Wednesday 6 November 2019

Creating Slow

I have noticed over the last few weeks that my life and work patterns have changed. Things are slowing down, settling into a new, gentle structure.  I am noticing too, that these changes have affected me in a very positive way and I feel far more content, and much calmer than I have done in a long time.

During my break in the summer, I began to realise that something needed to change.  It wasn't just the business side of things, I felt off too; listless and laden with apathy.  I remember noticing how the self imposed demands of social media were making me feel (both drained and irritable).  Somebody had told me that we need to post content every day to stay in the loop and in people's feeds, and I had adhered to that idea for the longest time, fearing that it would all go wrong if I didn't.  However, I continued, somewhat foolishly,  to ignore my intuition and plowed on regardless, churning out content and slowly losing the love for what I do, and naturally it wasn't long before this feeling seeped into other corners of my life too.

There wasn't a huge lightbulb moment where I woke up one day and suddenly declared 'something needs to change!'; it was more of a gentle spiritual nudge, of slowly coming to an understanding of what those feelings in the pit of my stomach meant, why I felt so tired and uninspired.  And that's when I knew I had to stop and take a break.

I barely went on my social media over the summer, pretty much seven weeks or more elapsed before I shared another post and in that space and time I created for myself, I understood what needed to change.

My life looks very different to what it did four months ago.  I am no longer hurling myself through my day with barely a moments pause for breath.  I am no longer cramming every waking moment with chores and things to achieve, and I've let social media take a back seat too.

The biggest difference for me now, is choosing to live with more intention.

For me this means using the hours of my day carefully, checking in with how the online world makes me feel, and spending more time outdoors in nature.  It's making time each day for some kind of movement whether that's a walk, a jog or some yoga.  I also try and meet up with friends each week, knowing that connection is as important to me as my solitude.

My work patterns have changed too, I no longer work like there's no tomorrow, painting and creating at what now seems to have been a frantic pace.  I make time to research my subject matter, I enjoy taking photographs, creating mood boards on Pinterest, playing with colour palettes and sketching in my book.  My creative pace has slowed right down, meaning that all these things combined makes each moment more mindful, and it feels like ease and contentment has finally become a part of my life.

Another thing I have started to do is to be more mindful, and feel gratitude, every single day.  From the simplest moments of noticing the thin silver fingernail of a new moon in a dark indigo sky; a bird singing outside the studio, to picking the last succulent green beans from the garden. Giving thanks and noticing how these simple pleasures make us feel help to ground us and create a little hit of dopamine, the feel good chemical that our brains release.  It's also helping me to feel more in tune with the season, I'm really aware of the colours in nature, the feel of the cold wind on my face as I walk around the reservoir and the warmth of my thick woollen jumper.

Choosing to live slowly doesn't mean existing at a snails pace, it means embracing each moment with purpose and intention, and making sure each day encompasses the things that make you feel happy and healthy.  It means creating a space where you feel comfortable and safe, whatever that looks like for you.  Its cooking hearty, nourishing food using seasonal vegetables - my current favourite thing to do is to make a big pot of soup and warm a baguette in the oven to slather liberally with thick, salty butter.  Sitting down to enjoy this with my family is a simple pleasure and one that brings us all together at the table to share stories from our day.  And now with the darkness returning, I light candles and put the fairy lights above the fireplace on each evening.  These small rituals help me to return to the moment, to notice the seasonal changes and feel cosy and safe.

I'm also going through my things and letting go of stuff that I don't need or use anymore. Creating space in my home is like letting out a big deep sigh of relief, and while I've still a fair bit of sorting to do (and will never be a minimalist), I am aware of the benefits of a decluttered home and will continue to work on this, one small corner and cupboard at a time.

This didn't all happen overnight, and is more about a life change than just a fad. Each day is a blank canvas, to fill with what brings you joy and what feels good and with winter approaching and the days getting shorter I am more conscious than ever of how fast the days can sometimes slip by, making it all the more important to me to make each one really count.

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.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Just One Thing?

I want to talk about how it feels when you're drawn to exploring different ways of expressing yourself through art, and when you cannot commit to just the one.

The months prior to my Summer hiatus had seen me moving from illustrative art to a colourful exploration of abstract art.  I have no idea even now what pulled me to go into the studio that first day and use the paint in this way, only that it was something I had to do.  I needed to feel what it was like to create energy and stories through shape and colour but I was also deeply aware that it was completely different to my illustrative work, the work that I was recognised for.

After my break, I began to slowly start working in my sketchbook, this time pulled back to the gentle art of watercolours, dip pen and ink.  I felt that I reached for these things almost intuitively.  I picked up what felt right, and started to draw and make small paintings which became the bare bones of my new collection.

Last week I was talking to a friend about it.  I asked her, "will people start saying things like 'what's she doing now?' because I can't settle with just one thing?  It feels as if I ought to have just one thing, but I haven't".

There are plenty of wonderful artists who commit to working in one medium, and a certain subject matter (like landscapes for example) for many years, and gain a reputation in that field.  People know what to expect, it's reliable and solid.

Is it detrimental to our progress to not have just one thing?  Is it necessary for our progress to focus on one genre, and hone our talents using one medium?

I listened to a Podcast recently over on Let's Highlight Real with Meera Lee Patel.  She was talking about her own experience as an artist and writer, and touched on this subject.  She spoke about how she felt that one of the most important parts of the art for her is the story, whether that is told via a greetings card, a print or an essay, and how while she admired the artists who stick solely to one medium, and one way of creating, she often felt as if she didn't have a choice in the way her story was told.

This really resonates with me, some days I want to tell my story with watercolour and ink, other days I want to tell it through the vibrant and colourful medium of acrylics.  Other days, I'll turn to my blog and write.

So is this amateurish and confusing? Or does it instead show curiosity, ability and strength?

Meera said that it can be hard not to try and look like, or do things like other people.  But being an artist is about being true to yourself, and following your intuition.  I don't think I could choose just one type of paint and stick to it for the next 30 years, and I can't imagine not sharing through my writing either.  I also think that if you choose to work authentically, and commit to your own style, you are absolutely able to work with different mediums and genres to create a body of work that is 100% identifiable as yours, whether it's watercolour or linocut printing.

I'm currently working with watercolour and ink right now to create a beautiful new body of work which is inspired by the coast.  I felt compelled to work with words that are embroidered through the art (you can see more of this style over at Whistlefish here), using beautiful inks and a dip pen.

Do you prefer to see artists working with just 'one thing'?  Or, do you like seeing an artist sharing  their work through different styles and mediums?

Chat to me in the comments about your thoughts on this, I'd love to hear from you!


Before you go...


Enter code: SUMMER 30 at checkout to receive your discount on original art, fine art prints, cards, limited edition mugs and seasonal gifts.  A perfect time to treat yourself.

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?


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 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.