Creative Digest

Jo Atherton

In this, my final article for the HVA Newsletter, I reflect on the past four years or so of life as an artist. I began writing for the newsletter back in February 2012, shortly after embarking on my career as a full time artist. What advice would I have offered to myself back then? Is there anything I would have done differently? What tips or help would I offer to someone in that position now?

Before embarking on my career as an artist, I worked for ten years as a web designer and editor for a number of organisations including the British Library and Cancer Research UK. Up until that point, my creative practice had been confined to a studio hidden under the A40 which I would visit after work and on weekends.

The choice to become a professional artist was daunting, but it has been, without doubt, the best thing I have ever done. I have seen myself teach workshops in a variety of schools, interviewed on the radio, exhibit my work in some amazing spaces and met some wonderful friends along the way.

So here follows the advice I would offer to myself, or anyone else about to make the jump into becoming a professional artist.

  • Do research events and exhibitions before applying. Don’t be flattered into participating in a show or art fair if you feel the event is not a good fit for your work. It is tempting to take every opportunity which comes your way but it is important to maintain some integrity. If the event isn’t right for you, the audience won’t be either and you will leave the event feeling frustrated and even questioning whether you have made the right career choice. Visit galleries, exhibitions and art fairs to find out whether you would like to see your work amongst those participating. Is the work being shown of a high standard? What publicity will be undertaken ahead of the event? Are there any costs involved?
  • Aim high. It is much harder to claw your way way up from showing work at every local village fete and enter the contemporary art circuit than being selective and only exhibiting at those events where you are proud to be seen. Aim high and see where it takes you. Try entering national open exhibitions or art competitions. Who do you admire? Whose work would you like to see yours hung alongside?
  • Your website is not your studio. Resist the temptation to share everything online as it will dilute the impact of those key pieces which are your best work. Think like a curator - all pieces of work on your website must deserve their place. Social media is much better suited to those work in progress shots, or experiments so save them for Instagram or Twitter.
  • Build a network. Seek out those people working in a similar medium, those you have exhibited alongside or whose work you admire. Follow them on Twitter, start a conversation or share ideas and opportunities. My involvement in Herts Visual Arts has been invaluable in developing my network. Do not underestimate the importance of belonging to a community of like minded individuals. As artists, we are often solitary creatures, working away in isolation and losing ourselves in our work. However, it is so important to make the effort to meet with other people, talk through ideas or simply share the experience of being self employed.

Don’t forget we have a large archive of past newsletter articles on the Herts Visual Arts website which can be accessed to read up on a wide ranging collection of subjects from explaining what a QR code is, tips for writing for the web and explaining crowdfunding to name a few.

Thanks for reading this monthly column over the years and I hope you have found it useful. If you want to keep in touch, you can find me on Twitter - @FlotsamWeaving