a lot in her extremes and she’s from my neck of the woods. Also Violetta Parra, an amazing latin American poet and singer. I value creativity and am obsessed with Brandon Stanton’s ‘Humans of New York’. Wow, what an incredible body of work that is genuinely valuable, uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.
Where did you grow up and how has that informed you as a Goddess?
I was born here in England and grew up in Bogota, Colombia until I was ten. I lived in Dorset, then Wiltshire, then London and have been here ever since. My temper is Colombian, my naughty, spirited, generous, funny, kind and full of music side. I feel very much that you couldn’t deny my Colombian side. My English side, well, the Howards are very traditional and quite old fashioned and specific. They have an amazing history and a quite formal setup, which is quite a different way of being. It’s a big family and I have loved being a part of it. My grandfather was the ambassador for Great Britain in Colombia. My dad went to visit his father after graduating from Oxford. He went traveling on his Triumph motorbike and settled down in Bogota to teach at the National University there. Then he met my mum, Gloria, and the rest is history.
What is the mark of a true Goddess?
An understanding of your honest self, not your pretend self. If you can understand who you are, your inner self, you can then be empowered. Even if you have weaknesses, they can become your greatest strengths. I feel like it’s a very modern phenomenon for people to not have a clue who they bloody well are because they are too busy trying to pretend to be someone else. I feel I really understand who I am and a lot of the women I look up to are really aware of both their strengths and their weaknesses. Even if their weaknesses scare them, they can still discuss them. Like I know I’m a fucking bitch sometimes, and temperamental, but if I wasn’t aware of it that would be a massive problem. It’s about what you bring to the table properly, with honesty.
Tell me about your magic hand
I was born with a condition that has such a long medical term I can’t even possibly tell you, but it happens to one in a million. There’s no reason, I just was born this way, with one hand that doesn’t have any fingers, and just one thumb on my left hand.
It’s not that extreme. It’s very manageable, it doesn’t affect me in an awful terrible way. I have my thumb so I can do most things. Obviously it does set you aside from other people, and sometimes I’ve been treated badly or differently or whatever. But I would say it’s a good thing, as it has made me a bit of a fighter. I was always showing people I could do things even if people said I couldn’t. I am still like that. Having a small hand doesn’t really bother me, the only thing it did stop me doing was strumming the guitar, so I just swapped around the strings and learned to play it the other way. I don’t feel it has defined me in other ways.
What do you love about Goddess Charms?
Aesthetically they are very beautiful. I love the burnish of the gold, and the length of the larger chains is lovely and long. I also love them for my kids to wear. It’s nice to know they are wearing something that has my hand in it. I feel like with each necklace I’ve given them, it’s something they can wear close to their heart that helps bring out their qualities. The God of Courage Charm for my son is all about bravery which is ideal as he is the most tenacious creature. And for my daughter, the Warrior Goddess Charm is perfect, mostly because I want her to be watched over. She’s soft, and it’s a tough world out there for a little girl. I want her to stay the soft little girl for as long as possible. It’s nice to have something symbolic that watches over your kids. I love the characteristics and the symbolism they bring.
I still wear my grandmother’s ring that I gave her when I was five. For me it’s special because her blood flowed through it. It sits close to your heart. Metals are a natural thing and I believe they do absorb energy. We all share the Goddess Charm necklaces so I feel we carry each other’s energy around. I absolutely love jewellery and am obsessed with all the Goddess Charms.
Let’s discuss our beautiful logo. I’m so proud of it. You’re a genius to have nailed the creative brief so perfectly as it’s exactly what I had in my head and you manifested it with so much ease. I knew I wanted a sense of a compass, and for it to be cosmic and mystical… I just love what you’ve done.
I wanted the Goddess Charms logo to feel loose and spiritual and magical and organic. And I think it does do all of that. It’s obviously a collective work as we have all had input. I think the brand that’s growing around it is vibrant, womanly, exciting and really shareable. I’m so proud of it and it’s just such a positive thing to have worked on.
How we work at Pencil is very collaborative, sharing your self, sharing your talents, honouring the sisterhood, dropping the ego, that’s what we love and that’s why we work so well together.
Tell me about the men in your life.
My favourite human in the whole wide world is my husband. He gave me my children and he comes first. He is the kindest, funniest, best friend ever. He definitely brings out the best in me and accepts me for all my shit, which is a lot. I have nothing but love for him, he’s an amazing dad. He’s a very unique character.
My dad is very gentle and thoughtful and incredibly kind and a really wonderful musician. He’s very caring. I was brought up by a man who was not in the least bit led by testosterone. He was always very involved with all of us, he never acted like the man of the house, not that my mum would have given him that chance. I think his gentle nature has been such a beautiful aspect to our upbringing.
Then there’s my little boy Santiago, who is just the cheekiest most complex character. I just never know what he’s going to do next. There’s always an element of surprise. He’s got hidden depths and definitely struggles with the same things that I struggle with. He’s a proper little fighter. He loves to say no. I see so much of myself in him.
Finally, there’s my baby brother Mondi who is incredibly warm, funny and the life and soul of any party. I have very lovely men in my life, and lots of lovely friends.
What are your survival mechanisms?
My first husband died of cancer a year after we married at the age of 31. I had been with him for 14 years. Previous to that my big brother Alex was killed in a motorbike crash when I was 17. It’s correct to say that I’ve gone through a great deal of loss. Both those things taught me to be grateful for what I have, to look at life’s magic on a daily basis. I don’t constantly wish I had more, sometimes I do as I am human, but it’s so detrimental. I feel grateful every single day for the life I have, for my beautiful husband and my beautiful children. So when I am struggling, I know it can’t be harder than what I went through already. Even in death, life is so incredibly beautiful. I try and keep the stress curbed by being a bit more detached, stepping back and seeing it’s only a bad day at work, or that nobody’s hurt and I just have to sort out the problem. I struggle with workload stress and mum stress at times but I do feel very lucky.
What about being naughty?
I need to be naughty. If I’m not naughty on a fairly regular basis I get pissed off. Luckily I married someone naughty and have a lot of naughty friends. I have to be naughty. Laughing until I practically wet myself with my silly friends, running around under the cover of darkness, dancing like an idiot somewhere, not taking myself seriously, catching the occasional sunrise. I surround myself with the funniest people, I miss them like crazy now that I’m busy mumming and working.
What about your relationship with mother earth?
It is life, isn’t it. I spend a lot of time outside, whenever I can, breathing, pondering life. I love the details in nature. The way a leaf curls, drops of water caught inside a petal, sun shining through a canopy, all of these things make me look outwardly not inwardly and recommend it to everyone who thinks life is all about them because it bloody well isn’t!
Alongside my work as a graphic designer and art director, I work as a garden designer. This marries my love the outdoors with design. To create a space for someone outdoors in nature, that you know they are going to love, is one of the most satisfying achievements. Other than that mother nature blows my mind. There’s so much stuff that mother nature does, she is so wise. I firmly believe mother nature is what other people call god. I don’t believe in a god, I believe in mother nature. And I believe in people.
What’s your motto for life?
Well… I wish it was sex, drugs and rock’n’roll except it really is more be kind and drink wine. But also it’s about keeping your husband as your priority, if you can, especially if he is the father of your children. But it’s easy for me to say because I married the right person, didn’t I. I mean, he is amazing.
Thank you Cat. I love you. You are a true goddess.
All photography Jenny Dyson and Cat Howard. Cat and her children Paloma and Santiago are all wearing Goddess Charms and their own fabulous wardrobe.
Cat Howard, Garden Design cathoward.design
Cat Howard, Creative Director cathoward.com