21 Days in My Art World

My lovely artist friend Tara Leaver has just finished hosting an Instagram challenge called 21 Days in My Art World. She's run it a couple of times now, and I hope she'll run it again soon. It's been a wonderful way for me to sneak back into the virtual world after my recent hiatus.

It was fascinating to see all the submissions from artists working in all media, from all over the world, and if you're on Instagram I recommend you go and take a look at #21daysinmyartworld.

I thought it would be fun to share my entries here, for those of you who aren't on Instagram, as I think it gives a lovely peek behind the scenes into the world of an artist.

Day One: Favourite Painting

This is my favourite painting from the last year - I love the colours and the cat (of course), but it's my favourite mostly because of how happy I felt whilst I was creating it. Fully in flow - I'd like more of that in 2018!!

Day Two: Lesson Learned

I have realised that I simply cannot make art when I'm feeling blue. I need the right environment and the right general mindset to actually be able to put pen (or brush) to paper. My job is to try and create the right circumstances as much as possible for the art to happen.

Day Three: Current WIP

I haven't made a lot of art this year, and practically nothing in the last six months - being homeless, and then moving in to a new place, and all the accompanying emotional turmoil, has made creativity of any sort nigh on impossible. However, over the Christmas holiday I found myself drawn to my art again, and have been working on this in 5 minute bursts whenever the urge takes me. For some reason, I always start with a warm-up cat when I've had a break from drawing - there's something about seeing their gorgeous wonky faces appear on the page that reminds me who I am and why I love to draw and paint.

Day Four: Art Book

This is one of the most inspiring art books I have ever read - it made me want to lock myself in a room and do nothing but make art - forever! I may have to reread it now, actually 😉

Day Five: Favourite Tool

Like most artists I have jars and jars of various brushes and pens and pencils, but the tools I use almost exclusively are my two Cotman brushes (pictured at the front) - a thin one for details and a fatter one for spreading lovely colour around. They just do 'the thing', y'know?

Day Six: Current Challenge

I've been talking about doing some work on canvas for a while now, and this Christmas lovely Lars called my bluff and gave me a stack of canvases to get me started. I've not done very much on canvas at all, so this is going to take me completely out of my comfort zone. Having said that, though, I am so excited to start splashing some paint around on this bad boy! And as my dear artist friend Claire pointed out - the best thing about canvas is that if you do something that sucks, you can just paint over it and start again.

Day Seven: Colour Palette

I am OBSESSED with colour. It made me smile to hear @taraleaver talk about her neverending quest for subtlety, because my quest is completely the opposite. I love using mad colours in my work - shades that clash, hues so intense they almost vibrate off the page, strange combinations that make your eyes feel funny. My favourites are rich jewel tones - but any colour that looks juicy and bombastic gets me excited. On visits to the art shop, where all the colours are laid out in front of you in racks, I tend to go into a bit of a trance, and on more than one occasion I've realised I'm inadvertently making sex noises. So, yeah. I'm really into colour. Is pigmentsexual a thing?

Day Eight: Inspiration

Well, I kinda had to share a picture of a cat for this prompt, didn't I? Any excuse... My inspiration comes from all over the place, really. Dreams, sacred objects, events and memories, conversations, other artists' work, a good book, a bad book. Mostly my brain just throws ideas at me and I do terrible scratchy sketches of them and forget all about them. Every now and again an idea won't leave me alone even after I've scribbled it down, and those are the ones I attempt to make into actual art things. And if all else fails, I just paint cats.

Day Nine: Where The Art Happens

I do all of my work on my teeny tiny desk in the corner of my teeny tiny house. It's my work desk as well as my painting table so I have to swap things over quite a lot. You can just see my easel and canvases stacked down the right-hand side, and I have a large cupboard on the other side of the room where I store the rest of my supplies. I like to keep things neat and tidy, and living in a small space means that every item needs to have a home. I've not been in this new place long, so I'm still finding my way around the space and I haven't fully unfurled into yet. When I have, my arrangement might change, but for now it works well enough.

Day Ten: Artist Hands

I am left-handed, so I have an odd way of writing and drawing. It often involves doing things upside down or twisting into strange contortions to avoid smudging any work that's still wet. I usually smudge anyway, in which case I'll either work it into the piece, or clean things up in Photoshop afterwards. Photographs of my hands are almost always blurry - I just can't keep them still! (Photo by the lovely @lrsnlsn)

Day 11: Turning Point

My turning point came in 2013, after a very low point in my life. I decided to start saying thank you to the people who had changed my life, and so I wrote a thank you letter and created a piece of art for 52 special people - one a week for the whole of the year. I published these weekly missives on a blog, and it took on a life of its own. The project ended up becoming my first book, and enabled me to start making money from my art with illustration commissions and more. Until then I had never thought of myself as an artist; I even struggled to think of myself as creative. It seems so strange now...

Day 12: Current Motifs

I'm trying something very different (for me) with my latest work - it's a series of sort of surreal self-portraits, using parts of my own face and body alongside conceptualised images of ideas, opinions and memories. It's all a bit odd, and I have no idea how they'll turn out, but they're great fun to play with. This is a snippet from a much larger, as yet unfinished, piece.

Day 13: Process Insight

Most of my work begins with the crappiest, most un-artist-like sketches imaginable. I'm not above using stick people, at this stage. If you scroll to the second image here you can see the original sketch for this children's book illustration. See what I mean? Shocking. However, I do this to get the layout and basic composition down before I forget it - it's a form of shorthand, really. This is how I get the ideas down on the page (often with notes on colour/techniques scrawled across them as well). It used to embarrass me, and I'd long to do proper artistic sketches that I'd be proud to show people, but that's just not how I work. And it really doesn't matter. These 'visual notes' are solely for my use, and they do the trick, so who cares how scrappy they are?

Day 14: Sold!

This was the very first print I ever sold, and also one of my favourite pieces. It's from my book, The Gratitude Project, and it's continued to be one of my best-sellers ever since. I guess there are a lot of aspiring authors out there who need a bit of encouragement!

Day 15: How I Name My Paintings

I'm very prosaic when it comes to naming my paintings. I use either a description (ie Purple Cat), unless the image is linked to a piece of writing (as a lot of my work is) then I'll name it in a way that links to the the text. This piece is called 'Unplug', and was originally done as an illustration for a book project which got abandoned. I'm terrible at sticking to names, though, and work will often be known by two or three titles.

Day 16: Smallest Painting

As most of my work has been illustration, it tends to be quite small by default. I stick to working in an A4 or A5 sketchbook most of the time. I think this teeny tiny illo is the smallest, though - it's about 3x3 inches.

Day 17: Largest Painting

As I mentioned yesterday, most of my work is small, so this A3 piece is easily the largest thing I've completed. I do have a couple of larger works but they're not ready for public consumption yet. I do dream of doing giant work on canvases metres high, but that will have to wait until I have more space! For now, my sizes are slowly increasing, and I'm enjoying the extra space.

Day 18: Celebrate!

The fact that I get to spend my time making art is something worth celebrating every single day. I've had a few failures, and a few successes, but really it's all about the journey for me.

Day 19: From The Archives

A very long time ago, I did a lot of collage work - mostly with flowers. It was a really lovely way to play with crazy colour combinations as well as experimenting with shapes and compositions. This piece is one of my favourites from that time.

Day 20: Favourite Technique

My favourite technique is super simple - drawing in black ink, coloured in with vibrant watercolour or ink, then overpainted as many times as necessary to add depth and detail. Bish bash bosh.

Day 21: Big Dream

My big dream? Ah, now that would be telling 😜. For now, my dream is just to have as much white space in my life as possible to enjoy my beautiful city and make lovely things. As for the rest, you'll just have to wait and see...

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