Confessions of an Obsessive Compulsive Artist

29. Apr, 2022

Quite a while ago now, there was a programme on TV where the parents of these primary aged children, had to go back to primary school to see how they would fair.  You may remember it.  At one point they had to do an art lesson and this started quite a debate in the parent group.  One very defiant parent was adamant that this lesson was not at all beneficial to their child and was pointless in schools and a waste of time.  This was met with some mediocre disdaine, but those opposed to this viewpoint didn't have a strong argument ready to counter this.  Why? Perhaps because we live in a society where we are told regularly that, if you choose art as a career you will be starving, if you go into the creative sector you will be seen as a drop out.  That was certainly the viewpoint when I went to art college in the mid to late nineties.  My parents were quite radical, in fact, in actively promoting me going to art college.  


As we move into the 21st Century, it is becoming more obvious as to why art is so important, but we are far from accepting it as a subject which should be up there with the maths and science of the list.  So why do I think it should be up there in the same list as these subjects? 


Doing art develops a creative mind.  Creative thinking has been linked to the successes of business people all over the world.  Steve Jobs famously felt that creative thinking was instrumental in his business success.  If you think about it, creative thinking is responsible for some of the biggest changes and developments this world has ever seen.  Groundbreaking surgery that's never been done before is as a result of creative thinking, how we defended our country and freedom from Hitlers regime was as a result of creative thinking and more recently, the development of the vaccine against Covid 19 was as a result of creative thinking.  

Some of the benefits of having a creative mind are: 

  • the ability to problem solve
  • the ability to cope with change
  • it increases productivity and organisational skills
  • it promotes curiosity
  • it allows better communication
  • openmindedness
  • self directed learning and development. 

You put all these together, under the umbrella of 'creative thinking' and you have described an artist.  

In addition to the above, we have an ever increasing trend of robots taking over the jobs of people in certain sectors of careers.  This is a concern in our fast developing world, but it has been express by those in the know that one of the only sectors this won't affect is the arts.  Us artists, whether we be visual artists or performance artists, writers or designers, robots will never be able to question things, robots will never be able to take a unique standpoint like artists can; like creative thinkers can.  

Lets nurture our future business leaders and leaders of our countries, but allowing them the abiity to develop their creative mind in a healthy way.  Get them to an art class!  

17. Mar, 2022

As many will know, I don't just teach adults art, I teach children too and if there's one thing I've noticed about the differences in how to approach each age group its that children are a lot more relaxed! 

As adults, we can become very introverted and even though, some of us parents will strive to make our children resilient to the challenges that life throws at us, we can forget how to do this ourselves.  When it comes to art, I have so many adults attending my classes and workshops who have very little self belief, but put so much pressure on themselves to be the 'best' or as good as they think they should be to keep up with everyone else. 

If this sounds familiar, well I'm here to tell you, stop it now and be more kid!!  

When I teach children, most (not all), will listen to what I'm asking of them and then just crack on.  This term in our Little Leonardo's classes, the children have been learning about how dreams have been depicted in art.  This is a huge imaginative subject that really can dig deep down into your soul, which can be a very scary place for some, especially when having to then paint that in a group setting!  But the children have just taken it on the chin, been very open about what they would like to show and have just had a go.  There has been no real hesitation.  They draw a line and see what happens.  If it's not right, they know they can change it.  They have this unique acceptance that there will always be a way to change things if they are not going they way they should.  

This ability to problem solve with no inhibitions is something that can be stamped out of us as we mature and experience more problems, challenges and upset.  Where our view of the world is far less innocent, our barriers can creep up and this can cause us to worry about expressing ourselves infront of other people.  The fear of judgement, ridicule and criticism can be very disabling.  

BUT, let me tell you, we are our own worst critics!  It's very often a fear that we won't live up to our own expectations that can hold us back.  'What if I discover I'm not that good after all'.  You worry that you will fall short of your own expectations, given you're, after all, an adult and have alot more worldly experience than a child, therefore you should be better, right?  Wrong!  

When doing activities like being creative, such as art, it's not about whether you are young or an adult.  It's not necessarily fine or gross motor skills.  Its about applied practice.  If you haven't done much in the past, why on earth would you put pressure on yourself to be really good now?  Would you run a marathon without putting in hours of training?  Would you expect to win the marathon, even if you had?  Probably not, but you know that it is something you may enjoy doing (if you're that way inclined), and taking part is just as enjoyable.  

So, when you sit down to have a go at sketching something or attend a class in anything you've never really tried before, don't put too much pressure on yourself.  Think like a child and just have a go and see what comes out.  No judgement, just for the love of trying it and creating something. See it as a series of stepping stones and with every stone you step on, you get further forward.  Play with the medium and techniques, explore it.  Some of the adults that attend my classes have done their best work when all they are doing is playing.  


20. Feb, 2022

As storm Franklin rages outside and I journey to the end of my Covid isolation, this time at home has, once again, given me an opportunity to reflect.  I have spent my Sunday working, producing new paintings to sell, in the midst of people telling me to take care of myself and take a break to recover from Covid.  Its difficult to explain that, by doing my job, it's helping me mentally and physically.  

I've touched on mindset quite a bit in previous blog posts, but not really labelled it as such, so here I am, doing just that.  Why?  Because it is an intrinsic part of being a successful full time, professional artist.  It's vital.  It's so important, I may even do an Instagram live on it!  

So, let's examine what a professional artists mindset looks like.  I'm no expert, I'm just talking from my own experience and any other pros out there are welcome to add or correct things!  

Firstly, what is a successful professional artist?  Well, I see it as someone who is earning a living from their art on a consistent level.  It is their only source of income.  If you were to change the word artist to 'entrepreneur', this probably is a better fit.  Successful entrepreneurs have the same mindset, they just apply it in a different way, depending on their business.  If you want to choose a career as an artist, you must think like an entrepreneur.  

Secondly, you must have self belief.  Artists are their own worst critics, it's a well known fact, but when it comes to the physical act of creating, we believe in what we are doing in that moment.  No one else's opinion matters.  After we've finished, it takes time to grow broad shoulders to take criticism, but whilst creating, it is a very subjective existence.  We believe we have already succeeded before we even begin.  That is true for the bigger, long term plan as well.  We know where we will be in 1, 5, 10 years time.  We set the goals and believe we will meet them.  

Thirdly, being flexible is part of our make up.  That self belief is there, because we know, if our original plan isn't working, we can change it.  It's within our control.  We always have a plan, a vision before we start, but we know that an important part of the creative process is to roll with the punches.  It's ours, no one else's. We have the power to change it.  This also applies to your business structure. Most artists are not solely reliant on just selling pictures, they explore other avenues of passive income.  Teaching, demonstrations, curating.  This is all part of the job.  As well as self promotion, admin and legal stuff.  

We are obsessed.  Obsessive about our creative process, about our income potential, about our business plan, obsessed.  Our minds never stay still.  Why? Because we are in charge.  We have a plan, it's ours only and because we are in control, we won't stop until we feel fulfilled, until we have contributed to our business plan enough.  

Business plan, You say?  Yes!  Being a professional artist is a business, which requires a business ethic.  You get up, you show up, you work hard, you plan.  If it's your reliable income, it's a job.  There's no dipping in and out whenever the inspiration hits.  You work even when there's no inspiration.  You go out and find it.  You build a plan that includes an income projection, phases, pricing plans.  Treat it as though you are applying for a business loan.  The vision is bigger than just what will appear on the canvas, it's a forecast of your future.  Take it seriously, or forever be a hobbyist.  

I have all of the above and although I have days of uncertainty (especially within the last two years), I know I can always put in the work, make those necessary tweaks and continue on to success.  

If you would like further advice on this subject, I will be offering an artists surgery online shortly, as well as at my studio.  Details are available on request.  

1. Oct, 2021

Criticism, the word that strikes fear into every amateur or beginner artist.  It's a word that can make or break you.  But is it really all that bad, or should we listen to it at all? 

First of all, I think we need to determine what constitutes 'criticism' and what constitutes 'critique', because there is a difference.  Critique is usually constructive and helpful.  It can sometimes be uncomfortable, but ultimately it makes you a better artist.  Being able to listen to critique and use it to your advantage is an important part of being a successful artist.  If we didn't have that, how can we grow?  Similarly, being able to self critique in a constructive way is important.  Knowing what is or isn't working and persevering until we're satisfied is vital.  As artists, we must never stop learning and striving for better.  

Then there is criticism.  This is unhelpful and usually someone's personal opinion from a very rigid perspective.   Art is so subjective that it can be all to easy for an artist to take criticism personally.  As an artist you are putting your soul out there for all to see.  You're inner depths are exposed and if another person doesn't take the time to understand you, then they are unlikely to understand your art, especially if it doesn't fall into the realms of realism.  

Identifying the difference is a skill every artist must learn and sometimes its learnt the hard way.  It can be upsetting to hear and even now, after nearly 30 years, if I'm tired or having a bad day generally, hearing criticism can be difficult.  But when you reflect, its then you must decide, was that helpful and can I use it to grow?  Or was it someone's opinion where they may have misunderstood the purpose.  

A lot of helpful critique, is not usually about the technical stuff.  You can look at an abstract piece of art and embrace it for being abstract and still be able to critique it in the sense of why the artist may have just missed the mark on conveying their message and how they could enhance it.  
Unhelpful criticism usually comes when the person giving it is not looking deep enough.  Critising technique and style is a bit of an 'eye roll' moment and can reveal a certain lack of knowledge in art.  Art is not all about technique.  It's good to know how to be technically accurate and realistic, as it enables an artist to understand form and value, but once that is mastered, technique is more of a side hustle.  It is more about the feeling, emotion and that 'X' factor that counts.  No gallery owner should be commenting on the technical ability of an artist who approaches them, they should be looking deeper.  The physical act of creating and making creative technical decisions is the job of the artist, not the gallery.  The subject matter doesn't have to be a carbon copy of a photo to be good art.  It doesn't have to be completely in proportion or realistic to be good.  You only have to look at all the major art movements to know that.  But if you can stir the emotions of even one person, it's good art.  

So, don't listen to the criticism, listen to constructive critique.  Sort the wheat from the chaff and brush off the unhelpful stuff.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion about your art, but if it doesn't help you grow, it's not worth your time.  Just keep creating the way you want.  Get your uniqueness out into the world.  That's what makes us beautiful, being unique.  Just as a flower makes no excuses for being what they are, they don't try to change to fit your criteria, they are what they are and so should artists be.  

16. Aug, 2021