Advice to my 17 year old wannabe artist self

Recently I was asked by the Art Chatter podcast hosts Gaynor Leverett -Jaques and Karen George what advice I would give to artists just starting out. They were seeking out thoughts from a number of artists they knew for the fiftieth episode of Art Chatter and the request really got me thinking. You can listen here

To do this I went back in time and pretended that I was speaking to my 17 year old self. You may find this interesting if you are starting out or are currently feeling frustrated with where you are in your art world.

When I was 17 I absolutely already knew that I wanted to be an artist. I felt it in my bones. I always had a project of some kind on the go – a painting or a sketchbook or an idea. I regularly made sketches and paintings and explored different techniques. I had started to visit galleries and exhibitions and looked at what famous and not so famous artists, mostly painters and sculptors in my case, were doing.

But at that time I didn’t really have a very fully formed idea of what it actually entailed to feel that I could give myself the name – artist. Way back in the late 1970’s I had this idea that real artists were generally people who made their living selling art and that this was the only rationale for legitimacy in the ‘right’ to call yourself an artist.

Only people who had their art in galleries, or so I thought, were real artists. You had to have a successful selling practice to be an artist, otherwise you were a Sunday painter, an amateur who ‘did it for fun’. What I now know is that the ‘doing it for fun’ bit is the whole point or at least a very important part of it and should in no way be derided.

I wish I could go back in time now and say to that 17 year old that she was already an artist, that she already thought like an artist and that the compulsion and need to paint and practice was enough and that art is about process and love, and not entirely about sales. I wish I could go back and say to her that doing it for fun is absolutely fine, in fact that the playing, exploring, making mistakes and learning from them is a crucial part of an art practice and that it never stops being that way.

Can I just say that again. It never stops being that way.

As a 62 year old pretty much unknown painter who sells paintings regularly I now know that the selling is nice but it is not and never will be the reason that compels me to make art. Having a creative practice is everything and the selling when it happens is the icing on the cake. I now know that selling art is a completely different skill set to making art.

So here are the words that I sent to the podcast. As much as talking to the 17 year old me, who incidentally has not changed her art ideologies so very much, I would say this to anyone of any age who feels the need to make or create anything. As you practice – you will find that the art is in you and as you practice you will get better at what you do through commitment and exploration.

I think I would say if you haven’t already just start, just begin and keep practicing. Try not to be distracted by the artists who have been putting their work out there for longer than you have. It’s a terrible thing for imposter syndrome to torture yourself with feeling others are all better at creating work than you are. They are simply at a different stage in their art ‘journey’.

Art is about expression – it is not I believe about being brilliant at for example life drawing, but learning by studying life drawing is worthwhile. Crossing off accomplishments does help you to build confidence and to gather a basket of resources that you can introduce into your work. In fact finding a way of expressing yourself by learning techniques is a vital part of the process to finding your own way.

The ‘art journey’ analogy is something that I used to find a bit contrived but it is a truism that experience has taught me that we are all exactly where we are meant to be because quite frankly we can’t be anywhere else. If you are just starting you are just starting and you will not be in the same place as someone who has been practicing for 5, 10, 30 or 50 years. Of course the quality of your work will be determined by your commitment and the time you put in.

Stay true to yourself and what you really want to make. Never stop learning from others but equally try to find a way of expressing that feels authentic to you. Recognise that we all have our own handwriting and that this will make our work uniquely our own. But you need to work at finding that handwriting – it is there but it can appear contrived if you always copy and deny your true expression to come through. Strangely although this is theoretical you will find it through exploration – it is there inside of all of us.

What you will also find through experimenting is that you naturally lean in to certain media. I am a painter – I’m naturally drawn to paint – it is a media that I find enables me to express myself. But give me wool and knitting needles and it leaves me cold. There is no enjoyment for me in dropping stitches and I don’t feel remotely compelled to try to get better at it.

Decide what is important to you. Do you want to do this as a creative outlet for yourself or is it important to you to sell. Both are legitimate reasons for a creative practice.

But remember that sales really should not be the rationale for making – sales are a bonus when they happen and to succeed in selling you have to go on a very different journey to your creative journey. You need grapple with the essential business elements that need to be put into place to get your work seen through networking, social media, websites, mailing lists, blogging, building relationships with galleries. Then there is all the practical stuff to learn around framing, shipping, invoicing, paying tax and so on.

Try not to be distracted. Tune out of social media sometimes. Our best work is made when we manage to isolate from external influences and create from a place where we are in the flow.

When you start and if you haven’t found your medium of choice it’s a great thing to enjoy looking at work by other artists. Go to art galleries, study work you love through seeking inspiration and also sometimes by emulating or copying as this can help you develop your technique and lead to finding your style.

Find inspiration in the world around you and delve deep into your own imagination. Go on courses, do workshops – but move into your own artistic space. You can do this by integrating what you have learned with what you discover by experimenting, exploring and playing with different media.

Keep an open mind, don’t be afraid to fail and make lots of crappy art – failure leads to all kinds of exciting things and is to be embraced. I have written another blog post about failure here failure is a wonderful thing – I’ve been doing it all of my life and now I actively seek it out.

When you are ready be brave and put your work out there. The first time you do this is excruciating unless you are a total extrovert but believe me it gets easier as you begin to recognise that your art will be loved and reviled equally.

People are obviously drawn to different styles and have polarised ideas of what constitutes beauty so recognise this and learn not to take dismissal or lack of interest personally.

Start small on social media and then move on to cafes or any space you can find – get over yourself and simply know it’s just your art on a public wall.

Seek out other artists who are ahead of the game and ask them questions. Artists are, I have found , always very happy to share what they have learned. With time you realise that creating art is not about competition and whatever you give comes back at you – what goes around comes around. There are many artists and non artists who have helped me immeasurably through advice and encouragement and I have always tried to be generous in sharing what I have learned over time.

Finally and most of all enjoy the process – that is key to everything and once you learn this everything else will flow from it. This is something so many artists will tell you but it is absolutely the truth. Process is everything! It is where the art begins and ends through the making.

Never forget that it doesn’t have to be all cerebral or serious – art is at its best I believe when you can see that artist has been having fun. It always shines through. And another thing be your own quality controller. You will know when it is right. And when to stop. And when it needs more. Art happens as a result of doing and in the process making a series of micro decisions and responses made with love and with a love of life.

As the wonderful David Hockney said, “The only real things in life are food and love in that order, just like our little dog Ruby. I really believe this and the source of art is love. I love life.” (From an article written by Will Gompertz for the BBC website 1 April 2020)

This article is copyright Mary Price 2023 and you are welcome to share so long as you acknowledge me with a link back to this article.

Do you have an art plan or will you be going with the flow

I’m starting the year with a commitment to rekindling my blog and giving time to go with the flow in my art world. Flow is my word this year and I have some ideas to help me stick to a slower pace with more freedom…

How is your winter panning out? Are you good at wintering? Personally it’s a time of year I feel quite conflicted about. On the one hand it’s nice to come to a bit of a standstill and calm down, a time to do less and become more contemplative and on the other hand it is a time to think about the year ahead and start to make plans.

All artists are constantly practicing. It’s a funny concept really – we call ourselves creative practitioners and this has a double meaning – we practice and we practice. Meaning we do it and we are constantly trying to get better at it.

January has been deliberately a quiet time. For the past two or three years I’ve hardly stopped being ‘productive’ and although creativity is a big part of my life I was feeling conscious that sometimes it’s important to slow down.

So I have been making one huge painting this month – a commission that I am thoroughly enjoying without anything else to distract. It feels like a luxury and I’m definitely in the flow state with this. Here is the painting which is a commissioned work. I have called the painting ‘From the heart’ as the people commissioning the work wanted me to integrate these words into the painting. Just so you know – if you would like to commission me to paint for you here are the details

As an artist you really don’t have to be painting every single day and this is something I had been trying to live up to and goodness only knows why because no one is making me accountable. This year I plan to make things a little easier.

There are so many other things tugging at my desires – a desire for new adventures, a need to give some love to my home, reconnecting with friends I have not seen for a while. Practice, I have decided, should be about loving what you do and creating the right ambiance to grow and leave room for all the other things that enrich and nourish our existence.

It’s so easy now to be driven by those around you and by social media. The relentless posting, scrolling and comparing. I took a break from posting on Instagram over Christmas. After sharing work and connecting with others on the platform for several years almost daily recently I’ve been questioning if this is the best way of spending time, energy and business focus.

I have been asking questions about what social media adds to my practice. I’m fed up of jumping through the content creation hoops. Right now social media feels like noise with suggested posts I don’t want to look at, ads and really terrible films. A few do it well but most are simply dire in my view.

Also recently I’ve been feeling the dreaded comparisonitis – of course there is no such word but it is just the worst thing in any practice. I am feeling an urge to return to blogging about art and my life as an artist hence this latest post. It’s a more satisfying way of communicating. I want to move away from the noise and to re engage with my art without thinking – hmmm what shall I post on Instagram. It simply isn’t healthy.

Always open to trying new things I joined a paid artist community for a six month period in 2022 with the intention of forging new connections and learning new things. The reality of being part of the community was that it didn’t really feel right. I didn’t feel particularly connected and the promised business insights were low on delivery for me so I decided to leave. It wasn’t that the community had anything wrong with it, many sing it’s praises, but sometimes you join something only to realise that actually in practice it is better to just plough your own furrow and seek help for specific areas where you need assistance. It stays authentically true to you that way.

I think for me the final guiding reason on deciding to ditch this subscription was the ease of being distracted by the needs and observations of so many artists at different stages in their journey (very noisy)and the emphasis on growing the business side of being an artist. Don’t get me wrong, the business side is part of the reality if you decide you want you sell, but it’s mostly quite easy to slowly figure it all out so long as you do it at a pace one stage at a time. 

All artists need and seek community but for me it’s finding people with whom the connections are real and have a grounding in real life. I’m a social animal and far prefer to meet face to face than online. That said some on line connections have led to some great meetings. It’s a bit of tangled web really and one that I think most artists grapple with. On the one hand we use it to show what we are up to and to help generate sales and on the other we can so easily get caught into a spiral of mindlessness. If you are an artist reading this. How does it make you feel?

This year I met up with three artists who I originally followed on Instagram to paint in beautiful places.

Clare Wassermann and I first met at a painting workshop years ago and we discovered that we were going to be in Portugal at the same time in November 2022 so we met up and I had the great pleasure of showing her a place I love – the island of Armona in the Ria Formosa. We sat and sketched leaning against a row of dustbins facing a beautiful house with a garden filled with luscious palms. What could possibly be nicer?

In September I met with Sharon Bruster, a Cornish artist who makes incredible abstract work where she uses the sea and squid ink as her medium. We talked about our art plans as we painted on the beach at Harlyn. We had first connected through doing an art swop years ago and the meeting this summer was coincidental. Sharon was driving down a lane in Cornwall and I happened to be walking down the lane at the same moment. Serendipity of the nicest kind – we really enjoyed sharing what we do. I can see that there may be some collaborations in the future as I plan to move towards abstraction more consciously this year.

Sharon writes a brilliant newsletter each month (my favourite of all I subscribe to) and I urge you to take a look.

I also caught up with Alison Gilbert – she made a visit to my studio. We had first connected through our love of intuitive painting and I had already visited her studio in Somerset, serious studio envy as she has the most incredible space. She is already making an e course as part of the Life Book e course offered by Tamara Laporte.

Meeting up with other artists is so important as we all learn so much from each other and it can be reassuring to chew over challenges we all face with being practicing artists trying to make a go of it.

Connections like these are really important to me. Making art is a solitary thing and taking time and making an effort to build in space to meet up with other artists is something I will integrate into the ‘flow’ of things this year.

My focus is going to be on my art practice, making connections and education. I want to trial some new ways of doing things and have with that in mind signed up to do some in person real life workshops where I will learn some more technical approaches from practitioners I admire. There will be more on this as I share my experience of these learnings.

There will be a commitment to work on at least a couple of new series of work. My print offering will continue and the best paintings I make will be professionally photographed for print. I believe in making prints as it means I can offer work at an affordable price, something that I feel passionate about as I believe we should all be able to have art on our walls and make our surroundings as joyful as we can.

I will be working on delivering a short on line e course. Having just dissed the concept of on-line communication I feel very differently about on-line learning. It enables people to learn from each other in their own time and pace and to access insights into practice at an affordable price. This year’s challenge will be to understand the technology and deliver on this. And I will be seeking help from people I trust to share their insights and experience. One artist who has been very helpful is Susan McCreevy who launched her first course showcasing the art of botanical gelli printing back in September.

So in essence I’m setting myself three tasks, two of these are water off a ducks back because painting in series is what I love to do most. Learning is something I enjoy and I’m looking forward to a range of creative workshops

The only difficult bit is the e course and I’m up for one meaty challenge that will take me out of comfort, into scary and stretch me so that I am growing in my practice.

Having just three things on my to do list feels comfortable and leaves space for all the other things that are important to me.

If you are an artist reading this I’d be very interested in learning more about your approaches to planning and what you are committing to do this year. Do you try to do too much? Are you goal centred or would you prefer to go with the flow?

Please feel free to connect or to contact me here

Palm tree painting during lockdown

Once upon a time all I painted were palm trees and we will move onto that in a moment. During lockdown initially it felt quite difficult to focus on making art. I started off painting a few large canvases that were quite emotional in their content, large doves with expressive words integrated such as hope, trust and gratitude.

Lock down and the way our world has changed has had its inevitable impact on everyone and so far I feel lucky to be here, to feel healthy and for the people I love to be well too.

Artistically like many I was feeling a huge pressure to use this time as a big opportunity to get a body of work completed or at least to embark on a new project like my desire to create an e- course, catalogue my paintings properly, redesign this web site and countless other projects on the to do list.

However with the enormity of what was going on around us, the tragedy for many and the anxiety of watching the world respond to the pandemic, making art seems pretty crass. But it isn’t, creativity is a great outlet as a coping mechanism at difficult times – it is something that can be controlled to a degree at a time when everything else seems beyond our control. So I did what most artists do and just went into my shed every day and did something, even if all that something was, was a bit of tidying up.

The aforementioned canvases were there, fortunately purchased just before everything closed, so I just poured my emotions onto them and spent time building up marks and colours to give me a tapestry to work with on something. It’s a great way of overcoming artist block. I know well the saying that inspiration catches you working and have generally found this to be true.

To begin with as mentioned I painted a couple of dove paintings. Large expressive works that are entirely imaginary. I usually start painting without a plan and let the imagery come through. Here are the Dove Paintings that were inside of me wanting to express how I was feeling.

Dove – Gratitude – Sending Love ©Mary Price 2020
Dove – Hope and Trust ©Mary Price 2020

These paintings were cathartic to paint, and as making art does, allowed me the opportunity to express feelings like the desire to be free again but also the love I feel for life, family and friends and the trust in and gratitude for the key workers who were and are keeping the world ticking over as we grapple with and learn to live with the coronavirus.

The third dove is where the palm trees come in. It just wasn’t working and so as I often do in these cases I turned the painting upside down and there it was the image I loved for years and had laid to rest – a palm tree. Here it is not working, at least for me. And below it the palm, working for me!

Dove – painting that for me, at the time was not working ©Mary Price 2020
Palm of Hope ©Mary Price 2020

This painting is still in progress. You may be able to pick out some bird shapes and I plan to enhance these. The lockdown bird chorus has been one of the resounding pluses of this experience we are all undergoing and I want these paintings to mark this time. I’m not sure yet if I will be offering these paintings for sale – at least not just yet. Sometimes you paint something that seems too close to let go but I usually find that that feeling wears off once there is an offer on the table.

The surprising reacquaintance with my old love led me on to order ten canvases. I have to say that Nick from Bristol Fine Art has been amazing during lock down. In order to keep his customers well stocked with art supplies he has been running a delivery service. So much to be said for supporting local businesses right now. I decided to keep the pressure off and paint small.

Over a period of around two weeks I painted all ten canvases with imagery to cheer me up. A holiday to Portugal had been cancelled and I wanted to be transported into a holiday mode so worked on a series of palm tree paintings. Each palm is painted from my imagination but I have made countless drawings from real palms many times in my concertina sketchbooks when I travel so the muscle memory of the shapes is ingrained into my being.

Here are a few of the palm tree series.

I posted the progress of this series on Instagram and was delighted to see the very positive interest. It seems I am not the only person wanting a bit of holiday inspired colour in their life right now.

During this time there has been a very successful hash tag called artists support pledge where artists have been posting work with a view to making £1,000 sales and then pledging to buy the work by another artist to the value of £200. The hash tag was set up to bring attention to the fact that income sources for artists such as exhibitions, gallery shows, art fairs, market stalls and workshops had all been stopped during the lock down.

I decided to sell the palm tree paintings at a very reasonable £75 plus postage and to run an Instagram event one Sunday to trial the water. The paintings sold out in 15 minutes! Yes they are originals and £75 is a low price for an original painting but I wanted to spread the joy, it did not feel to me entirely to be about making money.

When you paint the gift is in the making, as an artist you are doing what you love so why not spread that gift by making art affordable. The gift repaid itself as I’ve been working on commissions ever since.

The experience has taught me many things about art, art business and why I do this thing. It has never been for money. What it is about for me is verification and this lockdown has brought me back to what I want to do, what I love and also it would appear to what I was meant to be painting all along.

People used to look at my work and say why always palm trees – well the answer is simply that I like them. No, I love them in all their swaying beauty and how they symbolise good things in life. I have embellished the colour and many of the palms integrate arches bringing another life long theme into the mix – that of travel memory.

When the current commissions are finalised I plan on making another sale but these will be first offered to those who sign up to my news letter. I’ve been very lazy at blogging and newsletters of late but I aim to change this.

You can sign up for the monthly (well that’s the intention) newsletter here, no spam, just honest insights into my shed studio life and latest updates on new paintings and prints – oh and at some point news on an e course. It will happen.

Pop Up Shop at Tobacco Factory

Fot the next week I am sharing a pop up shop at the Bristol Tobacco Factory with batik artist Jo Whiteland. We are selling a range of paintings, prints, lampshades, bird wall decorations and painted plant pots

Our pop up is situated in the brand new Makers Market that opened this week in the former Thali restaurant. The space has been divided up into indoor shop areas surrounding a central café. Each pop up has wall space featuring lovely old brick and plywood which makes a great foil for our brightly coloured artworks.

Pop Up shop at the Tobacco Factory

The first day was really busy with hundreds of people pouring in to see the new Makers Market. We had a great day selling with lampshades, prints and bird décor doing extremely well. We were lucky to get a space with an incredible recessed area that works brilliantly for displaying lampshades

Our Pop Up at the Makers Market is open for one more week from Tuesday 10 December until Sunday 15 December. Do come along to see us and get some inspiration for Christmas Gifts made with heart.

One of the Boho style birds – each is a unique painting and a very affordable way of buying an original piece of art

For more details about the Makers Market see the Tobacco Factory website here

Two new ‘Happy Tree’ paintings now on web site

The past year has all been about happy trees. I started painting these bright, colourful intuitive paintings following a holiday in Majorca in June 2018. The style of painting that developed over the next year or so went from being a glorious travel memory to a series of trees that celebate colour and exude optimism. Two new paintings have just been added to the original pages here on the artistintheshed website.

Happy Tree with Butterflies ©Mary Price 2019

The painting above ‘Happy Tree with Butterflies’ was a joy to paint. I loved layering the bright colours and introducing the abstract butterflies. The painting has for me a real sense of optimism, something that I am consciously integrating into the feel and the emotion that is poured into each artwork. The tree is as you can see, entirely imaginary – it has a tree shape but that is where any nod to representation ends.

For me making art is all about playing with the colours and introducing varation with a range of mark making tools. I use paint brushes but also anything I can find that will make an unusual or interesting mark on the surface. This way of working, I believe brings a dynamism to the final artwork.

In this painting I have decided to make the background more of a block of colour and I’m happy with the way this acts as a foil for the detailed marks in the tree bringing them into focus more effectively. Previous tree paintings have had more detail which is also something I enjoy because of the richness this gives to the painting however it’s always interesting to trial different styles.

Happy Tree – Meadow Notes ©Mary Price 2019

In the second happy tree I have really gone to town with adding sparkle using dots applied with a spotter paint brush from Pro Arte brushes. I love these brushes because they are quite stiff and enable precision mark making easily. Although I often use cheap brushes in the first few layers in my paintings for the final details that will be on show I love to move to the better quality tools that enable good control over the kind of mark that gets made. That said for the very tiny dots I have also used an old favourite – a bamboo skewer. The randomness of the mark with the tiny imperfections on each dot made this way appeals to me.

The paintings are now available for sale on the Happy Tree Originals page here on the website. Feel free to send me a message if you are interested. Details about how to buy my art here

Stop press: Both paintings have now sold but prints are available of the Happy Tree with Butterflies image