This past year has been the most amazing of my career as a full time artist. In the second part of this article I promise I’ll share the good stuff. First, let me indulge in a little new year clear out.
Maintaining positivity when things are going less than well can be difficult.
I’ve always tried to portray a positive outward demeanour. Who wants to read stories of that old cliché ‘the struggling artist’?
I certainly don’t want to be known as a sullen woman, complaining that her choice of work and career is underappreciated and undervalued.
However, I have been guilty of only sharing the highlights of my career recently. When life and work gets difficult I shut down, retreat into myself, barely opening up to those close to me let alone the world at large. Often I’ll get lost in a dizzying, shiny online world of glamour and excitement negging myself out at the comparative success of others in my field. However, I’m sure those same artists have been in a similar position, perhaps even looking at my ‘successes’ with envy. It’s a dangerous trap to fall into, doubt in your sense of self-worth compared to others.
“the comparative success of others”
This was brought home with a bang recently when one of my daughters, having completed a school social subjects project, announced that we live in ‘relative poverty’. Ouch! I mean, she’s correct, but hearing those words from a fourteen year old is painful. The message we’ve consistently tried to maintain is that - there’s always someone worse off than yourself. We might not have been in a position to buy the girls a MacBook each for Christmas, but we have a home and we love and care for each other, which is significantly more than some poor children in the country today.
Sure, having a self-employed, creative mum and step-dad means that meeting all the bills each month can be challenging, but they also have incredibly supportive grandparents who do whatever they can to maintain that delicate balance.
I am writing this article at a point when the scales have tipped toward the negative. Maintaining the balance between, seeking opportunities, making work, selling work and living a modest and sustainable lifestyle as an artist can be challenging.
So, having carefully planned out my time, accepted really exciting commissions, and plotted my budget for the next six months, all it takes is for one of those projects to falter and it has a significant impact. As it happens, two out of three have been delayed, and the third - even worse.
A corporate commission, always more involved and time consuming than a private commission, with an interesting client I have had previous experience of, has seriously let me down.
- Almost two years since talks began,
- months of planning and research,
- visiting the site,
- weeks of physically making the piece,
- The result: I won't be paid for any of this work.
If it wasn’t for having dealt with the client before, I would have taken a deposit, as I always do, at least then some of my outgoings would have been covered, if not my time.
For other artists reading this: With the hard lesson learned above, ensure that contracts are signed and deposits paid in advance. And you know what? This is the norm. It’s not awkward, don’t feel like you should think yourself lucky that the client has chosen you. They have chosen you for a very good reason. Maintain your professionalism at all times. It actually reassures the client. If professionalism is not reciprocated in your direction, consider very carefully if this client has your best interests at heart.
Note: I haven’t divulged the details of the client who has let me down. Despite the fact that I have been put in a very difficult financial position and even considered the possibility that I could be being conned and ripped off, professionalism will be maintained.
Also note: despite several attempts to have the invoice settled and many promises of payment, the original artwork has been removed from the clients premises and returned to me.
In the past year my partner and I were forced to close down our small textile design business, largely, due to copyright theft. It has been a challenging year, but the lessons learned in that time, maintaining integrity, positivity, creativity and professionalism, are worth remembering.
I share this with you, potential or previous clients, patrons and friends, for no other reason than to create a sense of balance and for you to get to know me a little better. And to my contemporaries who might also find themselves in a similar position: you are not alone, please get in touch if you need someone to listen.
So there you go, a low ebb, ashamed that my daughters know they live in ‘relative poverty’, but proud that they are so astute, intelligent, positive and hilarious that they keep me from losing my mind.
Looking ahead, I have other exciting projects to look forward to later this year. One in particular has a fascinating brief which will involve researching the history and geography of influential women.
While I'm on the subject of influential women...
Through the stormy seas of 2017 the following women, not only kept me afloat, but helped plot a course to new horizons, gave me hope, inspiration and the confidence to pursue my work.
My heartfelt thanks to:
Lesley Forsyth, Cultural Development Manager, North Ayrshire Council: for instigating my 2017 art exhibition “Breaking Ground”, and public art commission for the TownHouse in Irvine, as well as continually promoting and supporting my work over the past few years.
Professor Claire Squires, Director of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication: who refers to my artwork “Haud Oan” in her essay on the topic of the cultural sector post-Brexit. Claire’s wonderful writing, and my artwork, appear in a book published by the Centre for British Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin, and the Literary Field Kaleidoscope website.
"The metaphor is clear: the threads of geography literalising political affiliations, with Scotland hanging on by threads, hauding tight."
Kate Davies, Author and Knitwear Designer, Kate Davies Designs: for, not only commissioning me to create an original artwork to display in her home, nor for featuring my work and my practice in her recent book “Inspired by Islay”, nor even for understanding and giving words to how I think about and make the work that I do, but for being an inspiration by showing how to overcome adversity with creativity, integrity and authenticity.
Shona Mason, Maker, Dentist, Dental Teacher and Volunteer in the Amazon with Vine Trust: for sharing her creativity. This beautiful woman is a bundle of energy filled with passion for wool, design, the art of making and making the world a nicer place.
Lara Reid, Poet, Science Writer and Geology Enthusiast: for linking me up with the Scottish Geodiversity Forum, sharing my passion for landscapes and geology, and this courageous and remarkable piece on recovery from post-natal depression and wild places.
"I let various regrets go that day, at last; shouting them into the mist and watching as they fell away and tumbled down the sides of the mountain."
Julie Arbuckle, Artist: for agreeing to work with me, collaborating on our exhibition “Breaking Ground”, sharing those difficult moments with me and continuing to progress with her art despite the challenges she has faced over the past year or so (all while playing the ukulele, singing and being a total hoot!).
Jean Cameron, Bid Director Paisley 2021, for UK City of Culture: for leading an impassioned bid to promote my home town of Paisley to the world by celebrating our culture and nurturing creativity. The result is a town re-invigorated with hope and a desire to transform its future and that of its people. I was delighted to be a part of the bid, and be a part of the future of Paisley.
Dr Marie Cowan, Director of Geological Survey of Northern Ireland: for commissioning an artwork, bringing me and my work to Belfast, giving me the opportunity to investigate the geology of Northern Ireland and talk to and engage with the geoscience community.
Heather Pearson, Writer, Poet, Sweary Creative: for filling my Twitter timeline with nuggets of genius, acerbic put-downs, so boldly re-igniting the spark that others have tried to dowse. For initiating a platform “The Grantidote”, where women are front and centre, celebrated, remembered, thanked. And also for meeting us on a windswept shore on the Isle of Raasay, with a flask of coffee.
Maggie Broadley, Artist and Place-Maker: for always being there, supporting, advocating. For trying to make places better through cultural collaboration and creativity. For enduring hardships and still being the most glamorous and radiant artist I know. (That's her ceramic vessel to the right of the selfie above)
My Mother, cook, gardener, life-saver: for literally keeping us alive. Love.