Having The Courage To Be Yourself

I've decided that I'm going to try to write when I feel inspired to do so, and as I've been feeling ill today with a migraine and I've been unable to do anything much apart from rest and sleep, I thought I'd use this moment where I'm feeling slightly better to do something useful with my day.

Intermission 7, 8, & 9. Acrylic on canvas. 16x16" / 40x40cm © Natasha Newton 2016. Available at Blue Tree Gallery in York, UK.

Intermission 7, 8, & 9. Acrylic on canvas. 16x16" / 40x40cm © Natasha Newton 2016. Available at Blue Tree Gallery in York, UK.

This is actually something that's been on my mind for a while and in a way it isn't art-related at all, but judging by the feedback I've received from several of my readers, you seem to appreciate the more personal posts, so I'll occasionally be writing about other subjects that are close to my heart.

Just to start so you know the incident that sparked this off - the other week I bought a bracelet from a company I hadn't heard of before called Dogeared. It's just a simple bracelet made from four strands of black silk with a little gold bead that you can use to adjust the bracelet to the size of your wrist. I love simple jewellery anyway, but I especially loved this as the accompanying description said something along the lines of making a wish as you put the bracelet on, and then every time you look at it you must remember that when you let your true colours shine, amazing things can happen.

Being someone who has struggled with feelings of low self-worth and self-esteem my whole life, and the doubts that come along with that, I thought that the meaning behind this bracelet was a nice concept. And weirdly, it helps! The other day I started to doubt myself in a social situation. It was nothing major, but I felt those uneasy feelings of self-consciousness coming back. I noticed I was wearing the bracelet, and that little reminder to "let my true colours shine" was all I needed to feel just a bit better. I immediately relaxed. It made me realise that sometimes just a little nudge in the right direction can be all we need, and that how we feel about ourselves really does come from within. Of course, it helps if you've had (or have) people in your life that cherish you, value your feelings and opinions, and tell you - or more importantly, show you - that you're worthy of being respected and loved.

I am lucky enough to have that, but still I fight daily with these feelings from within. I'm going to be very honest here and tell you that I wear make up every day. Some days just a little make up, some days more. But I wear it every single day. The reason for this isn't because I'm vain or that I love myself; in fact, it's quite the opposite. I feel so self conscious without make up that the thought of going out without it - or even answering the door without it - fills me with...well, 'fear' might be going a bit far, but something like it. I long to be one of those women who can get up, wash her face, and run out of the door. But something stops me. And that something is the fear that I'm just not good enough. But the only thing that's stopping me from being that woman is me. I'll tell you something else: despite being well past my teenage years and 20s, I still get spots. Over the past few weeks I've had more spots than when I actually was a teenager! This has made me even more self-conscious of my skin, which is crazy really, because I certainly don't judge other people in the way I judge myself. I don't care if someone else has a few spots, whether their skin is a little blotchy or not air-brushed to perfection. In fact, I like it. So why do I always feel this need to be 'perfect'? I'm searching for a perfection that doesn't exist anyway. This worry about my appearance extends to almost every part of my body. I long to feel comfortable in my own skin, and so all of this is a work-in-progress - I'm trying to deal with and get over these feelings. The reason I wanted to talk about it and be honest about it, is because I think that if there's someone else out there feeling like this, at least you'll know you're not alone and I know from personal experience that this fact really helps.

I find other people's quirks and imperfections endearing, and I think I - or we - need to extend this kindness to ourselves. Even people who you may think 'have it all'; a confident personality, good looks, a wonderful job, a loving partner etc., can still feel the way I do. We never know what's going on in someone's mind, so being kind at all times is very important. If you find someone with whom you can be yourself; the real, vulnerable, imperfect you, and yet they still love you - hold onto them and cherish them. And learn to love yourself in the same way they love you.

Being yourself - your true, authentic self - will draw the right people towards you. So fight those negative feelings, remember that even the most unlikely people can feel like this too, and "let your true colours shine". We may never be fully at ease with ourselves, but we can definitely keep trying to have the courage to be ourselves. Because you are worthy of great things and great love - and that really does start with valuing yourself.

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How I Make A Living Through My Art

A question I am often asked is: How do you make a living as an artist? I've answered this question several times in person and via email, but for a while now I've been thinking it would be a good subject to discuss on the blog.

© Natasha Newton 2016

© Natasha Newton 2016

I actually think many factors are important; such as being authentic, consistent, professional, and genuine, both in the work you create and as a person; being friendly with an ability to be sociable; being able to promote your work without being too pushy or annoying people, and also having confidence in your work and talent without becoming arrogant. All of these traits are important, and will also potentially influence how much success you have as an artist. But having said that, there are some grouchy, irascible, or even just incredibly introverted and shy artists out there who are able to have very successful careers! I am not going to talk in depth about personality traits today, but instead I will focus on the multiple income streams you can explore as an artist & illustrator to help ensure you're earning money consistently, and are able to support yourself and make a living through your art.

I'm certain there are many more ways to earn money as an artist than I will mention in this list, but as I'm writing from personal experience I will concentrate on the avenues I use and those that have worked for me...

1. Selling through galleries & exhibitions.

This is how I started my career as an artist. I was initially a fine art painter (illustration came later) and to get my work 'out there' into the world, I applied to exhibit in small, local art shows. These are a slightly less scary way to start exhibiting, and I learned a lot, gained in confidence, and made some lovely friends along the way. I then made the decision to enter my work into juried art exhibitions in London, where the work goes before a panel of judges and only a small percentage of the paintings make it through to the final exhibition - often around 10-15% at the time I was taking part in these. I was successful in getting my work selected on several occasions, and I not only sold work but I also won an art award (£500 worth of art materials - which, for a struggling young artist, is a lot!).

I then decided to approach some galleries locally in Suffolk, and to my delight a couple of them agreed to exhibit my work. As my art became more known and I became established as an artist, galleries started to approach me, and this is now the case with almost all of the galleries I currently exhibit with! It takes a while and a lot of hard work, but if you're professional and consistent you will find that the opportunities start to find you, rather than the other way around. Although these days I would still approach a gallery myself if I found somewhere I would love to exhibit - the worst they can say is no, and after a while and a certain level of success, you can cope with occasional rejection! Showing with galleries is wonderful for building your reputation and gaining a wider audience for your work, but you have to be aware of the gallery commission on each piece sold; usually between 30-50% of the selling price, but sometimes more. Another avenue is renting a space, either alone or with other artists, and staging your own exhibition. Usually there's a rental fee for the space, but if you sell any paintings you will get to keep the full amount they've sold for!

2. Selling privately & accepting commissions.

I'm often approached - either online or in person - by people wishing to buy paintings directly from me, rather than through a gallery. This is where a well-designed website and a good social media presence is essential. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have all been wonderful platforms for me, enabling me to gain and grow an audience for my work. Check out the links I've included to these sites to see how I use social media to inform and engage with my followers. I also accept many painting commissions each year, and often have a waiting list/backlog for commissioned pieces. These have become a much larger part of my annual income than I envisaged at the beginning of my career! If you feel you're able to take on commissions, I would recommend you do so. They're sometimes challenging, they will occasionally push you in directions you would otherwise not have explored (which for me is a good thing!), but they can be incredibly rewarding.

3. Selling through an online shop.

I've been selling on Etsy in one way or another since 2006 - my goodness, that's 10 years ago now! My current shop has been up and running since 2008, and I still get a thrill every time I see I've had another order, even 1,300+ sales later! I sell many items including affordable art prints, painted stone collections, unframed watercolour paintings on paper, illustrated greetings cards, and large canvas paintings. Etsy has become a large part of my annual income and my most expensive sale on there was around £900. I've sold several large paintings on Etsy and that was something I really didn't expect! I thought it would be a great place to sell smaller pieces, and only added some larger pieces because I thought it would be a good showcase for my work - again reaching a different, wider audience. It just goes to show that you never know what will sell or where it will sell...and you never know until you try!

Another interesting fact about Etsy is that it's where several galleries, shops, art directors, publishers, and magazines have discovered my work - another thing I wasn't expecting!

4. Commercial illustration commissions.

I didn't set out to be an illustrator. I considered myself a painter, and I imagined that I'd try to make a living by selling my paintings. However, as I became a little more known and after I started sharing my work online, companies, art directors, and publishers started to approach me with a view to using my work to illustrate magazine articles, book covers, product labels, and so on. At first I was very nervous and unsure of myself - commercial illustration isn't easy and requires a totally different mindset to creating fine art. There are tight deadlines, strict briefs, often a lot of stress, and a lot of back and forth between you and the client. You are essentially employed by them for however long it takes to complete the project, and you have to deliver the goods on time. It's not for everyone, but as I have grown in confidence I actually really enjoy these jobs - they can sometimes be very lucrative too!

5. Licensing your work.

One essential thing I've learned is that you should make the work you've already made work hard for you. By that I mean; if you license your images to companies or publishers (this can include book covers, greetings cards, prints and posters, or magazine articles, to name just a few), you will receive a fee for work you've already made. This is why it's important to make sure you have great digital copies of any work you create. This can mean photographing or scanning it - anything that gives you a high resolution digital image for reproduction purposes. When you license your work, you can receive a one-off fee for the use of the image, or a percentage of any future sales. In other words: royalty payments. Believe me, royalty payments are a fantastic bonus to your income!

6. Wholesale orders.

Another avenue I've recently explored is selling my work at wholesale prices to shops and galleries, both in the UK and overseas. At the moment, I just offer the art prints (and sometimes the painted stones) in this way, but wholesale orders have meant that my work is stocked in many more venues than before. The great thing about selling your work wholesale is that you receive payment up-front for the goods, unlike sale or return where you are waiting for the pieces to sell before you receive payment.

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I think I've managed to cover all of my different streams of income! One thing I've found is that the more irons you have in the fire, the more you stand a good chance of making a regular income. Also, for example, if gallery sales go through a quiet period, I find that I still have income through my online shop, royalty payments, or commissions etc. I really hope that this article has helped some of you - if you've found it valuable in any way and feel like sharing it via social media or giving it a little bit of love (press the small heart at the bottom!), please do so as it all helps! Thank you.

How Art Saved Me

I've been thinking about writing this post for the past week. In the spirit of trying not to do the annoying thing I seem to keep doing recently - namely, thinking about writing but not doing it - I'm going to just start writing this morning and we'll see where it takes us.

In a similar way to many other people, I've been through quite a lot during my time on this planet. We won't go into detail about all the incidents or situations I've dealt with because I'm really not into dwelling upon negative experiences these days, but through the ups and downs, the happiness and the sadness (and sometimes the utter despair), there has been one constant in my life: Art.

I was thinking about this the other day, and it occurred to me just how lucky I am to have art in my life. Through a lot of hard work and perseverance over many years, I managed to turn a passion into a career. But art is so much more to me than just a way of making a living; it's a way of living. It filters into everything I do, and governs the way I think about things and the way I approach life. The title of this blog post seems quite dramatic, so how exactly did art save me? Shall we start big and work backwards to small? I think we should.

Intermission 2 © Natasha Newton

Intermission 2 © Natasha Newton

Many of you will remember that two years ago I lost the man I loved; the amazing man I was planning my future with. Suddenly, when he died, not only did I lose someone who had been so influential in my life and who loved me (and all my flaws and quirks) wholeheartedly, but I lost our future together. Everything we had planned to do was just gone. I was heartbroken - and now, I literally understand the meaning of 'heartbroken'. To say this was destabilizing is a huge understatement. The rug had been pulled from underneath me, and I felt a horrible, stomach-churning sense of "anything can happen". That feeling exists to this day, and I'm not sure if it will ever go away after living through that experience. You know how sometimes you imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen in your life, and it scares you, but there's always a part of you that thinks, "It's ok, that's not going to happen", or at the very least, "It's unlikely to happen", and you put it to the back of your mind, along with all of the other upsetting scenarios you don't want to think about? Well, my nightmare scenario came true. The worst thing I could possibly imagine actually happened, and when it does it changes your perspective forever.

When I lost Leon, I was in a bad way. Everyone thought I was coping very well, but they weren't in my head, and there's no way they could possibly know the loss and despair I felt each and every day. When something like that happens to you, there are two ways of dealing with it; either you give in to the grief and hide yourself away, feeling as though your life has ended too, or you can throw yourself into something as a distraction, in the process managing to give your days some focus and purpose. I honestly think - no, I know - that had I chosen the first option, I would possibly not be here today. Along with wonderful friends and loved ones, art saved me. And bizarrely art probably played a larger part in saving me than anything because, if I choose it, art is always there for me. People, for many and varied reasons, can't always be there for you when you need them the most. And this is not to denigrate the help and support I received - please don't take it that way. It's just that the importance of having something you can choose to focus on, and put all of your effort into, something that gives you a sense of purpose and satisfaction, and helps you to forget (or at least not entirely focus on) your sadness for a while, shouldn't be underestimated.

The more effort I put into my art in those dark weeks and months after Leon died, the more I received in return. Probably because of my prolific output, my career reached new heights, and in doing so I felt I was honouring Leon's memory in the most fitting way. He was such an incredible supporter of my art and he had such faith in me that it gave me a sense of comfort knowing he'd be happy about how things were going, and hopefully proud of how I was coping. Amazing opportunities came my way because of the focus I gave my work (some of which I haven't even been able to talk about because I had to sign a NDA or I'm under contract), and I met new people who have become lovely friends. So I can't emphasise enough the importance of actually doing something, even when you're in a very dark place in your life. The act of doing and absorbing yourself in something is essential, even when you don't feel like it, because it will bring you back into the light.

To finish, because I am aware that this is becoming very long, I've also realised over the past few weeks just how much art has shaped the life I have now. Some of the best friends I have (and certainly the people who are most 'on my wavelength') are people I've met through my art, whether they were buyers of my work initially, other artists I've exhibited with or met through galleries, or artists and art lovers I've met online. Two of the most important relationships in my life started through my art.

I used to suffer terribly from shyness, anxiety, and a lack of confidence. Art changed all of that, and maybe that's an idea for another blog post. If I hadn't followed my love and passion for art, my life would be very different to the life I have today. This is the life that art built. Art saved me, and that's a lesson I won't ever forget.

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What Is Wrong With Me?

That's a strange title for a blog, I know! I couldn't think of what to call this one because, well, let's just get straight to it; I haven't written a blog post since...March. I know! Five months. I'm not sure why I feel so ashamed about that, because it's totally up to me whether I decide to keep a blog/update the blog or not, but I'm sorry for being so quiet on here. I guess I should explain a little about exactly why I've been absent for the past five months. But firstly, how is it possible that it's August already?! It seems like just a couple of months ago it was early Spring.

The Studio, Suffolk. June 2016

The Studio, Suffolk. June 2016

Back in March I became very busy; I was somewhat overwhelmed with online orders through my shop (which is always good - I'll never complain about that!) whilst also trying to finish commissions and create work for an upcoming show, so blogging fell by the wayside. By the time the end of April rolled around I felt completely exhausted, and so I decided to take a step back from work for a couple of months. I was still painting a little, but certainly not at the pace I was before. I've also been working on a couple of things over the past few months that I haven't been able to mention publicly yet. All of this coincided with some big life changes for me which I may write about (or at least mention!) another time. I found that the longer I went without writing, the harder it became to start writing again, and so today I just decided to bite the bullet and write a chatty blog to ease myself into swing of blogging again! Because I've realised something: I miss it. I miss sharing my new work on here and writing about things that inspire me. I also have several ideas for future blogs about what it's like to be self-employed (the joys and the pitfalls), running a creative business, making money from your art, and so on.

I'd also really like to be able to share my life/travel adventures, and little bits of this new life I am embarking on. So I'm not 100% sure why I've been avoiding blogging for so long - it seems strange given that I enjoy it so much! I think that, like many things, there were a variety of reasons. But I hope...no, I want...to be able to make the time for this because I think it's important, and I hope you'll enjoy it too. You can always write to me via the contact page or send a tweet on Twitter if there is anything in particular you'd like me to write about. I'd love to hear from you!

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Be Brave, Not Perfect

This week I've been thinking a lot about confidence, self-worth, self-esteem, and bravery. I don't want to go into detail here regarding exactly why I was thinking about this, because it's very personal and not necessarily art-related, but let's just say that I've been on a journey during the past 18 months where I've learned a lot more about myself - and other people - than I ever expected. I'm facing up to certain feelings that stem from things that have happened in my past, and I'm questioning these and trying to find a way forward to a time and place where I can be free of them.

At school, my teachers would often describe me as "conscientious" and "a perfectionist". Perfectionism is a trait that has been ingrained in me my whole life. I used to think of it as a positive trait, something to be proud of, but I now see it differently. It's actually horribly restrictive; it stops me from fully enjoying or celebrating certain situations or outcomes (because no matter what, I always feel I "could have done better"), it makes me judge myself harshly, it constantly makes me feel "less than". I never feel quite good enough - as a woman, an artist, a person, whatever. And it's stifling; it stops me from doing certain things, going outside of my comfort zone or trying something new, because I always want to be exceptionally good or accomplished the moment I start. If I'm not, I feel like a failure, get frustrated, and want to give up. Do you see how stupid that way of thinking is? Anyway, two things happened this week. The first was when I unexpectedly found an old email from Leon. What he'd written in this email, to me and about me (and our relationship) changed my way of thinking totally. This was truly a God-send (or a Leon-send) and I could write a whole blog post about this alone. Secondly, I was listening to some TED talks while painting, when this one was suggested to me. I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Boldness, Peace, Bravery. Acrylic on canvas. 12x12" / 30x30cm © Natasha Newton 2016

Boldness, Peace, Bravery. Acrylic on canvas. 12x12" / 30x30cm © Natasha Newton 2016

If you listen to the talk, you'll understand where I'm coming from. If you don't, maybe you'll still understand anyway. I no longer want to be perfect. I will strive to be good, or brilliant even, but I will no longer attempt to chase after perfection. There is beauty and freedom (and possibly more happiness) in imperfection.

What I'm interested in is being brave, in both my work and my life. And finding the sense of peace that comes from this freedom. The painting above is my latest piece, Boldness, Peace, Bravery. A friend I've recently been meeting up with suggested that alongside the paintings I'm currently working on, I have a "little bit on the side". By this, he meant a small canvas where I can try new ideas or colour palettes with total freedom, and without feeling in any way restricted. So I did. I now have some little "bits on the side" in progress, where I'm gradually becoming braver in my colour choices and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. This feather painting was one of them. You may notice that the colours are fresher and brighter than my usual palette. I've gradually been moving in this direction anyway, but I hope that the "bits on the side" will speed this process along, and my work will evolve in the way I'd like it to - and match the feeling I have inside and the images in my mind.

Inspired by this small one, and feeling emboldened, I'm now working on a huge feather painting (30x30" / 76x76cm). Watch this space!

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