5 challenges to making good art

©Stuart Bush, Nobodies fault, oil on board 70.2 x 50.4 x 3.6cm
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.
©Stuart Bush in the studio – Nobodies fault
 
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.
©Stuart Bush in the studio – Nobodies fault detail
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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What is the key tipping points in my career?, how did I end up becoming an artist?

©2016 Stuart Bush, Hopes and Fears, (2007) oil on canvas 150 x 85 cm
©2016 Stuart Bush, Hopes and Fears, (2007) oil on canvas 150 x 85 cm – £3,800 enquiry

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.

Exhibiting again and why it matters

©Stuart Bush, Instruction Manual, oil on board 40 x 30 x 3.6 cm – for sale at the show
About a month ago I received an email from Lindsay Moran from Leyden Gallery he invited me to the Leyden Gallery near Old Spitalfields Market in East London to meet the curators and directors. The meeting was planned to last half an hour. However, it ran well over and it went very well. I felt that the curator and director of the Gallery had a very similar outlook to me. I was therefore very pleased to receive a follow-up email from the gallery offering me an opportunity to exhibit my work at The Leyden Gallery.

Why it matters

Several years back l stopped entering juried art shows due to the time, effort and money it was taking me. I had often had my work accepted for exhibitions in different areas of the UK and the US. I have sent my artwork to New York and Beverley Hills from my UK base. However, I found that I was putting a lot of effort into exhibiting and this took time away from making art. Although I did make some sales, it wasn’t going to pay the bills. I decided that I needed to set the bar higher. I stopped exhibiting completely and decided that when I started exhibiting again I would be more focused on developing relationships with galleries with similar philosophies as me. I also decided I would focus on geographical areas where there are more opportunities to get my art in front of the collectors, gallerist and artists. The intention was to make the most of the time, effort and money that l had been using exhibiting.

As l was not exhibiting, I had no deadlines and no pressure to make a particular type of work. I was able to get to the bottom of what I was trying to achieve in my work as an artist. The time for contemplation was of great benefit. I have been able to develop a practice where I am no longer pretending or unsure of where I am heading. I realised the artists should always be themselves, and I learnt to understand what that means.

This show feels special. It is an opportunity to present my work in the best environment, develop a relationship with Lindsay and Adriana from Leyden Gallery and hopefully develop relationships with collectors. I am excited about the kind of work the gallery exhibits the and the opportunities that will hopefully come. I hope to establish a good gallery/artist relationship where I will be to share my future work. Fingers crossed!

I feel l have validation from an art gallery run by two people I respect. This is an opportunity not only to exhibit my art but an opportunity to hopefully develop a long term relationship with two people who care a lot what they are doing and why they are doing it.

It is fun to attend openings and to meet people, and I hope to cherish the relationships I make. I hope you can make it the private view on 18th July 6 pm at Leyden Gallery. 9/9a Leyden Street, London, E1 7LE

Live, paint, repeat

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.

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Making better work than I did yesterday

 
©Stuart Bush The rush 2016 oil on board 50 x 70 cm
My idea of success is linked to what l have rather than what l haven’t.  It is common to hear of success being tied to financial wealth.  That isn’t success for me; profit does not drive my artwork.  I have the opportunity to discover who l am, to find my own voice, to find my true self through my art.  My goal is to make better work today than l did yesterday, it is as simple as that.
 
I finished university in 2006 and when l look at my early paintings l can see l have taken small progressive steps each year.  Now over ten years later l know l have made significant progress. However, l feel as if l have been making the same painting for ten years, each time exploring my interest in seeing the body in space.  The concept of finding what my personal gift is and discovering my potential is more exciting than any material needs.  That is why l have chosen this life as an artist, or maybe it has chosen me. 
 
I see being an unknown artist as a positive thing.  It enables me to consider the long game, to build on each day and to go deeper to see what the ‘it’ is. Many of my paintings are built up gently in the studio.  Each painting supports the next one, thereby pushing me forward in a positive way.  I have a conviction, a commitment and the determination not to give up.  I believe firmly in what l am doing.
 
By doing art for myself, l can avoid criticism and avoid making commercial decisions.  This allows me to find a way forward without manufacturing art.  The art l make is more about emotions than constructions, more about art and poetry, and less about resolved ideas.  I want to make work for myself that l feel really passionate about,  l don’t want to dilute my work.  l want to make the decisions about what needs editing before the public see it.  I want my work to be the best that it can be.  I realise that this may divide the potential audience.  However, once the work is made public, it could potentially turn me into a public person. I’m not sure that l want that to happen.  I want to make work for a small audience that appreciates and supports my work. More importantly, I want to make the work for me.
 
I am a figurative painter, and I want to get close to the source.  I want to make work within an intellectual framework inspired by my muse, my muse being my experience of the city. This framework is the key to the art within me, allowing me not to overthink what l am doing and allowing me to initiate an inner response, thereby preventing me from being distracted by my head or my ego, competition with other artists or self-doubt.  Reflection comes later, after a period of time, when l can contemplate and think about what l have made.  
 
I want to make art as good as it can be. My competition is with myself and being better than yesterday.
 

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Juggling a job, while being a parent and an artist

©2016 Stuart Bush, Hopes and Fears, (2007) oil on canvas 150 x 85 cm
 
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.  
 
My next post is about finding time for your priorities, please subscribe to my RSS feed, newsletter or come back next week, so you don’t miss a post.

Drawing, The creative act

©Stuart Bush, I’m not mad at all, oil paint on paper

Allowing freedom in the studio for creative 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 of 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 a problem-creation stage than a 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.

Related blog posts:

My favourite paints

Taking risks with oil bars

When the need to be creative gets inside you

The search for originality in the studio

An artist’s complicated journey to generate ideas and new artwork

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

How do I begin an artwork? What equipment, materials and techniques do I use?

 
 
©Stuart Bush, You don’t understand me part 1-4, 2015 gouache on paper – 

Beginning an artwork

My work starts with street photography. I wander the streets as a Flaneur.  Charles Baudelaire, the nineteenth-century poet described a Flaneur in his essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ as a stroller and loafer of the city streets observing modern life. Likewise, l wander around the city like a man of leisure as l try to take it all in. Following my intuition and hunches, I take pictures of what seems important to me. I look to capture that important element in the frame of my viewfinder, the essence of the importance of life.
 
The photographs I take allows me to record a rich visual diary. By having this source material I always have something to return to if inspiration is running low and I need to revisit my original ideas and intentions.
 
The next stage is in the studio with a blank sheet of paper or a blank page in my sketchbook. The main thing that happens in this first stage in the studio is reducing and simplifying the rich source l have gathered and extracting important elements to use. As well as painting and drawing, l sometimes print the photos to create collages or put layers together in a photoshop.
 
Things come together slowly, often my ideas and sketches don’t go anywhere at first. The next time I’m in the shower or going for a walk, or the next time I am in an art gallery I realise how I can use these snippets of life l have gathered! I then return to the original photographs and sketches and try to refine and develop my ideas.  
 
Often I come to dead end. Then l try to be patient and wait and allow ideas to develop. Allow my mind to bring ideas together. This normally happens when I am not particularly thinking about artwork, but when my mind is open and free to wander.
However, once l feel I am on to something, I look to develop a process and repeat the format in order to create a series of work. 
 
This is an ongoing and forever changing process.

Related posts;

Taking risks with oil bars

My favourite paints

The secrets of creativity

What do I enjoy about my time in the artist studio

What do I enjoyabout my time in the art studio?

 
©Stuart Bush Hard to concentrate, oil on board 30 x 40 x 3.5 cm – enquiry
A studio is a place of unique freedom; it is a place for me and my thoughts where I can figure things out.  It is a place to use my intuition to look for problems, get things wrong, make mistakes and follow a hunch. I have learnt a way to lie to myself, and accept whatever comes out of the creative act is good enough.  
 
I feel a strong need and desire to process the world.  Thinking about my artwork is done in pencil and paint as I process what I see, as I look to figure how to process it.  I believe that what I am trying to grasp through my art practice is of importance, to get a better understanding of the seemingly meaningless void, what we call life.  
 
Through my practice as a painter if I painted nature I would want to paint the treeness of a tree, something that I strongly resonate with.  In the lines and colours of my ephemeral moments I look to reflect a visual equivalent of the rhythm the city.  The work deepens and expands to harmonise the whole.  I paint my inclination of form from the structural elements of the figure in the city to express us.   A simplified and symbolic vision that selects what is essential through reduction.  In between representational and abstraction, reality and painting.   
 
Josef Albers said in the Interaction of colour,
“In musical compositions, so long as we hear merely single tones, we do not hear the music.  Hearing music depends on the recognition of the in-between of the tones, of their placing and their spacing.”
This quote is important to understand how I see individual pieces of my work in the studio as linked into a wider conversation I am trying to have.  I notice the similarities between music, poetry and painting.  Like David Salle said, an iconic image has the;
“visual equivalent of a tenor reaching a high note.”
I enjoy my opportunity to communicate my thought and ideas.  I like to hear what you enjoy about your creative time.  Please join in the conversation in the comment box below.

Related posts:

The secrets of art and creativity

Productivity in the artist’s studio

 

The secrets of art and creativity

©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 1, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 2, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 2, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 4, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
Art is about using your creativity to make new connections to things around you.  The intention is to reconsider what you previously thought to give you a better understanding of what life is really about.  
 
Creativity in art is really about playing and experimenting. Taking two random things and letting things happen.  Being overly self-critical or self-conscious can prohibit a breakthrough.  You’re not trying to re-invent the wheel; you need to encounter discomfort and ignore any fears and tell yourself, this is for me and try not to worry what other people think.  
 
You could connect something banal like house bricks, reflecting coldness and the mundane, as a wake-up call to the excesses of capitalism like Carl Andre and his artwork, Equivalent V.
 
You take on some of the big topics, like immortality, life and death by linking the cycle of life, with flies living and dying in a glass box like Damien Hirst, titled ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990).
 
Or you could take up a skill like drawing, painting or pottery and just get making and see where it takes you.  The trick is once on a path, you’re bound not to know where the work is heading. If you thought you knew where your ideas are going, your artwork is probably stillborn or dead and lacks any inside energy.
 
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory by photographer Arno Rafaela Minkkinen explains some interesting and worthwhile advice:

The Helsinki Bus Station theory: 

Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19. 

Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are again repeated: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19. 

Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity. 

Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21. 

You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on. 

Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done. 

So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short) and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform. 

This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane. 

You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8×10 camera view of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann? 

So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.

What to do? 

It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.

 
 
So play and make random connections.   These new connections you make are only significant if they generate new meaning.  Use your intuition to sense which have potential and to figure out the best to communicate this idea to someone.   Make art from what is around you and try to make a comment about the world.  
 
When telling a joke, the funny part comes when two different separate ideas connect, generating a new meaning, similar to connections within a successful work of art.  Remember art is wonder!  It doesn’t matter if someone else likes it or dislikes it.  What is important is that your audience can’t stop thinking about it.  The possibilities are endless.  And remember to stay on the f*cking bus!
 
 
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