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Blog: Blog2

An Artist's Journey - Rise, Fall and Rise Again

Living from Art members are all different, and most have interesting stories to tell about all the different ways their careers as artists have developed. I’m delighted to share this guest blog from Colin Clark.

Anna Poulton - Living from Art


I was recently offered ‘voluntary’ redundancy from my 4 day per week, fairly well-paid job, that I’ve had for the last 14 years.  Truth be told, If I hadn’t taken the voluntary option it would have quickly become compulsory with the introduction of more ‘high tech’ measures at work.  I wasn’t being replaced by AI but not far off!  And on the 1st of March 2024, I was redundant.


I never liked the job anyway, but it more than paid the bills. Prior to the job, I’d worked hard for 25 years to develop my creative practice.  I’d been a jeweller and goldsmith alongside teaching jewellery making for 15 years. I undertook 5 years of p/t training as a counsellor and therapist doing some very creative hypnosis and healing work.  I used my training to research intuition and what some people call ‘psychic’ skills and then wrote a book about it alongside teaching the process for 10 years.  In this time, I also worked as an artist selling paintings and drawings which became more profitable than all the other work put together.


Why stop you may ask?  Well the sad story is that I put all my creative eggs into one basket and sold oil paintings through a dealer who dictated what I painted, how much I got paid and what size I painted.  But I was doing well and focussed all my attention on producing work for him for a couple of very lucrative years.  And then he pretty much went bust taking three of my largest paintings with him and never paid me for them.  I quickly went broke losing my studio and car and had to find the cheapest rent in Cheltenham with all my studio and workshop kit taking up half the space in a one-bedroom basement flat, sharing a shower room and toilet with the many other people in the building.


I’m reasonably pragmatic, so I just got on with it but felt the irony of becoming the ‘starving artist’ cliché.  At least I was single at the time so no one else to look after but myself.  I didn’t need to earn much to pay the rent but after a fruitless attempt to get a new body of work together and get interest from any local gallery I could find without the need to drive, I decided in 2007 that I needed to find a job.  I eventually ended up in a huge office behind a computer screen and that was game over for my creative career.  Or was it?


In 2018 I was suffering from stress and exhaustion from lack of sleep due to a medical condition.  I was also borderline diabetic from long hours sitting behind a computer, not exercising and eating poorly.  Although I was in a lovely relationship and had a much better place to live, I was at the end of my tether emotionally and physically.  My partner was tired of me moaning about the job and asked me what I was going to do about it.  That’s when I stumbled over Living From Art and went along to a meeting at the Wilson Gallery.  And there I met two people who told me they’d applied to do a p/t MA in Illustration at the University of Gloucestershire. 


I suddenly felt a bit of hope and after applying and being accepted for a place on the illustration course, dropping a day at work and creating a small space at home where I could create again, I felt as if it might be possible to get my art career back on track even if only part time.  Things were going well, and then Covid came along.  After struggling through working from home, doing my MA work only from home for the last year, and developing an excruciatingly painful frozen shoulder at the same time, I came out the other side in 2021 with my MA, and a body of work to take forward.  Work were happy for me to continue working from home while they started saving money through office closures and redundancies.  I knew it wouldn’t be long before my turn would come to exit from the job but I also knew that should that happen, I would leave with a very good redundancy package.


I’ve done quite a few exhibitions since Covid with the little group I helped set up called artForce Collective and a couple with LFA.  I’ve painted plein air with my painting buddy from the MA, Steve Roberts and sold quite a few oil and watercolour paintings based on the plein air work.  I’ve also got a lot of saleable prints and cards based on my illustration work.  And I took on an art studio owned by a friend who gave me a fantastic rental deal.  Doing all this part time helped turn around my emotional and physical state and I’ve got control of the potential diabetes issue.  So, when the redundancy date finally came around, I was almost prepared.

Imperial Gardens Sketch

But I wondered if I really knew what I was taking on if I decided to become fully self-employed as an artist and illustrator.  I was filled with excitement and fear.  The fear seemed greater than the excitement and motivation and this concerned me.  So, I had to dig deep to remind myself of something that perhaps I should have paid attention to back in the days when I was painting for the dealer.  An old and very generous friend, now deceased, introduced me to a Gloucestershire based artist Charles Neal.  Charles very kindly took me into his studio where he painted large, colourful and impressionistic landscapes that he sold for thousands of pounds through several local galleries along with a gallery in London.


He looked at my work at the time which included nudes and figure work, portraits and landscapes and told me that the way I worked would never get me noticed.  My painterly treatment and subjects just didn’t stand out from other work out there and If I didn’t change this, I’d never get picked up by a gallery.  He told me to go away, get bits of cardboard and cheap oil paint and work for a few weeks only using a palette knife and see what I could do to change my way of working.  He also told me my choice of colour was dull so use lots of colour in the paintings.


When I came back to see him with my range of colourful cardboard paintings, he very reluctantly opened the door.  I’m pretty certain he hoped I’d disappear never to darken his doorstep again.  He grumpily told me to show him my miserable efforts which he looked over silently.  Then he turned to me and asked why I’d painted them on cardboard?  I felt like a small schoolboy and said because he told me to.  Charles looked at me and said that was because he didn’t think they’d be any good!  But what he now saw, he thought, showed a lot of promise.  That’s when he hit me with the bombshell about what to do next.  He said to dump the dealer, spend 6 months focussing solely on producing a body of oil paintings and no need to only use the palette knife now.  He said that after 6 months of solid practice, I’d have the kind of work that could get me noticed and represented by a gallery judging by what he’d seen.


I didn’t take his advice as I needed the money from the dealer to pay the bills.  With what I’d earned to that point, I couldn’t quite have survived for 6 months until that body of work was ready.  I had no idea how long it would take to get representation once the work was ready.  But now in 2024, redundancy money in hand, studio set up, materials aplenty I’m now in a position to build that body of work. Recently I sold three out of four new paintings that show the start of a way of working that has taken me a few years to develop.  I was very rusty after 14 years shackled to a computer screen!


Whilst it’s still a daunting task and I’m a little fearful, I am definitely pursuing my art career again and prepared to get it wrong as much as I get it right. And thanks to LFA and the wonderful artists I’ve met through joining, as well as Anna’s relentless positivity and practical interrogation techniques, I feel I’m on track.  See you in 6 months.


07892 326885

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