When we look at our art practice, are we bogged down with how we think we should be doing it?

I went through the first dip last year. Aside from feeling like I was way too close to the edge, I was seriously considering getting a basic job to cover the bills so I could stop the money stress. I could save all that energy for the true artist in me…It was a dip in what is a steady and reasonable income. That’s not to say I ever felt completely safe, who does? No, I’ve always had to push; marketing, advertising, revisiting old clients, changing website, PR, accounts, new approaches…24/7, and yes I feel tired but you know what, even in those darkest hours I knew I would never give up. The real question that came out of that time was this: Can I sustain it psychologically and emotionally, never mind the money, because even when times were tight financially, money always came in the end. What hasn’t come so regularly is the reassurance that I won’t fail.

Failure; that’s it isn’t it? And it’s the fear that’s exhausting.

Words about failure bang an old drum, but how many of us can talk openly about it? I know that working as an artist full time looks like the ideal from the outside, but as from my last post you can see that is not necessarily so. Both approaches to ones practice have their advantages and disadvantages. We make the best choices we can within a fairly unaccommodating environment. In my case I chose portraits, which I enjoyed and happened to be reasonably good at. I approached it like a business. I knew I had to find a niche, offer something slightly different. I avoided googling it to see what the competition was like (a very long row of page numbers). Yes the Brits like representational art, they buy it, is this the advantage? Not really, competition is hot, it’s your drive and where you put it that works. The first portrait I painted was when I was travelling in the US, penniless.

But the art game is hard. It’s not like anything else. We have to wear ALL the hats. The creative journey itself is one big emotional rollercoaster never mind the day to day stuff. The highs are magnificent, the lows are hell. We have to make sacrifices, like it or not. This thing called time, I’m about as hungry for it as any other artist can be because now I want my journey as an artist to find its truer meaning. I’ve got stuff to say and now I find I haven’t got the time to let it all free flow. But I will find time. I realise now what I have to do is to sit down and get my brain working, be smart. I don’t want this pivotal point in my career to become a dichotomy when it really doesn’t need to be. Even if my new work becomes wildly different, this is nothing new in an artist’s journey. Read about Picasso’s life, read about them all, the same fears are all there. I love the work I do. I won’t resent the odd impossible painting I have to do. I’m learning to see all my commissioned work, which has trained me so well, in a new perspective. The leap into the unknown perhaps isn’t so big. I can find the steps that will guide me there if I look carefully. What I mustn’t do is panic about time. What I must do is be true.

So is the money factor just bad news for art? Does it mess it all up? I’m torn. I remember selling my first piece of art and being completely overjoyed. When the price tag goes up on your work, it does bring its own affirmation and confidence to you the artist. But, put a price on the moment that someone looks at your work and you see how visibly moved they are. This has to be the best feeling ever.

Motivation and drive. What is it and why do we do what we do?


It’s an age-old discussion, that artist-money-job thing, and one I personally find as a practising artist quite tricky to balance. Not just in terms of financial juggling, but perhaps more so the psychological implications it carries. I’ve no doubt this is echoed amongst most practising artists.

Simon Fell recently raised some thought provoking points in his blog ‘Restart’, which confront all artists within their practice. Questions and notions which are not new, but presented with sensitivity, the vulnerability artists sometimes find difficult to voice amidst advice of do’s and dont’s in surviving. We are, after all, embedded in myth and stereotype of what an artist’s life is/should be, often leading to confusion and disillusion.

It was only lately that I read statistics of those in full time practice as opposed to part time (a-n BAS 2011). However, it’s not always clean cut as artists will say they never stop ‘practising’ art whether they work in another job or not. And some earn well from their art irrespective of the hours they put in the studio. Still, reading those statistics shouldn’t have come as any surprise. Remember we were told in school that a career as an artist involves two jobs – a teacher (or something similar) the main one, and studio practice in your ‘spare’ time. Has this changed? I’m 45 and I still hear it. Yet I do feel surprised (right word?) because it brings home to me the general lack of support art as a career is given from the grassroots, and this bugs me. In fact, the general consensus is that it’s not a particularly serious career to undertake and therefore should be treated as such. Superfluous. Need I say art permeates every aspect of our culture, take it all away and what happens to civilisation? Of course it’s serious and necessary.

Ten Years in…

I have worked full time as an artist for almost ten years. It was a conscious decision to take the big step, and one I prepared for. You could say it came ‘late’ to me as a serious career option at the age of 35 after a fairly big event in my life made me realise that I was in fact brave enough to do it (after all what’s the worse thing that can happen?) I did go to art school, albeit temporarily (disillusioned) and will say that for the most part I am self taught, practice endlessly, and found my determination to succeed. It is only now that I have reached a level or point, after unceasing output (exhaustion is never far away) that it is allowing a moment to pause.

I began painting portraits around 2004. Initially booking myself on business/marketing courses to not only give myself a grounding in this area (I knew I’d need it) but also to take myself out of my comfort zone and build self confidence. It worked. I borrowed a little money and put some ads out there and targeted a specific market. Since then it’s been a long haul building up a reputation, but one that for me has worked. So, to date my work is predominantly commissioned based. However, creating a specific piece of artwork for someone is an entirely different ball game. It involves an extra set of skills to deal direct with clients rather than through a gallery. It is restrictive in some ways and freeing in others. Yet ten years later for me the change has come. The momentous realisation of truth and the gates of my inner voice being flung wide open (haha at last!). The need to create pieces which are important to me has come. So where does this leave me, the artist? Am I actually really just doing two jobs like many others? Will my new work be a smooth transition from the commissioned work? What about the reputation I have? Can I balance the two?

This is a hugely significant stage in my practice and one I am sharing (to my surprise) with anyone who cares to read. It feels vulnerable yet empowering all at the same time. Next blog I’ll talk about the dichotomy of my art production that earns the money, and the emergence of the art I want to be making and how I bridge the two.