Confessions of an Obsessive Compulsive Artist

16. Feb, 2021

It's been a long winter, not seeing friends and family, not having any set routine, cold, damp days.  You've hammered Netflix and seen everything, you've done more daily exercise than ever.  If you're anything like me, you may have led a horrendously busy life pre-lockdown and, at one point, welcomed the forced slowdown to embrace new things.  

Being an artist can be great in times like this.  You can really dedicate large blocks of time to develop artistic skill and even set a new course in your art, like a journey of self-discovery.  The initial excitement of embracing a new age in your art is full of hope and you feel ready for the challenge, if anything, as a distraction from what's happening in the real world.  

In my house, that initial excitement is there almost every morning.  I wake up before the crack of dawn (it's currently 5am as I write this!), with a million ideas whizzing round in my head.  It's like a burst of mental energy, itching to get out.  In an ideal world, I'd be up, paint brush in hand, and I'd paint until I could paint no more.  In reality, the fact that I share the house with a husband and two kids, limits this activity somewhat.  Not able to use my studio, I'm holed up in the kitchen at my easel most days.  Thoughts of having to get everything out, then put away again before breakfast, home schooling, housework, dampens the artistic flow, just a little.  Pre lockdown, I'd drop the kids at school and spend the day in my studio working.  Now, more than ever, the lines of work and home are blurred and I'm torn between the guilt of not giving the kids my full attention and those little artists in my head, screaming to be set free.  This makes for a very demotivated environment.  

The feeling of demotivation is a killer, which can lead to depression and all sorts of other health conditions.  You start to give up everything, even getting out of bed, and even though art is a therapeutic experience and the Bob Ross fans out there will have been left on cloud 9, thinking what a wonderful job, being an artist must be, let me tell you, it can also be a demon.  Artists have creativity running through their veins.  Their very existence is to create.  It's as important to them as breathing.  If an artist can't do their thing, they fall hard mentally.  This, in turn, can lead to what is called 'artists block'.  

You may have heard of writers block, well visual artists get this too.  Where they feel like everything they do is rubbish, they've lost their skill, they can't make good art anymore.  I've seen countless posts on art Facebook pages lately, where artists are asking how to get out of this rut they find themselves in.  Some even talk of giving up art completely.  I've experienced this in the past and it's horrible.  You're in a black hole that you can't climb out of.  So, how do we stay motivated and avoid, or climb out of, artists block? 

The answer is, you claw your way out!  Those little artists screaming in your head can be silenced by giving them what they want.  Grab a sketchbook and draw anything.  DRAW ANYTHING!!  An apple, a cup, your fingernail, ANYTHING.  Then, scroll through google, or find a tour of one of the galleries.  Look at other art, draw inspiration from other art.  Cherry pick the things you like about it and explore those things.  Do some finger painting, face painting, get out the palette knives and plaster a camvas with nonsensical colour.  All this will trigger your creativity again.  And, if, like me, you struggle with creating or family, get the family to do it with you!  They may produce something that inspires your next masterpiece.  Make a dedicated time to art.  Block in a whole afternoon of creativity.  Force yourself to be bold, push your own boundarie and see what happens.  Most importantly of all, take each day at a time and be kind to yourself.  

9. Feb, 2021

Yes, you read that right.  Those that have visited my website, commission price list lately may have noticed the absence of any prices for colour pencil commissions.  This is because I have taken the decision to 'take a break' from the medium.  I don't know how long that break will be, could be months or years, I don't know.  There are a number of reasons why I've made this decision however.  

1.  Cost - I'm not going to lie, even for an experienced artist, colour pencil takes an extremely long time.  Hours upon hours of work to make the image look realistic, which is the style every customer who commissions me, expects.  That, coupled with the stigma that colour pencils are a fairly new medium in the grand scale of things and therefore don't command the same price expectations for customers as, say, oil paintings, means the artist ends up paying themselves less than minimum wage, or sometimes even makes a loss, if you factor in all the time spent discussing the commission with the customer too. This is not ideal when they, like everyone else, has to pay the bills and put food on the table.  it's not good business sense and a professional artist is running a business, just like everyone else.  The bottom line counts, just as it does for any retail business.  

2.  Developing as an artist - Artists go through 'phases' or 'terms' in their career.  Monet is a great example of this.  In his earlier work, it's very detailed, realistic, classical.  Later on in life, you see his paintings loosen up to the point where his work can be distinguished from everyone else's.  The constant demand for realistic pet portraits in colour pencil means that's all I end up doing all day, every day.  It harnesses thoughts and feelings of being stunted in developing, the feeling of being restricted.  As someone who is constantly wishing to develop and learn and find my own path, style or message in my art, this is rather a passion killer, which, in turn, leads to me not producing my best work.  

3.  Physical health - Due to the long hours sitting at a drawing table clutching a pencil, this has begun to affect my back, hand and shoulder muscles.  Painting is a lot freer, I tend to stand up when I paint also, projecting more energy into the painting and therefore creating a much truer representation of me as an artist and how I see the subject.  After all, art is subjective.   

4.  A Flooded Market - Since Covid, more and more people have wanted to follow the dream of being an artist.  Pet portraits artists are now at an all time high and in the world of colour pencil, it's hard to distinguish one artist from another.  They all strive for the same look of realism, meaning no one has a recognisable style and identity, thus making them less collectible as an artist or body of work and the value of the work suffers accordingly.  This brings us back full circle to point number 1 above, cost.  

5.  Expansion and Exploration - I have a studio/shop/gallery in Rotherfield, East Sussex.  when I'm open I do everything for my day job there.  I do commissions, I teach, I sell paintings and art equipment.  There are rather a lot of facets to my job and my business and I struggle to fit it all in.  This then means, I'm so busy doing art that I've been directed to do, in a medium that is hurting me physically, as well as from a career point of view, and in the pocket, I end up doing the other things less well.  Since lockdown has massively reduced my teaching time, I've had time to paint the things I want to paint, in the style I want to paint it and that has led to record sales of my original artwork in one month.  I've been able to earn more in this lockdown than when I've been at my busiest with colour pencil commissions over several months.  I am my own worst critic and I don't like a lot of the art I produce, but those sales have given me a little boost to perhaps expand outside of Rotherfield a bit and start pursuing a bigger audience.  Knowing I have time to do that, gives me more confidence to go forward with this.  it's even led to me setting up my own YouTube channel! 

So, there are my reasons.  And as I take this break from this particular medium, I have also reduced the number of commissions I am willing to take on and be more fussy about what I agree to be commissioned for.  Many, if not all, pet portrait artists will know the constant battle for good, clear references.  This is not a new thing.  When I can, I try to meet the animal in person, to determine it's proper colour and characteristics, however, this is not always possible, especially at the moment.  So a clear and accurate photo reference is essential to produce a good piece of work.  When I say accurate, I mean, taken in natural daylight, with a flat lense, so it doesn't distort the proportions.  I've had commission requests to draw from photos where the dogs are off in the distance somewhere, where you can't even identify the breed, I've had photos where the dog has the biggest cheesiest grin and I've had to restructure the entire face to not make it look cartoonish and achieve the clients expectations of realism.  These are all examples of huge headaches for commissioned artists and leads to hours more time spent on the piece than can be charged for, forcing the artist to make a loss and in some cases, not giving the client the result they'd hoped for (this has only happened once to me, in my nearly 30 years of doing commissions).  So, only commissions where the reference is clear an accurate will now be taken on. 

Ive realised, whilst writing this, it's started to sound like a bit of a moan, but it's not.  I love meeting peoples animals and creating an everlasting physical memory of them.  I will continue to paint animals and will never stop.  However, this blog has also given me somewhat of a release, a therapeutic cutting of ties which I have longed for for the last year.  And I hope, this means my work quality grows as a result.  My feel my customers deserve honesty and the best work I can produce and going forward, that is what they will get.  




15. Jan, 2021

White paint, not much to say, you may think, but, with all the different types of white out there, are you sure you're using the right one?  

I had an epiphany this week.  Finally taking one week out of the endless colour pencil pet portrait schedule to get my own portfolio work done and develop my own creative skill and technique, I was running out of my supply of my trusted Titanium white.  

A while ago I went to buy some more titanium white, when stocks were running low before and my supplier had completely run out, but they did have zinc white.  Not knowing any better at the time, I thought, hell, why not, can't be much different.  It's still white oil paint, right?  Wrong!  When I started using zinc white, the texture wasn't creamy and silky like titanium, it was thick, dryish and sticky.  It spread like thick tar than butter.  It wouldn't lighten my colours at all it just disappeared into them.  All in all, a very frustrating paint to work with.  

So, this week, with my titanium stash looking very depleted and no sign of the postman with my fresh supply, I decided to give zinc another chance, but this time, I decided not to use it in place of titaniu, but to embrace its qualities (if I could unlock them!).  

When I paint for myself, I like to paint loose, with texture.  Zinc white, I've found, gives great texture.  Its thick and tends to hold its form when applied generously.  When I used it before, I became very frustrated with the fact that it doesn't lighten colour, barely at all.  When you mix it,  it only slightly varies the colour tone, but no where near as strong as titanium white.  However, with my flower paintings this week, that very slight colour tonal change was perfect to capture the delicate tones of a flowers petals, so that's what I used it for, subtlety.  It worked!  I got that and texture.  

Zinc white, as opposed to Titanium white, is very transparent, which means when mixed with colour the pigment isn't strong enough to overpower the colour pigment, resulting in only a slight difference.  Titanium white holds its own and is highly opaqu.  When mixing with colour, it lightens instantly, but is of a smoother consistency so it's harder to get texture, without mixing in some moulding paste or a thickening agent of some kind.  So having been rather harshly against using zinc white, I've discovered it's place in my art and taken it out of self isolation 😄.  

This is why it's so important for an artist, no matter how experienced, to take time out of the usual schedule of work, to experiment.  I've done some of my best work this week and feel more accomplished for it.  

So, don't just go for the one trusted white you've always used, get a different one and see what you can do with it.  

1. Nov, 2020

Hi folks, I felt another blog post was needed, as I have lots to say and my husbands ear may fall off if I keep talking to him.  

So, Lockdown 2 is upon us and although I thought I was organised in forewarning my students of what I had planned in this scenario, I was secretly going along thinking (hoping), it wouldn't happen.  For small businesses like mine, this could be potentially devastating. I have learned such a lot since the last one, but it still sits like a huge headache, lingering. 

This lockdown, however, will throw more curve balls my way unfortunately.  For the last 10 years, we've been fortunate enough to live, rent free, in tied accommodation for my husbands job, within the outdoor education industry.  This sector has been the worst hit I would say, and sadly he is now working out his notice for redundancy, one of many who have lost their job.  However, he hasn't just lost his job, but we've lost our home too.  We MUST leave the place my daughter was born by the end of the year and move somewhere else, with little prospect, at this point, of another job to go to. Yep, this lockdown is much more stressful than the last and has, indeed, changed my family's lives forever.  

Losing a job AND a home and with me becoming the sole earner for the foreseeable future, losing any business at all, is just another blow.  This lockdown will see a suspension of private 1-2-1 tuitions with my regular clients, demos to the local art group, who can now no longer meet, and some of my students who regularly attend my classes, but can't face doing them online.  That's a lot of business lost and equates to much more than the rent I pay for my business premises.  Yet, as it stands, given I'm self employed and can't get furlough, Im only entitled to 40% of my average monthly profits to get by for the next 3 months.  Yes, it's better than nothing, but when an employed person can get 80%, per month, this hardly seems fair, given my profits are not huge.  So that "starving artist" cliche, may become a reality soon!  

As I mentioned, I had a contingency plan, which I shared with my regular students last term and I am sooo pleased I planned ahead.  It's thanks to those loyal and supportive, wonderful humans, who have just accepted the change and are coming along for the ride, that will save me and my family this winter.  It's you (you know who you are), that will keep a roof over my children's heads, provide them with food and get them to school.  Yes, a business is not all about profits and  fat cats, this is the reality.  MY CHILDREN WILL BE WARM AND FED.  That's where your money goes, right there and I cannot tell you how grateful my husband and I are for that.  

I, very proudly, take after my mother when running my business.  I WONT let things beat me, I will hang on to the bitter end, I will adapt and I will take care of my family AND 'my loyal customers.  I'm not a cut throat businesswoman who is just out for as much profit as she can get.  I've worked in those environments and it doesn't sit well with me.  I care about people, I want to help people and brighten their day just a little.  That's why I opened the shop, that's why I do what I do, for all of you And I'll go down fighting if I have too.  

Finally, I'd like to say this.....COVID, I'm coming for you, you may think you're strong, but I'm stronger, so don't get comfortable! 

Keep strong all of you.  Let's look after each other.  Xx



6. Oct, 2020

It's been quite a while since I wrote my blog.  Things have changed dramatically since 2016, there's been a huge evolution in my business!  

In 2018 I took the plunge and signed up to a lease of a shop premises in the heart of my home town, Rotherfield.  Since then it's been a whirlwind of courses, workshops, commissions and reconnecting with the lovely locals I now call friends.  I have a wonderful group of regular students who are as great a support to me as I am to them.  It's the best decision I ever made.  

Since taking on the shop, my artwork has taken a drastic turn also.  I went from just doing commissions in graphite and colour pencil, to working in literally every medium there is.....almost!  I've done oils, watercolour, pastel, even the ancient french art of Verre Eglomis or gold leaf etching.  Everything I learnt by watching my grandfather, at school and at Art college has suddenly become very useful and, who knew, but I find I'm actually not bad at teaching them to others too.  

Im asked regularly, which is my favourite medium and my answer is always going to be oils for me.  I'm working in them alot now and have moved away from animals to still life in recent months.  The journey of an artist is a long and winding one, full of continuous self discovery, which is why I find it so fulfilling and exciting.  CPD used to mean boring conference rooms and lectures, now it's about getting messy, experimenting and trying different things.  

This year, however, has had lots of ups and downs, as it has for all.  Small businesses have gone through the mill and not all have survived sadly.  If it wasn't for my loyal customers, I may have gone the same way and for that I will be eternally grateful.  I've gone from a relative technophobe to teaching classes on Zoom and become more of a cleaning lady and health and safety nerd than an artist.  The safety of my students and customers is of greatest importance and thankfully, through a bit of diversity and creative thinking, I've managed to create a Covid secure space for them.  It's hard work, I've never worked so many hours in one week, but it's very rewarding that I can, for now, stick two fingers up to this virus and say, this is mine, you ain't having it!  

On the up side, this virus has brought some great times.  I asked the locals to make some rainbows for my window display during lockdown and they didn't disappoint, with the key worker children from the local school also contributing, making it even more poinian.  In September we entered the Scarecrow Trail, organised by Clair Turner, which saw a whopping 112 scarecrows on display in the village and neighbouring town.  My glamoro assistant, Megan, made our Picasso Pete (pictured), which won third prize!  A great achievement in this dismal period in our history.  

So, all that remains to say for now is, heres to another year of arting and lets hope it continues for a long time to come!