Thursday, 25 December 2008

Why I hate the term 'New Year resolution'

It's that time of year again. New Year's Resolution time. I absolutely hate the term 'resolution'. It sounds like a death sentence. I like terms like 'possibility' or 'potential happening' - much less frightening. But, they wouldn't be so important if resolutions were so wishy-washy.

The point of a resolution is to kick your butt into gear, get you to stick to a plan and make a change to your life. So how do you make a resolution and actually keep it?

Set a deadline - otherwise you're making a list of procrastination
If you really want to achieve something, set a deadline. Mark a date in your calendar, set milestones to check progress against and stick to them. The minute you slip, you have to pull yourself up again or you've already failed. I'm terrible at this. I'll admit that I hate deadlines, because they are tangible things. They don't need to be so scary. They may be something simple like 'by the end of the year I will have attempted to do something'. It's actually about incentive.

Make the tasks reasonable - or the don't shoot for planet 47xb489 in the Orion Nebula
Don't be silly and say you will become an Olympic champion if you are a couch potato. Last year I made a list of things I'd 'like' to achieve, and ones that I 'wanted' to achieve. Some of the tasks were almost pipe dreams, while the majority were achievable with dedication and time. Make the tasks small so you can tick them off and feel like you've achieved something. Tasks may be buying a personal domain, painting at least one painting using oils, joining a forum you've been too intimidated to join. The grand plan may be to improve your painting to a level where you can enter a competition, but to get there, it will help if you have small tasks to achieve your large, long term goal.

Be willing to adjust your resolutions - they should be bendy, breakable and useful
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me my life changed after I made my resolutions for the last year, and this in turn had a large impact on my ability to meet those artistic resolutions I'd set for myself. Life is very fluid, and you have to be prepared to change your resolutions if your circumstances change. I could not have prepared for the change in work conditions, nor could I have truly prepared for buying a house (when that was in the 'pipe dream' list). Basically you have to be flexible about some of your resolutions. If you break your leg, that resolution about being able to run a 20km marathon may have to change.

So what happens if you get to the end of the year and you fail?
Don't worry! Seriously. Failure is all part of the life experience. If you fail, you need to look at why you failed. Was it too complex? Did you try to achieve too much? Did you *really* want to achieve the task (i.e. not eating as much chocolate, hmmm???).

And anyway, if you fail, there's always the next year!

Or the next...

or the....

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Website design - what you should consider

When you're building a website, there are a number of design elements that you should consider and plan for. It's all well and good to have a beautiful website, but if visitors can't find their way around or the pages take forever to load your website may not be successful.

Check out this post which covers a broad range of design issues and what you should be looking at when developing a website. : 15 top website elements

Friday, 21 November 2008

Muse, oh muse, where for art thou?

You've got an hour/ day/ week off where you can dedicate time to painting. You sit down in front of your empty sheet of paper/ canvas and ....


After weeks of not being able to paint you FINALLY get the chance, and your muse has gone walkabout. So what can you do when this happens?

1. Relax, it will come back eventually. It's like spilled milk. You can't change the fact so you might as well take a deep breath, recognise that maybe today is not going to be the day for painting, and get over it.

2. If you can't paint, go and do something else. Why waste a couple of hours bashing your head against the proverbial brick wall. Be practical. Do that website update you've been putting off, go watch a movie, do a puzzle. Just stop sitting there hoping that inspiration will magically happen by staring at a blank page. It will frustrate you no end, and at the end of the day if nothing has happened, you may feel worse than when you began.

3. Flip through an old sketch book. If you're feeling uninspired, go back and see if there's a half finished sketch that needs some shading done, or a painting that needs details added. Looking at your old stuff can inspire new stuff.

4. Write out a list of things you'd 'one day' like to paint. It can be anything from illustrating a specific book, to something vague like 'a blue elephant'.

5. Pick a topic you're interested in doing some paintings on and research it. Just because your painting muse has gone walkabout, it doesn't mean that you can't be planning future work. Do a google image search, follow links, look at technique articles. It doesn't matter if you start out researching 'The sleeping beauty' and end up at 'Martian icecaps'.

6. Join in an art challenge. Some great ones are
- 100 Themes Art Challenge - this is about interpretation of a single word
- Illustration Friday - a weekly challenge site-
- Speed painting challenges on most good art forums - particularly useful for digital artists

7. Experiment. Work through a tutorial you've had bookmarked for years. Don't worry if you're copying a painting in order to learn a new technique - this is how many artists learnt their trade. Just focus on keeping your skills up to scratch. This is about doing art stuff, but not letting your brain get in the way.

Your muse may be nice and come back half way through the first 10 minutes of the movie you've switched on. Then again, it might be vindictive and take a holiday in Barbados for three months. The point is, when you force things in art, it doesn't always work. The more you try and make it happen, they more you may dislike what you're producing and get miserable. Artist block happens to the best artists. It doesn't mean you suck, it just means that you aren't necessarily meant to paint at 2pm on Tuesday afternoon! So don't give up, just relax and fill in your time while you're waiting for Muse to come back.

Or fire her, and hire a new one!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The healthier artist - 10000 step challenge

Working in IT, I'm pretty much tied to the computer. I get up, go to work, switch on the computer and sit there for 8-10 hours a day with the occasional interruption by a meeting or visit to someone else’s desk. On my down time when I work on my art, if I decide to paint/ work on website updates/ check emails/ visit forums, again I’m tied to a desk.

All this desk time is not really conducive to an active lifestyle and can cause health problems, and exacerbate stress. But there are a number of things that you can do to help keep from seizing up or becoming unhealthy. This is one idea that you might like to consider as it’s cheap, easy to get involved with, and takes little effort:

My work is currently taking part in something called the '10 000 Step challenge'. The idea is to aim for 10 000 steps (the equivalent of 8km walking) every day. This is the recommended goal for an ‘active adult’. You use a pedometer, a conversion chart and a group of people to heckle support you and you track how you measure up. I must admit I’m a bit up and down at the moment, but I’m definitely averaging 10000 steps every day.

Here’s another article people in sedentary work might like to read: 7 important steps for a web worker

Friday, 31 October 2008

Stock photography - making your own - what can you photograph?

Even though I'm not a photographer, I use photographs to reference from to help create realism. Sometimes you have to use stock photographs, but if you are lucky and have the right resources, you can create your own reference stock to work from.

Why is this great? Well, it means you have less to worry about on the copyright infringement front, as well as being able to get the EXACT photo you need for your painting. However there are a few things you need to be aware of when taking photographs of places, objects and people, particularly if you want to use the photos for commercial use.

Here are some great articles on stock photography:
Please note, each country has different laws on what can be photographed.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Links Shout out - BG Patterns is a background generator that allows you to use a range of images, colours, textures and rotation. It's simple to use and features a range of already created patterns for you to browse.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Backing up bookmarks - foxmarks

For those of you who like easy backup ideas, firefox has some nifty addons to synchronise your bookmarks. One that I've recently used and found incredibly helpful is Foxmarks. is a tool that can automatically synchronise your private bookmarks so that you can access them from any computer, backup your bookmarks everytime you change your bookmarks, and allows you to access your bookmarks from anywhere you have internet access. This tool was great when my computer died a few weeks ago and I had to buy a new computer. You can even keep two sets of synched bookmarks - one for at home, and one for work ( )

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Should I, shouldn't I ? What makes a good decision

Decisions are made all the time. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they suck. Remember that pair of awesome boots that hurt your feet every time you wear them, or that licensing deal that you wish you could rip into shreds, or maybe that commission enquiry that turned into 12 months of the best illustration work you've ever done? Every time we are faced with a choice, we are faced with making decisions.

In my work in IT, I am faced with decisions - some as minute as which room to have a meeting in, to big ones like do we hire this contractor, or how much will a 6 month project cost? Each time I make a decision, or am involved with making decisions, I have to be aware of the consequences- what happens if it goes well, as well as what happens if it's a dreadful decisions. I've done a few courses on Ethics and philosophy, as well as doing some sessions on decision making through management training. I'm by no means an expert. But here are some questions you should ask when making a decision:
  1. What will the benefits be if it all goes well/ what's in it for me? Monetary, skills, networking? All these things are important. *
  2. What happens if it goes terribly wrong? Is there a termination clause? Will I be out of pocket (time, resources, money, reputation). Sometimes you can't avoid it, but if something smells fishy, it probably is. Talk to other artists who have dealt with a commissioner or a licenser. Join communities that black list or white list commissioners. They are out there!
  3. Will I learn anything new?
  4. Will I get bored? See number 3. If something is going to bore you to tears, only consider it if you are desperate for the money. Boredom means the work takes 10 times as long, you're never really going to be happy with the work
  5. Is it fair? Are both parties getting something in return, or is only one party getting something. Treat each decision as a business decision.
  6. Is it legal?
*Exposure, unless its on a global scale, like a competition book such as Spectrum is the ONLY type of exposure I'd really consider. Exposure by painting something for free to go on someone's personal website is a waste of your talents and time, plus they're getting a free service they should be paying for. I'm not saying you should never do 'exposure only' art, but consider your worth as an artist - this is supposed to be part of your livelihood. A mechanic would never fix your car because you could give them 'exposure'. Sure, you're on the road with a million other motorists, but you're not going to tell everyone you meet about the quality of the workmanship - it will come out as 'hey, this mechanic works for free, why should I pay?'

How to make a decision

Each person will find something different works for them.

I tend to use the pros-cons-interesting (sometimes called PMI) type of methodology where you list out all the good things, all the bad things, and all the 'other' issues. Rate each Pro/Con and compare the lists. Work out which one has the most in it and that will probably be your decision. Of course your gut/ instinct generally will have a say in the manner, and if you can't get away from what your gut is saying, then ask a trusted friend for an opinion or to act as a sounding board.

Here's some further links on decision making and tools/ methods available.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Uses for clear post-it notes in the art studio

Ah post-it notes. I love simple office supplies that become near indispensable in the office. When I read this article I got to thinking about some of the uses that an artist could apply this simple technique too. The article talks about the using clear post-it notes for making notes in library books and text books.

The transparent post-it notes are fairly small (normally 4 x 4"), but they do stick to the page without damaging the book. This is great when you're using a library book or a magazine you don't really want to keep, or a text book you want to sell next semester! Unfortunately, these post-it notes can be somewhat difficult to find so I have some alternate techniques listed further down the page.

Uses for artists:
  • Make composition notes from other paintings, photos, images
  • Highlight phrases of text such as instructions in how-to books while you're working through a technique
  • Highlight colours from lists of paints that you need to buy
  • Try alternate compositions/ costumes/ expressions

Alternate solutions:
  1. Attach with blue tac a small sheet of the following

    1. Baking paper/ greaseproof paper (though you may need to use a Sharpie pen with this)
    2. Tracing paper/ velum and pencil
    3. Clear acetate and a whiteboard marker/ Overhead projector marker. This is only a temporary solution as eventually it will wipe off. Plus Acetate can be expensive!

  2. Photocopy the image and draw directly on the photocopy. Use white-out/ correction fluid and coloured pens/ highlighters to explore different ideas

  3. Take a snapshot/ scan of the image and transfer to the computer. Create a 'trace' layer in your photo editing software and go mad!

  4. Use software such as to "Copy documents, whiteboards and handwritten notes with your camera phone or digital camera to store, fax, email or publish!" (From the site)
N.B. make sure you are following copyright laws whenever you trace/ copy/ reproduce anything.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

SitePoint free Photoshop ebook

If anyone is interested, SitePoint are giving away a free photoshop ebook for a few days (The Photoshop Anthology: 101 Web Design Tips, Tricks & Techniques ). It's geared towards web design elements, but a few people might find it interesting. You don't have to sign up for anything however it will email you to send you the direct links. They regularly provide sample chapters of books and have some really good articles on web development.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Creatively Diverse: Costume & Garb making

The last few months have been fairly quiet on the art front. I haven't disappeared completely, but the painting has definitely been on the back burner as I work 9-15hour days in the day job. But despite of a lack of interest in painting (i.e. I'm not painting every spare minute), I've discovered some new creative outlets that are helping to re-invigorate my love of art.

Each week I trundle off to my SCA - Society for Creative Anachronism meetings (a medieval recreation group) , where we learn about life in the past. We explore how people lived during the medieval to 1600 AD time period, learning about weaponry and fighting, clothing, arts, sciences, history and a host of related skills. One of the skills I have been learning is clothes making (we don't do costuming - we make clothes). Now I am a little domestically challenged - probably more from laziness than any real lack of co-ordination, but medieval tailoring can be as simple or as complex as you make it.

So what can you learn from costume/ garb/ clothes making and how does this help the art?
  • You have a greater understanding of costumes so when you go to paint or sketch a costume, because you know how it is constructed, you can work out how it's going to sit, look and feel. It also makes you obsess over historical paintings, looking at seams, linings and blackwork!
  • You increase your dexterity. Hand-sewing and embroidery require precision, repetition and patience.
  • You learn about patterns and motifs - not just costume patterns, but embroidery patterns, fabric patterns, printing blocks, culture and time period specific motifs, colour symbology and a great range of visual references that you can incorporate into your art
  • Costumes can be used for reference shoots (maybe you can claim them as business expenses)
  • Hand sewing/ embroidery/ knitting can be very soothing tasks (when you're not having to unpick!) So you have an added bonus of relaxation
  • Sewing groups can give you social opportunities. It's fun to sit with a group of ladies (and men on occasion) and chat about anything and everything while being creative
  • You get exposed to some magnificent artwork as you go trawling through reference sites on particular time periods and clothing pieces
  • You learn about natural dyes and pigments that can also be used for painting
  • it's still using your creative muscles
  • it gives you a sense of accomplishment wearing something you've created
Essentially what I am trying to say is when your time is scarce and you just don't feel like picking up a paintbrush, there are many other creative outlets that you can explore. There's no need to feel guilty because you aren't painting, rather you should be exploring as many different creative outlets as you can. Not only can it give your creativity a boost, it can also be a chance to make new friends, relax and recharge the batteries.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Recycling in the art studio - mistakes in watercolours

You've sketched out a watercolour painting, you've slaved over it for a while, and then your cat/ child/ dog/ {insert unpredictable being} had brushed by and made a mess all over it. What to do? What to do? (Well what to do that doesn't involve strangling said being!)... here's some ideas so that you don't just throw away that painting.

1. Lift the colour
Using a damp tissues, cotton bud, or water loaded paint brush, gently apply clean water to the paint to be removed and blot off with a clean tissue or cloth. Some colours like Veridian green or Pthalo blue have high staining ratings and will never come clean.

Look up the watercolour's maker site for details about light fast and staining qualities.

2. Incorporate the mistake into the painting.

Some mistakes can't really be masked, like a fluorescent pink mark across a regency lady's white chemise. But many times you'll find that with some creative thinking, that black streak in the sky could be a bird, or that red spot in the grass becomes a ladybug. Put the painting aside if you can't think of anything at the time, you may be surprised that the 'mistake' isn't as big as you think it is when you come back.

3. Fix the problem with another art medium
Change media and turn it into an acrylic painting. Try ink, charcoals, coloured pencils
Kinuko Craft is an amazing artist who paints oils over watercolours - see here techniques here The Art of Kinuko Y. Craft

4. Prime over the top of the piece of paper and use as a ground for another painting/ drawing
No reason to throw away good paper! Use if for experimentation! The Sentinel is acrylics on watercolour paper.

5. Cut it up and use it for a collage or assemblage piece.

6. Flip the paper over and paint on the back (this will depend on how buckled the paper is and how heavy you are with the washes.)

7. Scan the painting and fix it digitally.
Ok you're not going to have the original, but it may be the beginning of a beautiful new painting. My piece Contemplation was rescued after I made a number of errors in the watercolours. I've now started working digitally in a way that allows me to use scraps of sketches as the basis for paintings like Teal

8. Cut out unpainted sections and use them for small artworks such as ACEO cards or OSWA paintings. ACEO's are 2.5" x 3.5", while OSWA normally are around 4 x 6".

ACEO card

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Zen habits - decluttering tips

I love reading the Zen Habits blog ( ). It’s one of those goldmines of ideas about simplifying your life, getting happy, and having time to breathe. This article was one I couldn’t read without sharing! 18 simple tips to de-clutter your mess and keep it that way! (Especially helpful if like me, you are not a tidy person!)

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Separating the day job from the art job

I had to do my first lot of performance reviews the other day. Things were going wrong at work, I had very little time to myself, and I really had to sit down and spend a couple of hours assessing how my staff were going. My manager mentioned that she did hers at home. At this point I'm thinking 'I've been working my butt off all week, and you want me to take stuff home? I already have 'work' at home - it's called my illustration/ art business'.

Sometimes working from home (and not getting paid for it) is unavoidable. But when you're running a business from home already, sometimes the last thing you need is to bring more 'work' home. Here are some thoughts on separating the day job from the art job, in particular how to leave the day job at the 'office'.

Avoid bringing the work home in the first place

1. Schedule time for the task at work and tell everyone else to take a number in the queue.
If it's really an important task, other people should respect you enough to listen when you say 'no, I can't do that right now,' or 'I'll get to that as soon as I've done this'. Of course we all live in the real world where other people can be jerks! Everyone has an agenda, but sometimes you have to stick up for your own. Most people don't even think beyond their own tasks and deadlines, so unless you tell them you're busy they won't know. Communication is key!

2. Ask for help and use it when it is offered
At most places, there's too much work and not enough people. But unless you raise the issue of having too much work, your boss may not know. That being said, you may have the manager from hell who doesn't care, but if they are a decent human being they will try to help you out. You can do this by re-prioritising tasks, delegating work to others, swapping tasks with team mates, getting help. There is no shame in saying that you need assistance. And if someone offers a hand and they can seriously help, take them up on the offer! A boss would rather have two people doing the work and it getting done on time, rather than one person doing it, missing the deadline, and going on stress leave from the mild heart attack they suffered trying to be a superhero.

3. Work away from your desk/ away from your co-workers to get work done
Turn off the email, put the phone to voice mail, switch your mobile to silent. If you use Outlook for meeting schedules, add an outlook 'meeting' showing that you are busy. Be unavailable. Those other tasks can normally wait a few hours (of course there are exceptions to every rule!) Better yet, book a meeting room and close the door. Go out to the tea room when nobody is there. If all else fails, tell everyone to leave you alone and put on the headphones. Make a sign that says 'please come back at 2pm'. Be serious about it. The minute you answer one person, the rest of the office will forget or choose to ignore what you've asked them to do.

4. Go into work early or stay back late (on occasion)
If you need more time to do the work, then do it at work. If you're lucky you get paid overtime/ time in lieu , if not, it impresses the boss that you're still there when everyone else has gone home! I'm lucky that I have flexible hours, but I find that I often get more done in the two hours before everyone gets in, than in most of the day. The same when I've worked late. With no one there to bug you, the task can often take less time. And because you're at work, you don't have the distractions of home.

5. Get a new job
If you are finding you're working 10hrs everyday, and then bringing home another 2-3 hours of work, then you seriously need to think about whether your job is worth it, and whether you really have the energy to be split between two careers. I'm not advocating throwing in the job immediately, but it might be an idea to start looking for a new job.

70+ hours a week means that your health is probably shot, you have a serious caffeine addiction and that you have no social life. And the reality is that you really can't be productive every hour of those 70+ hours. You need to eat, to recharge the batteries, to think outside the box. If you're slugging away at work, then you don't have time for your brain or body to switch off and recuperate.

You may love your job and it's really not a chore, but when you think about those hours - that is a two person job! And there's only one of you!

If you have to bring home work from the day job...

1. Try to avoid doing work from the day job where you run your art business
You should try and separate your art business from the rest of your life, in the same way that you should separate your day job from your home life. This may be simply having everything stored in a box which you pull out when you want to paint, a separate room for painting/ packaging products, an 'area' assigned for art. In all likelihood the day job is different to your art business, so try and do your work in an area where you won't be distracted by your outstanding art business 'work'.

2. Have a breather before you start the work
When you come home from the office, there are two ways you can continue with your day job 'homework':
1. When you get home kick off the shoes, maybe have a shower, grab something to eat, have a short period of time to do something you enjoy. You can't work 15 hours straight and not expect to turn into a crazy person. Trust me, last year I did about 2 weeks straight of 12-15hour days, and fell flat on my face at the end of it. It screws with your diet, your sleeping patterns, and your social life. You need to have down time. You deserve to have down time.

2. If it's a task that will only take an hour, get home, grab something to eat, have a quick break, then dig in and get it over with. That way you have the rest of the evening free.

3. Prioritise your work
Your day job in all likelihood pays most of your bills, or is at least more reliable income than your art business (unless you're a casual, but that's another story!). If you have work that you know is coming up which is REALLY important, then let your customers and clients know that things are going to take longer than normal to process. Think about putting your commission queue on hold, sending out orders only once a week, cutting back on forum visits, going through your inbox once a day and answering emails at scheduled times.

The same thing goes for deadlines with commissions. Schedule deadlines for when you know you've got time off from work (if you can), or organise an RDO/ day off close to the deadline. Hopefully you're already finished, but if you're not, you don't have the day job to contend with.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Organisation 1: ToDo lists and the part time painter
I always have a to-do list that is a million miles long. Every time I remove one thing, another two get added in its place. I have to-do lists for my website updates, my chores, my goals, presents for myself (I like this list the best!), current projects for the medieval group I’m involved in, to-do lists for myself at work, to do lists for the people on my team (I’m their manager, I need to remember what I’ve asked them to do!), and anything else I can possibly think of.

Because of my shift from worker bee to manager at work recently, I’ve been doing a lot of shuffling of to-do lists, a bit of playing around with different techniques, a whole stack of reading, and a number of dismal failures. Why am I writing about them? Because it saves me having to remember everything that I’ve learnt! So what are the benefits of a to-do list, how do you implement them, do they work, and are there any secrets to using them effectively.

Why use a "to do" list

  • It saves your brain, and your sanity! If it's written down, you don't have to 'remember' it. Imagine having seven paintings you need to get done in a month. If you are focusing on the fact you have 'seven paintings to do' you will likely start stressing about the seven colour schemes, the different poses, where do I find references, how am I going to get them done on time... and so on. A ToDo list allows you to essentially put down six of the paintings and focus on them one at a time. A whole stack of smaller tasks are much easier to deal with than 7 big tasks where you can't even think of where to start.
  • You feel like you've achieved something when you cross it off the list. It may just be the act of putting a like through something, but it's kind of cathartic knowing that you don't have to deal with that task ever again (well, at least not for the next five minutes
  • It acts as a record for what you've achieved. This can be a great pick-me-up when you're feeling like you've been sitting at your desk/ easel for hours and not done anything. I can tell you, working in management where you don't actually deliver anything but 'the project on time and within budget and without your team killing each other in the process', it can be a wonderful record that proves you ARE actually doing stuff!
  • It improves our organisation. Just the act of sitting down, writing a list of things to do, and sorting that list helps us focus on what we need to achieve.

How to create an effective ToDo list
This is the way I try and do it. I'm not saying that it is the best way or the only way - this is simply the way that I work and what I find works for me.

  1. Write down any tasks you have to complete - complete brain storm. It doesn't matter how detailed or vague the list, just do a complete brain dump of everything. N.B. If you have multiple ToDo lists, or you like to categorise them, then do this set of steps for each category.

  2. Look at each task. If it's going to take longer than 2 hours, you may want to try and break it down into smaller steps. The smaller the task, the less daunting it appears and the more likely you are to actually do it!

  3. Prioritise the list. This is probably the most important step. Writing a list is all well and good, but if you don't rank the tasks you might as well have a shopping list. Ranking can be as simple as:
* If I get time I would like to do this
* I really should do this, but if I don't, 'meh'
* I must do this, but I have a little time to do it
* If I don't do this I will have to live on 2 minute noodles for the next week/ my client will get ugly/ the deity I pray to will smite me down

Being a visual person, I like to colour code my list - red items being really important, orange ones need to get done within the week, and some other colour for the rest. I try to have only 2-3 items as 'critical' tasks as it's less stressful than seeing a page full of red items.

4. If you want, rewrite the list in order. I do this by scrubbing notes down on paper, then transferring it to a spreadsheet/ online tool/ new sheet of paper/ white board.
5. Give yourself a rough estimate of when the tasks should be completed by.

Multiple lists vs. one looooooonnnnnggggg list
Some people like fifty lists - one for the chores, one for work, one for this project, one for that project. Other people like having everything in one place. Basically everyone is different so you have to work out what is best for you. Personally, I have a few lists on the go partly because if I put them all on one piece of paper, it would probably look like Santa's toy list and go scrolling off under the table and out the door!

I have:
  1. A work - currently it's specific to the project I'm managing. No doubt I'll do up a second list for general management processes. Because of security I can't use an online tool, so I carry around a paper scribble list for jotting down tasks, and then transfer these onto an excel spreadsheet which I colour code.

  2. An 'art business' list. I often have a whiteboard which I scribble down tasks on, but recently I've started using an online tool which I plugin to my google homepage.

  3. Another general todo list, though more often the art list is being used for adding things like 'pick up washing powder from shop' or 'return library books'.
Using a ToDo List
It is not enough just to write down a list. A todo list is just that - 'To DO'. That means you actually have to do the stuff on the list!
  • Delegate - see if there are any tasks on the list that you can palm off to someone else. That load of washing, why can't the partner put it on? Typing up the minutes of the meeting, there were twelve other people at the meeting - see if one of them can do it for you (remember to return the favour at some time!). If you can afford it, think about hiring someone to mow the lawn/ clean the house/ do the bookwork/ help package your orders.

  • Be realistic with your tasks. Don't set a deadline if you know you probably won't make it. That will just make you feel like a flop when you can't finish it on time. Also be aware of your habits. Organise your day around when you work best. If you are like a zombie before 10am, set that time aside for dealing with small, simple tasks from your list, and leave the really important high priority tasks to a time when you are going to be able to deal with the task effectively.

  • Re-assess the list half an hour before you go home or finish up work. Think about what is most important to get done the next day. I actually highlight what I need to do the next day, every afternoon before I go home. Sometimes I'll write out those tasks onto a sticky note and fix it to my screen so there's no way I miss it.

  • ToDo lists are flexible. If the boss changes her mind on what task is most important, drop things down or off the list. It's a guide only. Just because it's on the list, doesn't mean something terrible is going to happen if you deviate from the list.

  • Don't procrastinate and do all the 'fun tasks first'. Do the important ones first, maybe give yourself a reward for completing the task, but never just put off the task because you don't want to deal with it. The fact is - that task is still going to be horrible, doesn't matter when you do it!

  • If your current method isn't working, try something different. I've been writing ToDo lists for a long time, and it's only been in the last few weeks that they've really clicked. They've always kind of 'worked', but now that I HAVE to save my brain from complete mental meltdown, I'm finding the benefits of sticking with a system is really paying off. I still want to try some different online tools, but the general process is going to stay the same for me.

Available tools or Paper vs Technology
There is a plethora of tools available out there. You don't need all those fancy online tools to make a todo list, and to be honest, sometimes it's not practical to be stuck on the computer all day.Here are a few simple ideas:
  • Notebook/ paper and pen/ pencil/ highlighter - simple, can be taken anywhere, but can be tedious to rewrite. Also, if you're like me, I misplace small bits of paper, so make it something you aren't likely to throw away!

  • Excel spreadsheet - can be customised, comes with Microsoft office, there are already some templates out there for use

  • Post-it notes - they come in a range of colours and shapes. You may simply want to use different coloured notes for different tasks and fix them into your diary, removing them when you've completed them.

  • Whiteboard - great for brainstorming and quick to adjust.
  • - a list of online tools and their features

Hopefully people will find this of some use! As I mentioned several times, organisation is a personal thing - what works for one person may be useless for others. If you have any tools that you use, or other tips, please leave a comment!

Further Reading - be inspired by other people’s to-do lists, some are works of art, some like -

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Style guide - how do I get one???

A little while ago, a fellow artist, Becca Cox, commented to me about feeling as though she sometimes lacked a 'style'. I'm not talking about dressing in hip clothing, or being able to sing all the current pop songs, I'm talking about having *something* that classifies your art as being made by you. That undefinable quality that says 'I'm by Artist X'.

There is so much emphasis placed on this idea that we all must have a style of art that is innately recognisable. But why is that? What defines a style? Is style really so important? And how do we know when we have it?

What is style?
Style is about being 'classifiable' and 'recognisable' - hopefully in a good way! It's a trademark, a 'brand', it's your artistic avatar. It's developmental, it's unique. It can not be learned, so don't even bother to try looking for quick solutions. If you want a 'style by numbers' then you are going to be the Elvis impersonator of the art world!

Is style really important?
It depends... Where are you in your career? What type of work are you intending to do? What do you need your style to do?

To be honest, the more you worry about your 'style', the less energy you have for creating art. I think an artist needs to focus on skills and techniques before worrying about 'style'. The style will come... but if you don't have the technique to back it up, your artwork will never be as good as it can be.

That being said, you need to stand out from the pack when you're in a room of equally talented artists. You want to be known as the 'artist who does those paintings'. The more art you do, the more involved you become in art communities and getting your stuff out there, the greater chance of being recognisable there is.

How do I get style?
Just draw and paint! That's it. The more you do, the easier it is to pick up similarities and dissimilarities in your work. Each artist (unless you are a master forger) is different. The way you choose your colours, subject matter, paint skies, draw hands, whatever... each of those things is unique to you.

Also, lighten up, have fun! Having your own style shouldn't be a hard slog! It can be hard work from a technical point of view, but you need to love what you are doing! If you don't like your style, then change it. You're in control. You have the paintbrush.

Some things to think about...

1. Having a cohesive style can be boring

Some artists do beautiful work and you could look at their work all day without getting bored. You know exactly what to expect, what the subject matter will probably be, and how it will be executed. And you don't care, because no matter what they do, their art is great! Other artists, if you've seen one piece, you've seen them all. There's no inflection, no interest, their style has drowned any creativity they may have possibly. You have to constantly reassess your own work and be willing to try new things.

2. Style's change
When you were 5, you probably liked the music from Sesame street. When you were 14, it was probably some boy-band/ heavy metal rocker/ Emo music - something that annoyed the crap out of your parents with its angst/ cheesy lyrics/ anger. By the time you were 21, you'd settled into something equally different (though you still secretly kept those bad CD's/ records/ tapes in a box somewhere). Beyond 35 no doubt you'll change again. It's the same with artworks. What you do now, will be different from what you do in five years time (or you're seriously in an artistic rut/ or raking in the millions!) As our techniques improve, or influences shift, and our tastes change, so do our paintings. If you don't believe me, look at the kinds of things you did as a younger person. There may be similarities, but they're not going to be exactly the same.

3. You can have many styles, and still be recognised!
I work differently with different media. My cartoony sketches are different to my watercolours are different to my digital paintings. There is still something that seems to travel through the different media, but I don't push it. I'm having much too much fun pushing the boundaries of the media I use. I treat each media as a different entity - there are certain paintings that just work better in the traditional media.

4. Just because you have a style, doesn't mean you are going to be allowed to paint that way!
If you are a freelance artist, you paint what the client wants... and sometimes in the style they want. When you're being paid to do art, you get hired based on your skills/ something the client likes/ and artist availability. Sometimes you are being hired to fill in for another artist, or to continue a series of work, in the style already defined by another artist.

For example, I did a book cover recently in a style that I'd developed for character commission work. It wasn't something that I was sure I could pull off for a full illustration (I normally do fairly realistic work in a straight painterly manner), however in the end, it worked out fine. Had I been given the choice I probably wouldn't have gone with this style... and I would have missed out on creating a truly unique painting.

I know this probably all sounds wishy-washy, but I figure far too much emphasis is placed on style, and not enough emphasis on technique & enjoyment. At this point in time, I'm happy if I can paint something better than the last time I did it! And I've been out of art college for 10 years!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Artist shortcut #1 Copying great artists

Leonardo's Leda & The Swan vs Raphael's St Catherine of Alexandria ... Great artists (Raphael) 'steal' (from Leonardo)
Images taken from
for educational purposes.

No matter what kind of artist you are, it’s often tempting to take shortcuts. On the outset, they may save time, but in the long run they can prove costly in more ways than one. The first ‘shortcut’ I’ll be discussing in this series is ‘taking inspiration from other artists’.

There's an old saying that good/bad artist's copy, but great artists steal (attributed to Picasso). Do a search on, and you will see dozens of articles about the fine line between being inspired and plagiarising (i.e. copying/ stealing/ ripping someone else’s work and claiming it as your own). But while plagiarism is BAD, being inspired by other artworks can help you become a better artist.

So when does a shortcut such as being inspired by other artist’s work become plagiarism, or even just cross the line and become ethically or morally bad? How do you use this shortcut to your benefit? Here are some personal thoughts on the matter:

1. Good artists copy.
We learn through imitation. Copying great artworks or even our favourite artworks can help us improve as artists. When we analyse other artist’s work, we’re learning many different skills about composition, colour, and technique. By looking at a variety of sources, even artwork we don’t like but know are popular, we’re increasing our understanding of what makes us react to art, and therefore can incorporate it into our own.

One word of caution, don’t copy artworks to learn anatomy. Artists make mistakes, often exaggerate or stylise anatomy, and get it wrong all the time! Even photographs distort anatomy. Learn anatomy from anatomy books, life drawing, and from photographs when you understand what you are drawing. I can not stress this enough!

2. Great artists steal
- There are reasons why you are drawn to particular paintings. Great artists take elements of what they see and recreate them in a way that is unique, riveting and original. If someone can look at your artwork and instantly pick out another painting that look remarkably similar to yours, then you haven’t been inspired enough (unless your work is a parody). It’s not enough to do the equivalent of a cut and paste… you need to make it your own work. Something that defines the piece as representative of ‘you’ or ‘your style’.

3. Acknowledge your inspiration/s:
It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s ethical. The old masters would say ‘Painting X after Artist Z’. You’re effectively tipping your hat to your source of inspiration. If you’re concerned about copyright, contact the artist, or simply don’t make the artwork available for retail. Keep it as training exercise. You shouldn't be able to see a direct correlation between your work and the inspirational piece.

It always surprises me when I see works of art that have obviously been 'inspired' by another artist's work, yet the artist in question doesn't see fit to mention the source of their muse. I'm not talking about people who try out a 'style' or paint the same kinds of subject matter, I'm talking about artists that take shortcuts and directly 'borrow' a recognisable pose (say from Vallejo), an entire scene, or the whole costume (unless it's a historical or fan art piece). Sometimes it can be an oversight, simply forgetting what triggered the idea in the first place, but other times it shows a lack in judgement*.

* I'll be talking about the Good Decision Making Model in coming weeks.

Some ways to trigger inspiration by copying elements of other artist’s work:

1. Create your own reference file.
Gather anything that strikes your fancy such as photos, artworks, advertisements, books, jpegs, web pages, DVD’s and objects. Use this to flip through whenever you need a boost in creativity. I used to keep an art journal* for this purpose... now I have folders of stock images, websites bookmarked, and a filing cabinet filled with cut out images from all over the place.

*Look out for a future article on personalising art journals!

2. Use the image search on to spark off ideas. For example, say I wanted to do a painting with a medieval theme. I go to and type in something like ‘medieval France’, or ‘Templar knights’. The results that come back may be maps or photos of re-enactors, or medieval stained glass windows, or architectural layouts of a castle. These then can trigger ideas, and inspire me through the use of colours in medieval manuscript, or the composition of a Leonardo da Vinci painting.

3. Try and recreate a famous painting using a different context. i.e. Take Medieval icon and recreate it as a science fiction scene.

Above all, have fun, be creative, but also be respectful of other artists' creative property.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Fighting Artist block 1: Experimentation

Everyone goes through periods where things just don't go right. When you're an artist, it's called artist block. Some artists say their 'muse has flown'. I call it a pain in the neck!

There is nothing more frustrating than needing to paint, and not being able to draw a stick figure, let alone finishing that painting that's half finished. One tool I've found for avoiding the frustration of artist block is experimentation. It's a chance for you to create something that you don't care about, something that doesn't matter if you screw up, and who knows - you may find a technique that works brilliantly.

Have a list of things you'd like to try. Keep them near your art space so that if you feel like doing art, but have the inspiration or technique of a brick on that day, you've got something to try:

  • Speedpainting: it's a technique mainly for digital artists, where you force yourself to spend a limited painting time on a single topic. This can be great if you don't have a lot of spare time. Join up with a forum like,, or anywhere that has daily/ weekly or monthly challenges if you want a topic. Set a stop watch, and start laying colour.
  • taking a tool you've never used before and attempting to make as many different lines as possible. Some media you may like to try:
  • Follow a tutorial. It's even better if they've done all the line work or preparatory files so you don't have to think beyond what the tutorial is teaching you. It doesn't matter what the tutorial is on, sometimes the easier ones are more fun! Try lightning effects in Photoshop, or 'Sepia toning photographs', or tin foil hats. Anything creative is better than nothing at all!

  • Digital artists - trawl through many of the free brush sites and download a whole stack of photoshop brushes, textures, shapes and patterns. Then go wild! Do some photo manipulations, just bring together everything and anything.

  • Make avatars or icons of you art. Follow tutorials, hunt for icon 'stock', and have fun with them. Try and come up with silly slogans, make them gloriously tacky, add sparkles and frames and neon lighting! No one is going to see them but you so it doesn't matter how gorgeous or hideous they turn out.
Hopefully I've given you a few ideas so that the next time you feel stuck, you can still get rid of some of that creative energy.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Confidence and the part time artist - 7 tips

Two weeks ago I was promoted at work (day job). It was completely unexpected. I had applied for the job as ‘experience’ and seriously had so little confidence in my own abilities that I didn’t think I’d even get shortlisted.

But I did…

And after the interview I came out thinking, “Man, I wouldn’t hire me , I sucked!”.

But obviously I said something right and got put on the candidates list.

A week later I got offered the job.

I thought there had been some mistake. Why would anyone want to put me in that role? Surely there were better, more qualified people than me. I accepted the offer, still feeling like a fraud.

As an artist, I still have days where I look at my own work and wonder why people pay me to paint. Why would someone buy one of my prints? Why would someone ask me for advice? Don’t they know I’m not that great an artist? Surely there are other artists out there far better than me!

The reality is, as humans we are often our own worst enemies. We often perceive our own abilities differently to how the world sees us. Sure, I’m far from being a brilliant artist! I know that I’ve still got loads to learn, that I make mistakes, that I paint pictures that are not masterpieces.

But, that’s ok. Really it is!

Some days it’s easier to be ten foot tall and bullet proof than other days. Here are a few tips that I’ve tried, in my everyday life, and as an artist to help give me a confidence boost.

1. Mimic confident people. That is, take a look at the way they act and try and emulate them. Confident people take calculated risks, they try new things, they brush themselves off after failure and get back up again. It may take them a little while to get back on the horse, but they eventually will. Talk to them, get involved in forums where talented people hang out (make sure it’s somewhere you feel comfortable).

2. Ask yourself, what is the worst that could happen? For example, you want to try oils, but you’ve never painted one before. What’s the worst that could happen? You waste a few weekends, you create a piece of work that’s only fit for lining the bin or painting over, you realize that you will never be Rembrandt because oils just aren’t your ‘thing’. But… you may find that you are brilliant at them! You won’t find out unless you have a little faith and try.

3. Tell that critical, self-important internal dialogue to shut up and say something useful. Some people suggest that you imagine the voice has a volume switch that you can turn down, or giving it a really stupid voice, like someone who’s inhaled helium.
4. Sit up straight. Quite often when you feel down or are scared, you hunch, trying to make yourself invisible. So counteract this! Sit or stand up straight, puff your chest out a little and your shoulders back, lift your chin, relax your face (maybe try to smile J), make eye contact with others (not so much that you creep them out!), and breathe deeply. You may not feel more confident, but you will look it!

5. If you’re feeling a little ‘fragile’ about something, don’t put yourself in a position (if you can avoid it) where you’re going to be criticized or pounded. For example, don’t look at art critiques on your own work if you’re feeling like all of your art is bad. You’re not in the right headspace to receive them properly and you’ll either get defensive, or depressed. You probably will see the ‘critique’ as criticism.

If you’ve got a performance evaluation or someone is trying to give you negative feedback, ask to do it at another time when you’re better able to cope. Tell them, ‘This really isn’t a good time, could you give me five minutes’, or ‘Could we reschedule this?’ Often just putting yourself in control of the situation is enough to regain a little confidence.

Sometimes you can’t do this, and in this case focus on what is being said and ask yourself, or them, what achievable things you can do to improve.

6. Dress for confidence. The old adage about dressing the part works. In an office environment, managers wear suits, all neatly pressed, matching colours, the works. As an artist, you have to feel comfortable when you paint. If you’re feeling down, put on a bright coloured shirt, wear your favourite piece of jewellery, for girls, put on some makeup or a splash of perfume. It’s not about impressing other people, it’s about making yourself feel good, and therefore changing how you present yourself to the world.

7. Practice Gratitude. Try to focus on at least one good thing about your life. Write a list on a good day. Start it with something like, ‘As an artist I am grateful…’

Things might include

· Having access to a really cool art shop

· Knowing other talented artists

· Being able to get loads of useful artistic advice through forums

· Knowing that you can paint when you’re feeling better

Confidence can be learnt, it just takes time, and practice. There are loads of tips and exercise online, have a look around, try a few things! It can't hurt too much!

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Do you really want to paint full time?

I wish I could paint full time! It would be awesome! I'd get up every morning energised, paint when and what I want, people would pay me loads of money for my skills, I'll be famous, I'll be recognised, people will love me, work will flow in...


And which planet are you on?

Certainly not mine!

The truth of the matter is, turning a hobby or a passion into a job, whether part time or full time is hard work. It doesn't happen magically. It takes talent, perseverance
and a smidgen of luck. So why do it at all?

Here are some benefits of NOT giving up the day job, and deciding to be a part time artist:
  1. You get a weekly pay cheque, AND some bonus cash on the side
  2. You don't have relatives asking when you're going to get a 'real job' (unless of course your other job is 'actor' or something else that doesn't rate on your parents' idea of 'job').
  3. Your 'hobby' begins paying for itself
  4. You can build up a portfolio/ career so that if something happens to your day job, you've got something to fall back on
  5. You can claim 'toys' as business expenses, just like a full time artist (just make sure you're following all the local tax laws!). This may include magazine subscriptions, education, online costs, some expenses such as electricity, phone, and fuel (if you work from home), as well as the ever important art supplies! Now if I could justify buying a Renaissance sword as a prop...
  6. Your art stays fun! You aren't doing it all the time, so it doesn't feel like 'work'
  7. You can pick and choose what you do. I've taken a break from commissions for a short period, I've also knocked back opportunities which I wouldn't have been able to do if I was relying on the money.
  8. You get to have two careers (I'm lucky, most days I love my day job. Being a part time artist is a bonus).

So is there a downside to having two careers?

You betcha!

  1. You have no time! At one stage, I was working 50-60 hours a week as a developer, coming home, and then putting in another three hours each night to finish commissions. Then the weekend came around (if I wasn't doing overtime), and I was painting all day. Not to mention needing to cook and clean and buy groceries!
  2. You have to learn to prioritise. I don't have kids, so I don't have that extra responsibility, but some days you have to really consider how much of a priority is the painting? What will it do to your reputation if you miss a deadline? Will your boss understand if you rock up to work with paint in your hair because you finished your painting at 2am this morning? Is it that important to enter the painting competition or should you really be shopping for your mother's birthday present.
  3. If you don't take care, your part time job begins to be a drag... You are doing this as a business, but you don't want it to feel like you are working 90 hrs a week and have no time left for anything else.
  4. You have to do commission work/ fill orders/ do business stuff on your weekend.
  5. You get the guilts (well I do!). I used to feel so guilty if there was an email that took me more than a day to answer. I'd go out and wouldn't enjoy myself if I knew I had a half finished commission on the easel. I took my work with me on holidays!
  6. You may need to clear it with your boss at the day job. I work for the government, so I have to fill in a form every single year stating that my business is not a conflict of interest.
  7. You have to go to work, even if your muse is calling. Do you know how much it bites when you're stuck in a 2 hour meeting with business, and you're thinking about that magical painting on your easel at home?
I'm sure the list could go on, but I'm prioritising, I want to go paint!

Part time Painter, yup that's me!

How do I start the new year? By starting a new blog of course! What do I hope to achieve with this blog? Inspiration, creativity, diversity, world peace... um, yeah. The truth? I want to be a testimonial (maybe more a mark on the page) that you can work full time, and still carry on artistic endeavours professionally, and with some modicum of success.

You see, I'm an artist. A part time artist. Some weeks a very, very part time painter. I'm also a software developer, working full time for a government agency (.NET for all you geeks out there). I've been straddling the two careers for several years now, sometimes successfully, other times not.

I chose to do things this way for several reasons:
  • I hate not knowing when my next payday will be
  • I don't like working at home by myself all the time (despite all the office politics, I need people around me)
  • I would get bored easily just painting (don't get me wrong, I love painting, but I need other types of brain stimulation - things I get from programming and project management)
  • I procrastinate (give me a deadline, a budget, people to boss around and I'll get things done, otherwise...)
  • I'm not as dedicated to art as I would need to be
  • I like having art as something I enjoy, not
So with this in mind, I intend on focusing on
  • productivity - balancing time, life and art
  • creativity - how you keep your 'muse' in check
  • being a microbusiness - will I have a life and keep my sanity?
  • being an online artist - galleries, products, marketing oh my!
  • reducing stress - yes, having multiple hats can be stressful!
  • reviews of books, products, websites, tips & tricks related to art and creativity
  • any other related tid bits
If you want to find out more about me and my art, please visit my website at