Friday, 18 October 2019

The Secret to Making Authentic Art

The artists path is not linear, it is a journey that twists and turns, that is wrought with pockets of fear, despair and self doubt, but also feelings of euphoria, achievement and deep joy.  Is there any other profession that is laced so intricately with so many layers of emotion?  Being a creative person, whether in business or for the sheer pleasure of it, is to share your deepest thoughts and dreams, to show people your innermost feelings, a glimpse of your soul.

From our humble beginnings as children at school, where we made curious potato print pictures, and collages from bright paper shapes, we learnt new skills.  Through our educational years we picked up techniques from our teachers, and maybe went on to learn at a more deeper level, at college or university.

When we're studying we have a structure to follow, we know we have to draw the vase with the flowers in it.  We know our homework is to draw a bird.  We know that our friends are going to look at it, that our teacher is going to see it.  We want to do well, get the great feeling that comes with achieving the A grade.  We don't want to look like a fool, so we might even squash our creativity down, conforming to what's expected.

I was once asked to make a mask for a play I was in, and I spent a good hour or so designing what in my eyes I believed to be a masterpiece; bejewelled with sequins and glitter, only to be derided by the director of the performance when I took it into rehearsal. "This is too much.  Do something less fancy, without all the glitter."  And so, a week later I took a bland, felt tipped version in which was accepted as more appropriate.  The art I did as a child at home was very different to what I created at school, as it was done in a space of freedom, without rules or walls.  As we grow, we learn to shape our creativity to what other people expect, learning what works and what doesn't.  We sometimes, unconsciously, take this pattern into adulthood.

Today, with social media and a wide and varied audience of followers to see what you're doing, it can sometimes feel as if you're very much in the same boat, chasing the likes and the nice comments.  The high of being told something is great can insidiously become a feeling worth more than doing the actual work.  Chasing likes and compliments is both seductive and addictive.

Before the Summer, you might remember I told you how I felt utterly caught up in the hamster wheel of social media, feeling the pressure to create something each day that was Instagram worthy (and I know towards the end of this period, it really probably wasn't).  I noticed how the whole process of creating was becoming a daily grind, feeling more and more artificial and almost like a kid at show and tell bragging; "hey, look what I did" and I didn't like it anymore.  It didn't feel authentic, or real.  It felt forced, automatic, and tiring.

I want to say at this point how grateful I am to the folks who choose to follow my accounts. This blog post isn't to suggest I'm not interested in what they have to say.  Choosing to post images of my work now is because it feels like I have something I'd really like to share, with people who are genuinely interested in what I'm doing, and I love connecting with those people!  I no longer post every single day, I'm more thoughtful about what I do choose to put online, and most importantly I'm no longer chasing the high of a bunch of likes.
I had people message me when I announced that I was taking a break over the Summer, they told me "I could see your heart wasn't in it" and I am deeply grateful to them for that honesty, and astonished at how the energy of our art transmutes across the world via the social stage.  People know.

The secret to making your best, authentic art, which is full of inspired energy - the art that makes you feel both vulnerable and euphoric - is the work you create when you act like nobody is going to see it.  I think we need to be bold enough to stretch our wings, to take off into the unknown and explore our own unique ways of making art and what that means to us.  It's about creating boundaries:  Stop comparing yourself with the big social media accounts, stop obsessively looking at numbers and just start making art again, just because you love it, because you have to.  It's part of you.  Your style of creativity is rare; nobody on this planet will ever do it in the same way that you do it.  You'll find some people adore what you do and how you do it,  and others not so much - and that's ok.

Make art like nobody is going to see it.

It's that simple.

I'm not suggesting that you never use social media or take an art class again - but it's about approaching things differently, without constantly craving the applause. Without the pressure of an audience to perform to, you suddenly find you have time and you can make art that flows and that makes your soul happy. You'll feel it, during the process of making it, regardless of what it looks like. You'll know.

And if you do want to share your art, either online or in person with someone, do it because it feels good for you, because it means something to connect and to share your stories.

I also want to say that if you receive positive comments for what you've created - that's great! It's nice to have other people like what you're doing and pay you a compliment and I have so much gratitude for the people who take time out of their day to post nice things on my accounts.  The problem starts when we create the habit of seeking validation outside of ourselves and we begin to lose sight of the truth.  We start to forget what the true purpose of our art is, and how powerful it can be if we just tune in to our inner muse and let the magic happen.

Painting, making, creating...when we choose to show up and make art like nobody is going to see it, we open up a vast amount of space and freedom within our minds, which allows inspiration and new ideas to flood in.  When we are not answerable to anyone, you'll discover that art doesn't have to conform to a standard or an expectation, it doesn't have to look like anything that's gone before.  Working this way allows us to fully relax into the creative process as there is no pressure to please, only space to make beautiful, authentic art, whatever that looks like for you.


  1. I discovered this by accident, this summer. Having spent three years doing City & Guilds, having to include particular stitches or techniques, I woke up one morning with a burning desire to make a piece I could see really clearly in my head. I didn’t sketch it out, or sample threads - I just made it, over a couple of days, adding the next section as I went along. It felt like a real liberation, making something just for me, the way I wanted.

    The funny thing is, I got more social media likes, and positive comments, than I’d had for any of my other pieces, and I wonder whether that’s because people could see that it was authentically me?

    Congrats on the American deal, by the way! 👍👍👍

    1. Hello Heather,

      Thank you so much!

      Isn’t it interesting to realise this, and brilliant that you experienced it this way! I also like the word liberation, it definitely describes so well that feeling of creating authentically, and for ourselves!

      Julia xxx

  2. I feel both incredibly pressured and inspired by other artists and illustrators on social media platforms. I want to look for inspiration, but I also get quite stressed by the pressure to create. I've also taken a step back from social media. I'm only posting when I have work to share and I'm also trying desperately not to sit constantly just scrolling on my phone, which I seem to waste hours doing, when I could be painting!
    I find your emails and blogs more real and inspiring than many of the social media posts, where they make me frustrated and probably jealous!
    Thank you Julia and congratulations on your new deal. Xxx

  3. I came back to reread this slowly. It is worth it. Good advice for people just starting out or renewing their creative expression. I'm a non-professional creative person, making and exploring art without training or instruction. So for me it is mostly carefree, but as my tools and supplies and aspirations grow, I get a bit hesitant and do more thinking than creating. I see the refined techniques and know-how of some experienced artists or gifted youngsters, and I become more aware of my informality. It reminds me of when I first got my driver's license and rented a high-powered sports car from the airport. I had no idea. To me it was just a car. Nice looking, sure, but I didn't think about make/model. Looking back I realize it was a fast sports car, and I have apprehension. I also have qualms about driving to the airport through hectic Washington, D.C. When I was oblivious, there was nothing to it but do it! (as the old saying goes) Alexine