Friday, 19 October 2018

How I stepped out of my comfort zone

Have you ever put off doing something because you feel afraid of it?  Or it might feel overwhelming or uncomfortable?

Stepping out of our comfort zone to do something new can be all of those things, and just recently I made the leap and tackled something I've been putting off for ages.


Today it seems everywhere you scroll there are videos and livestreams, I'm reading blog posts about how it's the best way to communicate with your customer, and how it's the best way to move your business forward.

And yet, it scared the hell out of me.  So many things to contemplate...first of all, where would I start?  There was so much I didn't know, and so much to learn.  I felt out of my depth watching tutorials on You Tube, and the tech side of it, uploading and editing...well, the sheer volume of knowledge required actually made me shut off my laptop!

So, what did I do?  For a long, long time I shelved it.  I joined Skillshare and watched a couple of good classes and felt the stirrings of excitement and possibility, but when it came to physically getting started, I just couldn't do it!   I wrote notes and ideas down in my biz journal - and they sat there unused for weeks.  That is, until I had a coaching session with Claire Sheehan.

Claire is an artist and coach, and we had a session a couple of weeks ago where she helped me take down some of the blocks I'd created for myself.  She was very helpful in getting me to see the bigger picture.  Instead of launching into an overwhelming, full on video series, Claire encouraged me to make something short and easy, for fun.  Right away the pressure to create something polished and professional disappeared.  And also, I could also see how I'd set this unachievable standard, of making my very first video and it looking like something produced by Universal Studios.  

It's fascinating how we build walls around ourselves to protect us from the unknown.  It feels so comfortable and cosy plodding along in our own predictable way, doing what we know we're good at, yet it doesn't take us any further than our own self made boundaries.

The thing is, we have to learn as we go - it's part of being a human!  We were not put on earth to stagnate and live a dull life.  We have to be able to say to ourselves, you know what?  This is my first attempt and I'm going to give it a go.  I will most certainly make mistakes, but I will learn as I go on, and if I keep on practising I'll get better at it, I'll gain more confidence, develop new skills and my 'thing' will be amazing.  I think back to how I first started with my art work, and it was nothing like what it is now!  I sometimes find old pieces of work that make me cringe, but I also feel proud of myself for deciding to have a go because if I hadn't, I wouldn't be where I am now.

The main stumbling block for me, and I think this applies to all of us when we feel stuck around creating something new, is the fear of looking like an amateur, of people laughing at us or criticising us for our efforts.  Am I right?  Looking like we don't know 'all the stuff', feeling like the new kid on the creates barriers of fear and self doubt and this can be paralysing.  I can see now that I was never going to start making videos with so much emotional baggage!  Claire showed me that choosing to create something small, and for fun, removed the need for it to be perfect.

So, you might be wondering how things are going?  I chose to make a short film about myself and what I do to put on my website.  You are welcome to watch it on my You Tube channel here:
I am planning on doing more videos so you're welcome to subscribe to my channel if you wish to.

The experience of filming out and about, as well as in my studio was a really good experience.  I found out that I thoroughly enjoyed doing it, working out scenes in my mind and scripting it all.  I played around with editing the video in Photoshop, but sadly with the age of my laptop (it is sloooowwww) and so much to figure out, I chose to edit it on my Ipad using IMovie which was so much fun, and so easy.

I am actually now contemplating doing a bit of Vlogging - yes, that's right!  I am so excited by this whole new world that has opened up for me and cannot wait to do more!  This has also made me realise what I might have missed out on by not trying.

Good advice if you're feeling stuck right now:

Make it fun.
If your project or idea feels massive, break it down into small, achievable goals.
Do not worry about looking like a novice, all the best people started somewhere.  Start with what you've got and give it your best shot.
Remember, there's no written rule anywhere that says it has to be perfect.  
Think back to something you have achieved in life, think about something that makes you feel proud.  
Enjoy yourself.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

A guide to Instagram for artists

I thought I'd share a few handy tips for using Instagram if you're an artist, and how to get the best from it for you and your business.

The main reason I use Instagram is to share my work and life as an artist, it keeps me connected to people who follow me and keeps people up to date with what I'm doing.  For artists it's a brilliant social media app as it's so visual!  However, there's more to it than just posting a few random pictures (which is literally what I used to do).   Let me explain.

My first bit of advice, and one that seems to have made the most noticeable difference to my feed is to use a real camera to take your pictures.  I know that most phones have pretty decent cameras these days but I can honestly say that since switching to my Canon G7X the quality of the pictures is 100% better.  Although this isn't a cheap camera (I saved up and upgraded from a pocket Canon last year) it has wifi which means I can upload images right to my phone or Ipad for easy editing in the Lightroom App.  This is by far one of my favourite editing apps, and you can easily find a free version to pop on your device.  I really enjoy the editing process, and Lightroom is easy to use if you're a beginner but at the same time, gives your images a real professional finish.

The second piece of advice is to make sure that you keep your pictures relevant to your business and what you do.  Most of my feed is pictures of my work, either works in progress or finished shots.  I also take pictures in the studio or of myself working.  To help give people a bit of an insight into my life I will occasionally add in scenes from places I've been, or found inspiring, but not too many.  I suppose what I'm saying is that, if you're a painter for example, you don't want to cause too much confusion and have people wondering what your brand represents if your feed is peppered with lots of family shots and pictures of your dog.  Unless that's relevant to your brand, and you paint dogs. Then that's OK.

Instagram Stories is actually a good place to post things that you don't want littering up your feed, for example, you might want to share that you're at a great exhibition, or of you out and about having coffee etc.  For this I tend to use mostly pictures I've captured on my phone.  I like to edit them in the Canva app as it has some really nice fonts - just choose the blank background and upload your own photograph, add text and graphics and away you go.  I also like to use Stories to chat about promotions or things to do with my biz now and then.  It can feel a bit daunting at first but look right at the camera lens (not the screen) and imagine you're having a chat with your best mate and you'll be fine.  Stories is a great facility to help people to get to know you more, and to see other 'behind the scenes' elements of your life as an artist.

When it comes to posting, I try and mix things up a bit, so rather than it become a steady stream of close up shots of my work, I'll maybe include an overhead shot of my desk space, or of something on my easel.  I also pop in pictures of myself at work because people seem to like this, and it does help to create a connection between you and your customers as they can put a face to the brand.  If you're a bit camera shy, consider getting a side shot of yourself at work, this is a fairly good compromise as you're not having to look right to camera which I know can feel a bit disconcerting at first! 

When writing text under your pictures, try and keep things interesting and engaging.  Maybe you could explain a bit about your process, or share which materials you used.  Don't be afraid to be chatty either and ask questions which gets people interacting with you.

It's also important to create a short Bio so that when people visit your feed, they can find out a bit more about you.  Use this space to tell people what you do, tell them where you are and provide a link to your website.  You can also install a tool called Linktree to send people to specific locations, such as your Blog or Etsy shop.

Another important tip I'm going to share is about the emotional side of using Instagram.  It is SO EASY to hop onto Instagram and within minutes you've got a serious dose of comparisonitis and all kinds of feelings can get churned up.  It's certainly happened to me before, but now I can detach emotionally, aware that the pictures I see are snapshots of a single moment of someone's life, as behind the scenes things can be very different and we never truly know what that individual is going through.  Similarly, with a business profile on Instagram you need to remember that when you are sharing, you are sharing as your brand - not you.  So if someone unfollows you, or reacts negatively to something you shared it's a reaction to your business and not you personally.

Whenever you post, think about curating your feed to best represent your brand, keep it interesting and mix it up.  Last of all, my advice is to be authentic and always be you.  Don't try and be someone else, but rather let your personality come through in your words and pictures, that way you will be sure to attract the right sort of people (potential customers who love what you do) to your Instagram account!

I hope you've enjoyed this post, I'm going to share more about using social media for your business soon.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Why opinions will hold you back

Have you ever decided to do something in life, had an incredible idea that totally lit you up from the inside out, and you knew without question that you had to do this thing?  And this idea makes you feel so amazing, you feel so excited to get started and you have bucket loads of enthusiasm and so you tell someone you know about it, and they say:

"Oh, no I wouldn't do that"


"That sounds risky/expensive/dangerous...have you thought this through??"

Or even worse, they may even start to point out your flaws and tell you why you'll fail (remember when I listened to the opinion of that art teacher all those years back? The one who told me I wouldn't make it as an artist because I didn't have what it took?  And I listened to her, and I didn't paint for several years.  All because I chose to ignore my own gut feelings, and listen to someone else's opinon!)

And as soon as you get this feedback, literally within a split second, your idea crashes and burns, you feel your stomach go into free fall as the negative feelings of worry and doubt descend.

You start to think "Are they right?  Well, you know they might have a could be risky, I might waste a lot of money doing that...and what if I'm awful at it after all the effort?  You know, it's probably best if I just forget it"  and you talk yourself out of the incredible thing you wanted to do, because someone told you it wasn't possible.

And the problem is, because we respect this person (parent, friend, partner, sibling, tutor etc), we value their response, and we are anxious to hear their thoughts and get their blessing on our new venture.

What we tend to miss in this exchange is a vital detail, and this is why other people's opinions will hold you back.  That person giving you the advice, or questioning your ability?  They're not you, they don't have your abilities and they don't have your vision.  

You need to remember that at this point, they can't see the possibility or the 'how', they haven't got your passion or enthusiasm for this thing, and they want to protect you.  Their fears and limiting beliefs will instantly come to the surface and because they don't want you to fail, they'll try and talk you out of it.

You might want to take a painting class, go travelling, or launch a new business.  It is essential that before you tell anyone about your big idea, that you feel confident enough to resist the naysayers, because I can guarantee you will come up against them, and most surprisingly it'll be the ones who know you best and care about you the most that will be the ones to do this to you.

It's quite hard to ignore advice when it's well meant and from someone you respect, but you have to look at the bigger picture and decide what you want your life to look like.  Do you want it to look like theirs?  Probably not.  Do you want to grow as a person, enjoy new experiences and live your life so it looks the way you want it to?  Of course.  And so you need to learn to breeze past the opinions of others.

Ok, so what if it turns out that they're right, I hear you say.  What if, their sound advice turns out to be dead on the nose and they turn around as you fail and say 'I told you so'.

It doesn't matter.

The fact is, you tried.  You had a go, you gave something you wanted to do your best shot.  Isn't that better than languishing on your couch and wondering 'what if?'  People who want to succeed in life keep trying.  They get knocked back, make mistakes but they pick themselves up and start again.  Learn to be tenacious, if you really want a thing, keep at it until you get it.

And of course, on the other side of the coin there's always the option of not failing, of going for this thing and achieving it, ramping your life up a gear and living it in a way that makes you feel happy and good.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Behind the scenes :: life behind social media

I was on social media a couple of days ago, scrolling through and admiring all the beautiful pictures and I thought, wow...this all looks so wonderful and...well, perfect (which of course it does, people usually only share their best images with us).  And I thought, I wonder what my feed looks like to other people?  It shows me painting in a nice studio, I share pictures of places I've been, my work in progress.  I suppose thinking about it, to some people looking in it might look like a fairly peachy lifestyle going on there.

So it led me to write this blog post today, to share a bit from behind the scenes.

In real life, I live in a small terraced house, built in the late 1800s on the edge of a village near the Pennines (this is a vast area of wild and bleak moorland in the north of the UK).  I often dream of living by the sea (and one day I will again) - the amount of people over the years who have asked me if I live at the coast is amazing - I'm guessing it's all the coastal work I've done that might make somebody think that, but no, we have a humble little house with a leaky back door and a broken gutter that for now, is home.

I try to organise my day as best as I can so that I'm making the best use of the time I've got before my daughter comes home from school.  Some days are great, and I feel very efficient and on the ball.  These are the days where I might do a couple of social media posts, and a bit of work in progress films for my Instagram Stories.  I enjoy my days when they are full and rewarding, I like to cook and take walks, notice the small stuff like flowers blooming or a sudden sky full of swallows diving and swirling above. 

Other days don't look like that.  I sometimes struggle with fatigue and migraines, and instead of pushing through (as I used to) I have learnt to allow time to feel better and practise a bit of self care to replenish the energy levels.  On days like that it can feel frustrating when all I want to do is crack on, but in the long run I know that a rest, a bit of yoga or a nice walk with my family will pay dividends.

I sometimes get anxiety or feel a bit flat, especially in winter.  Winter is my nemesis and each year I try my best to navigate this difficult season as best as I can.  In the last few weeks I have instigated a new routine of walking three times a week, whatever the weather.  I tend to develop hermit like tendancies come January, but I am committed to keeping this up, and on really dark days will perhaps go swimming instead.

Some days, I don't have any inclination to paint at all.  As I shared in last weeks blog, creative funks can appear out of nowhere and at first are disconcerting and the cause of much anxiety as I fret and worry over what's going wrong.  Apathy is an unwelcome visitor and at times like this, the last thing I want to do is post pictures of my work, as I feel so detached from it!  It's something I'm learning to handle, rather than dwelling there for too long, but it still knocks the wind out of my sails when it happens.

I have an eleven year old daughter who has just started high school.  She is an absolute sun beam but like all children, has her own growing pains which need tending to.  Family life is very rewarding but it can also be super challenging at times too.

Hurdles still show up for me, and they will continue to do so, because that's life.  It's a journey of highs and lows, and we are always going to find ourselves in negative situations with people, or just with ourselves and our own state of mind as we go through life.  These moments for me are not instagrammable, and to be honest, I wouldn't enjoy scrolling through my feed if it were full of depressing content!  I like to feel inspired and uplifted by what I see.

These days I recognise when I need to detach from social and give myself some breathing space.  I leave well alone for a bit and come back when I've got something positive to share.  I'm not going to start posting super personal or depressing stuff on my social channels because I don't think it's professional or relevant to why I'm on there, my aim is to inspire people by what sharing what I do and how I do it.

I suppose the main message of this post is a gentle reminder that behind every photograph is a real person (even I forget sometimes as I compare my life with the photoshopped perfection that I see daily).  Social media is a place where people share their best bits, and it's wise to remember that as we scroll.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

How to deal with a post summer funk

The Summer holidays are over.  September, golden and gentle, nudges us back into our routines with a bang - early morning starts, school uniforms to be ironed, the morning rush...and after a long summer of not rushing about, it can feel like a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly be plunged back into normal life again.

This year my daughter started high school.  There was a fair bit of anxiety about the transition - understandably so - it's a huge leap and the last few days of the holidays were spent trying to help and reassure her about her first day.  
In the final couple of weeks, I'd noticed myself fighting the growing urge to go into the studio to paint, film classes and generally get back to what I love to do.  But there were family days out, picnics, uniforms to buy, places to go and there wasn't the time.  I kept a sketchbook close to hand for these moments, so that I could quickly draw out an idea or write a few notes about something that had inspired me.  My aim was to come back to this journal when school started again, fresh and ready to go.

Only this time, that didn't happen.

Sensibly, I knew that it would take a day or so to adjust to the silence that had fallen upon the house.  Six and a half weeks of bustle, chatter and laughter had been replaced by a quiet so profound you could hear a pin drop.  I was suddenly on my own, and as I realised this, the dawning of another truth also made itself known.

I had no inclination to paint at all.

I felt spent, all of a sudden and without warning I felt completely drained, and as detached as a boat from it's moorings, bobbing about in some strange and turbulent sea.  I didn't know where to put myself or what to do.
I gazed through the window of my studio and felt only apathy.  I didn't want to go in - couldn't bring myself to go in.

It'll pass, I thought.

But it hasn't.  At least not yet.  I couldn't understand it at first, recalling all those times I'd longed to go down, play with those buttery acrylics and cast the first wash of a new painting.  The feelings of anticipation had been akin to waiting for Santa as a child, and yet here I was feeling empty and with no inclination to do any of those things. 

There's a few reasons why this has happened.  First off, my happy, easy going summer has ended abruptly.  My family have returned to school and work, leaving me alone.  If I'm honest, I am struggling with the silence and my own company as I resign myself to the fact that Autumn is approaching with some speed and I now have a job to do.  Too much of a good thing can create the biggest weight of apathy when it suddenly comes to an end.

I then got knocked for six by a migraine which lasted into the weekend and really took the wind out of my sails.  

I was reading a blog post by my friend and fellow artist Claire Sheehan just yesterday in which she talked about how we can manage our peaks and troughs with self care.  I looked back over the previous week and realised just how much energy (both physical and emotionally) I had spent on various things, and how this had taken its toll (fatigue and migraine, I'm looking at you).  It sometimes takes a word from someone else to remind me that my own self care is also important during big life changes and transitions, and I realised that once again in an effort to tend to everyone else, I'd left myself behind.

The other thing I've decided to do to help myself is to just simply admit that I'm in a funk, and to give myself permission to be in it.  The fact that I know I'm in the midst of one (in that I can recall very clearly what it's like not being in one) tells my logical brain that they're not permanent and this will pass - and the very fact I'm writing a blog post is telling me I'm probably coming out the other side.  

There is often a temptation when you're in this particular state to panic, forge ahead, and rush about accomplishing nothing.  I'd consider making a list of things you do need to accomplish, to remove the fear and panic, and then give yourself an amount of time to fully feel your funk before starting to make headway with your list - one item at a time.  It might be that you have a day, a few hours or a week!  It depends how flexible your time is, but overall you need to acknowledge how you are feeling and give yourself time and space to repair and heal.

It's important to take a bit of time, resting might seem counter productive when you feel like you've got lots to do, but believe me, your future self will thank you for it once you're up and running again.

And so, I have my list, I'm easing myself gently back into social media and have started adding to my course notes which I started to compile in the summer.  I'm moving through the day as mindfully as possible, listening to what my body needs most and doing the best I can to provide it - be it a bowl of hot soup or a walk in the woods.  Taking ownership of this funk and working out why I'm in it has really helped me gain some clarity on how best to deal with it, and has reminded me that self care is always the most important thing that we can do for ourselves.