Blog it to flog it.

After my last two blogs there was a flutter of activity on Twitter and then I got an offer.

My blog about part time artists on a-n struck a chord with a lot of artists. It got a lot of attention, mainly on Twitter. I have started to feel connected to other artists through the blog and through all the surrounding retweets and responses.

Common ground

I have not met very many of the people I am communicating with through this peculiar modern medium but with the ones I have met I found the common ground established by the blog and it’s digital wash very useful as a basis for starting or rather continuing conversations. I think I am talking about networking, something I have never considered my strong point.

Strategy matters

I may have mentioned that I started this blog as part of a strategy. I currently feel that I have had quite a random relationship with career planning, my careers to date have tumbled rather than flowed. However, when I left Redlees studios in west London just over 2 years ago I did have an underlying aim which was to push myself out of that comfort zone and out into the (art) world. I was advised that writing a blog would be one way to start putting my name onto a sort of shared public agenda.

Small signs

What is interesting is that something has started to happen. I am getting more and more small signs that my writing is being read, that my name is getting around in a modest way that would be hard to do through personal encounters. The fact is that writing blogs and firing off tweets is a lot easier than getting your work shown. The amount of organisation, time, money and administration involved in getting works into exhibitions is phenomenal compared to the ease of getting published as a blogger and then telling the world all about it through social media.

The tools are here

The tools are at your fingertips if you are connected through the web. The main obstacle is believing you have something to say. I have been surprised at the richness of the material I have discovered by making this minor commitment to keep writing posts. To date I have managed about one every month on average. It is time consuming, I would have expected to prefer to be making but writing has it’s attractions – exercising a different part of my mind, building compositions and arguments with words is a challenge and it is creative in a very different way to making or drawing.

Meanwhile in real life

The offer I mentioned above is that I have been invited to contribute some work to a themed show. The connection is predominantly through this blog. I am sure this would not have happened if I had not put my head above the parapet in this way. I will be publishing details and tweeting all about the show when it comes to fruition but for now this feels like a Great Leap Forward, a plan that is showing tiny signs that it is starting to work. I am telling you this not just to show off (that may come later) but to encourage anyone that is considering blogging. Blogs can make things happen, if not in an entirely predictable way, certainly more has happened for me than was happening before I started to blog.

Blogging points:

I do not underestimate the barriers to starting writing, after all I have waited decades before I started but here’s some points to consider.

– Blogging can build your confidence by connecting you with other artists.

– Writing is a great exercise in organising your thoughts.

– The organisation involved in writing helps you when you are talking about your work.

– Blogging raises your profile in a way that is complimentary to showing your work.

– Writing is creative in itself and like any creative act, it makes other things happen.


P/art 2

Of all the posts I have done for this blog, the last one about working part time as an artist has had the most reaction. Because it got such a strong response I want to look at what I have gleaned from those responses.

Part time art working is the norm

I now have a clear impression that the vast majority of artists are part timers. Zeitgeist Art Projects (@ZeitgeistAP) tweeted that

“We only know very few artists who work full time and we know thousands of them!”

I am heartened by this even if I wish it were not true, I now realise I am part of an overwhelming majority. But we already knew this from the a-n 2011 Big Artists survey and yet in my experience this is the last fact most of us want to divulge… Since I did start writing and talking about it however I am finding most artists reciprocate and that most are in a similar situation.

Rosalind Davis at Zeitgeist got in touch to add that “Part time artists include internationally represented artists, who sell work to major collectors, but due to the insecure element of the arts sector remain in part time work or even full time work in order to retain any type of security.” This is another perspective on this issue which indicates that part timing occurs at all levels of our profession.

Our (employment) status

Before I wrote the blog I was concerned about revealing my part-time status as if it was somehow ‘unprofessional’. I am no longer anxious about this, raising the subject has only raised the profile of the blog through shared concerns that are common across the sector. On reflection I think it’s a good idea to discuss this amongst artists and beneficial in the long run. By not being open about our employment status we might help maintain the myth that more than a handful of ‘star’ artists are making enough from their work to do it full time. This re-inforces unrealistic ideas about career prospects for new artists and art students.

This is not something I really want to encourage, although I think I have subscribed to it in the past by dreaming of being ‘discovered’ by the mainstream art world as so many of us do. Perhaps we do this because the myth of the shooting star artist is so powerful in our culture and so central to the stories our media pursues and purveys with monotonous regularity. These are stories with happy endings just like in the movies, but not like the ones the mass of artists are living.


I also got a lot of feedback about the level of commitment artists feel however much of their time they can spend practising in their chosen medium. Like this from @TerriHHarper:

“Part-time artist? ‘Creativity’ is full-time, even when the ‘process’ is only part-time: it’s challenging!”

Redressing the imbalance

The burgeoning movement of artists initiatives seeks to redress this imbalance by taking matters into their (our) own hands. These bold assertions of self belief from the grass roots, seem to contain a more grounded ideal, a more realistic model of an artist than the art world could ever produce as it is so dependent on building and maintaining very few present and future star artists – aka investment opportunities. As @gillian_nicol tweeted:

“its a construct of the artworld systems that thrives on hierarchy and needs artists to be exclusive and elite thus their products are high value”

So what might the new model artist look like? I suspect dear reader that it looks pretty much like you, as diverse and rich as you are. That’s vague so I’ll try and clarify it a little ( – could this be turning into a manifesto?)

The grass roots model artist is:

Determined to keep making art. Making things whenever they can.

Defining themselves as an artist above all, whatever else they chose to or have to do to earn a living.

Rich in ideas and skills to realise them.

Someone whose work enhances our culture (whether invited to or not).

Could you add to this? Please feel free to respond.


P/art time

I am thinking about what it means to be a part time artist. I wonder how many of us this includes? According to the Big Artists Survey 2011

• 57% of artists generate only 0-25% of their income through their art practice.

• Almost a third of artists surveyed earned less than £5,000 a year from practice.

• Average turnover artists made from their practice in their last financial year was approximately £9000.

This was 2 years ago, it seems probable that these figures will have only worsened in the tough times since then, but clearly most of us are working part time.

For some time and the foreseeable future I have had a four days a week job designing websites. The work is intense, varied, challenging and rewarding. It’s also mainly design and design management rather than art. The main conundrum in my life at this point is how I could start to redress the balance between how I earn a living and what I feel is my real vocation.

With my time split in these proportions it takes a long time to devise, plan and execute the work, my art turnover is very low especially in a process intense medium like ceramics. Making the work is only part of the artists job of course, you also have find the time to cover marketing and administration of your art career.

Determination and struggle

I have determination and conviction on my side most of the time, occasionally they take a break when the prospect of either earning income through my own work or getting work related to it becomes obscured. In short I sometimes struggle to maintain my sense of myself as an artist.

One of my student contemporaries at Leeds Polytechnic fine art course in the seventies, Colin Fraser Gray now living in California, got in touch with a number of us who were on that course not long ago and opened with congratulations to all of us that have managed to continue making in any capacity after all this time. He pointed out that once you have defined yourself as an artist, a process that usually involves attending art school it’s hard to lose that self definition or to really settle for anything else.

Grayson Perry said in one of his recent Reith Lecture talks that he had a back-up plan to go into advertising if his art career did not pan out. Luckily he has not had to test that idea out. Most of us do have to find a day job, full-time freelance art making may well be a goal for many of us but it is often not a realistic option as you make commitments to housing and feeding a family of any description.

When I listened to Perry’s lectures I found them fascinating, poignant and painful in equal measure. What struck me most was how difficult it is to define what the job of an artist actually is. How many jobs involve not only a set of undefined tasks but no job description and no-one except yourself to assess your progress. With a few exceptions artists are more like entrepreneurs than employed workers, they take on risk, they define their own direction, they manage their own careers. Many of us use one (or more) career to fund our art career.

Career structures

The idea of a career structure for artists seems like a distant ideal from where I stand although I have been advised (in a consultation with Matt Roberts of MRA) that there are discernible stages to an artists career, I have only attained the first and most common stage: post-art-school.


A summary of my current thoughts on a part time art career.

• Most artists are part-timers.

• Unless you call yourself an amateur, as long as you can show artwork people will assume you are a professional artist.

• It’s essential to find a sustainable balance between earning a living and doing your own work, the balance of paid work to artwork could be in any proportion.

• I define myself as an artist. I may well never be a significant or a celebrated one but I am still determined to find ways of spending as much time as I can afford to make my work and seek an audience for it.

• Being an artist is a (part-time) job, you have to work on it step by step, build it up day by day like any other business. You have to sustain it before it is likely to sustain you.


Drawing breath

I am thinking about drawing and trying to write about it. The task turned out to be far from simple. I have been surprised how little I know and can explain, how much more I know tacitly than I do intellectually about drawing.

I want try and describe the way I draw.

A few years ago I started drawing more for its own sake. I worked in charcoal with patterns as an extension of the surface patterns I have used on ceramics and because I didn’t want to get distracted by over-thinking or what-do-I-want-to-say diversions. There’s something about the straight forwardness of patterns that allowed me to work more freely than representations do.

This way of drawing, was a revelation. I felt like I had found something which responded to me in the way that clay responds to me as I model with it. It’s enjoyable, as I am not representing anything real I can’t fail to make a good representation.

I also find I keep making representational allusions, (is it possible to draw in a way that doesn’t?) shading often appears, line drawings often demand to be filled in with tone or modelling just to see where the drawing will go next. In this sense the work is improvised. I want to see what develops on the page, I respond to my previous marks with my following ones.

To me drawing is like visual talking, it has a flow and an urgency and is purposeful without the underlying plan being spelt out- if there is one. Although I often start with an outline idea the issues raised by the marks I make determine how to resolve the drawing.

My skills in making and drawing are what drove me to become an artist in the first place. At school I did a lot of still life and I even got to go to a life class in the evenings so I became quite practiced at observational drawing. With regular practice the work did improve, it was very difficult to say how or why. I find observational drawing intensely hard work. It’s also quite a magical and mysterious process and very hard to control as it’s so much about releasing rational control and allowing visual information from your eyes to flow through you by way of your hands.

The hardest thing about drawing from life is the repeated assaults made on me by a (my own) sense of disappointment. When you start a drawing and work hard on it then step back to assess it, more often than not it’s a long way from what’s in front of you, the legs are too short, the body is brokenly dis-functional, there is no sense of volume or weight.

I have started to develop my own way of drawing that avoids this distracting distress and allows me to experiment with tone, form, composition & colour. The work is not abstract, what it represents is essentially fiction. Fictional space, depicted forms, something that exists only in pictorial space. I am interested to know how this idea fits into the the genre of drawing as a whole – another item added to my learning agenda.

Partly in search of answers to this question I visited the Jerwood Drawing Prize show . This years show demonstrates that an enormous range of approaches to drawing are going on in the uk. This diversity is hopeful, in the introduction to the catalogue judge Michael Craig-Martin points out the importance they attached to the artists individuality “What I find I am looking for is evidence of a distinct ‘voice’…the individual character of the artist is inescapably present and evident in the work and that the work engages the world beyond art.”

I also came across this interestingly broad definition by sculptor Richard Wilson “Any drawing that is done to explain something is a good drawing if it explains it well.”

Understanding my own lack of words about what I am trying to do with drawing and trying to get an understanding of the medium as a whole is a revelation and a challenge, and this understanding in itself allows me to start thinking about what to do next, do I want to learn more? Could I really choose not to? I think I will certainly need more space to write more.


Beyond the male script

I have been on holiday, I took a break from work and this blog during which I heard a brief article on BBC Radio 4 one morning about men and mental health and that’s the issue that has been on my mind above all during this time.

The feature was about how the UK Department of Health is failing to recognise men as a category of people with special needs. Here’s a synopsis of the bit of the article that really stood out for me:.

The common rules of masculinity:
1. Men should be fighters and winners.
2. A man should provide and protect.
3. Men should retain mastery and control.

These are principles identified by Martin Seager (Consultant Clinical Psychologist at South West Yorkshire NHS Foundation Trust) as part of ongoing research into the main strands of a “Male Script”, the elements that most cultures in the world use to ‘measure’ men.

The clarity of these usually unwritten rules really stayed with me. It is so striking to hear something which has been silently shaping your life your whole life long, like a set of tramlines that you keep getting stuck between but don’t know why or who put them there.

There must be an equivalent set of rules for women that are equally common, compelling, oppressive and universal and that women spend their lives trying to live up to, or trying to escape. I have yet to come across anything quite so succinct for men or women.

The struggle for change

When I was 16 I wrote a project about the Cuban revolution for my history ‘O’ level. Revolutions and liberation struggles have been the historical backdrop of my lifetime, from the Civil Rights movement in the US to the international Anti-Apartheid movement. A revolution that has taken place during my lifetime and that I have witnessed at closest proximity and is of most relevance to me is the development of feminism. The liberation of women has been hard fought and strongly resisted in workplaces, in government, in schools and on local councils and in every family and this has all happened during my lifetime.

I was there, if not exactly on the frontline, somewhere close by. This grass roots movement has caused such major changes in the society I live in that it’s been impossible to ignore. Like all revolutions at some point you have to state where you stand – are you with us or against us? Particularly in the context of family and relationships men have been called on to decide if they will support or oppose womens growth and liberation.

Gay liberation has followed a similar path in many ways, and a men’s (liberation) movement has been quietly evolving since the 1970’s.

Men do not generally figure as a subject that needs particular consideration. As a group we are seen broadly to be able to look after and represent ourselves and indeed as the historically dominant sex we can also be seen as part of an oppressive problem rather than a sector of society with particular needs that need special consideration. But the script I quote above shows how men are under pressure from their own and society’s expectations to perform and win under most circumstances and this puts enormous strain on people trying to live up to outdated or even impossible aspirations especially during times of economic difficulty.

Art reflects issues

I generally do not include my political/social ideas in my work in an explicit or didactic way. But these ideas do inform and underlie my work even though they are not often spelt out. I think that may be changing, as I become clearer about what I am trying to do as part of the learning process that this blog documents. I have managed to include reference to it in my latest Twitter profile and as I make it more explicit and clear in my thinking and writing I can see it becoming a clearer strand in my artworks.

Link to a comprehensive summary of why men should be studied in an article by Martin Seager:

3rd UK Conference for Men and Boys Thursday, 26 September 2013 – Sunday, 29 September 2013
Brighton, UK

International Men’s Day on Tuesday 19th November 2013 – a platform to help improve the lives of men and boys in the UK.