What I struggle with as an artist – Starting the day

©Stuart Bush, Saturate Postcards 1-3
On entering my studio, I often find myself in a low emotional state, where I am not in the mood to make work.  This often happens when I have rushed around to get the kids to school, tidied up and done some basic housework.  On those mornings I feel worn out before the day of work has started.  I am very conscious that I am tired and overwhelmed with life and it all pressures. However, I am also often determined to try to move out of this negative state of mind and get back to being productive. 
 
I have realised that by preparing what I am going to do the night before, as explained in a previous blog post, helps me to know what to do first.  But sometimes my energy is so low not even this is enough to get me going.
 
In order to wake me up and change my energy levels, l find a hot or a cold shower helps to reinvigorate me. I follow this by sitting in an upright position and focusing on controlling my breathing. I think about what I am grateful for, what I appreciate and what makes me feel alive.  I appreciate my relationships, I have a lovely family and happy place to live. I am grateful and lucky to have the opportunity to be creative and paint regularly in my studio.  The last part of this re-focusing is to go for a short walk to remind myself of my conviction as an artist.  A change of location can make a big difference.  I feel the sun, wind or the rain on my face.         All this takes no more than 30 minutes. 
 
The real trick is to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. My unconscious mind needs time to sort itself out.  I need space to pose open questions concerning my next piece of work.  I mull over issues and gently filter out my distracting, conscious thoughts. This process stops the excessive focus on myself and feels like a reset and a physical transformation.  It creates a natural high until I can’t wait to get back to work and I haven’t got a moment to lose. 

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Timeout from my art studio

©Stuart Bush, He has never been in love, he doesn’t even know what love is, gouache on cartridge paper, 43 x 24 cm
After working too much I took some much needed time out.
 
As well as being an artist and working full time, in my ‘spare’ time l am also a RFU rugby coach for an under 10s junior rugby team.  Rugby has always been an important part of my life.  This year for our weekend away, our tour, we played a local team in Herefordshire, near Wales and we also went Paint Balling!
 
The rugby tour is an opportunity to provide memories that will last a lifetime.  It gives the young team and Coaches a chance to get away from home; to get to know each other and build better relationships and teamwork.  There are always many laughs and excellent camaraderie, especially when the boys and men are dressed up as Grannies, and Ladies as Granddads! 

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7 lessons I have learnt on my way to develop a painting practice.

©2016 Stuart Bush, Hopes and Fears, (2007) oil on canvas 150 x 85 cm
I always felt I excelled as an artist when I painted, ‘Hopes and Fears’. The idea and success of ‘Hopes and Fears’ seemed to come out of nowhere. I started painting, and the result just happened.  It just seemed to work without a lot of effort. I had painted one of my greatest accomplishment to date, and now I want to understand its success so I can reproduce the results.
 
I had been overthinking about what was working within my art.  I kept trying and became confused. Then I slowly began to realise that when I am not trying to reach a solution, when I’m in the shower or going for a walk, ideas pop in my head.  I slowly learnt to realise that I need to get out of my own way to allow my creativity come through.
 
1. Remove the pressure I put on myself
 
It took time to realise that l need to remove the pressure l put on myself. If a solution to a problem is not apparent, I need to try to stay calm and have a clear mind. If my thoughts are racing, a walk, mediation or a stretch, helps.  Another way to remove the pressure is to carry out a simple, unrelated physical task, this helps me to halt the tendency of over thinking and trying to find a solution.  Once there is no pressure my mind becomes comfortable, and my natural creative side leads the way.
 
Sometimes it can take six months to realise how to move a piece of work forward. If this happens, I often turn the painting to the wall and work on something else.  I now have many paintings going on at once, so it is no longer an issue.  
 
2. Studio time is play time
I look at studio time as a way to challenge myself and play. I find it is exciting to stretch myself and learn new things. I am often curious and try things I haven’t tried before.  I find that this outlook enriches my world and my work.
 
2. Artists don’t need to know everything
It took me a long time to realise I don’t need to know everything. I only need to be competent in the area I am working in.  It is more important to understand how to be creative and how to get into the creative flow.   
 
3. Creating problems
When a designer works, often they are given a brief, and they need to solve a problem and come up with a solution.  Instead of addressing a problem I am trying to create one.  
 
4. Holding things back
I want the viewer to come to the work with their life experiences and baggage, and see what they see.  I want them to be intrigued by my work.  I look to create ambiguity so the viewer has reasons to ask questions. I am not laying all my cards on the table; I am holding things back.  
 
5. Nothing goes to plan
So many times I have wanted a painting to go well and too often nothing to goes to plan.  I have learnt to come to terms with this and change my expectations.  My new outlook tells me to expect everything to wrong.  Then when a mistake happens I think maybe it has happened for a good reason, and I wonder if l can learn something new from the error.  This change of outlook means I can now quickly put it in perspective. If this does not work I ask myself these questions. Can I save the situation/work? What are learning points? Can I repeat it and do it better next time? How long will this take?  Do I need to quickly move on and forget about it and do something else?
 
6. There is a key to success in every failure.
 
7. After a successful painting, I ask myself can I develop a series?
Sometimes a piece of work cannot be repeated. But I often consider if I could add slight changes and repeat parts would l then be able to make a series!
 
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Stuart Bush’s Charity Art Sale – helping to give something back to the community

 
 
I am acutely aware of the vital role of the Air Ambulance has in getting doctors to the scene of life-threatening emergencies and airlifting people to a hospital.  I am also aware that the Air Ambulance exists only with the help and support of the local community.   I have decided to combine this art exhibition with supporting the local community    For this unique one-off exhibition l have also reduced my prices to allow more people to buy art.   This art exhibition is more than just about me and my art, it is about giving something back, about supporting the community that l live in and the people l live with.
 
 
The paintings in this exhibition are from 2006-2017.  The theme and ideas that have inspired this work are related to my emotional response as an individual to the city.  This body of work started as a realistic interpretation of street photography. It captures feelings of alienation and angst in the human-made environment. However, the snapshots of life caught something that l wasn’t expecting.  The fleeting moments of line, shapes, and space intrigued me, and I slowly became interested in this interrogation of space in the public realm.
 
 
This body of work finishes with the beginning of something new.  The artwork moves past looking at the dislocation and fragmentation in our contemporary world to the mysterious and intriguing unknown entity of space. In this new direction for my work, I want to explore the existence of the space that enables everything else to exist.  I want to draw the attention away from objects that people make, to the space around us, to create a portal to somewhere else.
 
 
I hope that by raising funds for the charity through selling my paintings, I can bring even more meaning to life through my art.  Every £5 raised could pay for pressure dressings to control a patients bleeding.  Every £10 raised could pay for enough fuel to fly 11 miles towards the nearest major trauma centre.
Stuart Bush’s Charity Art Sale @ Rugby Art Gallery and Museum

I hope you can help me support the local air ambulance charity.

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What I am struggling with as an artist

About a year ago I met up with a group of artists.  The conversations were varied and interesting.  Then we turned to one question that we all had a problem with.  What do we each feel embarrassed to be struggling with regarding our art?
I was hesitant at first to give an honest answer to the question as it made me feel vulnerable. However, I was pleased I did give an honest answer as I learnt a lot from the response. I have my first solo show for a number of years starting on 18th April 2018. All of the feelings and embarrassment about my art had resurfaced and I thought I would share them with you.
 
My response to the question was that, I don’t feel comfortable selling my work.  For some reason, I thought I was the only one who felt like that. To my surprise, I was relieved when all the other artists agreed that they felt the same way too and l quickly realised fear and doubt are endemic in artists’ lives.
 
Let me explain further.  I don’t enjoy selling my art and the thought of rejection often stops me from trying to. I don’t want to force my work on other people. But I feel that if someone rejects my paintings they are also rejecting in me.
 
The discussion turned into a self-help discussion where everyone had some helpful advice to share on this issue. The first response that got me thinking was, ‘Would I prefer my art to be in my garage or on a potential collectors wall?’  This sentence stopped me in my tracks and made me re-think.
 
Advise soon followed;  I need to change the idea of selling from fear to a pleasure. When I have an exhibition, I need to focus on the positives of building friendships and relationships with other artists and art lovers. I need move away from the thought I am going to sell painting today to, l am going to make a new friend today.  I need to see that I am trying solving a problem for a potential collector by sharing my art.  
 
After all, what is the worse that can happen? I may feel nervous but what is wrong with that?  I could end up educating someone about art.  I could have the opportunity to add beauty and colour to over peoples homes and show them what l see.
 
If don’t show my art, what is the price I will pay?
As a creative person, I would miss out on achieving self-contentment through my work. I would miss out on developing a visual language that holds the viewer’s attention.
 
I know I want to have an adventure. I want to challenge things. I want to gain new knowledge.  I want to achieve recognition for my unique talents. However, l realised that by avoiding what needs to be done, I will always be disappointed and dissatisfied with life.
 
I need to consider the cost to myself of not showing my art. If I avoid showing my work, what might my life look like in one year, three years or ten years time? I guess that there is an easy answer; there will no change.  On the other hand, it is hard to predict what will happen if l do show and sell my art.
 
I thought I was avoiding pain by keeping my paintings to myself but in fact by hiding them away I causing myself more pain.  Everything we do, we do for a reason. I didn’t paint these painting to be hidden away. I need to believe in my capabilities to change, to adapt and to expand.
 
By asking myself two questions, I hope to finally achieve a personal breakthrough by associating pleasure with sharing and talking about what I love to do.
 
What will it cost me if I don’t let this negative belief in the value of my art go?
 
What would the benefits be by attempting to sell, to progress and to move forward achieve? Hopefully success….
 
I am about to find out…
 
I am therefore pleased to invite you to my Charity Art Sale in Rugby Art Gallery, Floor 1, from 18th to the 26th April.
 
Stuart Bush’s Charity Art Sale 18-26 April 2018
©Stuart Bush – These 4 postcards titled, ‘A will to live’ are available unframed for a special price of £7 by clicking on the image.
©Stuart Bush, ‘Saturate’ – These 4 postcards titled, ‘A will to live’ are available unframed for a special price of £7 by clicking on the image.

 

Please click here for exhibition postcards

5 ways sleep can improve your productivity in the artist’s studio

 
©Stuart Bush A pocket full of dreams 2010 oil on canvas, 120.4 cm x 160.4 cm
I have often encountered problems in the studio. It has taken me a long time to realise how to put it in perspective and move forward quickly.  I might have an issue with a painting, and the next step would be unclear, and I would sit there contemplating ideas to solve it.  
 
I have learnt to realise that at a certain point, of staring at the painting, I am not going to find a resolution in that moment. I now reach a point when I know I need to move on to another piece of work.  I usually have two to three different art projects or paintings running side by side. Now I turn the painting to the wall and move on to the next one.  
 
I have heard the phrase, ‘it is best to sleep on it’, many times, but now I do. Within a few days or weeks, a solution normally comes to me. I have been aware the dilemma resolves itself in my head, but I was unclear how until I read, ‘Sleep Smarter’, by Shawn Stevenson.
 
In Stevenson’s book, he explains the benefits of relaxation and rejuvenation when we are asleep. After he looked into many scientific investigations and is confident that a good nights sleep with lots of REM sleep cycles helps you to;
  1. improve your efficiency,
  2. organise your memories,
  3. process the day,
  4. solve problems,
  5. and make better decisions.
 
Apparently when we sleep there no longer the usual biases and preconceptions that we have when we are awake from our conscious mind. We can make more informed choices to resolve a solution.  We can think through new ideas, thoughts and directions where we can take our work.  That explains why, when I have blank moments, like when I’m in the shower, a solution jumps out from my subconscious mind.
 
In studies, after twenty-four hours of being sleep deprived, it is likely you will make twenty percent more mistakes, and it will take fourteen percentage longer to do the exact same thing.  When we are being creative and wanting to make favourable decisions being sleep deprived prevents us from making good choices and being effective. When we force ourselves to make decisions when we are tired we often do things, that will need re-doing at a later date.
 
It is also not related with how much sleep we get.  More sleep does not necessarily equal better sleep.  Quality is much more important than quantity.  Stevenson suggests a list of quick tips that help improve the quality of your sleep;
  • A caffeine curfew at noon. (Caffeine lasts 8 hours in your body),
  • Exercising in the morning is the best time to exercise,
  • Avoiding blue light from your screens and device by having a screen time curfew, where your not looking a screen 20-60 minutes before bed.  Other helpful, useful technology tips include using the Flux app or Apple devices with night shift built in to reduce blue lights before bedtime.
  • To prevent feeling exhausted establish an evening bedtime sleep ritual, where the bedroom isn’t an entertainment hub.  Taking a bath or reading light fiction helps me to create a sleep sanctuary, giving your mind time to unwind.
If you’re in interested in learning more please read ‘Sleep Smarter’, by Shawn Stevenson, it was worth a read.

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Obstacles I have overcome – being a perfectionist

©Stuart Bush, He has never been in love, he doesn’t even know what love is, gouache on cartridge paper, 43 x 24 cm – £200 + shipping enquire

One of the lessons and obstacles I have learnt to deal with is being a perfectionist. Over the years I have visited many galleries and museums and enjoyed looking at other artists work. I use to look at other artists work and compare my work to theirs. But l now realise that looking at other artists work and comparing mine to theirs is counterproductive.

Instead of being helpful the visits made me focus on my insecurities as an artist. I would ask myself; Am l talented? Is my work good enough? And, what if no-one likes my work? I was creating an impossible mindset to overcome. These thoughts were very destructive. However, I slowly came to realise I need to accept what I do and who I am by making my studio free of judgement.

Self-judgement is a learned behaviour that comes from living in our type of society. By comparing my work to someone else’s, I not only noticed that my work was not perfect, by someone else’s standards, I observed that l had changed my standards. These thoughts made me confused as to who I was making the work for; an audience or myself.

By thinking my work was not good enough against someone else’s standards, it was impossible to be playful and enjoy what I was doing. Without the freedom to play and take risks, my work had become stifled and dull.

To be an artist, I realised I need a lot of self-belief. I needed to bring excellence to every I do. By measuring myself against myself, rather than against others l came to realise that art is not like sport, it is not competitive; it is subjective. I needed to reassess what I see as good enough.

I now know that when I go to a gallery, it is useful to compare my thoughts and processes to other artist’s but not their output. I realised that if I wanted to make successful artwork, I had to find a way through experimentation, trying things out and playing to improve what I have already created. Once I realised this, I was able to show up at the studio with a different intent. An intent to be present in the task and make better work than I did yesterday. From that point on I couldn’t help feeling good about my output and about myself.

 
Please read the related post – ‘Making better work than I did yesterday.’

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Understanding the qualities of colour

©Stuart Bush, The Kingdom (2009) oil on canvas 150 x85 cm
It is amusing to me to remember how naive I was when I finished art school. I expected to be a finished article, ready to be able to take on the world. However, I slowly realised I had a lot to learn to be a successful artist. All I really had in place at this point were a couple of foundations. I had learned to resolve problems through experimenting and by researching.
 
I can remember trying to make a particular grass coloured green that would work well with other colours on a painting. It was very frustrating working on a painting and being pleased with the results and then completely spoiling the painting with the wrong colour; in this case, green.  I mixed cobalt blue with cadmium lemon.  Instead of arriving at the right mix, I had a dullish green mix on my palette, once applied, it destroyed my painting.
 
I was already aware that complementary colours such as red, purple, blue, green, yellow and orange, create the colours around the colour wheel, these complementary colours can bring out the inherent characteristics of each other.  But when it came to improving the colour harmony in my paintings I need to build on my knowledge. 
 
I researched and read about the differences between student and artist quality oil paints and their depth of colour. I realised to lift my paintings to be true, vibrant and durable I needed to spend more on my materials. The outcome of this was that I stopped using student quality paints.  I researched the classic palettes that artists have used for centuries and filled in the gaps in my selection of paints. I acquired the classic palette with artist quality paints. Titanium white, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, raw umber, burnt umber, burnt sienna, venetian red, indian red and ivory black.
 
I realised I needed to experiment with colours to see their real characteristics and this can’t be carried out while the paint is still in the tube.  Not only do I need to be able to see the colours; I need to know what proportions to mix them in to give the shade, tone and hue I require.  
 
Colour swatch – blue and white
 
To resolve the problem, I spent a few hours creating colour swatches for my studio wall.  My first task was to make a value scale of cobalt blue with titanium white.  By varying the saturation of colour, I created a tonal value of one to seven.  One being the lightest and seven being the darkest.  I extended this with other blues to see their tones and shades.
 
Through this simple task, I was able to understand the attributes and the properties of the colour.  I completed this for all my colours.  It enabled me to make a better selection and create a more harmonious colour scheme in my paintings; well almost…
 
I soon realised that I was now able to choose the right colour in a tube but what if I needed to mix paint to get make a particular colour.  After all, there are millions of colours and in my classic palette there are only nine colours, plus black and white. I set about making colour swatches with all my blues individually mixed with all my yellows in value scales, so at least I could start with an understanding of green. 
Blue and green coloured swatch
I expanded this further with other colours. With this simple guide of colour swatches, I resolved many of the problems I had been facing.  I realised the only way to make some colours, like a deep violet, I would need to purchase that colour separately. By carrying out the task of creating colour tests swatches, it has helped me to remember colours a lot better.  
 
I had solved the problem through research and experimenting to get a better understanding and knowledge of my palette and the colours that were possible.  This has made the process of choosing the right colours to mix together a lot easier.  It certainly helps to make me feel more confident and decisive when using colour to invoke the physical, physiological and psychological responses I am looking for in my paintings.

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What is success to me?

©Stuart Bush, A section of ourselves as a commodified object, oil on aluminium panel, 80 x 120cm
©Stuart Bush, A section of ourselves as a commodified object, oil on aluminum panel, 80 x 120cm

The question, ‘What is success to me?’ has made me think a lot about why I have chosen to be an artist and what I want to achieve.  Every artist has a different view of success, and what it means to them. Success may include; enjoying the process, the blood, sweat and tears invested in the work, attainment of exhibition space, residencies, peer recognition or column inches and often it can be seen as material and personal gain.  However you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself if your measure of success is to have all of this.

There are a lot of artists out there in the world and many of them are striving to achieve all of it.  It is hard to put a number on how many people achieve success but becoming a household name like Jeff Koons or Damien Hurst is highly unlikely. If you don’t reach this ambition you need to be able to deal with the disappointment; as many artists are struggling to make a living.
 
Understandably many artists give up on the way as they try to reach that kind of success after realising how hard it is. I believe if you’re making art to be rich and famous you are making it for the wrong reasons. If that is the reason why you want to be an artist, then you should do something else.
 
One way of looking at success is; rather than seeing it as material or personal gain; is to love what you are doing. Enjoy the journey and the effort you put in, then when you to go the studio and are creative, you are already complete. By doing the best for yourself, you will always succeed.
 
I have the urge to direct my life in the way I want it to be, and that’s through my art. I realise that this is the area where I have to most control. Many of the other areas of my life are much more of a compromise.
 
I believe that being able to make art full-time will make me happy and content but only if I can provide enough financial support for my family. For me this must come first. I realise serving others and having the people I love around me is an essential ingredient to my happiness. It is undoubtedly more important than money.  Money is just a tool; it isn’t something to strive for as an end in itself.
 
Coach Wooden, the highly successful American basketball player and coach, sees success as; “Peace of mind, attained only through self-satisfaction when knowing you made an effort to do the best you’re capable of.  You’re the only one that knows that.  You can fool others but not yourself.”
 
I try to focus on the present moment and whether I am doing the best work I can with the resources available. By viewing success this way, I can keep a playfulness in my practice. So for me, success does not lay in being rich or famous or in my artwork but my relationship to my artwork.
 
I believe I am capable of so much more and I feel I have hardly started on the path of becoming an artist. By working on what comes naturally, playing off my strengths, using my instincts, observation and curiosity I strive to make my work a manifestation of the best bits of me.
 
I believe I am capable of so much more and I feel I have hardly got started as an artist. By working on what comes naturally, playing off my strengths, using my instincts, observation and curiosity I can make my work a manifestation of the best bits of me.
 
I am looking at the long game and realise that my chance of success improves as my work matures.  After several decades; when most artists have given up;  my prospects are significantly improved. The artist Michael Craig-Martin said, “when you’re 20, there are 50,000 other artists, by the time you’re 30, it’s down to 5,000, by 40, it’s 2,000. If you make it to 70, there are only 12 of you left, and you’re all famous.”
 

The Guardian wrote an interesting article titled ‘Can you make a living as an artist?’ and is worth a read. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jul/29/artists-day-job-feature?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

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A strategy for getting started in the studio

Stuart Bush, Prep work 2015-6

If you talk to people who procrastinate when in the studio they will often say…
‘First l have to travel to the studio. Then l change my clothes, so l don’t get paint on them. Next l usually choose some music to listen to and make a cup of tea. Somehow, l need to unwind and turn my mind off from all the stuff that’s been happening in the week and focus on being creative. It’s hard getting started.’

However, if you talk to an artist who doesn’t have this problem, they might say, ‘you just pop into the studio and start drawing.’ If you then ask them about the steps involved, they will say, ‘there is just one step, you just get started.’

We all have this ability to make some things simple and other things complex. Daily success in the studio can be simple. ‘Just decide what to make before you get there, arrive and get busy. But it doesn’t mean it is easy.

Ernest Hemingway offered this advice to a young writer, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel, you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing l can tell you so try to remember it.”

The first thing I am drawn to do when I arrive at the studio is to check my phone. I have personal errands, reading the news, checking my bank account, paying bills, following up on loose ends, researching things of interest on the internet plus personal messaging and social media messages. If I walk through the door and allow myself to have unplanned time, I’m finished for the day before I have even started. All the personal errands need their own block of time on my calendar, later in the day so I first have 3 hours of quality studio time.  If you notice your mind is making things complicated and stopping you from getting started, turn the dial towards simplicity in your mind.

I prepare a simple problem in advance that I can explore or play with when I arrive at the studio so there are no obstacles. I set up a clean sheet of paper and a form of inspiration like a photograph. This is often enough to prevent obstacles. The inspiration needs ideally to be a simple interesting problem to resolve through a quick sketch.

I have found it is important not to be judgemental about the outcome. If it is a mess, I can always do it again. There is no such thing as failures in my studio as I learn from every mistake. I am pleased if I have picked up a pencil I have started, that way it has been successful. Now I’m in the open creative mode it is easy to move on to something more challenging.

Please read my post ‘Productivity in the artist’s studio’ for further reading about how I define my most important two to three tasks before I arrive. 
 

At the end of each day I organise my work with the juicy ideas laid out with your pencil and paints ready for your return, aswell as a quick piece of work to get me started. By leaving my work prepared for the next day, I just arrive at the studio and start working. There is no need to stop and reflect on what to do.

It also means that by preparing what you are going to do, you have the night to ponder it sub-consciously while you are asleep. Thereby allowing new insight to come forward without you having to think about it.

For further ideas about how other artists have developed strategies, I recommend reading the book: ‘Daily Rituals: How artists work by Mason Currey.

 

©Stuart Bush, A section of ourselves as a commodified object, oil on aluminium panel, 80 x 120cm

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