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.

SaveSave

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.’

SaveSave

SaveSave

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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

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

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

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

SaveSave

SaveSave

About my blog

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 persuasion thereby enhancing 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.

Dreaming about success as an artist

©Stuart Bush, No exit, pen on paper 43 x 61 cm
 
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.

Where I am, rather than where I thought I would be

©Stuart Bush in the studio – Nobodies fault detail
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.
Half Empty Studio – Packing and moving on
 
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.

SaveSave

Exploring through making

©Stuart Bush, The Quality of Absence, oil on aluminium panel, 80 x 112 cm

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.

Stuart Bush, The Quality of Absence