It was my 60th birthday in October. And like many milestone birthdays, I found myself feeling reflective and thinking about what it means to me to be 60.
What have I learned?
What’s been important?
What is still to learn?
What do I want for myself over the next 20 years?
Here’s what I know so far….
Health and well-being are at the top of my list. A few years ago, my health began to be impacted by overwork. I was caught up in being very busy in demanding and exciting work not paying attention to the impact it was having and getting exhausted. Thankfully I caught myself and it was then I really understood how important health is. That without it, life was going to be very challenging. So, I made some big decisions, I changed my working life and I cleaned up my act. And I made my health a top priority.
Following a passion is important for me. Not always easy, but deciding to commit to my art is one of the best decisions I’ve made. And sometimes it can take a long time to find it. Case in point in my 60th year I commit to my art full-time!
Friends are wonderful. Having good people in my life who cheer me on, with loving mutual support is glorious. So enriching. It hasn’t always been so as I was quite a shy child so this has been a big learning for me over the years, of how to develop and grow good friendships. It’s possible to learn how to do things even if we start out not really knowing how.
Keep learning how to be better at relationships. How to be open, honest and direct, non-defensive. Sticking with things when they get difficult. Relationships are always a work in progress, we’re fallible humans.
I’m getting better at speaking out and being courageous. As someone with dual heritage, my Dad was from Hong Kong, my Mum was English, and having experienced racial bullying I sometimes hide and go quiet.
Finally, of course, the road might be long and winding, with u-turns, dead ends, steep climbs, and twisty bends. And we might end up somewhere completely different to our original intentions.
Celebrate who you are and where you are every year. Because why not!
What’s your favourite way to celebrate life’s milestones? Do post and let me know in the comments below.
I had the privilege of giving an Artist Talk about my work, process and inspiration at Cupola Contemporary Art in Sheffield in support of my solo show with the gallery, which is on until 11th November 2023. I was able to record the talk, which you can find below. And if you’ve a question you would like me to answer please post in the comments below!
I was reminded again on Thursday of how important talking it out can be in deepening understanding, developing our ideas and learning. In this week’s email correspondence with my coach, I gained an important insight into my own work; how process is in many ways what my painting is all about.
I find I immerse myself in the experience of painting in a spirit of curiosity, wanting to see what happens and guided by an internal sense of questioning and excitement. Sometimes this is about a mood, occasionally an external reference, or a particular state of mind and energy I want to explore through my work.
This new understanding has been coming over several weeks. It has also included several journaling sessions, and conversations with other friends and fellow artists alongside my work with my coach as I have inched my way to gaining greater clarity in how to speak about what my work is about.
I realised I learn best through dialogue several years ago when I was working out how to go about preparing for a raft of professional exams. I knew I struggled to learn through reading. Don’t get me wrong I read voraciously but it’s not my best way to generate ideas and to deepen my understanding. That, it seems, has always come through talking it out. It’s when I’m engaged in dialogue that those moments of insight and understanding occur.
It’s why I am committed to having a small group teaching and learning element in all of the courses and programmes I run. In the 30 or so years I have been teaching adults it’s something that I have come up against time and again. How much people value the opportunity to sit and explore ideas, reflect and explore together. The experience of learning in a supportive group of people cannot be underestimated.
How do you learn best? Is talking it out one of your preferred approaches too?
For information on Directions in Abstraction, my international online course in abstract painting click here
As some things will not be rushed, the last couple of weeks have been an exercise in letting go.
There are some ideas in my work I have been exploring for the last 18 months or so. This exploration began with charcoal and pastel drawings on paper.
I can remember the moment when it happened quite clearly. A distinct “what if” moment.
I’m in my studio and I want to draw with charcoal. I grab some paper and start making abstract shapes and lines. Big swoops. Swipe my hand through the shapes. The scritch of the charcoal. Turn the charcoal on its side to make larger shapes, press it into the paper. It crumbles, I rub at the marks. Oh, I like that, what if I used some of my lovely unison pastels? Maybe that toned paper? Go bigger.
I played like this for a few days. The resonances from this spread into my large work gradually and in different ways. These drawings were a catalyst to explore space, on how to achieve a feeling of space alongside energetic mark making.
This exploration has continued to take me in some interesting directions and led to new processes and ways of working. For example, working on paper fixed to wooden panel which then stimulated a different use of acrylic paint because of how the paint and paper interact together. More recently I have been exploring working on primed calico and canvas. Both these ideas have led me to see that the relationship of how materials and surfaces combine, work together and my part in this alchemy is another fundamental interest to me.
So, with a solo show coming up and an exhibition at the Manchester Art Fair I need to add to my portfolio and have new work to show. However I was finding it very difficult to progress work following the themes I have identified above. Resulting in paintings that were stuck, not working and filling me with frustration.
When I turned away from these new ideas and allowed myself to stay with something more familiar the work began to flow again. New elements were springing up and showing through but I wasn’t trying to work on something that was taking me completely out of my comfort zone.
So as I said at the beginning of this newsletter, some things will not be rushed. Much as I would like to have a resolution and clarity about the new direction in my work that I’ve been exploring it’s not going to happen in the next few weeks. It means staying with the not knowing, uncertainty and confusion. To be open to what might come next, relax and let the ideas and expression emerge in their own time and not to a deadline. To accept that I’m not ready yet and I need more time to live, paint, explore and be me and see what this thing is I want to say.
Is this something you are familiar with? How did you navigate your way through not knowing? Do drop me a message with your experiences I’d love to hear from you.
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In the spirit of slowing down and having a lighter agenda during August, this week’s item is a re-post from my Art Fluency Discussion Group on why noticing is important for artists. In this post I discuss the two main reasons why noticing is important and there is also a short exercise available as a PDF download for you to purchase.
Following Intuition & Creative Impulses.
If you are an artist who likes to work from your intuition, honing and further developing the skills of noticing the moments, nudges and quiet “what ifs” coming from your intuition will help you in your art.
But, what is intuition?
Intuition operates outside of our awareness. It is the part of us that is noticing, observing gathering information without our conscious mind being aware. There have been research studies into intuition as a psychological process, concluding that the brain uses past experiences and cues from the self and the environment to make a decision. The decision happens so quickly that it doesn’t register on a conscious level. It is this unconscious sifting of information that is our intuition working and how our intuition often knows what to do next.
Our skill as artists is to learn how to listen and lean into this vital source of internal guidance. One of the ways to do this is by paying attention to how your intuition makes itself known to you. Sometimes this might be pretty obvious, your inner voice may very clearly say “What if I were to do……” In this example following the path of our intuitive impulse is clear, we can act on the what if and see what happens. However, our intuition doesn’t always speak to us as clearly as this. It may be much quieter. It may be wordless impulses or other clues that our intuition uses to let us know something important.
Other signs that it can be useful to pay attention to in developing our noticing skills are things like paying attention to “gut feelings” Scientifically we do feel emotions quite literally in our stomachs so the phrase gut feeling has a basis in reality. Noticing feelings like this can be a useful way to tune into our intuition. Take a moment now to place your hand on your stomach, pause and take a breath. What do you notice as you do this?
Other ways our intuition may speak to us could be that we keep repeating movements, shapes, lines, or colours in our work. Particularly those that keep reappearing without our conscious intention. There may be patterns in our thoughts when we are working. You might find yourself noticing similar themes to the subject matter you notice in other artists’ work (notice what you notice and why). You keep being drawn to the same ideas of forms of expression. Or to the objects or scenes you photograph (notice what you notice and why) You are curious about something or someone.
And finally, pay attention to your dreams and daydreams for example the symbols, colours and shapes that occur.
These are all ways our intuition may be giving us clues.
Tuning into Your Mindset & Mood
Why is tuning into your mindset and mood useful?
Knowing your mindset when you are making your art can help you. For example, do you know what mindset results in your best creative energy? Can you tune into what you think and feel while making your art, and how that might be influencing your creativity? While developing the skills of noticing your inner dialogue when you are making your art as well as your feelings and responding to them can also help you support your creativity.
Other ways to understand more about mood and mindset are physical sensations. For example, how does your body feel? Do you notice any stiffness, tightness or discomfort anywhere? How are you standing or sitting? Areas to pay attention to are shoulders and neck, back, joints, and gut. Are you tuned into your physical sensations and are there any associations with this noticing?
Once you have begun to pay attention and notice your mindset, feelings and sensations when you are working the next step is to decode what these mean and then respond accordingly.
To help you continue to explore these ideas I have put together a painting exercise along with questions for your journaling. You can access this short exercise in the form of a PDF download below.
Debbie Harry has cropped up a couple of times this week. Once in my Art Fluency Community which is my free Facebook group. As a bit of fun, I’d invited the group to suggest songs for a get-up-and-go Studio Playlist. And then again as a reference to this week’s insight and process from my studio.
Monday and I am standing in front of four half-finished canvases hanging on my painting wall. There are lots of bright colours, drippy marks, and bold brush strokes. I block out some areas to bring back some white and negative space. Move to the work sitting on the counter, make a coffee, let the bigger pieces dry. Go back to them, add some very light glaze across the main shapes and let this dry. Work back into some of the key areas. Stand back. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
Damn, I’ve lost my connection to the feeling of these pieces. What were they about?
This was my frustrating experience on Monday where I found myself going around and around with about 10 paintings. For most of the week previous I had been working on oil and cold wax paintings but I had decided to switch to some half-finished pieces in acrylic as I wanted to give the oil a few days to dry. However, I found myself really struggling with the work. These were paintings in a different style to the oil and cold wax. With oil and cold wax I slow down, It’s a more meditative approach because of the nature of the materials, the gentle mixing of soft unctuous rich paint. Different tools, scrapers, rollers and palette knives. Pushing, moving and layering paint.
With acrylic I am making expressive brush marks, dripping paint, using glazes, mixing media. I’ve had these acrylic paintings in process for while now, and I thought I’d made a breakthrough with them. But then Monday as I was trying one way then another (!) perhaps it wasn’t a breakthrough at all, as I ended up painting over large sections with white paint.
So what was going on?
I think the transition back to acrylic from oil was tricky which didn’t help because of the shift in surface from wood to canvas and the difference in how I use the materials. And the tools. But mainly I think I’ve lost my connection to what I was trying to say with these pieces. In fact I’m not sure where they do fit. Are they about the ideas I’m exploring in the oil and cold wax? A lighter softer palette, lots of structure and space, paring things back.
Or, are they about the ideas from something I have been exploring on raw canvas? Big expressive marks and gestures, lots of spontaneity.
Or something else again?
You see the problem, not only was I moving between different surfaces, materials and tools I was also bouncing between ideas and themes and I ended up confused, not knowing what I was doing. All of which led to a useful understanding of my working process.
It seems that when I am painting a series of work the materials, tools, and surface are inextricably linked to the emotion, thoughts, ideas and themes of the work. They are a whole process and I become deeply immersed in this and only find my way out by completing the paintings. It’s like being in the middle of an important conversation and interrupting myself mid-flow. I lose my place, forget what I was going to say and cannot find my way back.
So one way or another? Not working for me. It’s one way and only one way until I’ve said everything I want to say. And then I can move on.
Sound familiar? Is this something you’ve noticed for yourself? Please do hit reply I’d love to know.
“They’re a little busy.” This week’s feedback from my new coach Sam on images of some new oil and cold wax paintings for my solo show. When I’d sent them across to her, I’d described them as flat and a bit lifeless, they certainly needed something although at that point I wasn’t sure what. But this comment got me thinking, and in doing so I saw I had been asking myself the question “What more do they need?” It sounds like a perfectly reasonable question to be asking, doesn’t it? But when you unpick the language implicit in the question, I realised I was asking myself what “more” is needed. Light bulb moment! I hadn’t understood until then when I look at my work this is frequently what I ask myself:
What more do they need? What do I need to do? What else?
So, language in this context is hugely important, and why wouldn’t it be? Noticing what I was actually asking myself helped me to grasp that all of these questions are about “more,” about adding not subtracting. I’d been asking these same questions for a while; they had become a habit. I had stopped paying attention to what I was really asking. When I changed the question to “What can I take out?” my perspective altered entirely. Asking this question, I noticed I almost immediately began to look at the work differently. It was amazing how much my approach shifted from changing my language.
A Different Approach
I’ve previously written about wanting to take a different approach to my work. To leave more space, open things up, and pause more. Looking back, I can see that the questions I have been asking myself have probably been an integral part of this struggle, because as soon as I asked “what more” my impetus is to add not take away. It was quite an eye-opener, the shift in perspective I experienced from asking what can I take out. Do I need this mark/shape/line? Can the painting stand without it? A big shift in my view, suddenly the process felt entirely different. Who knew that what I needed to do was change my question and suddenly the wrestle I have been having around leaving more space and opening up my work would feel so much easier.
Are your questions a habit? What do you ask yourself? Please do hit reply I’d love to know.
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Why and how to exhibit your art was the topic of this week’s newsletter. Each week my newsletter has an Insight from my studio practice. These insights can be about materials, my art practice, mindset or the business of art.
This week’s Insights from the Studio is an excerpt from one of the Q&A Sessions in my coaching group called the Art Fluency Discussion Group. This group meets a couple of times a month and in this session, we were discussing the ins and outs of beginning to show your art and sell it, starting with some of the reasons we might choose to show our work.
Why Exhibit Your Art?
Beginning to share your art with the world is often about feedback and response, although I see these two things as different. Feedback is best given in a supportive professional environment, for example, individual coaching, an art or coaching group like my Art Fluency Discussion Group. In these settings, there are often clear guidelines for giving feedback, and there is someone with experience facilitating a group and managing the feedback. Response I see as more general and about how people respond to and experience your work and can come from a much wider range of people and situations.
Your journey and experiences may be an inspiration to others. Seeing what you have achieved may encourage others. Sometimes people have to put their creativity and art to one side in the service of family, jobs and other commitments. Your example may be an encouragement to them to keep going when life gets in the way, or it feels difficult to maintain a connection to their art.
The act of putting your art out into the world is likely to help build your confidence in yourself as an artist and may help to push past personal boundaries and limitations.
Let’s bring more art into the world. People have been creating from the earliest times, if we make art then showing it and having it out in the world is a positive thing. Sharing your unique ideas and artistic expression, no one will see the world quite like you or be creative quite like you.
Avenues open to new artists wanting to show their work.
Some areas have Open Studios that are organised by local committees. These are great events for new artists to show their work and can range from local art trails in a small area to regional events. Depending on the level of organisation may involve listing on a website, entry in a magazine and lots of publicity to generate interest and visitors. Open Studios are a great opportunity to show your work to people you already know as well as new visitors. Some Open Studio events take place in public buildings like Church Halls, local galleries, and municipal buildings, so if your studio space is not suitable for visitors there are sometimes other options available. They are also opportunities to sell your work with lots of time to chat with people and get feedback and people’s responses to your art.
Local and national arts organisations and galleries often hold open exhibitions where artists are invited to submit work to be included. These can be great opportunities to show your work. Giving some thought to choosing an event that is appropriate to where you are as an artist is more likely to lead to you being accepted. Work is usually for sale at these events and entry involves payment of a small application fee. Sometimes there are open events planned around the exhibition which provide opportunities for feedback if you are able to attend. It’s worth doing some research into what groups there may be in your area that offer this type of opportunity.
Small Galleries and Cafes
Lots of smaller galleries and cafes are interested in taking work from unknown or experienced amateur artists. Take a look around at those in your area. Note what type of art they are displaying. Does your work fit? Is it a similar type of work? Is the price about right? Showing your work in these kinds of venues is more of a selling opportunity although getting feedback by approaching the gallery or cafe can also be helpful. The best way to approach these types of businesses is to, first of all, check if they have a website with details of how to approach them. If not, then a phone call or email first. Unsolicited approaches by taking work in are often not encouraged.
Small Art Fairs and Art Markets.
It’s worth looking out for smaller art events. These can be reasonably low cost, will often take place over a weekend and can be a great way to get your art in front of people. Once you have identified a possible event do some research first. Go and visit the event if you can before committing. See who else is exhibiting. Again, will your work look comparable with other exhibitors? You can often chat with exhibitors and see how they are finding the event. Are there enough visitors? Is the event well organised? You will need to give consideration to the cost of some kind of exhibition stand if the venue does not provide this. For small fairs, something simple is usually acceptable, like a table with a small set of shelves and table easels. Again, this is an opportunity to sell your work with lots of time to talk to visitors about your art.
This is just a sample of some of the interesting topics covered in the Art Fluency Discussion Group. I hope if you’re considering showing your art it gives you a few ideas and I’d love to hear how you get on. Drop me a comment below.
The Art Fluency Discussion Group is currently open for new people to join. You can find out more about it here.
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How do you find your personal vocabulary in line making?
This exercise is from the first week of Directions in Abstraction where the group begins with an exploration of how to using line in abstract painting.
There are some questions below the exercise for you to think about in this exploration, but first, begin with the task. Immediately below is the teach from Instagram where I demonstrate this exercise and if you haven’t already seen it you might find it useful to watch it first.
For the exercise you will need some cheap drawing paper, or a sketchbook and if you wish some larger pieces of paper for part two. You also need a selection of tools and materials for drawing lines. For example, paint, ink, charcoal, types of dry, oil and water soluble pastels along with brushes of various sizes, drawing implements, like pens, but also sticks, feathers, forks etc.
How Many Lines?
Using as many different ways as you can draw lines on a pieces of cheap drawing paper or in your sketchbook. You can use paint, pen, charcoal, scratch into paint, make use of objects for drawing. Vary your materials and your tools to see what different effects you can create. Use water on water soluble materials and see what that looks like. Smudge, scratch and blur. Press hard into the surface, press lightly. See how many different ways of drawing a line you can come up with. Use your dominant and non dominant hand. Draw straight lines, curvy lines, scribble. Allow yourself free reign with this exercise. When you have finished on the smaller sheets take it to some very large paper, if you have space pin the paper on the wall so that you can make larger more expansive gestures and see how that feels.
Then sit yourself down in a comfortable spot, maybe get a warm drink and work through the questions below.
What are the qualities of your lines? Are they clear and strong or more fluid and soft? Do they become broken at any point? How do they start and finish?
How do they travel across the surface? Is there a point at which they become shapes?
What movement of hand and/or arm feels natural to you?
What are your most used tools and materials?
What do you know about your line making now?
How did you get on? Any questions thoughts or comments?
Welcome to this new episode of Live Art Chat: What happened in 2022.
Lin and Sally-Ann review their year as artists and art teachers. They chat about how their work has developed over the twelve months and the themes that have been important. They also talk about some of the teaching and coaching projects completed. Lin also launched a new book Creative Connections A 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge from her sketchbook challenge in July, and she talks about the inspiration behind this. They also look forward to 2023 anticipating another busy year for both of them with online courses coming up in the Spring.