With a little help…

A key lesson from my year of research, ‘Grow Your Own Artist’, has been how important it is to talk to other people. I work from home, and I enjoy my own company, but I also need people to discuss ideas with. This is often how the ideas progress: articulating them to someone else helps me clarify my thoughts, and if I am not explaining something well, the person I’m talking to will ask me to make my meaning clear.

'No Laughing' artwork outside Spike Island, Bristol

It’s also a two-way thing, in that we suggest things to one another and this feeds into our creative work. When I was applying for Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP) funding, I realised that my sticking point was asking other people for help. I tend to feel that I have to be totally self-sufficient, and I spent weeks procrastinating about asking other artists and curators to be involved in my project. The ‘lightbulb moment’ for me was when everyone I asked was universally helpful and I got a heap of responses saying that, yes, they’d love to support me as part of my project. At this point, I knew that I was getting in my own way by not asking, “in case they say no.”


In the last twelve months, I have had lots of conversations with people and I have taken something away from each of these. My mentor, artist Philippa Lawrence, has been a huge support, meeting with me online each month to catch up with what I have been doing. I first met Philippa through work, and we had great conversations about art and ideas. A few years later, she offered artists a free 1-2-1 session at Spike Island Open Studios, and I had an enlightening half an hour with her. She is extremely good at asking the right questions and seeing through the gaps in your thinking, which is why I asked her to be part of ‘Grow Your Own Artist’. 


We kept our mentoring sessions quite light, discussing the things I had seen and done throughout each month, the exhibitions I’d been to, the talks I’d attended and things that Philippa had done too. It was incredibly useful to have someone to show work-in-progress to, and to discuss in depth the thinking behind what I was doing. 

From drawing on A4 paper, to going large on A1 size


In our last session of this 12-month project, I spoke to Philippa about the big drawings I have been doing recently and she told me that this is what I had said that I was struggling with when we first spoke, a year ago. In that first meeting, I talked about my drawings being very careful and tightly controlled, and how I felt frustrated by this, but couldn’t break out of that way of creating work. Through the course of our conversations, and the wider learning and experimentation I’ve done, I have grown in confidence and discovered ways to break free from the narrow parameters I had placed on myself. I have also rediscovered the joy in making things without worrying about the outcome too much. I even made a drawing on a large sheet of expensive paper that I’ve had stored away for a long time, beginning to draw with the thought that, if it didn’t work out, it didn’t matter!


I have been able to speak to curators as part of this period of work, and some of the advice I have received is about checking what kind of work different galleries show and finding a good fit for your own work before approaching people. We’ve also spoken about whether I should make a piece of work about the circus. My fear has been of making something too obvious, probably because I have seen a lot of dubious representations of circus life in various media over the years. The advice I was given was that I have control over what I make, and I am aware of the pitfalls, so it’s unlikely that this particular fear would be realised. I have started to make a mind-map of my circus experiences and we’ll see where it leads.

Aerial act at Circus Vegas, 2023

Conversations with other artists have led to discovering new work and research that I hadn’t come across before. There are often many points where our practices have some overlap, helping me to look at the themes I am working on with a fresh eye. As the DYCP project comes to an end, I am part of a group of artists having regular meetings to discuss a project we’re working on, with the theme of Humanity. I’ve also got artwork in upcoming exhibitions this summer and autumn, so I have something to work towards. I’ll continue to implement what I have learned in the last twelve months and remember to make sure that I am staying in contact with other artists and curators, to talk about ideas, for our mutual benefit. 


I’ll also try hard to remember two of the most valuable things I’ve learned; that it’s okay to ask people to help you and to use the expensive paper when you feel like it!