Into My Twenty-First Year – Onwards and Uphill
First published Thursday 21st January 2021
So we have arrived: today is the official 20th anniversary of my small business as an artist. I won’t be lifting a glass of champagne, as I am still on my traditional alcohol-free month, so a glass of water, or even better, a good English cup of tea will suffice.
Where do I go from here? 2021 has started with me writing this history. What started as a January task, has morphed into something bigger, and I hope you have enjoyed walking the path with me, and will continue to follow my journey in the future. I have set myself January tasks for quite a while now. In talking to people who are working from home for the first time, I have noticed a theme: that it can be ‘hard to get going again’ after the Christmas and New Year break. I recognised this early in my career, and always set myself a task to complete in early January – an area of study, an overhaul of my business administration or digital presence, something of that sort. Writing this history has given me a unique overview of my business and artistic practice, and as well as reliving happy memories, there are some trends and themes that I have noticed, which has given me food for thought.
As I have not yet made it to the studio this year, I am giving you another all-time favourite painting, 'Drawn'. The painting is part of my 'Innocence and Experience Series', and is a watercolour where I truly 'let rip'! If you are wondering, the background horses in the upper left are re-imagined from Lucy Kemp-Welch's painting 'The Straw Ride', a painting of the resilience and connection with horses of women working in the Russley Park Remount Depot during the first world war. Kemp-Welch's painting is a favourite of mine, and is owned by The Imperial War Museum.
I did contact them to ask if I could see the original (huge) painting, but they said that it is crated in storage, though another artist that I know has managed to see it. If anyone from the Imperial War Museum ever reads this, then please, please, please. . .
Before I had considered the history, I had signed up for two online training courses. One is a portrait painting course that lasts for the whole year, taught by 50 different artists, and the other is a database training course in Filemaker. While I have used Filemaker for many years, I do so rather inelegantly, and am hoping the course will enable me to redesign my inventory and invoicing to ‘work smarter’ and that a time investment now will save me time in the business side of my work. Filemaker can also be used to build apps, so that is something I may want to explore for building my online teaching. I will also be continuing with tasks from The Artist’s Way with the support of Lesley Humphrey. I have recommended the book and ‘Way’ to a few other creatives in various fields, and have been thinking about an online support group for us all.
Learning is massively important to me. I think, personally, that in some ways, continued learning is even more important than my art. I touch on this in the first blog I ever wrote, One for the Earning, One for the Learning and my second blog post examines it a little more closely in Ever the Learner. They are very short blog posts – both are two-minute reads.
Another 'bonus' from my writing the history is that, as I have not had much time to get in the studio, I have more ideas now than when I started writing, and am itching to get back to artwork. I will most likely start with drawing, as that is where my roots lie: as a draughtsman.
'Finger Painting', is a charcoal drawing loosely based on self-portrait. I think you can see where I am going with that!
Everyone who engages in art will experience artist’s block from time to time. That does not change when you become a professional artist, in fact it is often more prevalent in those that work in their creative field. I have found working without deadlines difficult during the pandemic lockdown.
I have lived my whole life working to deadlines, and in some ways feel that I have defined myself, and certainly my art practice, by them. As I said in yesterday’s blog I have more unfinished paintings in my studio today than I have ever had before. Not having horses anymore (well, at the moment – we are still hoping to find ‘the one’), I have also missed the daily interaction and visual stimulus of my main muse as we stayed away from the yard due to social distancing considerations. While missing my muse, it has given me time for musing about why I paint horses instead of, for example, flowers. I appreciate the beauty in both; both have emotional, spiritual and symbolic connotations; I recognise the contribution to mental health of both; but while I have painted flowers sometimes, I could not envisage painting them every day for the rest of my life. In that, I am in no way casting any type of judgement on those artists who do engage in floral or botanical works, I am just examining my personal motivations. Those topics, however, need to be the subject of another blog, thesis or even book!
Speaking of books, I have been approached by a few sources about expanding this history writing into a print publication. That will need some consideration, and a publisher! As an aside, I apologise for any typos in this series. I have been writing for long periods everyday and then being, too much of, a perfectionist about the blog layout. I have been proof-reading many times over before clicking 'publish', but have noticed quite a few have still sneaked in there. I apologise, I will do better if and when we get to the book stage. More prosaically, my future holds . . . well, I am hoping that at least some return to ‘normality’ will happen during the course of 2021. I will plan for shows as usual, but will have to wait to see if they do go ahead. The same with workshops, but meanwhile I will keep working on developing an online platform from which to teach, and get on with commissions and my own paintings and drawings of course. I will be taking a (much needed) rest from blog writing, and going back to my much more hap-hazard way of posting, but I will be posting some of your favourites on social media that you have been telling me about in your entries to the competition that I am running, at least until the entry deadline on the 29th January.
I am currently in discussion with Glaze and Gordon to add to their Ruth Buchanan Collection and there may well be other projects connected to the brand as well. Meanwhile, I have had some commissions revived that I thought had ‘gone away’, so I do have, at least some, deadlines. While I only undertake a limited amount of commissions each year, I do have availability for other commissions in 2021. As I said previously, I have ideas for paintings, and will also be working on finishing studies and small works to offer for sale under the banner of the Artist Support Pledge. [For those that missed it yesterday: The Artists' Support Pledge, is an initiative by artist Matthew Burrows to help visual artists whose incomes had been inpacted by the pandemic. The idea was simple: artists would use social media to offer works for up to £200, and when they sold, either five pieces; or pieces adding up to a value of £1000; they would, in turn, buy an artwork from another artist in the scheme for up to £200. So far, I have bought works from Jacqui Bassett and Eunice Knott-Linsdell]. I still have some pieces from my original Artist Support Pledge listings and also works that I have rediscovered under piles of other stuff, which I am completing, in studio, to add to the list in 2021.
While not an Artist Support Pledge piece, 'Silk and Gold' is another painting favourite of mine, this time from 2018, for which I could not find a logical place in that year's history. The watercolour painting was painted for Charlotte Bowskill's Middle Eastern clients. It is also a favourite of Julie's, so I am partly including it as a thank you to her.
For me, Silk and Gold is another piece about texture, with an attempt to use the paint consistency, and juxtaposition of loose areas with more tightly rendered passages, to create kinetic movement and energy. I don't often paint cloth, but also enjoyed the mesmeric intricacy of painting the folds and soft golden sheen of the silk draped over, and echoed in, the coat of the Arabian horse.
I am looking forward to lockdown restrictions eventually easing enough to be able to return to Life Drawing class, and to shared studio days with Life Drawing and confidence mentor, Andrés Jaroslavsky. Lesley Humphrey is returning to the USA soon, so I will most likely not get to paint with her again until either she visits the UK again or I am able to get to Houston. I am glad to see that she is painting again after a busy 2020 that was overtaken by family priorities. When lockdown is lifted, I will be going to see Michelle Clarke Stables, who I have missed this year. I need an injection of the surreal and silly that we cook up between us, and Michelle is also a great 'Big Ideas' motivator for me. Julie Cross and I communicate regularly, but I miss our shared studio time and those all important face-to-face ‘arty chats’. I have said before, without Julie, I would feel like my right arm had been cut off, and though I can, I would not like to be compelled to work with my non-dominant hand for the rest of my life. Of course, Les Packham’s photograph and energy will continue to watch over me in my studio. I hope to do them all justice. When Les passed away, his widow, Judy Packham, told me that every day she looks for a break in the clouds that tells her he is still there. I have just been outside for a cigarette break and, after nearly 24 hours of heavy cloud and rain, sure enough, for a fleeting moment, there was a glimpse of our shared blue sky.
Today’s title, ‘Onwards and Uphill’, is my own version of ‘onwards and upwards’. In dressage we talk of the desired way of the horse’s ‘going’ as uphill. It can be a slog, but when you reach the top of that hill, the view is even more breath-taking and you can see, both the clearer sky, and the stunningly beautiful and inspiring view of the next rise to conquer.
Finally, thank you to all my friends, clients, followers and supporters. Stay safe. Stay strong. Be kind to yourselves. We have all been under low levels of stress for nearly a year. If I can make a suggestion: if you are on social media, follow the work of Charlie Mackesy, as he has been posting daily drawings of his own breaks in the clouds . . .
. . . and the 2021 Christmas card? Well at the moment you have as much idea as I do as to what it will be. We will all have to wait and see. . .