Thursday, 24 May 2018

When it all goes quiet

Working as an artist has it's highs and lows; sometimes it feels like a breeze, and at other times it can feel like climbing a mountain, fraught with obstacles and challenges.  When it's going well I am inclined to coast along on cloud nine, enjoying the flurry of sign ups to my Art Letters, the sudden, and magnificent reach of a post on Facebook, the shares and the likes, and the sales...yes, when it's in the flow it's a wonderful feeling and worth all the hard work and effort invested.

But the lulls, the quiet times, and the absolute tumbleweed times...those are harder to navigate.

Showing up in the world as an artist (or indeed, any kind of creative soul) is a vulnerable process,  and sharing our work with others can leave us feeling exposed and often at the mercy of validation.  When the kind comments and likes are coming in, it feels great.  We want people to see what we are doing and to cheer us on, and when we don't get the interaction it can feel so demoralising.  We can't understand why it didn't work out, or what went wrong.

But what do we do when it all goes quiet?

This month things have gone quiet, and I'm not going to lie, it can make me feel incredibly nervous at times.  I noticed a recent post by Just a Card saying something very similar, and so, although it's easy to feel like it's a personal thing and you're the only one it's happening too, rest assured it's probably not.
There are fluctuations in the market all the time which can account for these random periods of quiet.  Sometimes there is no obvious reason for why sales slow down and nobody sees your posts on Social Media.  The silence can often feel scary and never ending but I want to urge you to keep going.  Don't give up.

Keep going.

Use this time to plan out some engaging marketing - share your beautiful art, ask your customers questions, send your emails. 

When things slow down for me it makes me work even harder.  Behind the scenes I am beetling away on marketing posts and dreaming up engaging content.  I will sometimes go to a coffee shop with a journal and work out how I can keep my business going - I'll create a list of ideas, what new services could I offer my customers? What new products might they enjoy?  And if you don't know - ask them!  People love to be involved, and who knows, their responses could be the beginning of a brand new product or path for you to follow!

It could be that your latest creation just didn't hit the mark.  It happens.  In this case, and if you sense this is the reason why (and you'll intuitively know) then dust yourself off and start afresh.  Take some time to allow yourself to feel inspired.  Have a browse on Pinterest, look in magazines and see what catches your eye, maybe grab a sketch journal and see what evolves.  Go slowly and let things unfold naturally, inspiration cannot be forced or happen on demand. 

Talk to fellow creatives.  

I am so lucky that I have a fab bunch of women who I've connected with online and become good friends with, and we often chat, sharing our worries and our successes.  Again, talking things through can be really helpful, they may be feeling the same way as you!  Conversations with like minded souls can sometimes lead to fresh inspiration, a boost of enthusiasm or simply just a chance to share your concerns and be heard.

As well as doing this, I paint.  When the ideas come I get them onto wood or canvas and I share my process and keep myself in the loop.  I keep going. 

Remind yourself that everything is temporary, and things are always changing.  Keep yourself present, keep yourself positive, and focus on what you love.  Keep going, bravely showing up and sharing what you do.

Monday, 14 May 2018

What to do when your painting fails

Painting is such an emotional process, and although the euphoria of finishing a good piece is one of the best feelings in the world, there are times when the opposite happens too.  When our paintings go wrong it can bring up all kinds of feelings from frustration to anger, and even on occasions going as far as knocking our self confidence.  We can sometimes find ourselves assailed by those awful inner voices too, telling us 'you're not good enough' 'this is awful' and that sort of nonsense.  We are, by default, our own worst critics and quick to reproach ourselves when things don't turn out right.  We can also feel a sense of disappointment or despair and one of our first instincts is to throw the lot out or tear it to shreds.

But wait...

There is sometimes a way back from these 'Lost Paintings' which I'll share with you now as I've recently had the very experience I'm writing about.

Last week, deeply inspired and excited by the sudden swathes of bluebells in our nearby woods, I felt the call to start a new painting.  I got quickly to work laying down the base coats, building up that tantalising indigo amid the fresh lime greens.  My idea was to create a piece with a winding path through the flowers, leading out onto a sunny meadow beyond.  And so far, so good.

And then I went back to it and added in the trees.  And whilst I was painting the trees, I felt a sense of dissatisfaction creeping in.  I added a few more leaves and stepped back, eventually acknowledging that I wasn't happy with it.

So what happens next?

I've found to my detriment that throwing a painting away or tearing it in half in a fit of remorse is the worst thing we can do.  Later on we might come to regret that decision as sometimes there is a solution to be found, but of course by then it's too late.  

The first step is tuning in to the feeling that something isn't working out or doesn't feel right. 

A cup of tea at this point and a ten minute break can be useful to assess what the problem might be and whether or not there is a way to put it right.  If you know right off what's gone wrong then you can try and steer it back on track.  

If you're struggling to figure it out and you hate the entire thing at this point, the next step is to simply give it time and stop.

As frustrating as it is to walk away and leave a painting in limbo, the sensible thing to do is to turn the fellow towards the wall and ignore it for a while.  Every now and then you can check in on it, see if you're ready to give it another go. 

My Bluebells are now sitting with a half finished Blackpool Sands painting at the back of the studio, and truthfully, I've no idea at the moment whether or not they will ever get finished.  Sometimes with the passing of time apathy sets in, and in this case it's often best to simply accept it wasn't meant to be and paint it over or throw it away.

You might be thinking that hours of your life have been needlessly wasted on a piece of work that was only fit for the bin - but no!  I think each painting I create brings it's own lesson.  The ones that are successful help me to identify what worked and why.  I can take this information forward and use it in future work.  In the same way we can apply this critique to the ones that fail.  We can ask what went wrong, and why - was it the colours? The composition? The subject matter?  


Back to the Bluebells...a couple of weeks later, I am feeling that my composition was wrong in parts, and I was working too tightly again.  Of late, I've begun working in a much looser style which I am really enjoying, and now I can see that for some reason, I had reverted to working in my old manner. 

I know now that it will be one of those panels that gets painted over, or thrown away.  And that's OK.  Bluebells was a lesson in letting go of ways of working that no longer bring joy.  It felt restrictive and dull and that was never going to come across well as a finished piece.  I strongly believe that paintings are infused with a sort of energy - you'll know exactly what I mean - it's when you see a piece of work that seems to shimmer with a special magic, it draws you in and you intuitively know that the artist absolutely loved creating it, and invested their heart and soul into painting it.  In the same way you will also be able to 'feel' when a painting is missing that magical ingredient, it will be dull and lacklustre, it won't affect you in the same way.

So, don't be afraid to make mistakes in your work.  Use them as lessons to grow your creative tool kit, to learn what works and what doesn't.  Practice tuning into your emotions as you work - do you feel good? Exuberant? Excited?  Or are you feeling a bit distracted? Flat? Bored?  
Learning to tune into your feelings will become second nature in time, and will save you hours of fretting over your failing artwork as you come to understand that these lessons are all just part of the process.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Why you need to change the story you're telling

You'll never make it as an artist.

Those words jolted me from my daydream like a slap in the face.  

I was sitting in a small office at the back of the college art room in the middle of a tutorial.  It was stuffy and crammed with files and boxes and art materials.  Outside the window I could see trees and leaves moving in the wind, and there was the hum of distant traffic on the street below.  Outside, life went on as normal and my art tutor continued to talk, shuffling some papers and taking sips of her coffee.  

She didn't know she had just dropped a bombshell which had blown my dreams apart.

I sat frozen to my chair, feeling small and vulnerable, fighting the tears that threatened to spill, along with the sudden rush of panic, fear and embarrassment that enveloped me.  The tutorial ended, and she turned away to write some notes.  I didn't know what to do or think, I probably smiled politely and mumbled thank you - thank you for what? For pulling the rug out from underneath me? For destroying my self confidence?  For shattering my dreams?

I was eighteen years old, and those words created something that became my story for the next few years.  I no longer believed in myself and my abilities.  In those days, we were raised to respect our elders and believe what they told us - why wouldn't we? They were experts in their fields, it wasn't like it is today.  I never thought to challenge her and shout "You're wrong!" - I never thought to follow my calling despite what she had said, because I'd been told by someone in authority, an art lecturer, that I was no good.  Her words held weight, and I believed them.

And over time, I let those words shape me.  I let my paints gather dust, my sketch books lay untouched and slowly, insidiously, the rot seeped in and I stopped being an artist.  I turned my back on it all.  Her opinion became the only voice I heard, it crowded out my fragile sense of self belief, it crushed my hope.  It was a long time before I found the courage to paint again, and when I did it was the sweetest moment.  It was like coming home.  In the years that followed my life has been full of creativity, and I look back with sadness and tenderness at that young eighteen year old girl, who didn't have the confidence to listen to her own voice.

What are you not doing, or putting off because you don't believe you can do it?

Who, or what was it that stood in your way?

What happened in your life that stops you doing what you love now?  What story are you telling yourself that prevents you taking the next step? 

Unless it's completely life threatening or dangerous, then why are you still believing that you can't?

It's time to ask yourself if the story you believe is even still true.  For me, the feeling of not being good enough was numbing, but eventually the nudge to make art became too great to ignore.  I started tentatively painting again at home, then I did an evening class in Interior Design before going to University where I had superb art tutors who really encouraged me.  My self belief soared.  The trick is to take small steps - don't imagine that your first piece of work has to be gallery worthy, just make a date to get some colour onto paper, buy a beautiful skein of yarn, or make a mood board of things that inspire you.  Each step you take is a step in the right direction, you're changing your story every time you choose to say yes to what lights you up.

It doesn't matter what level of ability you are at either, deep down we all have a seam of creativity, a spark that comes alive when we tend to it.  I want you to think about what you enjoy or love, and what makes you feel excited and alive.  Now go and do it.  

One small step.

There are millions of ways to express ourselves, but believing we can't isn't one of them.  It's time to re-write your story and start again.