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 and their work 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.
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 realise 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.