Friday, 9 March 2018

The Emotional Side of Creative Business :: Things I've Learnt

It was the summer of 2006 when I made the decision to wind down my work as a freelance sign writer, and spend more time on my art.  It had long been a dream of mine to work as an artist and taking the plunge was an exciting and scary moment.  Looking back now, I can see just how naive and uneducated I was on the whole business side of things though.  Yes, I could paint and draw, it was my passion (it still is) but I was an utter novice in those early days when it came to the deeper aspects of earning money and keeping a creative business rolling along.

There's also the emotional side of running a business that I knew nothing about, it's not just about making pictures and selling them - believe me, when you set up a business you literally invest not only your money, but your heart and soul into it.

So today, I'm sharing a few things that have helped me grow my business over the years, and how to navigate the soulful side of working for yourself - the emotional side is a really big part of it and I was completely unprepared for the solitude/loneliness element of working as an artist from home.  I had come from working as a sign writer, where I travelled up and down the country working with lots of people for several weeks at a time on contracts.  It was hard work and a very transient existence in some respects as we were always on the road, but there was always company and familiar faces so you never felt isolated.

One thing I've discovered over the years is that it is super important to keep yourself connected with other people if you work by yourself.  I have days where the solitude is blissful, and truly enjoy my own company - other times, I suffer from cabin fever and feel desperately lonely and isolated.

Making plans to meet friends for coffee, or spending quality time with family is absolutely essential when you're a solopreneur.  I've also learnt that if I recognise those negative feelings creeping in, a phone call to my sister or partner, or a natter online with a couple of good friends can help to shift that, and I feel more connected again.  If nobody is about and I feel this way, I'll go for a walk for half an hour or so, just to clear my head.  And sometimes I go to a coffee shop with a notebook and pen, and enjoy the buzz of being around others while dreaming up new ideas, or emptying my brain of all the fog.

You have to be disciplined and this isn't always easy if you feel tired, you've got the kids off school or the house needs a tidy.  There's no boss to tell you what to do, as that would be you - yep, you're the boss, sounds cool doesn't it?  But it comes with responsibilities - you have to take charge and do things, you're only answerable to yourself after all, and if you don't do it, it won't get done.  For me, discipline is the thing that keeps my ship afloat, if I don't show up and do what needs to be done each day, my business flails.

You're also going to have times that feel scary and out of your depth - this is usually indicative of a time to grow and expand, yet moving into change can feel really frightening when we've been used to doing things a certain way.  Habit is comfortable and safe right?  But in order to grow as a person and as a biz, you need to find the confidence to step up and say "I can do this!"

I've got myself an emotional support kit that I've created over the years which helps me to feel better equipped when life chucks things at me like this.  Yoga and meditation are a huge help (and I try and do this every day).  Cultivating a daily self care practice has become essential, for years I have unconsciously put myself last (as I feel many women naturally do) and focused on my family, but I've learnt that time looking after me actually gives me more energy to navigate all the ups and downs in life. 
Walking, exercise and journaling are good tools to clear the mind, there's nothing like an hour in the woods on a brisk walk, or ten minutes thrashing everything out on paper to clear the head.

And if, after all this, there is still a feeling of being scared or stuck?

Ask for help, or learn how to do what it is you need to do to get to where you need to be. 

It's no use pretending you know what you're doing if you don't, you're just going to wind up going around in circles getting nowhere if you do that - so don't be too proud to say, you know what? I don't know how to do this, I need some help.  There are a gazillion websites, mentors, books and resources that you can utilise now, you just need to find someone who you click with and whose teaching resonates with you.
I am learning new things every day, and that helps me to enrich my life and grow my business too.  It's a win-win.  We're never too old to learn something new, and the beauty of the internet is that there is so much information at our fingertips, you couldn't pick a better time to start a business with all the incredible resources that are now available.

Here are a few really good websites that have, and continue to help me and business thrive:

The Girls Mean Business

The Creative Business Network

Dare to Grow

The other side of the coin to all of this of course, are the good feelings: the excitement of creating your art, the delight of making your first sale, getting a painting accepted into an exhibition, of earning money from doing what you love.  It can feel euphoric and wild and utterly wonderful and the best bit about it is, is that you engineered that yourself.  You did it. 

Nobody else.

Satisfaction from creating a product, marketing it, and finding customers who love what you do and who buy from you is something that still feels amazing to me now, after working for myself for 18 years.  It spurs me on, my self belief blossoms and it gives me the confidence to continue. 
Every achievement, no matter how big or small is all down to things you learnt and implemented.  When you overcome the tough parts and realise a dream, hit the jackpot, make the sale, meet the goal - that was you.  Give yourself a high five for that, give yourself a high five anyway, just for showing up and deciding to make a go of it each day.  That takes courage, willpower and dedication.  It's a rollercoaster ride working for yourself, but my goodness, it's worth every minute.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

My Favourite Paint Brushes

A reader got in touch after my last post and asked if I'd do a feature on my favourite brushes - well, it tied in nicely with my Favourite Paints post from last week, so I thought, why not.

There are a whole heap of brushes out there, different styles, types, sizes and brands so if you're just taking your first tentative steps into making art then it can feel a bit daunting and confusing to say the least.  To make it simple, I thought I'd share my favourite brushes with you, the ones I use for both watercolour and acrylic and you then have a starting point to go from.

Acrylic Brushes

I use a range of sizes and brush shapes for my acrylic work, depending on whether Im working on a big painting or something small.  I also lean towards just three brands, and I must just add here, are all the short handle version (to me the long handle brushes are just too awkward and big).  I've accumulated a fair few brushes over the years, but here are the three that I use all the time at the moment:

Pro Arte
Daler Rowney
Royal Langnickel

These brushes are all pretty durable, and don't cost mega bucks.  I mostly use the tiny, pointed brushes for detail work such as in my flower paintings, and larger ones for first washes and layering up the painting in places that need a lot of paint.

There are a few types of brush I work with, which are:

Round (these are the ones that are short with a pointed tip)
Filbert (flatter bristles, with a rounded tip)
Flat (a squared tip)
Rigger (usually about an inch long or so, these are fabulous for painting stems and rigging on boats etc).

All the brushes I use are synthetic and specifically for acrylic paint, I tend not to use hog which I think suits oils better (I recall hog brushes when I had a dabble with oils in my teens many moons ago and they were rather bristly and scratchy).

Synthetic acrylic brushes are usually soft and good for detail.  I initially start with a big paint brush, something akin to a 1" emulsion brush to lay washes on big canvases or panels (see large, black handled brush in my photo above), and then I like to use a 12mm flat brush to work more on background layers, moving on to smaller sizes of filbert and flat (size 5mm) and then rounds for the detail, from size 0 to 2.

Hidden Shores, acrylic on gesso panel

Pro Arte and Daler Rowney are the dearer options, and these I tend to buy directly from Jacksons Art online.  I have picked up a pack of the Royal Langnickel soft grip paint brushes from The Range, they are super cheap and just as good as some of the more expensive brands.

I'd encourage you to start off with a Round 0 and 2, and a 12mm and 5mm flat brush to begin your collection.  You can then add to this as you go, as you'll discover that you might want something bigger or smaller depending on your style and size of work. 

I have to replace my smaller brushes more often than my larger ones as the ends can get a bit scruffed up or splayed due to use.  This is my only real bugbear with acrylic paint brushes but could be down to the way I use them, you may find that you don't have this problem.

Watercolour Brushes

My favourite watercolour brushes without a shadow of a doubt have to be the Escoda Reserva series and Winsor and Newton Kolinsky Sables. 

Right off I will just say, I completely understand if you're against using animal products in your brushes, and there are excellent alternatives available nowadays.  However, I have had my sables for many years now and they still perform as well as when I first got them which is why I am still using them.

I love to use the Pointed Round series by Escoda from the Reserva series, the No.4 is my favourite, it's very versatile as it holds plenty of paint, and it forms an excellent point for super details.

A corner of detail from a watercolour painting of Fowey

For my really detailed work (such as the windows in the painting above) I use my Winsor and Newton Sable No.1 round series.  Again, this forms a beautiful point when painting and is excellent for smaller, more detailed work.

For washes, I use a very ancient No.10 Cotman watercolour brush which I've had for over twenty years - I'm not sure if these are still available but an equivalent would be the Jacksons Studio Synthetic range (size 10).  You can also use a mop brush for big washes, which looks exactly as it sounds!  I do have one in my stash but again, perhaps from habit, I just usually go straight for the No.10.

Prices for watercolour brushes will vary, of course the synthetic versions are cheaper as they are manmade fibres, but if you are wanting a sable, you can pick up a No.1 for about £5 - £6 depending on brand.

For beginners just starting out in watercolour, whichever fibre you decide on, I'd recommend a nice large No.10 for washes, and a No.4 and a No.1, all round series.

I purchase all my brushes these days through the fabulous Jackson's Art in the UK.  They offer a super range of brands, shapes and sizes, from student through to Artist grade.  If you're lucky enough to live near a good art shop (sadly, I'm not) then it's worth popping in to have a look at the different sorts of brushes available for your medium - you'll be amazed at the quality and difference available.

*Please note, this post is based upon my own opinions and preferences of what to use and where to shop, I have no affiliation with Jackson's, I just think they're a really good online art store.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

My Favourite Paint Brands

I'm sometimes asked about what paints I like to work with, and which brands I prefer, so I thought I'd share a blog post explaining which ones I love to use and why!  At the end of the post I'll pop a few links to the online art stores I use to purchase my paints in case you're tempted to splurge yourself!


I got into acrylics after trying oils in my teens and deciding I really didn't like them. I didn't have the patience for them to dry and found them greasy, dark and messy.  Acrylics were the polar opposite - fast drying, luminous, clean and easy!

My ultimate favourite acrylic paint brand is Liquitex, I have used the Heavy Body Acrylics for many years now and find the soft, buttery consistency irresistable!  There is a wide range of brilliant colours available which are brilliant for my paintings (which are generally very colourful), and I find them a pleasure to work with.  You can use them straight from the tube or water them down a bit to loosen them up.  They blend well and when dry retain a good luminosity and clarity of colour.

In a very close second place, I love the Golden brand.  Again, they have that same wonderful, buttery consistency and come in a wide range of colours, including iridescent paints.  Golden also offer a range of texture mediums as well as Gessos that you can use with your acrylics.  The only downside about Golden is that they do tend towards the higher price bracket, so for that reason I lean more towards Liquitex for value.

Third favourite is the Winsor and Newton acrylic range; they are soft and easy to use straight from the tube, with a great range of colours.  Sometimes a bit pricier but a good artists quality paint that I enjoy working with.  They also offer a good range of acrylic mediums such as gloss gel and flow improver.

I still have and use some Daler Rowney/Cryla acrylics that I bought a long time ago.  If you make sure the lids are on tight then acrylics can last a long time!  It's when the air gets in that they tend to dry out or go a bit gritty.  These paints are very thick and I've found that I need to water them down a bit before use.  They offer a good range of colours and are a good addition to my collection with their generously sized 75ml tubes.

The tubes are usually priced according to the pigments, so some such as the cobalt and teal shades can often more expensive.  For artists just starting out with acrylics, most of these companies offer good value starter sets with a selection of great colours to get you going.


In the last year or two I've wandered back to my watercolours, and I've been using them alot lately on a series of commissions for Whistlefish.  Watercolours are just fantastic, and can be used in different ways - compared to my acrylics I love the loose, alchemical nature of these paints and all the things you can do with them, but first, lets look at my preferred brands:

Golden are without a doubt the connoisseurs of great paint, and their watercolour doesn't disappoint.  I invested in a set of their Q'or Watercolour Tube paints at Christmas, and like their acrylic cousins, they are buttery soft, with a beautiful range of colours.  I usually work with pan watercolours (more about those in a moment) but needed bigger amounts of paint for large washes I was doing and tubes of paint make this easier to do (just dispense an amount in a generously sized palette and mix with water to the desired consistency).  Although these paints are very expensive, to me they have been worth every penny.  They have a stunning luminance when dry, come in a fantastic range of colours and are a real pleasure to work with.  I use them alongside my watercolour pan sets when I paint, using a mix of brands which is totally fine to do.

I own a few watercolour pan sets which I've bought over the years - these are basically your traditional paint in a box sets, and the little metal or plastic boxes that your individual paint colours come in are called pans.  I use sets by White Knights, a Russian brand, Sennelier, a great but (very) expensive French brand (hence why for now I only have their travel set) and Winsor and Newton - good old British paint!  All of these brands offer sets that contain great colours, luminosity and pigmentation, and the bonus of using a tin or box of paints is that they're portable.  You can also buy new pans to replace ones that you've emptied.

Metallic Paint

I recently discovered the beautiful world of Metallic Paint by Finetec.  Their stunning colour range is made with mica, adding a rich and glittering finish which I add to my watercolour paintings when they're dry (see image above).  I tend to use sterling silver and fine gold, so do check them out if you feel you'd like to add an element of sparkly mixed media to your work.  These metallic inks are really popular in calligraphy too.

Where to Buy:

I buy all of my paint from the following places:

Cass Art
Jackston's Art
Amazon UK

Finetec Paints are available directly from Penman Direct and Amazon.

Do shop around, I find that these online stores will often have special offers or discounts on certain brands so it's worth signing up to be on their mailing lists to find out when to buy things a bit cheaper. Alternatively you might be lucky enough to have a great art store local to you, there is nothing nicer than browsing a good shop full of different brands and products to inspire you!

Friday, 2 February 2018

Inspiration and Where To Find It

Yesterday, for the first time in what feels like such a long time, the sun shone and the sky was blue.  There was a cold wind and the birds were singing and flitting about, that delicious feeling of Spring arriving washed over me in a happy, joyous wave - how I look forward to this day when suddenly it is a given - despite all the foul weather and the cold - things are happening and growing, the light and the warmth is returning!

I spent a good hour or so tidying the garden feeling rather blissful about it all, I don't do winter very well, although I try my best to appreciate all the seasons.  I'm a person who craves light and heat, and in the darker months I feel myself retreating and lying low.  Perhaps this is necessary, a modern hibernation to regenerate the spirit and develop new ideas.  Spending time in the garden always relaxes me and lifts my mood though - it's such a tonic to work with plants and earth - and it was a pleasure to have that time where I didn't have to really think about anything else other than the tasks I was working on. 

After my gardening spree I headed off to the shops to pick up some groceries and stumbled upon these gorgeously scented tiny daffodils, and sprigs of pussy willow - does it remind anyone else of soft rabbit tails?

I brought them home, and instantly knew that I would want to paint them.  I spent some time faffing with them, rearranging them and enjoying their fresh perfume.  I could picture the painting in my mind, and it seems like a good one to start as I carry on with my large commission job (I love commissions, but I also like to have something of my own to potter along with too).

When the idea to paint these flowers arrived, I felt instantly excited about it.  Inspiration doesn't always strike so vividly but this as I've discovered before, is the best way to let it happen.  The trouble is, you can't force it, or manipulate it.  This kind of vision comes out of the blue, somewhat randomly and very unexpectedly.  You need to seize it when it does because the energy of it doesn't linger.  Get the idea on paper, photograph it, write about it...keep it alive in your journal or your camera if you cannot get on with it straight away.  It's essential to capture the magic of the new idea, and by doing these things it means you can come back to it and refresh your memory with the feelings it initially provoked.

You see, you can spend hours on social media or Pinterest and so on, admiring what other people are doing or purposefully seeking out something to emulate or do.  This is fine, we learn as we go from what others have done before us but there is nothing as original as a bolt of inspiration that you create with your own imagination and feelings.

The trick to receiving these is to be mindfully aware of what's going on around you.  Start to take notice of the ordinary things happening in your life, take time out to breathe in and out, to notice what sounds you can hear, scents you can smell, what the weather might be does the sun feel on your skin? How does the birdsong make you feel? 

Taking a walk is usually a catalyst to firing up the inspiration channels, it works every time for me in some way - problems are solved, ideas magically appear.  It's about switching off from our routines and letting our bodies soak up each moment. 

You'll know when the magic is happening because you'll feel a firework of excitement go off in your belly, your whole being will light up in anticipation - it feels right and good, and you know you're on the right track.  Start taking a few moments in your day to tune in to what's going on around you, immerse yourself in your tasks really paying attention to the smaller details and see what magic comes up for you.



I have a new range of prints and cards coming to my shop very soon, titled Happiness, it is such a bright and joyful picture!
I'll keep you posted as to when these are available; to keep up to date with new painting releases and news you are welcome to subscribe to my mailing list, you can find out more details here.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

How to grow the confidence to do what you want to do in life

My Mum used to tell me to go into the Catering business when I was a teenager thinking about options.  She said, everyone will always need to eat and drink, you'll always make a living with that as an occupation.  She had a point, and for a while I even considered it - I applied to the local University to do Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management (I had wild dreams of running a B&B in Newquay, Cornwall, a place where we spent holidays as children and for a time I truly thought this was my path in life to follow, I aimed to please).  Sadly, my grades didn't quite meet the requirements of securing a place on this course and like most things in life, everything happens for a reason and as I grew older, I understood why.

I was never going to work with food and drink, at the very core of my being was a creative streak so deep and strong it eventually couldn't be ignored. 

Upon realising I wasn't going to lark about at University for the next few years,  I got a job working in the wages department of the NHS in Sheffield.  This ticked the 'get a sensible and well paid job' box, I successfully ignored my true calling and spent the next six and a half years being a receptionist and a wages clerk, entering nurses hours into a big computer and filing things before deciding enough was enough.

What cracked?  What made me decide to leave and go to the University of Plymouth to study Interior Design? 

It got to the point whereby I couldn't stand going into that office.  I felt stifled and miserable, my entire body told me on each weekday that I was doing the wrong thing, I lived for the weekend and suddenly I realised that was no way to live a life.  I had a calling to be a designer, I wanted to live by the sea, and for the first time in my life I broke away from the Expectations of Others and chose to follow my dreams.

Why do we ignore our callings?

Because I did, for many years.  I was in awe of authority figures and what my parents told me held a lot of weight.  I believed the whole caboodle of studying hard at school and college, getting a sensible job (see above), finding a chap and settling down....I know (insert eye rolling)...but that's how things were back then.

Today, younger people seem so much  more switched on than I was, they seem to be more sure and certain of what they want to achieve and do.  Perhaps it's just me that sees it that way?  Or perhaps we were casualties of being kids in the 70s (although I'm sure our folks just had our best interests at heart when they guided us to follow those old fashioned, traditional goals).  I've learned that doing what you love involves confidence to make changes and challenge old belief systems, and I didn't have much in the way of confidence to be honest.  It took me quite a few years before I even dared use the phrase Artist to describe what I did for a living!

Self belief is like a magic key, if you believe in your abilities and you can visualise where you want to be and what you want to be doing, life seems to send you the right sort of opportunities to make it happen.  Sounds like woo-woo magic right?  Well, maybe it is, who knows?  The only thing is, I've learnt that when I'm thinking with this mindset, things happen, and when I feel waves of doubt and despair coming over me, it goes a bit...well...wrong.

It takes practice to grow confidence.  Maybe you are already a superbly confident sort, and I must say I'm a little envious of you!  I still have days where I struggle with what I believe I'm capable of but I'm learning that if I challenge those fears and get back on track by deciding how I want to feel, I can move more swiftly into a better feeling place instead of languishing about in fear and despair for days, feeling awful and depressed.  We have to live like we already are that super confident person, even if we aren't!  By doing this regularly, we eventually rewire the neural pathways in our brain, we start to believe what we were pretending to be and in essence, our lives change to reflect that.