It’s all gone a bit nuts.

Hanging out and enjoying the spooky feel of Whitby. I enjoyed sitting midway up the famous steps, nailing the tricky perspective, and capturing the spooky soul of the place.

We’ve just arrived home from another trip to the coast, where we swam in the chilly North Sea, nurtured our inner goths in Whitby, and witnessed some phenomenal displays from the birds at Bempton Cliffs: vast swarms of pink-footed geese on their migration from Scotland to Norfolk, and a barn owl on its magnificent hunting exploits. Outside this oasis of relative calm, though, it has all gone a bit nuts. No, I’m not talking about that (gestures vaguely towards the new UK government), this is on the much smaller scale of the art cottage industry that’s slowly taking over our house. After spending the last few years quietly beavering away, building up the skills, trying to knock out my 10,000 bad drawings, all of a sudden, the work is coming in thick and fast. If you’re a fellow creative, maybe you’ve experienced a similar tipping point where things just seem to snowball? It’s joyful, exciting, and draining all at once.

Probably the most exciting news is that I’m exhibiting in a few places: My piece Hangers was accepted into the Mercer Open competition, so is currently hanging in the Mercer Gallery in Harrogate. There’s some great work there, check it out if you’re in the area. I’ve also had my first forays into commercial galleries and group exhibitions. The Art Works has taken several of my works for sale, which you can go and visit at their gallery space in Otley. There’s also the Life Forms exhibition with the Yorkshire Life Drawing group, the lovely community of artists and sketchers I’m part of. It’s still surreal to see my work hung in public spaces, with all the implication that this thing I’ve made is “art”.

Paying my work a visit at the Art Works, Otley. It might be the last time I see these pieces.

Also happening is the arrival of some large runs of work. I have released a limited run of forty of my take on The Shambles in York – I’m very pleased with this work, in my opinion it’s my best to date and I hope it will find forty happy homes. I have also made a LOT of greetings cards featuring my work, which will be departing from the studio over the coming weeks. These are available in my shiny new shop by the way 😉

I’ve also taken my first tentative steps into art teaching over the last couple of weeks. First, an urban sketching workshop in my hometown of Horsforth, teaching a nice group of budding artists about how to tackle the battered old fishing boats I am so fond of. A couple of days later, I was teaching life drawing at Left Bank Leeds, focusing on the techniques of the great 20th Century sculptors, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. Shortly after running these, I got a last-minute booking from the local Women’s Institute to teach a sketch-along for their group. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, I was soon teaching a women’s group the fundamentals of drawing, using the exercises from Betty Edwards to show how drawing is a learnable skill, not some God-given gift. One or two of the participants had that cantankerous Women’s Institute member thing going on – but a lot of others I saw really taking to the drawing, laughing, smiling, feeling something ‘click’. I really hope some of them have caught the bug and start taking a sketchbook around with them. (If you’ve not read the excellent Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by the way, I highly recommend it.)

And somehow, among all this, finding time to do some practice. Trying to keep pushing my skills and creative range forward. I’ve been trying to copy a couple of JMW Turner’s masterpieces of late. Shoot for the stars and maybe you’ll get out of the gutter at least.

Having a go at Turner’s Loch Long. What’s this “atmosphere” and these “muted colours” of which you speak?

Adding it all up, I think I am now spending more time on the art than my 4 days of academic work.

I’m incredibly grateful for all this. For every piece that comes out well, for everyone who enjoys learning something from me, for every time someone thinks my work is good enough to put up in a gallery, or to take home to enjoy looking at every day – I’m blown away and honoured by it all.

And yet, along with these feelings of happiness and satisfaction comes trepidation. As things start to move along, it’s become apparent just how much single-mindedness, tenacity,and risk tolerance is needed to carve out a place for yourself in the art world. Simply to get good enough to have a shot involves some serious dedication and sacrifice. Then, if you can get to that level, there’s putting yourself out there, applying to the right opportunities, all the backstage admin and promo work. I’ve got a quote taped up on the wall in my studio that sums up the approach I’m taking to all of this: “bump into as much stuff as possible and just see what happens”. That’s a lot of fun, but there is an awful lot of stuff to bump into, and trying to juggle it all, especially alongside a day job, is bloody tough. It’s no wonder so many artists end up burnt out – especially since that’s already the default condition for millennial workers. Why anyone would put themselves through this, I’m not sure. I guess the only answer is that artists couldn’t possibly not do it.

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