Tuesday, 10 September 2019

What I Learnt on my Summer Break



Is anyone else still astonished that it's September already?  The weeks of the Summer holiday have drifted by, and yet I wasn't prepared for it to end so suddenly; to be roused far too early by an insistent radio alarm clock, drowsily making my way downstairs to prepare coffee, breakfast and packed lunches again.

Despite not wanting the Summer to end, I was also secretly feeling rather excited at the prospect of going back to the studio.  If you read my last post you'll remember I told you I was taking a break from my work, and why.  It took a lot of courage for me to face up to the fact that things weren't working and needed to change, and yet when I eventually accepted this and made the decision to step back for a while to figure out what to do next, I felt the biggest sigh of relief envelope my body.




During the Summer we spent a week in North Berwick in Scotland, it's a beautiful gem of a town on the east coast and despite the weather not being in our favour (torrential rain and storms for the majority of the week), it was a very welcome change of scenery and I loved the place.  

Sitting on the beach on our last day looking out to Bass Rock and the islands beyond, I found myself thinking about painting again.  Of course, it had been something I found my mind wandering to on and off but it was here that I suddenly had the seed of a new idea. I'm not even sure how it came into being, or what inspired it, but as the weeks of the Summer drew on, I felt myself returning to it over and over.

I knew that I wanted there to be more fluency with my work, to create cohesive collections of art and design work based on certain themes.  I made a list in my notebook to refer back to, and let the idea germinate.

As the Summer days rolled by in a gentle, easy way,  I began to start unravelling what wasn't working in my business, and surprisingly, one of the main components of it was actually me.  I saw how I had become increasingly anxious and despondent about  my work, I often struggled with imposter syndrome and the thought that I wasn't good enough. My daily thoughts and beliefs had disintegrated into a very negative place.  

A positive mindset is one of those magical tools of the trade that we really do need in order to thrive.  Once fear or depression begins to creep in, all other kinds of negative chatter can deter us from following our path, and can debilitate the process of succeeding.  Our dreams and goals remain unrealised, panic and anxiety become a part of us, and we can often feel as if we are hitting brick walls without understanding why.  I recall days where it felt like I was walking through thick treacle, achieving nothing, only wasted hours scrolling through Instagram where I would inevitably end up comparing myself to what everyone else was out there doing.  

This also puzzled me a bit, I'd always thought of myself very much as a 'glass half full' person, but I could see (with a little unpicking) that the drag of daily social media updates, of playing small, of mid life challenges and not being bold enough to take bigger steps, had all conspired to halting my progress.  Somewhere along the way I had given over to believing that I wasn't going to make it.  My mindset had turned from 'I can' to 'I can't'.

Again, it feels almost a little awkward to lay this bare and share it with you.  Admitting that 'I' am part of the problem isn't easy, but I do think that accepting what is, is half of the battle because once we do that, we have a starting point to move forward from.




I also chose not to post on Social Media for the entire Summer and at first, I felt afraid that this would have bad consequences.  People would unfollow in their droves, I'd be forgotten. But do you know what actually happened?

Nothing.

The number of followers stayed roughly the same, people were actually still finding me, and following and liking my posts despite not being active.

And this was a revelation.

For months and months I harboured a secret dread each day - what to post.  What content did I need to create?  What did I need to photograph, edit, upload onto Instagram or Facebook today?  And I knew I simply could not carry on doing that.  Not only was it draining, I was finding it dull and depressing.  Following my experiment this summer of not posting for literally 7-8 weeks, I know now that I can still have a social media presence but without the grind of posting daily.  My intention moving forward is to use my spaces on social media a couple of times a week, paring it back to basics and sharing what feels joyful and interesting.  My main focus will now be my email community who I write to a couple of times a month, and this Blog where I will share more regularly about my work process, and things I'm up to.

As we move into September, there are other things unfolding behind the scenes...my new website is almost half finished!  I decided in the holidays that my old one was more than ready to be upgraded, and so it's with great excitement that I can share that my new online home is currently being constructed, and made ready to showcase my new work.  I'll keep you posted about it's launch, but suffice to say it's looking amazing and really reflects me and my new direction.

I have also been looking at my work and stock, and being rather strict about what works and what doesn't.  I think creative people and businesses must do this from time to time, and to be brutally honest about it too.  No point harbouring a load of products (and adding to them) if it's not a good seller.  And this led me to consider having a sale, as a way to make space for my new collections, and to clear some space for a fresh new beginning.

I'm going to be giving my email community the heads up on the sale so that they will have the first opportunity to browse and purchase.  I will be selling lots of originals and prints at drastically reduced prices in order to make the space I desperately need in my tiny studio. If you'd like to sign up to hear about this, you'd be very welcome and can do so by clicking the link in the side bar.

So, to conclude...this Summer has been about rest, stepping back, being honest, allowing new ideas to arise, reading and learning.  It's been about accepting responsibility, making plans for the future and practising positivity each and every day (for me, this is walking in nature, going to the coast, journalling, yoga and meditation, reading books and inspiring blogs).  I don't feel like the same person who last wrote here, I feel like I've grown and changed for the better and that can only be a good thing.  

I'm going to grab a coffee and head down the garden to the studio soon, I'm working on some sketches at the moment for my first collection. The sun is lower in the sky now, the swifts have left I think, and the light filtering through the fading leaves is golden and tinged with the signs of Autumn. 

It's good to be back.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Why I'm Taking a Break



Over the last few months, behind the scenes, there's been a bit of a story unfolding.

I didn't know if I was going to share it here at first, but the time feels right, and besides I didn't want you wondering what had become of me over the summer so I thought I'd tell you what's been going on and what I'm doing about it.

It's always been important to me to share the highs and the lows of my artist journey with you, I never want you to think that I'm out there living some kind of dream life where everything is peachy all the time, because this is a real life and it absolutely isn't.

So, back to the beginning...I think I started to notice that something was wrong during the Winter,  when I would wake up and become aware of a sinking, heavy feeling in my belly.  I put it down to a touch of the Winter Blue's, put my head down and carried on with my work.  

However, each day was becoming more and more like chasing an elusive dream, I couldn't explain why exactly, or what it was that was slipping through my fingers.  
I felt anxiety grow as I noticed the numbers on my Social Media accounts slowly decreasing, and the Likes gradually lessening too.  Now before I go on, let me clarify: it is NEVER about the numbers, for me my work is about connection and making people happy with my art, but of course I'm only human, and seeing things decline is going to have an effect.

I spoke with my artist friends, had they noticed this? What did they think? Was it having an impact?

Yes, seemed to be a resounding answer.  Yes it was.

And on it went.  One algorithm after another seemingly appeared out of nowhere, feeling like an invisible wall, a bewildering mind game, something else to demystify and understand.  You'd hear whispers about 'algorithms' all over the place and I knew it wasn't just me that was in this predicament.  It was becoming harder and harder to be seen online, and as a result, sales slowed down.

Which brings me to now (the moment of vulnerable sharing).

The truth is, my business simply isn't sustainable anymore, in the way that I've been running it.  This is mostly down to the way social media has changed who gets to see things, and yes, those bloody mysterious algorithms!  But it's not just that, its also down to my mindset and self belief which inevitably took a nose dive when I felt that I was falling behind, losing customers, not making enough money.  Social media is making it harder for small businesses, no doubt about it but a negative mindset doesn't help either.  

Is any of this my fault?  Yes, I accept that some of it is - I gradually found myself feeling pretty depressed and anxious, which led to me being unable to work some days because of the fear; fear of the future, fear of not being good enough, fear of having failed.  When you're in that negative place it's sometimes hard to get yourself out of it.  I would move from feeling depressed to feeling angry about how unfair it was...and anger has infinitely more power than depression and I used that to leverage my mind towards being more productive and eventually, feeling more positive.  

I know too that running a business can be really hard work, I've been self employed since the year 2000 and have had my fair share of obstacles and hurdles to overcome.  

The thing is, it can be really hard to accept that something isn't working, believe me I happily buried my head in the sand about all this for a long time, but once we look the problem in they eye, and acknowledge what isn't doing so well then we can take steps to put it right, or make the decision to stop.  And I want you to know if you're reading this and feeling like you're in a similar place, you have to do what feels right to YOU, and know that it is absolutely OK to feel the way you do, and make that choice.




I'm writing this post very much from a positive place today.  I have sat and thought about what to do and I am not ready to give up my work and close down.  I'm fortunately very tenacious (imagine dog with bone) and won't give up without a fight.  I know that to bring my business back up to par, to make it financially viable I am going to have to tackle the problem from a different angle.

So what will I do?

My daughter finishes school for the summer this Friday, so I'll be taking those weeks off to make plans and start taking some new steps forward.  I am studying business, taking workshops and reading books and surprisingly I am really enjoying working this muscle!  Who knew it would be so interesting?  I need lots of new tools under my belt going forwards (managing social media, SEO updates, marketing, growing an email list, etc;) so I'm giving myself the space to learn and educate myself.  I also realise that I can no longer rely on just selling paintings to make a living, so I'm exploring some new ideas which feel exciting and possible.  Right now they are literally seeds, yet to unfurl, but when they do I promise to share more about it with you.

I feel optimistic about the future, I feel like it's an exciting new beginning rather than the end of something.  My business didn't fail, I didn't fail - things just changed and of course this is the truth about life, it's always changing.  

I'm going to wish you a wonderful summer.  Mine will be spent enjoying this new time of growth and discovery, balanced out with evenings under the stars, time with family, walks on the beach, reading, meditating, yoga and rest.

See you soon.


Monday, 24 June 2019

June Journal - this month so far


Symphony - original acrylic painting on canvas

June has been a damp, mostly dismal and somewhat cool month, interspersed with hopeful rays of feeble warm sunshine.  

A couple of weeks ago I took this painting to the framers, quite a few people told me that it reminded them of music and I had to agree, hence it's name.  I like the movement and energy in this piece very much, I like how you can follow the almost ribbon like streams of colour and lose yourself in it.  I'm finding abstract painting to be very meditative, and very healing.


At the beginning of June, we found ourselves in Suffolk having a few days at my sisters.  We had a wonderful time, it felt like a mini holiday as the weather was just perfect - warm, dry and sunny with giant blue skies.  This was taken on the beach at Lowestoft, what a gorgeous place that is - I especially like the old world charm it seems to retain, and the mile upon mile of soft creamy sand.


Abstract in the making...


Warm up exercises on watercolour paper.


The finished painting: Confluence, a meeting of streams, flowing together, the middle.


The studio.  I have been entranced with these gorgeous peonies that I found quite cheaply at a local supermarket.  I don't often have flowers in the studio as I'm quite good at knocking them over, but I couldn't resist.  They are the epitome of summer days, unapologetically beautiful - and fleeting.


On Father's Day we went over to the east coast, to Scarborough.  It's one of my favourite places and doesn't take that long to get to.  It has everything I love: beautiful beaches, clear seawater, cliffs and seabirds, a harbour, boats and lovely cafes and shops.

It was sunny so we managed a picnic on the beach, but the wind got up so we didn't linger as getting sandblasted isn't all that much fun.  We walked around to South Bay and my daughter made me go on a very fast ride in the tiny funfair by the harbour which was hilarious and exhilarating!  Later on as we walked back to the car we got caught in a deluge, but all I really recall is the sound of the kittiwakes calling from their nesting sites on the cliffs, and the scent of the sea in the rain.



Explorations of colour, with watercolour on Cass Art Smooth watercolour paper.  I went to their gorgeous shop over in Manchester on Monday 17th, it was a damp, misty sort of day and we traversed the Pennines submerged in a watery gloom wondering where the hell summer had gone.  However, our spirits were lifted as we entered this artists paradise, at 55 Oldham Street - suddenly immersed in rows and rows of paint, sketch books, and other utterly tempting supplies.  I may have bought new things including their fabulous smooth watercolour pad, some Liquitex soft body acrylics and an art board.


When the solitude of working for myself turns insidiously to isolation, I take myself out to where there are people, coffee shops and WALLED GARDENS, because I absolutely adore being in a walled garden!  I will not forget in a very long time the jaw dropping beauty of this stunning wild flower meadow, it was just the most stunning tangled creation of daisies, poppies and sweet peas you ever did see and I wish there were some way of conveying how intoxicating the scent of it was.  Had the gardener not been so close, I may have laid down on the brick path amongst them all, with my face to the sun breathing it all in for a while.



And lastly, I have a lovely new product in my online store!  I am very excited to share this professionally printed canvas art print to 'Shallows'.  It is printed onto 100% bright white cotton canvas and stretched onto a handmade pine frame.  The finish and quality is perfection, and upon opening the sample I received, I was astonished as to how like the original it was.

You can find these in my shop priced at £35 GBP here.

Chat soon.

Julia x

Friday, 17 May 2019

Deep Dive and Shallows


I'm still really engrossed in my journey of exploring abstract art.  It's a totally new avenue for me, as those of you who have followed for a while will know.  For many years I painted coastal scenes, things and places you would recognise.


Some time last year I felt the call to try something new, to work in a looser style and yet I just couldn't commit to taking that leap, and so persevered with my familiar style.

Working like this, very much from the heart and soul is proving to be so revealing in many ways.  I am understanding how art really does have the capacity to create space in the mind, and to heal.

This piece is called Deep Dive, and it's an acrylic piece on a wooden panel.  I used a flow medium to make those glorious puddles of colour.

Much of this painting is led by intuition, I allow myself to be directed to colour, shape and pattern without trying to influence the outcome.


Shallows

Choosing to work with a minimal choice of colours, I built up many translucent layers of paint, it reminds me of staring into the shallows of the ocean, those beautiful turquoise shades, lilac and blue, and soft sandy tones.  I was really happy with this piece, and feel I'd like to explore this layered way of making art further.



Monday, 13 May 2019

Wanderlust and Tide Pools


Wanderlust

A feeling of adventure, of sea and sky, journey and landscape.


This piece has a gorgeous deep edge, so you could display this painting either freestanding, or hang on the wall.  I also like the serendipitous paint run down the side, how about you?


Tide Pool

Colours and movement of a tidal pool, fluctuations of seaweed undulating in the water and the surprise of marine life hiding in the shadows.


Painted on a deep edged white canvas, this piece is so utterly mesmerising.

What I'm learning as I create these pieces is that they come from somewhere deep within.  There is no expectation of any outcome as I paint, it's a journey of sorts - and each painting is a revelation, like a revealing of the soul.  Working intuitively with colour is both mindful and meditative, I am seeing that this work could be (and perhaps already is) deeply healing.