My artist day

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It seems as soon as I have a rhythm to my day, it changes!  When I first started painting again when my children were younger I found the day could so easily get swallowed up with the luxury (? I know! ) of doing domestic tasks in peace and quiet…

These days I try to be more disciplined about making time for what’s important to me.

School days start too early for me; the alarm goes off at 6:30am. After a good breakfast and the children have left for school I may have a browse on Instagram to see new posts from people I follow in the US. I know wise advice is not to get sucked into social media early in the day, but I find it inspiring and joyful to be connected with so many creative people all over the world. When I began painting again it felt quite isolating, working alone with no adult conversation, so discovering this amazing online connection really does make a huge difference to my life.

Ten years ago I was suffering from depression. I had stopped my career in graphic design when my son was born prematurely and I wanted to be at home with him and then my daughter. Despite good friends, I still felt like I had lost myself. Going back to life drawing classes was such a great way to get absorbed in a creative activity.

We live in London and most mornings begin with walking our dog; one morning we have a dog walker so I can have a longer working day and one morning is a pilates class I’ve been going to for 14 years. Being outside wakes me up; nature inspires but even walking down the same street I notice colours in brick work, or light coming through the slats of the underpass can be rather beautiful. Noticing all these ‘visual sparks’ is what I love about making art. I take far too many photos, and usually delete them, but they are somehow in my visual memory bank and I’m surprised at how they resurface in my work.

It’s usually around 11am when I go up to the studio; a room on the top floor of our house. Of course, a huge studio would be heaven, even a sink would be good, but having space at home means I can dip and out more easily, even with short patches of time. The space has evolved with basic furniture, I used to have a large sheet of plywood as a desk, but last Autumn that became flooring and I fitted a false wall with a series of nails so that I can position and move around larger panels. It works well and helps me visualise how paintings will look hanging together. I tend to work in series and one can often inform the other.

Before I begin I may spend time looking at work I did yesterday, or writing in my studio diary as I find this helps me identify what to work on. Putting ideas into words really helps me clarify what I’m trying to do next. Other times I may work in my collage sketchbook, but I’ve found this often goes in waves… idea generating and sketchbook work over the holidays or working to make the paintings during school term.

Usually I listen to the radio – I enjoy the sense of other people working ‘live’ alongside me – sometimes a music station and sometimes BBC talk Radio 4 with it’s mix of factual programmes or plays which take my mind into another place.

Depending on what time I began I may stop for lunch or just keep going. My painting day ends with a bump at 4pm when the children arrive home and it’s definitely time for a cup of tea. The usual round of homework, laundry and cooking follows although I’m often now also trying to do other art related tasks – scanning images, tweaking the website, copying images for a blog post.

This business side of marketing your own art is hugely time consuming, but I enjoy the learning side of it, although the tech can drive me crazy! Often my husband comes home to find me growling at some piece of software or other which isn’t doing quite what it should. I’d like to be able to switch out of work mode, but that seems hard to do at the moment.

When the children were younger there was a more clearly defined routine – and we had an evening… now I’m usually the first to bed. Either with a good novel, but these days just as often it’s a business book or artist biography. I’ve just finished reading Clear Seeing Place by Brian Rutenberg which is about his life as an artist, and is full of wise insights about facing your creative challenges.

Ultimately that’s what I love about making art. It forces you to confront things. No one can paint this painting but you. If you procrastinate the only loss is your own work, and probably no one else would care. But when you DO make it clear, and make creativity your priority, the joy of seeing completed paintings hanging and knowing you made them, is just wonderful. And when you see that transfer to other people – so much that they want to live with your work, it’s an honour – and a responsibility I think.

During holidays we often spend time in Dartmoor – a rugged area of national park in SW England. The landscape is wild, rocky and open and I find it exhilarating! What I think I’m trying to do in my work is mix this sense of space and changing weather with the busy impact of city life. In the run up to an event there will also be taking the work to the photographer, testing print samples, arranging framing, writing and printing labels. I also keep an eye out for submissions and forward plan for event deadlines. I think many people think I just mess round with paint, but it’s a whole life of thought and emotion which goes into making art but I see this as a ‘rest of my life’ job and I’m not in a hurry.

Alice Sheridan working in her London studio

This article was first published as guest post for CYL collective in March 2017

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