Friday, 3 July 2015

What you might not know about being an artist

I used to think that artists were very glamorous, bohemian sorts who wafted through their days, painting leisurely, then meeting like minded souls for drinks where they would indulge in deep conversation about their work in crowded corners of fashionable coffee bars.

It seemed to me to be a utopia of all things I dreamed of; from the paint splashed artists smock one would naturally wear, to the inspired aura one would naturally exude.  Their lives, to my young imagination, were a carousel of parties, laughter and a constant outpouring of creativity in messy studios...

...lets fast forward to the reality.

Being an artist is a fabulous job, don't doubt if for a minute.  And if you harbour any desire or inclination to be one, and you've got a bit of talent or raw passion from which to start with then I urge you to study hard in your art classes at school and college, draw relentlessly and spend lots of time developing your own sweet style.  To live in a world where you get to paint for a living, to earn an income from what you do (whilst sitting in your pajamas if you fancy) is rewarding on so many levels.  I will never forget the buzz of the first sale, of my first international customer, of people actually liking what I did enough to buy it.  This is stuff dreams are made of, right?


And no.

There was a conversation that unfolded yesterday with an artist friend of mine, and it led me to write this post for you today.  I wanted to lay bare the bones of this work, to tell you the hidden truths that we all live with, the difficult bits and what we do to overcome them.

There are times when you sit down, and an idea comes to mind and you sketch bits out and out of nowhere this fantastic feeling suffuses your very bones with delight - yes, this is it, you're onto a sure fire winner, you can feel it, you just know....and then you're off!  Paints are squirted generously onto the pallette, the canvas, board or paper is struck with colour, your vision comes to life and its the best feeling in the world because when art flows, it really flows and there's nothing like it.

Then there are those times where it doesn't.

And you sit and you stare at the blank paper in front of you, and your mind whirrs relentlessly with chores and other mundane stuff you have to do, and there is this massive black hole where your imagination used to be that has seemingly gone on a vacation without telling you.  There's nothing there.  Nothing at all.

You scribble a bit in your sketch looks terrible, its bloody awful.  You start again on another page, no - its not happening.  Then the frustration kicks in; the irritation is followed by anger sometimes and its not unusual at this stage to shove everything in a drawer and eat a packet of Jaffa Cakes instead.
You feel like you will NEVER be able to create another piece of work ever again!  What will you do? How will you earn any money if you have nothing to paint?  This feeling has reduced me to actual tears in the past, and no doubt will do again.  You feel like giving up, you're clearly no good - what's the bloody point?!

Each painting, each piece of work, is a journey.  It is fraught with emotion and feeling.  An artist pours their entire heart and soul into a work, and the finished piece is infused with joy, love and happiness that the artist felt when they created it. 

There are however, those pieces that lie unfinished at the back of a cupboard, something that started off well but suddenly felt like it was going wrong, so you leave it to come back to at a later date.  I have done this before and sometimes this solution works fine.  You come back to it with fresh eyes, see clearly what needs doing to make amends and so continue on the journey and finish your painting.  Sometimes not even time can help, I have pictures half finished from years ago that for some reason I just haven't been able to part with.  I know in my heart I will never finish them yet they are still here as reminders of something that didn't work out.  I sometimes look at them and in all honesty I still don't have all the answers as to why.  It's more of a feeling rather than a clear knowing.

When your mojo leaves town, when you feel like your number is up and its time to put away your artist's smock, I'd like to reassure you that it isn't.  You will notice over time that there are seasons to your art.  You will have fallow times and ripe, juicy times.  There is a time to create and a time to be quiet and percolate ideas.  It is part of the process, there is no forcing of this tender subject, and you will have to learn to roll with it.  You will learn to handle the emotions it brings, you will learn to understand that the quiet parts are just as essential as the furious creative parts.  You will know that it will make you angry at times and euphorically happy.  You will learn that it's not just you, it's all of us.


  1. Oh Julia, I feel like you wrote this just for me this morning. When i'm in that non productive black hole i feel like i'm so alone. I'm there right now but your post has just given me some strength to pull myself together and realise it's ok and the creative juices will flow once again. Thank you xx

  2. Lovely read and I'm sure will resonate with many artist, writers and the like. So nice to know that we're not alone.

  3. Great post, I think most creative people will identify with

  4. All very true and to the point.I'm in the process of moving house/studio and am having to re-examine all those unfinished paintings from years ago. Some have gone in the bin, but some still exert an elusive charm and are pleading to be saved.


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