Firstly let me tell you how liberating it is to be working for yourself. Not having to do what someone else wants you to do. Not having to deal with other people's dramas. Ditching the office politics and boy working at a university there was a lot of that going on! Just being able to go with the flow and take off and travel as and when the opportunities arise without worrying whether you have enough annual leave!
No longer stuck in the home office sat in front of a screen or at Leeds train station wondering whether I'll manage to get home. Now I have the most wonderful commute through the woods and along the canal to my studio. It truly is glorious even when the weather is bad, which to be fair is a regular occurrence.
The downside of being a self-employed artist is that it can be stressful if sales don't come through, workshops don't fill to capacity and if you have to drive through Edinburgh when you really haven't got a clue where you are and everyone seems to be beeping their horns! Such impatient drivers in that city!
However at the moment the good things far outweigh those stresses and I am heading in to 2024 with new adventures booked that I am really, really excited about and new ideas to develop and adapt my business.
But let's cut to the chase. I know you are all itching to know about what's not been working for me... surely it can't all be sunshine and roses? So here's a bit of a review of some of the things that have worked well, not so well and more importantly what I'm going to do differently in 2024.
Driving me mad!
Half way through 2023 I had already crammed so much in to my diary that I was fed up with driving around the country. Seriously that beast of a car of ours did some miles and clocked up a total of 5 round trips to Scotland last year! Generally I do like to travel but I'm much happier walking or jumping on public transport so I can switch off and day-dream out of the window.
Where possible I tried to combine deliveries in one go but still it was too much driving and there were times it took a couple of days to recover. My plan was to cut back in 2024 but I'm not sure that's working out especially as I've now started my project with the North York Moors National Park.
What I have decided to do this year is to courier my work to galleries where possible. I know a lot of artists do this already and sometimes you really do have to say to yourself am I better off just outsourcing some of this work?
However, the reality is most of my driving is associated with delivering workshops so longer term I am going to have to think about how many workshops I offer which involve travelling and also how workshops are delivered ie face-to-face or online. This does mean that in 2024 I'll still be racking up the miles but at least I am doing some thinking, albeit longer term, to address this.
There was a time when I would just jump at the opportunity to exhibit at an art fair or gallery or workshop venue but I've realised over this last year that not all of them are right for me or my work, or don't align with my own values, something I never really considered before.
I've tried a few new things in the last 12 months - new venues, new galleries, new fairs and not all of them have worked for me. What I've realised is that it's okay so long as you are also prepared to say to yourself that didn't work so I'm not going to do that again. It's all too easy to say ah well it may be different next year but when your resources are spread thinly you need to divert them to activities that are going to pay the bills and also be enjoyable.
It is okay to try something out and for it not to work. It's not a reflection on you or your work.
Time to learn
You may have noticed that I am the queen of cramming stuff into my schedule. So how will I find the time to develop my own practice and ensure that my work is moving along? My planners are out at this moment and I am ensuring that I have blocked out a good amount of time at the end of the year for this. Although I sometimes have to flex my schedule if a collection is taking longer, or a new opportunity comes up I do try and be strict and if something is important block time out for it.
My practice is developing through each collection I create but sometimes there is a need to learn something new to help reenergise the creative process. Learning something new can take longer to work out how to use a particular medium and then to work out whether it is something you can incorporate into your current process. That needs time to be able to fully enjoy and is something that I am struggling with at the moment.
With my project with the NYMNP I have challenged myself to start using sketchbooks again and working outside. For this to work for me I wanted to use different mediums, ones that I'm not familiar with as well as the challenge of working outdoors which I'm not particularly comfortable with.
To help me with this I decided to enrol for one of Karen Stamper's online sketchbook courses. If you don't know Karen well she is the queen of sketch booking and collaging and I would highly recommend. I am still working through the course but I've already got some ideas which I'm wanting to experiment with in my paintings and I am also taking baby steps with the sketchbook work for the NYMNP project.
It's slow progress and that can be frustrating when you are proficient in one medium to basically have to start from scratch with another, but it can also be fun and exciting and amazing when you come away with more ideas for your paintings.
Growing into the studio
This year I set myself a target of finishing a collection early in December so that my last week in the studio could be used to rejig the space. Now the collection wasn't quite finished but rather than eating into the studio rejigging time I got it to a point where I could leave it until the new year.
Why was this important? How I use the space has grown and changed over the last 12 months. I am in the the studio all the time now so some small adaptions were needed such as getting rid of things I didn't use and making space for things I constantly use so that they are easy to hand. More importantly I needed to make more space for my paintings in progress as I was regularly having two collections on the go and not enough space to hang them.
I've been in this studio for 3 years now and this annual review of the space and how I use it has developed over those years as you can see from these photos.
The back room (above) is very much the office, packing and storage space. This has changed quite a bit of the last two years with the creation of additional storage space for boards and paintings and more recently framing up my annual planners and rejigging the desk space.
The front room is my painting space and this has had quite a bit of work done to it this year to put up batons on the wall for hanging more paintings whilst I work on them. Fred the cheese plant is also taking over as he and his other plant buddies just love the north facing studio space.
Targets are important as they help me work out if I want to achieve a gross annual turnover of X then what I need to achieve on a monthly basis. Just doing that exercise can really be a bit of a reality check when you take into account how many sales you need to meet that goal.
It can be hard though as you really can't predict whether a gallery is going to have a sale for you or not and this year has been exceptionally difficult for most of my galleries and there's been a drop in this income stream to levels I've not seen for a good number of years now. However my business is diverse so where one income stream has been struggling I have found others have flourished so my of overall gross turnover target has been met but in a slightly different way to the way I'd originally thought when setting the targets.
This is the challenge with being self employed but I am continuing to look at how to diversify my business to spread the risk as well a generate new income streams. I also make sure I am keeping track on a monthly basis of where sales are coming from and that feeds into one big spreadsheet which looks back over the years which in turn helps me to determine targets for the following year. I do love a good spreadsheet!
The third circle of hell - instagram!
I think we all get a little bit too hung up on feeding the monster that is social media. Towards the end of 2023 I slowed down with my posts because in reality I got too busy and was finding that it was pulling me away from creating new work.
It all came to a head when my engagement on the social platforms just plummeted for no apparent reason and whilst I initially had a bit of a panic I pulled myself together and decided that I couldn't justify the time I was spending creating posts. So I reduced my posting by more than half! Drastic I know but I actually feel quite positive about it and tend to find it much easier to post when I have something to say.
I also found myself getting so hung up about instagram and all my social posts were geared up to that platform when in fact most traffic to my website was coming through from Pinterest.
So for 2024 I am going to continue with this regime of reduced social media posts and instead concentrate on more content on my blogs and in particular sharing with you my adventures on my North York Moors project. The blogs I have control of as it is hosted on my own website and you'll get to read a little bit more about me and what it inspires me, not something you can capture all that well on the socials.
Workshops are going international
Workshops are as popular as ever and I have been overwhelmed by how far people have travelled to my workshops at the Craft House in Yorkshire where my studio is based. We've had regular travellers from down South, Wales and Scotland as well as people flying in from Ireland, Canada, US and Bermuda!
I have also been in discussions about running a workshop in Canada in 2025 and just as I was about to close the studio for the festive break an offer to run a workshop in Ireland came through. I'll be finalising those details when I'm back in the studio but hope to be offering the workshop in June 2024.
I love teaching, the socialising, sharing ideas and learning new things, but I am very clear in my mind that I don't want the teaching part of my business to be more than 50% of my turnover and that's because painting is my passion and in reality the reason why people want to come and do my workshops. Getting that balance can be difficult though and it is the teaching income that has kept me ticking over when gallery sales have been slow this year.
Although the workshops seem to be a big hit with people I still like to review them, make improvements and where necessary pull them if I feel they don't work for me. For 2024 I have had quite a significant revamp of workshops, I've dropped one and introduced another, making sure they tie in with each other with the aim of creating another progression route for people.
I have also reviewed prices and reluctantly increased them to cover the rise in the cost of materials and ensuring that I cover my salary. I have also updated and added to the workshop notes so that they provide extensive step-by-step guidelines for participants when they return home from the workshops.
To continue with the development of workshops I am trialling a masterclass with a "safe-group" who are joining me in Cornwall... not sure safe-group is the right term as they are a bit bonkers to be honest! This may become part of my workshop programme towards the end of next year depending on how it works out. I am also going to dip my toes into offering an online pre-recorded workshop for the many people who are overseas and have asked when I am going to go online!
So quite a few options there if you fancy joining me in 2024. Check out my workshop schedule for available dates and venues.
Oh I do like to be beside the sea!
Still with workshops, I'm so pleased that I'll be returning to Cornwall again in April 2024 to run a number of classes. I feel so lucky to be able to spend a whole three weeks in this glorious place working with such a range of artists, socialising, experimenting and just creating our own little artist's residency. This has been such a wonderful experience for me where I've also developed some life long friendships.
The workshops have become really popular and were booked up within a few months and this time I have a few people flying in specially to take the workshops which is fabulous as I know they will also fall in love with this part of the world.
I do love being by the sea and even on it (although I don't really have the sea legs). Because of this I've also managed to book a place on a Sail Britain trip in the summer - a kind of working holiday. I am excited as well as apprehensive as it's definitely going to be out of my comfort zone sharing a small space with strangers for a whole week. But boy what an opportunity to sail around Skye and the small islands, exploring beaches that you can only reach by boat. Not to mention the weather and the inspiration which will no doubt fuel a new collection of work. I am very excited to see where this takes my work.
Getting a little help
I started my two year long project with the North York Moors towards the end of 2023. I am so excited about it as it creates so many opportunities for me to develop my work as well as learn more about conservation and be able to do what really inspires me and that is to walk the land.
But it is a bit of a big beast and because of this I decided that I needed a little help to make sure I got the most out of this project and so enlisted the support of professional coach, Jennie Sanderson. It's a bit of a strange one for me as I hadn't really used a coach before but when I bumped into Jennie earlier in 2023 it got me thinking about how I could use her expertise to get me through some blockages with my project.
So I have had two coaching sessions with Jennie so far and she has helped me breakdown my project plans in to bite sized chunks, she's also helped me deal with some blockages around the project which I was avoiding and going into 2024 she'll be helping me with my planning for the year. I have really found it helpful to be able to talk through some of the projects I want to do and she's helped me clarify what's and why's by asking me to explain what I mean, tell her why certain things are important.
I think this has really helped me to pull to the forefront of what I want to do and how I articulate my work the things that I am really passionate about. I'm not sure whether up until now I was really clear about what they were.
And finally.... making time for me
Although I am itching to get back into the studio I am instead taking 2 weeks over the festive break and although I have been writing blogs and doing some planning I've done this at quite a relaxed pace and only when I really need to get stuff out of my head and on paper so that I an continue to binge watch some TV.
And that is what I have found over this last year is the need and desire to carve out down time. To do something different whether it is going for a walk to feed the swans with the mister, enjoying growing new things in the garden or hanging upside down doing some aerial yoga. It's been great to be able to explore some new things that help me feel happier and healthier and I am continuing with that theme in 2024!
Happy new year everyone!