Being told by my own Mother how she had described me to someone as the daughter who ‘doesn’t work’ stirred up some strong feelings in me. I was quite gobsmacked by what she said. On reflection, I think it got to me for two reasons – firstly, because I felt it to be hugely unjust and secondly, because it undoubtedly fed into my own guilt and insecurities about whether or not the work I do as an artist constitutes work – real ‘proper’ work, I mean.

I’ve thought about my Mum’s comment a lot since she made it and I’ve come to see it in context. My Mum is a woman in her eighties, after all; the eldest daughter of four male siblings, who simply by being born female was the one expected to do the domestic chores while they did none; someone who lived through an era when being busily immersed in domestic chores was the expectation of a ‘good’ woman. So why would she think that a day of being in an artist’s studio could ever equate with the kind of working day she herself had witnessed and experienced?

My Mum grew up amongst a family of farm and building labourers and then went onto marry my Dad, moving with him to his native mining village in Ayrshire, Scotland. It was there that she witnessed real, hard graft amidst the miners working in dangerous conditions. That in her mind (and if I’m honest, in my mind too!) is what constitutes a hard day’s work. And when my siblings and I were older, she herself worked full time, caring for the elderly – again, a hands-on job involving a degree of physical labour.

So why would I expect her to have any idea about the amount of time I invest in being a practising artist? To consider the time I spend in the studio alone as legitimate work – in any shape or form? I haven’t exactly been arriving at her house sweating from hard labour!

The fact that I don’t have a regular income, I’m sure affects the way my Mum thinks about what I do. It affects me, too. I’ve moved from being financially independent for a number of years to earning occasional bits of money from selling the odd piece of work and being paid for a few talks I’ve given. I don’t however, earn anything near what you would describe as a regular salary. And yet, in my head, I feel very much like an employed person and, albeit for very little remuneration, I consider myself to be someone who works.

I’m fortunate enough to live with and share the income of my partner, a freelance writer, someone who very much understands the nature of the work I do. Applying myself to a creative practice has been all about starting a new chapter in my life and in my moments of self doubt (and they’re frequent!) he’s fond of telling me: ‘but you ARE earning – just not yet!’ He’s basing that on what his own experience has been – starting out in freelance writing, earning infrequently at the start but gradually building up a solid body of work and a sound reputation, enabling him eventually to make a good enough living from his writing. My working life as an artist won’t necessarily turn out the same way, but while there’s hope and an opportunity to try it…

When we started a family together, we made a joint decision that his career would be prioritised and that I would be the primary child-carer while our twin sons were growing up. As our sons have grown older and increasingly independent, so I’ve been able to spend more time applying myself to being an artist. Though my partner’s always been happy with this arrangement, I still find myself, despite all the reassurances, often feeling guilty about not earning a wage – it’s what I’ve always done, so why not now? And this is why of course my Mum’s words got under my skin and tapped into the guilt and self-questioning I sometimes experience about no longer being in ‘proper’ employment, with all the attached security it can bring.


I’ve continued to think about the comment my Mum made about me ‘not working.’ Some things people say just get inside you and won’t go away – you need time to mull them over and process them. And some things that are said just make you want to stop, to think and reflect on what’s going on all around you. I’m sure my decision to apply the brakes this past week and allocate myself some time off from the studio is related.

Consequently, I’ve had the space and time to notice that today marks the first year of me writing a blog, here on Artists Talking. Not of any real significance to anyone but myself, I know, but I’m beginning to realise how important documenting the various aspects of my work is – and this blog is as good a place as any for doing just that. It’s a good reference point for recording what works and what doesn’t and a sound indicator of whether or not (and how) creative practice of any sort is developing.

Certain anniversaries feel important to acknowledge and never more so than when there’s cause for celebration. Starting a blog on Artists Talking felt like a big deal for me, being naturally quite shy and a fairly private person. But I was hugely inspired by listening to the experiences of established Artists Talking bloggers who Andrew Bryant (on-line editor) gathered together last summer to speak about the advantages of maintaining a blog. Artists Jane Boyer, Aliceson Carter, Rosalind Davis, Alex Pearl, Emily Speed and Rob Turner presented an extremely positive picture and through listening to them, I felt motivated and able to make an informed decision. I published my first ever blog post a few weeks later.

Once I started the process and realised that other artists/bloggers were reading and connecting, the writing came naturally and the on-line conversation exchanges encouraged me to keep going.

There is a diverse community of artists using the blogs in a diverse number of ways on Artists Talking. It means there’s always something fresh and exciting being written about and I’ve really enjoyed (and still am enjoying) being a part of a stimulating, creative community.

I had no real idea how it would turn out when I first took the decision to blog but I’ve made no secret of the many things I’ve gained from doing so ever since. And I’ve started to think about the writing itself more as an integral part of my practice rather than a separate entity; my practice it seems can be enhanced through it, in a more in-depth, positive and constructive way than I could ever have imagined; the benefits can be huge.

Something I wrote in the conclusion to ending my first blog ‘Keeping It Together’ sums up perfectly for me what the past year’s blog writing has been about:

there’s a vulnerability within all of us, a deep desire to be accepted – to be heard, to feel needed and to feel included. Encouragement and empathetic understanding from like-minded artists is invaluable; it’s what all of us at some point or other crave and need in order to flourish as creative people.

And so, as I’ve gravitated towards artists who – whether through their website, their blog, their tweets or simply through their presence – have been happy to share a little of themselves, my contacts and support systems have grown. These artists have also invariably been generous, not just in sharing their own work but also in contributing their thoughts and offering support to others.’

Being an artist is not always easy but the mutual exchange of ideas and sentiments and the ongoing mutual support shared on Artists Talking over the past year has introduced me to a whole new way of communicating. And rather like the studio, the blog acts as a psychological space, a place to bear in mind, a space to contain the whole host of feelings associated with being creative – even when you’re not physically engaged in it.

And so, on November 20th 2012, I’m acknowledging a year’s anniversary of blog writing. My thoughts keep flitting back to what my Mum said… but more of that another time, I’m sure.


Once again I’ve found myself appreciating being part of a community via Artists Talking. Being partially deaf, it’s infinitely easier for me to communicate in writing. Listening requires a lot of concentration, I often miss quite a bit of any given conversation and I get very tired. There are a whole host of other complications that come with not hearing properly, too complex to go into here but when life around me starts feeling a bit frenetic and a little too fast paced, immersing myself in what other artists are up to feels like a good place to be.

I received an email from someone I know recently who described the art world as one ‘where it seems like everyone is talking at once and no body is listening.’ That really struck a chord with me. It’s true of many professions, I think but maybe the sense of urgency around being seen and heard has become more pronounced in an ever increasing climate of cutbacks and fewer art opportunities. Reading and getting absorbed in other artists’ blogs means that I’m able to process and respond to what’s being said at a pace and in a way I feel more comfortable with – ie. in a slower and more considered way. I gain a lot from it.

Another thing that resonated with me this week was something that Stuart Mayes posted on his blog ‘Project Me.’

My ‘work’ as an artist is hard to define (not what I produce, I mean all the things that I do that sustain my practice), many of these things are ‘soft’ and informal and sometimes I get something back (rarely money!) but it is all work. And I am very glad to be able to think of myself as a working artist!

The work is hard to define – having come from a working background where job descriptions clearly outlined the role and responsibilities you had as an employee, I’m acutely aware of how open-ended our work as artists can be and how the hidden aspects of what we do can be largely ignored – the ‘soft and informal things’ as Stuart calls them.

On a more personal level, a recent conversation with my Mum highlighted precisely how hard it is for me to define what I actually do – what constitutes ‘work’ in the good old-fashioned sense of the word. My Mum recounted a conversation she’d had in which she’d been talking about her two daughters – one who ‘worked very hard as a social worker’ and the other who ‘didn’t work.’ I’m the latter one – the one who doesn’t work, while my sister is a social worker – has a ‘proper’ job as my Mum called it.

My Mum’s comments came after I’d just completed a particularly intense week of work – preparing for a show, delivering work for another and attending that gallery’s Sunday afternoon launch, joining in on my first ever East London art tour, visiting exhibitions before they close, supporting another artist and answering questions for three different interviews, all of which required some pretty in depth thinking. So I was really taken by surprise to be described as a person who didn’t work.

I’m in no way suggesting that my work is harder than my sister’s; I’m acutely aware of the imbalance of responsibility between what she does and what I do. There are life and death issues in her work and I know from my own past work experience in social care that the workloads can be vast and feel unmanageable at times; chronic stress seems to go with the territory. But whatever it is that I do (and don’t) as an artist, I feel 100% committed to my art practice and dedicate as much time as I can to it. And essentially, I think of myself as someone who works. I’ve been thinking a lot about what my Mum said and why she might have said it – but that’s another whole post I think.