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.”
If you notice your mind is making things complicated and stopping you from getting started, turn the dial towards simplicity in your mind.
At the end of each day organise your work with the juicy ideas laid out with your pencil and paints ready for your return. By leaving your work prepared for the next day, you just have to 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.
I started my blog in 2016 as a result of wanting to write for myself. I put my thoughts, ideas and what I learned as an artist down into words. The fortnightly goal of writing has helped me develop a better understanding why I feel the need to make art and process the world. I am writing about this mysterious thing inside me. I am discovering who I am and this is leading me to grow as an artist.
The intention is to create a regular and fresh content. Enhancing my online presence and finding an audience and evoking a conversation about what I do.
The blog has helped me learn to keep my writing simple, improving my clarity and persuasiontherebyenhancing my skills as a writer. When I review another artist’s work, I write to discuss my influences. I seek to communicate what their work means to me and my sensibilities. I do further in-depth learning about a great many subjects that influence my art process and informing my unique perspective. The whole method of communicating my thoughts and ideas is a gratifying experience. I am proud of the results; I hope you enjoy the posts. Thank you for reading.
Often when I turn on the shower and step in, I turn on a shower of thoughts. I’m not sure why it happens in the shower, but I think it is a favourable place to be flooded with thoughts and ideas. All you need is a notebook and pencil straight afterwards, just in case the idea is worth saving, stopping them going down the drain.
My mind also wanders when I am painting. Over time, I have realised I have become a professional daydreamer, but often this is the wrong time and the wrong place when I’m trying to be productive. I feel the need to gain some self-mastery of my busy creative mind.
I used to think dreaming about the future was my reward for taking on an almost impossible creative challenge. At times, I have imagined having the ideal artist studio, making sublime artwork, relaxing and enjoying the lifestyle of being someone successful. I have learned that happiness will be a reward in the future.
The problem with allowing myself to think about a variety of things other than the task that is in front of me, is that I am not as productive as I need to be to be highly successful. I lose focus on what I am doing and at times I have moments of being completely unproductive.
Since I read Eckhart Tolle book ‘The Power of Now’ where Tolle says, “when your fulfilment and sense of self are no longer dependent on the future outcome, joy flows into whatever you do.” I have become aware that if I am lucky enough to achieve what I want in the future, and get there while being a daydreamer (which I now think is unlikely), I will always be programmed to look to the future for a sense of fulfilment. I realise I am already very fortunate in many ways and I should be enjoying this time of my life. It is the process and journey that is important, not some dream about the future.
I remember what I wanted to be when I set out as a young man. Originally, I wanted to be an architect; when I didn’t get the grades, and that fell through I choose to be a designer. En route, unintentionally I stumbled onto an art degree; Ba Illustration. It wasn’t the right course for me, but the good thing about it, was that I learned from it what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to be a commercial artist. This knowledge has helped me throughout my life.
In my eyes, a commercial artist is held to a brief. There is an element of freedom but only as long as it fits the project brief. During the course I found myself simplifying as many project outlines as possible to have more freedom. I didn’t like predicting what work I was going to make. I felt the strong urge to have freedom and be in control of my creative and artistic output.
When I became aware of this I began to question whether I should continue on the Illustration course. I wasn’t happy and felt I needed a complete change. I went to the office of the University of Wolverhampton and announced I wanted to leave the university and change courses. I was unprepared for the response. I was given one night to decide whether I would accept a transfer to Illinois State University near Chicago.
At the time it was a difficult decision. It was a long night talking to my family and thinking things through. The next day I went in, I said yes. It was a life-changing decision and experience. My time in America wasn’t always easy, but nothing of value ever is. I developed in so many ways, especially by learning what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Through taking studio classes in painting, drawing, and photography I realised I wanted to be a painter.
Over the next couple of years, I had to figure out how I was going to make a living. I thought it was impossible as a painter. I concluded that if I could choose a job where I would always paint, I could be happy. I know that I wanted to be with someone to share my life and have children. I wanted the usual things like owning a house, a car and to be comfortable while continuing to be an artist. I figured out where I wanted to be. So where am I? Is it where I wanted to be?
This week I have made an another big decision. I am giving up my studio. I have rented a studio a few miles from where I live since completing my masters degree in Fine Art in 2006. This wasn’t an easy decision. Now that I have a house, a car, a good job and someone to spend my life with, I realise I need to think carefully about my long-term future. I need to make running a studio financially sustainable in the long term. By buying a bigger house and converting part of it to have a studio at home will give me more time to paint and I will be able to work towards being more self-sufficient in my retirement.
So far I have grown up thinking what will make me happy is just ahead of me. I recognise and acknowledge I am lucky to be able to maintain my passion for creativity for the rest of my life. I am forty years old next year; most artists have a breakthrough in their careers in their forties. I am ambitious and want to be successful as an artist beyond making my painting sustainable but I also want to be grateful and happy with what I have achieved. I want to stop thinking I will be satisfied in the future. Instead I want to be satisfied and enjoy the present more. I will be soon on to the next chapter in my life. It feels an exciting time. Hopefully the beginning of something special. I hope can learn to be content and appreciate what I have already achieved. I am where I hoped I would be.
Taking on the history of art and making something new or original is very challenging. Everything seems to have been done before. Picasso said, “good artist copy, great artist steal.” Banksy crossed Picasso’s name out and stole what he said. “The bad artists imitate, the great artists steal.” Pablo Picasso Banksy.
Advertising was stripped and cleansed by Warhole as he took and re-aligned it’s image, colour and details. Pop art mirrored the overload of capitalism by using the tasteless and repetition of consumerism itself. The minimalist through their dislike for capitalism made no attempt to represent the outside, they approached art making differently, by focusing on materials and order, the form of the work became their reality. They accumulated objects and striped them bare. The supermarket stack became a careful composed stack of bricks reflecting the coldness and emptiness. The minimalists, like the pop artists before, wanted to say wake up and smell the coffee, capitalist and consumerist objects are empty and without meaning. No matter how much you buy there is still no hope of transcendence or ascendancy.
I strove to create a dialogue with what came before, Pop art, minimalism and Koons amongst others. However, my work has developed over time, and through setting up my own system of working, my thoughts have moved on. I am no longer focused on creating a dialogue about consumerism even though that’s where I started. My work has deepen and expanded through the process of making. My painting ‘the quality of absence’ allows the viewer to indulge in their own taste and expectations.
I now experiment with and explore a visual grammar. I take shapes and forms with colours and look for the underlining beauty beyond the emptiness of the surface culture. This work is extremely hand crafted with physical man made marks made through painting. By exploring pictorial convention I have developed an interest in the language of space; the space between art and life.
This new work certainly seems to have struck the right note, ‘the quality of absence’ has gone to a new home. The home of one of my customers.
There are many challenges to making good art. I would like to share some of the problems l have overcome along the way.
When l was starting out as an artist l hoped that a fantastic idea would hit me like a lightning bolt! I thought to be a successful artist all l needed was one great idea. I now realise that for me, ideas work better when they come while l’m working rather than having an idea before l start. Pablo Picasso said, “inspiration does exist, but it has to find you working.” You need to trust that inspiration and creativity will be there when you get deep and into the flow of your work.
In the past self-doubt and my ego have often made me freeze in the studio. The impulse to freeze can be overwhelming, it feels like being caught like a rabbit in headlights when you’re not sure what to do next. I have come to realise that these feelings are perfectly normal and are to be expected. Previously, these freezes made me lose my way, but over time l have realised that everyone who is creative has thoughts and fears of failure at one point or another. In the Guardian Newspaper, Susan Hiller discusses her daily battle.
I realise by wanting to be successful as an artist; l am volunteering for self-doubt. Success comes to those creative people who overcome this problem. I have learnt how to get out of my own way, calm an overthinking mind, to channel myself to get back on with my work.
Part of the creative process is making mistakes and stumbling on the way through the process. Mistakes are essential to figuring things out and working out what works. Previously they have felt like the end of the world. I have learnt to adjust my mindset, and see these mistakes as beneficial learning opportunities to figure what doesn’t work. Now when mistakes or accidents happen, l understand that it was meant to be and l am able now, to quickly move on with a new sense of purpose, taking on board the newly learned knowledge.
I have also learnt about the importance of technical skills in making good art. I have realised however, that although technical skills are essential to make good art, it is much more important to know how to be creative. By learning how to be creative and how to get into the creative flow, it is possible to use technical skills to broaden your artistic output.
I recently realised that an audience is not initially drawn to your work because of your idea. Through creating, when the object and making become inseparable, the resulting work is much more intriguing than a big idea. An artwork is successful when it communicated something to its audience that the audience relates to and understands. My potential audience and hopefully collectors will buy into my work because they know why l made it, instead of what and how l made it.
When I’m feeling self-doubt, when things don’t go my way or when I’m overthinking, the best advice l learnt through these challenges is to get out of my own way. There are no short cuts to making good art, just lots of small steps along the way. So get working, make mistakes and enjoy the process. Like everything in life that is worthwhile, it takes hard work and perseverance. Making good art is about finding your unique voice through your artwork and figuring out why you want to make it. By communicating the ‘why’ through the work you can make better sense of this world, and make good art!
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Hopes and Fears (2007) symbolises a key tipping point in my career. It was the most successful painting from my work of this period, when I painted with a representational figurative style. It has been exhibited in many places from London to Los Angeles and has won two prizes. Needhams Open in Cambridgeshire in 2008, and X-Power International Art Competition in Beverley Hills, California in 2009.
It is up for sale here or alternatively contact me directly through email or Facebook.
Background to the painting.
“The piece ‘Hopes and Fears’ by Stuart Bush is profoundly influenced by London’s city streets. In the foreground, a well-dressed man blends into the city, giving it a dreamlike quality somewhere between fact and fiction. The work obsessively documents a personal psychological journey relating to themes of guilt and obsession with everyday consumerism. Space, structure, angst, alienation and juxtaposition are all key elements with this work.”
Back to the story…
I was born in the UK in 1978 and while growing up my family and l moved to several different parts of the UK. Moving around the country had an impact on my education, and l only put effort into the classes l liked and ones that came easy to me, like art and design.
My first ambition as a child was to be a stunt man, as l was a big fan of The Fall Guy, The A-Team and Airwolf! But my passion and talent for art started at an early stage. I had an interest in drawing and it seemed to come easily to me, I soon realised that being a car designer or an architect might be a little more realistic.
At 16 when l received my final grades l realised l had to reconsider becoming a car designer or an architect as l would need to be good at all subjects to meet university entry requirements. Nevertheless, l continued my education studying Art and Design ‘A’ levels with the intention of being a designer of some sort. However, after my ‘A’ levels, the foundation course in Art and Design l studied meant that rather than having a design portfolio to get into a design course at university l ended up with an art portfolio! The foundation course l studied was not Art and Design it was more like Art and Graphic Design.
Nevertheless, l enjoyed the course even though l ended up in a different place than l intended. I received advice from my college tutors who suggested that l studied Illustration at university. I didn’t know what l wanted to do and l didn’t think too much about my future as an Illustrator but l took their advice and gained a place at Wolverhampton
I got off to a bad start at Wolverhampton when l didn’t get into the halls of residence. This meant l had to find a shared house to live nearby.
Not getting into halls of residence limited my number of people I knew significantly. My friends were mainly the people on my course, and I lived with 3 of them. In my second year, I also realised it was the wrong course at the wrong university. Things went from bad to worse and I wasn’t happy and wanted to leave Wolverhampton and change classes.
I was determined to make a change and make the most out of the situation. I approached my University and said I wanted to transfer universities. I meet with a lady in an office, and she told that the university has additional places on an international transfer to America. The were places available to go to ISU Illinois State University near Chicago in January. At the time this was only nine weeks away, and I was given one night to decide. I was lacking self-confidence and very concerned about going, but I was determined to make a change, and this appeared as my best and only option.
After a very long conversation with my family, I applied the next day to go to America on an international transfer. I enrolled in painting and photography classes. It was very different from Illustration course at Wolverhampton. It suited me better, and I gained a great deal of much-needed confidence in my self and my abilities.
In Chicago l started three studio classes including Painting, Drawing and Photography which wasn’t easy as there was a heavy workload. I quickly made two main groups of friends and lots of other friends in the inernational halls of residence. One group who liked partying and another group who liked a good time aswell as making art. I was torn between the two. I took me a while to realise who my real friends were and thankfully they were the hard working artists. This tough decision was a central life changing decision.
I enjoyed both the painting and photography classes l was enrolled in and they have both become a major part of my Art. This life changing trip had a fundamental effect on me and l was helped by being able to travel to many parts of the US. I returned to Wolverhampton to finish my degree with ‘A’ grades from Illinois State University and with a new passion for painting and photography and a new self-belief!
After university l had the confidence to go travelling on my own for six months visiting Hong Kong, China and Australia. During my travels l carefully thought about how l was going to make a living when l returned to the UK. I realised that l was not in the position to make a living as an artist, so l thought carefully about getting the right type of full-time job that suited my needs. I ended up choosing a job with a four days on and four days off shift pattern that l have grown to love. This crucial decision was base on my determination to become an artist and it has paid off.
After a few years of full-time work l started an MA in Fine Art. I now rent a painting studio a few miles from where l live and happily paint at every opportunity. The decision to go to America was certainly life changing. It was where l found my passion for art. I now look forward to everyday with my varied and exciting life.
When starting as an artist rather than waiting for a big idea, I took my camera to the city. I took pictures of everything and anything that interested me. I just pressed and released the shutter. When l reviewed my photos, l realised that l was naturally discovering interesting material. My ideas came from living, painting and repeating.
When returning to the city with my camera, l followed my natural curiosity and my ideas deepened and expanded. At times it was hard to choose which way to take my work. It was essential to review and understand what l had. I took many directions but kept returning to taking photos of the city and taking them forward by painting them on canvas. The trick is not to give up Helsinki Bus Theory link.
I realised over time that my original idea was chasing some obscure knowledge through a simple process that I could repeat.
I feel like I have been painting the same painting for ten years as now I realise that my original ideas just got the work started. The original idea is still in my work but it has changed and developed in ways l could never have predicted. My work has grown to portray something unique that help us to understand our life on this earth a little better.
These seeds begin to germinate in many different directions like a plant does when it is attracted to light and water. It has taken many years for my original ideas and intentions to bloom into flowers. Now the interesting thing is not my original ideas or intentions. It is that l have found my way to communicate; my unique voice and inclination. As my work has deepened and expanded, it has lined up with natural talent, unlocking bigger ideas. Bigger ideas that l could never have predicted ten years ago.
The point of this post is that it is impossible to know where your practice as an artist will take you. One of the biggest challenges is learning to trust the decisions you make and to stop doubting yourself. Instead, l have developed confidence in my inner voice even when l can’t see where it is taking me.
My advice is to play, as there is no such thing as a mistake. Anything can lead to a breakthrough. If self-doubt is getting the best of you put your trust in a process and live, paint, repeat.
Over time when you review your work a way forward should reveal itself. Trust yourself and your creative process. Rather than paying attention to your own intentions, pay attention to what the work actually does. When the thinking and doing come together the work becomes more convincing.
At times I have found juggling a full-time job while being a parent and starting a career as an emerging artist, very frustrating. When I have tried to put in lots of effort in my art career, my family time and job has suffered this, in turn, has left me feeling unhappy.
I have read about artists, like Picasso and Matisse who decided to prioritise art at the cost of everything else in their life including their family. I think the choices they made don’t suit me. By putting my family first, it means prioritising family time and paying the bills. Art has ended third on my list of priorities.
I have been frustrated for a while coming to terms with this. Over time I have come to realise this gives me the opportunity to take more time, to make the art I want to make for me. I wonder about the solitude if I was working on my own in my studio. Of course, I realise that this wouldn’t be every day but thinking about this has made value my full-time job more, as I enjoy the social side of working in a team.
I love spending time and seeing my family growing up, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I have meet artists making a living from their art where they have very little money. The artist I have come across are unlikely to afford to buy a house or have a good pension. I wanted to make sure I had a good income to allow my family to flourish and thrive. I have reached the conclusion, by working full time, having a mortgage and good pension I can look forward to the time when my family are older. I will be able to move my art up my list of priorities. I feel happy about this order of priorities, and I know it is the way it should be. I now accept it rather than fight it.
To fit everything in, I have to have some sort of order to my life, a kind of time management priority list of sorts. I prioritise my family life and job and my art making time fits in around that. I try to plan my year ahead and decide what my priorities are for each year. I am working towards depth in my artwork rather than bereft. I then break down each week so that I can allow time for each activity. I am only able to have a couple of art objectives on a weekly basis. They typically are making artwork and writing my blog. My other art career plans just have to wait.
Allowing freedom in the studio for creativity exploration is essential. When I work on a plain sheet of paper or in my sketchbook, I seek to have an openness in my drawings that allows and embraces a large number directions and options that can be pursued. A chain of evolution takes place in my pictures over an extended period of time and patience is essential. Working on and towards a finished piece too early can make the outcome contrived and often can leave me frustrated.
This explorative phase is more like problem-creation stage than problem-solving stage. I am looking to generate new ideas to stimulate my visual imagination and leaving space for creativity and ambiguity. I have often found that without this freeness, the development and exploratory of my thoughts are restricted, and the work comes to a dead end.
With creative freedom in my drawings, my insight and intuition give me an inkling of what to do next allowing me to focus on specific issues and open questions. I can then remove certain details and concentrate on the whole by copying and repeating to expand conceptual ideas and structures by following a hunch.
Inspiration is an essential ingredient and can come from chaotic and imprecise work made with an open mind or by viewing another artist’s work or for me, by being inspired by the city. Accidents and chance can lead to seeing embedded ideas in a different way. The freeness leaves space to suggest moods and emotions and enhancing abstract concepts. I often feel the need to revisit unresolved ideas and expanding on them. Sometimes this leads to radical changes and often, exciting new artwork.
It is always important to remember that overworking can remove the essence, spirit, the actual original thoughts, and potential. The outcome is successful when the liberty and pleasure are still visible. After all seemingly effortless art signifies greatness and shows the way forward for an artist who can then capture what is immaterial into the material.