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If there’s one thing in modern art making which drives me crazy, it’s the notion that artists should keep to a fixed colour palette in order to be recognisable or consistent. Historically the colours in paintings may have been limited by available pigments, or relative cost but these days we have so much available and exploring colour within art is one of the joys of painting for me.

Of course we all have colours we are naturally attracted to (or vice versa) and I am always drawn to those soft and deep murky blues but the thing with colour is that it’s always about the combination… what it sits next to, the pairings and harmony you can create. Sometimes how a bit of discord can make a painting sing in unexpected ways.

So, as I continue with this series of work one of the things I want to do is to see how I can shake up my natural habit by introducing new colour. This creates a different problem for me to confront. But each painting is a solution to a unique situation so this is one of the ways I like to shake things up.

In this video you can see my thoughts in the studio. If you want to try this for yourself I suggest you choose one area of the colour wheel to keep vibrant. Here I’m using a cadmium red mixed with a cool yellow (hansa or lemon yellow) to make this bright light red. Adding white makes it more coral. I’m avoiding using magenta in this palette.

Let me know in the comments below if you have a colour palette you like to stick with.

If you would like to see how these paintings continue to change you can follow me on Instagram here: @alicesheridanstudio

Or join my mailing list:

Painting should be an enjoyable process. It IS an enjoyable process – overall! But every stage also bring its doubts.

Beginning a new series is full of potential; new ideas waiting to be discovered. I find colour often leads the way, endlessly surprising combinations are one of the joys and key reasons I paint and I feel these will contain brighter flashes so using unexpected colours is often what this stage is about… something to jolt me out of the boredom of the familiar. I don’t pre-mix colour so the variations layer and grow and bring a complexity to the finished paintings.

Every time I want to further develop the way I use paint. It’s like a living thing which needs nurturing and also encouraging and I love that I still need to learn how to mould it to do what I want. Each series is a bit like setting out on a new journey without a map. You may have a compass; something to give direction, but you’re not yet sure where you are heading.

Of course, usually this stage comes after you’ve completed a group of work. One of my criteria for feeling a painting is finished is that it has something magical about it and has reached a point so that even I don’t fully know how it was created. So I suppose it’s inevitable that starting fresh reminds me that I’m always just exploring.

These paintings will continue to explore feelings of freedom and space, hopefully with a freshness that spring brings and you can see more of the starting stages in the video below.

At the other end of the scale, I’m busy finishing framing and photographing the recently completed “Wild Swimming” series which I began during the summer mid-lockdowns. These paintings will be coming first to my mailing list in April and include large and small paintings. Last time the small ones all sold within 24 hours so do add your name if you’d like to be included.

3 months ago, in September 2019, I moved into my dream studio. It’s 550sq ft with big windows and white walls. I’ve been painting at home for almost a decade so this feels rather miraculous.

I’ve looked a few times before for studio space, but it’s always been too expensive, impossible to travel to, miserable as hell, or no larger than my 10×10 ft spare bedroom so not worth the added cost. Instead I’ve made what I have work for me and my space at home developed alongside me, starting with clearing anything which didn’t belong there. At first I had a desk from plywood propped on cupboards and then, when I wanted more space, I cut that to become a trolley and created a painting wall so I had space to move around.

(I’ve never liked easels – allowing myself to get rid of my easel was a big sigh of relief, even though it’s what ‘proper’ artists use. Or so I thought!)

But as I wanted to work larger I could only work on one painting at a time, and with sloping ceilings they ended up propped everywhere with nowhere to dry. And this time was different. Here are a few things I’ve learnt so far:

Things happen at the right time

I’m actually glad I didn’t find anywhere suitable before. When my children were a bit younger I needed to be at home and working there allowed me to grab extra moments in the evenings or continue while they were doing homework. Now, I need better time discipline and a real structure to my week to get to the studio. I’ve been working long enough now to have this, and to allow for flexibility, but if I had an external studio a few years ago I know it would have felt waste. Which brings me to….

Money thoughts

Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a big cost. I’m in London, so this is pretty big. The studio in a location with other creatives – you know, people running proper businesses. Exporting things, seamstresses with retail display shops elsewhere, vans making deliveries….

This could be a big cause of Imposter Syndrome but it’s encouraged me to raise my game. As my Dad said “are you selling enough to make this worthwhile?” (thanks!). So, what do I need to do to make that happen? I’ve applied for bigger art fairs this year and will be showing at Manchester Art Fair in October for the first time and Contemporary Art Fairs Surrey in March 2020 again.

I am also developing plans for some exciting workshops – some ideas which have been brewing for a while, but I’ve never had the room before.

Any problems? For the first 2 months I panicked each time the rent bill arrived. Plus all the moving in costs I had invested! Now, I try to think I will only be moving on when it’s time for something bigger still! This is what I need to grow, I ask others to invest in me by choosing my work, it’s only right that I do the same.

Practical considerations

When a sink is a total luxury!

It took me a full month to move in. Walls and storage needed building and there were multiple trips to IKEA. This is all on top of the rent and I blew my moving-in budget, but it felt OK because I’ve been working long enough now to know what I need:

  • I have hidden vertical storage for panels, packing and finished work because I know I like to have this out of sight. It’s my attempt at being tidy 🙂 or rather – I know having a place to hide the mess is an essential luxury.
  • I have removeable hardboard covering the working area of the concrete floor. Underneath it is foam underlay – to help my knees while standing for long periods and for insulation. I will paint this, and it’s an easy re-fresh.
  • I’ve only moved in what I need, because the whole purpose is to grow, but I have a long desk for clean work or smaller pieces.
  • A moveable trolley with castors is essential for all my painting bits. We made this ourself with fence posts for the legs, wooden battens with metal L-brackets to support the surfaces which are just plywood.

Any problems? It’s unheated so I’m now the proud owner of a padded boiler suit (not sexy) and I need a thermal mug to keep my tea warm. The dog doesn’t like it because it’s too echoey. No internet means less live-streaming, which I enjoy. Instead I’m trying to record short snippets as I go to upload later (but see echoey above!) The travel time can be unreliable and is time wasted and I’m still working that part out…

This has changed already. Also 50cm feels tiny in here!

And what about the actual work?

The first thing I noticed was that when I could see it all together, it felt busy and a bit heavy. I know people tend to buy works in isolation, but it’s important too that it feels coherent and makes a clear display, wherever it’s to be shown.

Previously it was only possible to see a lot of paintings once they were displayed at art fairs (it’s one of the great benefits of doing them). Seeing it as a group like this has allowed me to understand what impact I want it to have, spot patterns and identify how I want it to develop.

I’m embracing a messier, more fluid approach with liquid paint. Previously there was simply not room for this, or the drying time required with more than one painting in progress.

Any problems? With so many pieces on the go (38 at last count!) I’m finding it’s too tempting to just sit and look at the big ones, or flip between them. On Friday when it took me forever to get there, I was on a rush and tried this which worked really well:

STUDIO TIP: Set a timer on your phone for 10mins. You have this long and no more to get set up and review what you did last time and choose a painting to work on. Re-set it for 20mins and work on that painting without stopping. I found that when the timer went off I was disappointed and keen to keep going but a short pause stopped my moves getting tired and gave me a short time into more considered thinking.

This is a pattern of work I recognise, the flipping between intuitive action and more considered thinking, but I’ve never done it quite like this before, actually using a timer. I enjoyed it!

The space is so big that ‘normal’ size paintings can seem inadequate. But most of us don’t live in huge modern loft conversions or barns…! Do I want my work in large corporate spaces? Maybe. But I love what original paintings bring to a home, so I will still be working at a human scale..

20cm paintings coming soon – join my mailing list for first access

If you are an artist I hope this has inspired you and reassured you. Maybe given you some ideas for your own space or set intentions for your dream studio. Dream, and it just might happen….

We all want to make better paintings, get absorbed in the process of creating art and then stand back and discover a masterpiece. Often it doesn’t work quite like that! We can get swamped in the middle stages and easily lose our way, or even motivation to continue.

If you recognise that frustration, I hope these ideas will help.

1. Don’t stop through fear – trust that you have the knowledge to make it better

There is often a moment when you are quite pleased with what you have done so far. Personally I’m quite drawn to slightly unfinished looking works – the sense of potential and more to come really resonates with me. I don’t mind if the canvas isn’t fully covered. I don’t want to know it all; if I wanted all the detail I could take a photograph. I want to leave something for the viewer’s imagination.

However we all know that fear of spoiling what you have created so far. When you are working on bigger paintings this can get harder – perhaps you already have a lot of time and/or energy invested within them and it can be hard to move forward and ‘spoil’ what you have already created.

‘Cloud Shift’ in progress on the studio wall

This is a large painting on canvas I had been working on over a few months. It’s been quite a play piece. At this point I liked it; I liked the mood, the looseness of some of the marks, but it felt predictable and a bit gloomy. Stopping here would have been so frustrating, because I knew this painting could be better.

I knew I needed to do more, but the fear of messing it up was so overwhelming it almost stopped me. If I had listened to my inner fear voice I would never have completed this painting.

 

2. Get clear on what you are working on

When you’re caught up in the flow of creating something you are usually so involved in what you are doing that you don’t stop to assess it. You work almost instinctively. Your experience leads you where to go what next, what to try. If you asked me how or why certain marks or colours are there I couldn’t tell you why – they just felt right and arrived. This process comes with experience and practice. It can be tiring. Heck, it can be exhausting, but usually it’s only once you come to a stop that you realise you’ve been working quite a lot out.

But at some point there is a natural break in flow. Particularly if you are tired it can be difficult to recognise this and because we are in some sort of rhythm we keep going. Often this is when I muck it up so I have learnt that when I stop there is often a reason.

It’s hard to be objective about your own work. The very fact that you have invested your time and energy into it means you are emotionally connected to it and this can make it very hard to assess what you have achieved and what should come next.

I liked the marks I had created here as part of a loose play stage, but the composition as a whole wasn’t yet working. It was so hard to do the next stage! The more experimental and uncontrolled means a higher chance it can all go wrong.In the example above I was stuck because I wasn’t sure what the next development should be – the hesitation got me.

Having a set of principles really helps in these moments. Not rules, but guidelines you can use to ‘see’ your own work and know what will take forwards.

After a short time away I could remove myself from the parts I liked and start to see what the painting needed overall. For me it was all too messy so I needed some structure. I liked the yellow ochre but it was too dark and I wanted to really let those linear marks show off – which meant bringing in some areas of clarity. This is how I finalised the painting.

3. If you’re not sure what needs doing next, do anything!

Don’t fuss around the edges, tweaking at small changes. Do something bold!

I was loving the soft greys here with flashes of bright coming through, but it all felt a little…bland? pointless? I knew it needed something radical – a dynamic shift which would bring fresh life.

I find a painting goes through this stage many times, but adding this bold fresh cobalt suddenly gave this painting new direction. Yes, it shook things up a bit, but that’s what I’m looking for. And now I know how to handle this stage I find it exhilarating.

Middle stages of a painting, Alice Sheridan

pink painting in progress

 

Adding this blue surprised me and gave the painting a new lease of life. Without this it would all be simply too soft. Working like this takes guts, but is so rewarding. (see the final painting here) 

4. Check in with your personal ‘bigger picture’

Take a moment to ask yourself what you are exploring within this painting. There should be a deeper level of enquiry… something you are looking to test and learn. That can be as simple as how to portray the light hitting a glass vase or creating a certain emotion within an abstract.

I find it really valuable to re-connect with this big idea in the middle stages. Often as I start painting, I have no idea or plan and this arrives during the process of working on each individual painting. It helps to articulate it, whether in a notebook or just taking time to clarify your interests on that painting.

 

If you are an artist, these are just 4 of my ideas which I hope might help you in your own art practice. Having some kind of guidance system can really make a difference. Over the last few years my own painting has really developed as a result of a program I took back in 2016 with Nicholas Wilton. This gave me, not rules, but a group of guiding principles which will help you to define your own personal intentions – and give you a way to make quick and reliable progress in your work.

I’d like to introduce you to three more powerful principles which will transform your art.

Nick is now launching his 2020 free workshop and if you’ve ever struggled with feeling stuck with your painting I highly recommend signing up. It costs you nothing and it might just transform your work…

The free lessons begin on February 14th 2020, you can  join up on this page, and you will also have access to a private community where I will be hanging out, answering questions and helping to accelerate your learning with my Art Juice co-host Louise Fletcher.

PS: If you have already registered for the workshop, you can still join us in the Facebook group by signing up again using my link.

SIGN UP NOW

(Note: I am a proud affiliate for Nick – if you click on the link, I will be credited for having referred him to you. Should you decide to join the CVP program in the future, I would be compensated. But I get nothing for referring you to the free program – I just think you would really benefit and I want to share it with you).

Here is the finished version of ‘Cloud Shift’. The principles Nick teaches don’t only apply to abstract work, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel throughout the progress of every painting. Towards the end you can use this understanding to strengthen every painting you make.

Adding the brighter sweeps of blue (colour harmony and saturation contrasts) and a flash of turquoise lifts the land from the deeper muted tones. And that sky has carefully adjusted areas of lights and darks and uses a wide variety of marks so it has its own interest. I hope you’ll join me and see how you can apply these principles to your own creative work.

>> Join the free workshop here <<

 

Facing a large white panel or canvas can be daunting, but once I get started I actually love this first stage of painting. With nothing established, there is nothing to lose and no risk. 

Usually I begin by making marks with black – it’s too strong and too harsh but the strong contrast immediately gives me something to react to and to knock back. This time I am looking for a different approach. 

I’d like these paintings to be a bit gentler and less busy and really enjoy the movement of paint and not be so concerned with the structure. In the video you can see me starting 3 large panels. First I subdues the white with a soft grey. I’m not bothered at this stage by getting the exact shade or colour temperature correct. In that sense, it’s still about building the tonal layers, but starting with versions of a colour I may hope to keep throughout the painting. 

Still no plan!

The danger here is that I find something I like quickly like and it feels restrictive to move away from it. As soon as you create something you enjoy there is a risk of loss – if you see it that way. 

I enjoyed this approach so much that I came away thinking “I love this stage” and then quickly: “so why can’t I always paint like this?”

Have I been too concerned to make ‘corrections’? So my intention is to continue to paint with this feeling in mind. 

I hope (!) these paintings will be ready to show at Surrey Contemporary Art Fair in March. If you’d like free tickets to see them in person, or to see the final results then I’d love you to sign up to my mailing list

 

This time of year always sparks a desire to freshen things up a little; often accompanied by a need to declutter and tidy my home and art studio. This year I’ve been accompanied by the #sparkjoy approach to decluttering of Marie Kondo who has been all over Netflix with a new series. 

How is this relevant for art? When I tidy my studio, I’m creating space to work clearly, and find what I need NOW to make the art I aspire to. If this is important to me then it’s also important to create work space which feels energised and inspiring.

Creative spaces can be messy – and at times should be! But I know many artists who have this seasonal refresh  so I wondered if the Marie Kondo approach would help me tidy…

How to kon mari your art studio

Everyone has a different tolerance level, especially in a creative space. You may be happy in your creative, inspirational pig-sty, but sometimes it’s annoying to stand on a tube of paint and squirt it across the floor, or spend ages looking for the staple gun and have to go and buy another one. 

I’m not naturally tidy or at all minimalist, but I am conscious about what comes into my home; careful about adding clothes, going through papers as they come in. I feel calmer when at least parts of my home are ordered. Clearing the decks domestically gives me a calm path so I can go and focus on making art without that hangover feeling. 

The studio however can easily disintegrate into a muddle. There has been so much discussion about whether the Kon Mari method aka “the life changing magic of tidying up” works, so I thought I would draw some comparisons as I tidied my creative space.

 

KonMari step 1: start with the vision

Tidying isn’t about tidying. It’s about having the life you want; not wasting time looking through clutter for what you need or getting grumpy as you trip over more shoes. 

There is a mistaken idea that Marie Kondo’s approach is about minimising or limiting. In fact it’s about your vision of the person you are becoming.

My version: I agree!

The options in art are endless and extensive. That’s partly why we collect so much stuff – for inspiration, for future projects; just in case.

Being an artist isn’t about doing it ALL, it’s about making choices. Is that hard? Of course it can be. But this is good practice! If you can make decisions about the objects you are keeping then decisions which help progress your art work will follow on more easily.

I recommend creating a mood board for your art. You can find how to do this here. I also spend time setting some intentions for my upcoming work. The main question I ask is “What am I interested in bringing to my artwork this time?”

Art quote

Think about the artists you admire. Can you visualise the kind of artist you want to become? What kind of projects will stretch you and excite you? How would your space have to change to accommodate this? Write these down until you have a sense of what you would like to move towards. Keeping your ideas forward looking rather than backward looking is a key realisation that has helped me. 

Use the pinboard or a notebook or whatever works for you. Knowing why you need some clear creative space – and what you intend to create within it will help. 

 

KonMari step 2: move through the categories in order

In the Kon Mari method you don’t tidy by location, but work through your possessions in a particular order; clothes, books, paper, ‘Komono’ (miscellaneous & huge! bathroom, kitchen, garage, hobbies) and sentimental. 

I go through my studio usually twice a year. Many things in there cross all these categories: art clothes, books, paper and certainly when I first did it, a lot of what I was sorting would come under sentimental. The space had just evolved from a study and storage area. In that sense it’s been a long process, but that’s OK. Things have changed a LOT over that time so be forgiving of yourself. 

To do the whole method they say to allow 6 months. That’s a big task, especially when we really want to be creating, not tidying! If you find it difficult to sort then using the system may help, but otherwise….

tidy art desk for making collage

flat surfaces are my clutter magnet… tidying these first always helps!

My version: start with what will make the most difference

You may want to begin with another small area within your home. I find that our art-related spaces often have strong emotional ties. That’s kind of obvious – they need to. There is a reason Marie Kondo leaves sentimental objects until last – it can be much harder to see things objectively. Starting with something you are less attached to is like training your de-clutter muscle and will ease you in gently. 

Think of ONE place you know you could improve in a short space of time. Start there; it will  motivate you to keep going.

 

KonMari step 3: gather everything together!

You are supposed to gather all the items in that category in one place. I can’t imagine anything worse and this seems a lot of work.

It feels like a LOT of moving things around needlessly. To have everything heaped together must be kind of overwhelming. I think it would make me feel exhausted before I even began and turn to chocolate eclairs instead.

If you haven’t done anything like this before then I can sort of understand. After all it’s a kind of shock tactic; “I have HOW MUCH stuff?!” But doing this on your own, unless you have a good amount of time, there is a danger that you begin, and then grind to a halt as it takes longer than you anticipate. Plus, in a studio space it ties you up and stops you doing any work! Which kind of defeats the purpose.

My version: start with what is most important  – or least

If our focus is on just our creative space, it’s OK to leave the most sentimental objects until later. Instead look at areas of your studio you use most – and least. 

What do I mean by that? 

What we use most is part of our current practice. Disordered is usually an understatement once I get into the flow of painting; messy rags build up, cleaned brushes get randomly brought back in to play, pastels end up scattered on the floor, strips of tape hang from the walls, mixing bowls stack up with dried layers of colour. 

If you can make an improvement here it will help your work flow hugely. 

storage tips for art studio

I use an old wooden drawer liner box to keep scrapers and tape as a pull-out tray near to my painting station.

 

 

 

What do you use least? 

The chances are these items are part of a “someday/maybe project” or you are keeping things because you have spent time or money on them.  We can have a desire to keep everything as it’s all been part of our art journey. At one point I had huge piles of large A1 drawings from life class. They represented hours of learning and some of them were pretty beautiful. It was difficult and some might say a waste to let them go, but that’s not the direction I wanted to move forward with my work. I had done the learning. It felt great to let these go (see step 4) and reclaim the space.

What bothers you the most about your creative space?
Is there one thing you know you would like to improve?
Do you need storage for raw materials?
What do you trip over? Is there a stack of boxes in the corner you don’t even know what’s inside?
Which one thing, if it’s done today, will bring a big improvement?

Maybe it’s a task-based thing. I recently realised that when I need to wrap a parcel I have to collect items from 3 different rooms. Stupid and not necessary. I haven’t yet worked out how to persuade my husband to keep the giant roll of brown paper in the dining room, but it’s on my radar and I can now easily gather all the other items I need for that task together and make my life just a bit easier.

In part the method is about awareness. Life changes and shifts all the time – this is a way to re-asses and re-set what’s important for you. 

Don’t have all day? Make it easy on yourself and do just one shelf or cupboard at a time. This is manageable in short time blocks and unless you really have things in the wrong place it makes sense. You could even do this for 10 minutes at the start of each studio session as a way of re-acquainting yourself.  I do like to take everything out from that one place, sort what I need to keep, clean the shelf or cupboard and then replace.

Once you’ve done this you have fewer items which you can actually see and it encourages you to continue. If you need to move and re-arrange later, it’s easier to do because you know what items you are dealing with.

The aim isn’t to get rid of everything. My aim is to have a home which feels personal, works for us as a family, is welcoming and comfortable with things we enjoy and need. I like to have books and objects (and art of course) arranged, including strange nerdy Go-Gos (playground craze from 10 years ago) yelling up at a model of the Eiffel tower in my bathroom.

Is this practical? Not particularly, but it does make me smile – it’s a memory of a family trip to Paris and reminds me each morning the children won’t be small forever. (Note: they’re not small now – the big one is 17!)

The same is true in my studio. If I gathered everything it would be daunting and delay actually doing the creative work. I don’t want tidying to become a means of procrastination. Shelf by shelf it’s easy to look at what you have and if you still need it. Which brings me to: 

 

KonMari step 4: Sort first; keep what “sparks joy” and let things go

There is no point in organising your stuff, buying containers, moving things around if it’s no longer relevant. Marie’s advice is to hold each item and feel if it “sparks joy”.

This can be pretty hard to judge. After all, many things are purely practical rather than filling you with a well of emotion. She also advises you to thank each item as a way of moving forward. 

My version: respect

Maybe it’s personal, but the spark joy phrase seems a bit twee to me and I think it puts a lot of people off. Creative spaces are busy, messy places; just as they should be, and often need to be. Not everything is beautiful. But, I agree that we need to feel inspired within our space.

A few years ago my studio could become the dumping ground. It’s on the top floor with the only access to attic/eaves storage, and boxes sometimes got left “in transit”. I don’t often clean up there, but the dust and general dirt gathers and when it gets too much the space can feel neglected and sad.

I think of this part as showing your creative zone some love and respect

If your art is important to you, or you would like it to be, then honour how you do things and what you keep there.

questions to help you tidy your art materials

Keep to hand only what you need for your current work practice.

  1. Throw away anything you clearly no longer need. Check any lids, caps, dried up paints. No point keeping those! Rubbish, tatty paper.
  2. Does it make your heart sing or sink? If you are only keeping it because you feel guilty (it was a gift or you spent money and never used it) then the idea of thanking it before you let it go is worth experimenting with.
  3. Do you need it? With art materials, if I don’t know what’s in a cupboard or box, that means it needs re-housing or placing somewhere else or probably I don’t even need itInstead of thinking about how to store all these material, think about what you need in order to create the art you want to make now.
  4. Will you use this? Either make it a priority or accept this is not for now.
  5. Check for duplicates; do you have more than you need of certain items? Would duplicate items be more convenient in another place?
  6. Do you love it? Some things we keep in our creative spaces because they do honour our journey or inspire us. They deserve to be recognised – more about this below. 
  7. Will I really miss this if it goes?

Letting go of items you no longer want to keep

If you find this tough, have a ‘maybe’ box and postpone the decision until later. Once you’ve made some headway and can see the benefits of keeping things clearer it will be easier to decide what you no longer want. If art materials are in good condition, pass them on to a school or donate them.

In practice this gets swifter. You may not achieve Zen levels of de-cluttering but, just as Marie Kondo leaves the sentimental items to the end, I’ve found over the years that sometimes I need to keep things for a while. Having considered them once and given them a reprieve, I find it far easier the next time (Spring or back to school Autumn) to acknowledge that project probably isn’t going to happen and I can let things go more easily. 

I find the idea of thanking objects helpful. Nope, I don’t say it out loud, but acknowledging that stack of life drawing pages and being thankful for the classes definitely helped me to let them go.

Still finding this hard? Yearning for a bigger studio? ( I don’t know an artist who isn’t!) Just imagine what could you do with the space you currently have allocated to storage/materials you don’t use. No creative space is ideal, but you can make the best of what you have.

 

KonMari step 5: …THEN organise

Now you have what you love or need you can organise. I find it helps me to think less about where I put things, but about knowing where I can go quickly to find things.

how to organise your art materials

A few tips I use to organise:

1. Group similar together and think by task
eg collage material together. I try to keep all my spare and ‘waiting’ panels stacked in one place rather than dotted around. All my finishing materials are together in one place. Items I use to ‘grab and go’ when I want to take paints outside are kept together in the bag I use for that. Items for hanging at shows are kept in one moveable box. This is one place I keep duplicates, tape measure, screwdrivers, blu-tack – it’s all in one place so I don’t have to search and gather.

storage containers in art studio

So much easier to grab what you need when you can see it. Having items a similar size helps eg if you re-use plastic tubs for mixing paint, find one size or shape you like, and stick to it!

2. Divide into boxes
One thing I have been doing for years is to re-use boxes to store smaller items (it’s not rocket science is it?) Divide drawing materials by colour and use low height boxes on your work surface. My paint tubes are sorted into three shoe boxes on my trolley: one for white, black and neutrals, one for blues and greens and one for reds, oranges yellows. This has worked well – quick enough to chuck the tubes back in quickly, but also find what I need.

Shoe boxes with lids can be great for keeping like items together and stacked on shelves. 

3. Store vertically where you can
Or at least so that you can see and remove items easily. Don’t over-fill spaces so you can’t see what’s at the back or stack bottles too deep to get them out.

4. Label things
The cupboards in my work space house things I don’t use on a daily basis. Maybe just because I’m visual, once something is in a cupboard I can easily forget what’s in there. For quick labels I write on masking tape. You can tape a sheet of paper inside a cupboard door with what’s inside if it has lots of small items. I do the same with drawers. 

TIP: If you don’t want the labels to be visible you can add them to the top of the drawer edge as you open the drawer – this works for papers in a desk I have in our living space. 

5. Use your space in creative ways
I work in an attic conversion so I have sloping ceilings. I’d love to have more wall space but cupboards in the eaves are great for keeping squash-able bubble wrap, and I have created a false wall on one side and behind there I keep poster tubes for sending prints and smaller paintings ‘in waiting’.

We tend to ‘move in’ once and then not change how we keep things. In reality our process is changing all the time. Think creatively about what suits you now.

6. It’s not all practical – refresh your inspiration
Find places for the things which inspire or motivate you. I have a small mantelpiece and a shelf where I keep certain items. I see the shelf on the way out of the studio every day but we get used to seeing the same things and glaze over them. Refresh your pinboard, or postcards from exhibitions, or gathered natural objects or collections of colour…. whatever you gather to inspire you.

 

Keeping it this way…

Will my socks stay folded? This may be one area where my husband is right; maybe life is too short for this. However I did find 6 odd socks, pairs with holes in the heels I was keeping but never wearing and it doesn’t take any longer to put them away this way. We’ll see.

Will my studio stay tidy all the time? I really hope not! Getting messy is a natural by-product of making art. The last thing we need is to hold ourselves accountable for an immaculate work space.

Creativity is like a gas: it expands to fill the space available for it.

We can help by making sure that space is available as intended, so we can do the work we really want. 

Doing a major de-clutter is a big undertaking, but this is actually about the same thing all artists do – paying attention; looking at what’s important, for you, at this point. It’s inevitable that things build up, but the large printmaking studio I used to work in only functioned because everything had its place – and things went back or you were in trouble!

Tidying can bring a lasting change to your work space and help you keep on track with the art you intend to make. Going through this process maybe twice a year becomes easier each time and helps me appreciate the space I do have.

I’d love to know your views on an ordered/messy work space and please share any tips you’ve discovered in the comments below. If you’d like to see and share photos of your work space come over and join us in the Art Explorers facebook group  where we shall be using the hashtag #tidystudio to share tips and motivation. 

One of the things which helps me in the studio is a ‘mood board’  for my art. It’s good to refresh this and I had become so used to looking at it, that my eyes passed over it and it was no longer serving its purpose.

 

So what’s a mood board?

You’re probably familiar with interior design mood boards – designers use them to bring together ideas for a new room scheme – they can include swatches, visuals and samples. In this sense a mood board gives you a way to guide the choices you make. It may not contain details, but it gives you an overall feeling and a visual way to play with what you would like to create… things which will make you feel proud and excited to create!

Why does this help?

In art the possibilities are endless, so having a gentle way to keep you aligned can be a big help. It acts a reminder – in a big visual, always visible way – of what interests you. And if you keep following what interests and excites you, then you won’t get bored.

Yes, we can do this in sketchbooks too, but they get left in bags, or the cover is closed and they go back on the shelf. A mood board is a big visual, the overall approach and feel.

 

If you feel stuck, you have a tangible object to come back to to reignite your ideas, perhaps see what’s missing, or where you have become stuck in familiar territory rather than following your new year excitement. (PS – you can do this anytime!)

Here is my previous board – you can see I have pieces of fabric, photos of road markings, images from magazines and some older pieces of work which I wanted to refer to.

If you like this idea what’s the best way to go about this? There are a few tips which may help you the first time if this feels unfamiliar and you’re not sure where to begin…

 

Don’t start with pictures!

I like to start with writing. If I go straight to images I end up choosing from what’s available so the choices are coming from outside me. What I’m looking for is my own internal guidance and writing helps with that.

There are a couple of ways you can approach this:

ONE: like morning pages as recommended in The Artists Way; simply write longhand whatever comes to mind about your work until you cover three pages. Julia Cameron advises that you don’t go back and re-read them, but for this exercise I would go back with a highlighter and mark what seems relevant. You may end up with some specific things like “work bigger” or you may find more emotional ties – like a frustration that you never find enough time for your creative work or you are stuck within a particular style.

You won’t find a totally clear answer straightaway – this is a process which can be repeated – and you can adjust your board accordingly.

THE SECOND WAY: is to mind map with single words which feel important. This is faster. If you keep following the spider-arms and questioning what it means to you, you will end up pushing your ideas further. This can be challenging, but being more specific will help your ideas. Instead of ‘work in a series’ what does that mean to you? Will they all be the same size or are you finding links across different mediums.

The answers may not all go onto your board, but could start to create different creative projects for you to focus on.

What materials do I need?

I like to use a cork board and pins. That way you can rearrange and adjust; add and remove elements as you move through the year. I painted my board with leftover house paint – just a pale neutral colour, but you could go for bolder or dark… most of it will be covered, but I don’t like that dull brown as a starting point!

You could also use normal card and stick or tape the elements down.

What should you put on it?

Anything goes, but here are some suggestions:

  • images from magazines – think about the kind of home your work would look amazing in, or use fashion magazines and adverts are especially good for backgrounds with beautiful colour variations. YO could look for intresting textures and shapes in travel magazines. I find it helps to pick magazines where the photography is inspirational or more ‘arty’ or design led – the images are more distinctive
  • fabric strips
  • colour swatches – either from paint sample charts, or paint your own.
  • images of other artists’ work – but think about WHY it inspires you – be specific about what it has which you would like to bring to your own work in your own way.
  • images of your own work – which pieces were pivot pieces for you? What can you learn from them? Those moments deserve to be recorded and reminding yourself that……
  • photographs you’ve taken, or copies from your sketchbook

I also like to write words. Sometimes visuals can be too specific where words give me a looser direction to follow. Cut the letters from magazines, use a stamp, print using your favourite font on your computer or just write by hand (the quickest way!)

You can collect from anywhere, but you are looking for things which raise your excitement level. We want this board to be something which fires you up, which fills you with energy and enthusiasm.

Once you’ve made your board, where should you put it?

I have mine on a shelf just inside my work studio. It’s not directly in front of me while I’m working so I can still concentrate on the painting I’m doing. But it’s still visible all the time. This is something you want to be reminded of, so find a place you will notice it daily.

  • where you will see it when you wake up
  • the room you spend most time in
  • if you are easily distracted, how about putting it where that happens to remind you of what you would really find fulfilling? Prop it in front of the TV, or in the kitchen so that after dinner you spend time on your creative projects.
  • you can even take a photo of it and use it as your screen saver on your phone!

 

So, what’s on my board for this year?

Overall it’s more spacious – there is a clarity which hasn’t been present before. It feels more single minded. That’s not to say work is fixed or that it won’t deviate from now onwards. Remember this is flexible guide for you, not a rigid set of instructions!

I’ve used small parts of older paintings and visualised them at a larger scale to remind me not to clutter the space. I found the word EDIT in a magazine, and the colours aren’t guides for paintings so much as reminder to play within colour families.

Some things have carried over from last year – that inky streak with the sharp cut out because it reminds to make bold moves, and the list of text…. those are things which interested me last year and still do – what……..(list sample)

 

What do I need to add?

Something to do with photography…. my iPhone is wonderful, but I would like to use a proper lens more this year to give me more control over the images. I want to collect more of the urban space around me and find a way to use this in my work.

 

What else could you use this for?

I mentioned this first on Instagram and some people liked the idea of creating a board for each series of work, even each painting or perhaps seasonally would suit you. If you have a go – please tag me so I can see what you make, and let me know below if you think this will be helpful for your own work – or what you might use it for…. holidays? planning a room? things to add in your life?

Here is one I made just exploring autumn colours for a previous painting I was starting. It’s not a formula for the painting, but it’s a good way to explore what you are attracted to and want to include before you pick up the brush and fall into familiar habits of colour mixing!

Want more tips for your art?

Come and join the free Art Explorers group on Facebook where we will be exploring different ways to strengthen your art practice – and how to get it out into the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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what to do when you are stuck with your painting

Right, I’ve got to the middle stages of a painting, and I’m stuck…

These days my paintings begin with no fixed idea of outcome. I may make early choices about colour or bold shapes to get the surface active, but as the layers build often the marks and decisions are fairly random. Occasionally I glue things in, I choose colours I really don’t like – just to rock the boat! And there is certainly a stage where it all looks a complete muddle and I wonder if I have any idea what I’m doing. Keep going. Keep adding, change scale, use hands, use glazes…

Next comes the most crucial part of the process

Early spontaneity is essential if a painting is to have a sense of life. Actually, keeping a feeling of freedom and spontaneity is important right until the end. But, if you only have spontaneity then you can all too easily end up with a painting which simply looks a muddle.

At some point you need to bring in a more conscious assessment. Don’t get me wrong – many of those early processes have thought involved, although perhaps these were more subconscious or intuitive. As my painting experience grows, the more I build an understanding of what is likely to work and these become almost instinctive.

My own personal response is changing all the time as I learn how I want to deal with the paint, but there comes a stage where I need to take charge over the so-called random marks.

At times it can be clear what I want to do; certain elements may stand out to me and I know what I want to amend. Other times, this involves a fair amount of sitting and looking – just sucking in the information already within the painting. It can help to turn the painting, or to reduce a photograph of it – anything which distances me from my experience so far and lets me take a more analytical approach.

Unfortunately at this point one thing usually becomes clear… some of it has to go.

That beautiful part where the yellow and blue overlap just so? It’s just in the wrong place.
The section with all those delicate lines – just too distracting.

This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with in this more fluid approach to creating a painting. The loss of parts you love.

So a few things help:

Take regular photographs as a painting progresses

Sometimes I prefer how it was yesterday. Ouch. While I can never recreate (or should try to) what has gone before, it does help if I know I have a visual record. I can use this as a scrapbook of ideas, or just a reminder. Often it’s hard to identify HOW something was actuallycreated and I know I’m not alone in the feeling of looking at a painting and thinking “I made that?!” and next… “Can I even do that again?” But having photographs helps remind me that good things come from trying something new. Often a painting jump steps up a gear just at the point when you do something drastic.

Accept there is no one right answer

At any point a painting has so many options open to you. This is what makes creating art so challenging, and what makes looking at it so invigorating – hopefully you have a sense of what has been and an immersion just at the point the painting stopped…

Knowing that if you sacrifice one part, it will usually benefit the painting as a whole

Just knowing this helps. At first this was something I had to force myself to do because it is so hard to do something risky when you have already put so much time and energy into a painting. But if it’s not working as it is – then what do you really have to lose?

Visualise some alternatives…

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This can be as simple as squinting from a distance and simply using your imagination to project what impact changes might have. Would this dark area be better light? How about if this green shape was much larger?

Hopefully this gets easier, but I have three practical ways to help.

I often use sections of paper to overlay certain areas as a first stage test to see “will this work better?”  I can use coloured paper, pages from magazines or painted paper, or even torn sections from old paper palettes.

The other trick I learnt from the Nicholas Wilton course is to use Photoshop to make some adjustments. There are some limitations to this – you can’t ‘copy and paste’ whole sections of multi-layered paint. If only! That really does only exist in Photoshop world. But it does allow you to troubleshoot if you feel the whole paintings is not working and perhaps work out some ways forward.

This screen shows a recent change I thought through in this way. On the left you can see how the painting was. I had reached a stage where I had this off-set composition which I liked, and the bird shape had materialised. I don’t paint birds, but I rather liked the slightly surreal nature of the bird on the hill. (It reminds me of a Beatles song for some reason. I’ve googled “Beatles song bird on the hill” and it doesn’t exist so there’s another strange subconscious link!) Anyhow, I liked the bird but he was too obvious.

On the right you can see the changes I tested out. My aim was to let the complexity of layers in some areas show clearly – if it’s all complex, it’s all just too much. I wanted the soft green to be key, so I enlarged this area, I introduced some deep reds as the complementary colour to the green and I darkened the ‘sky’. This could have been deep blue or red, but I chose a warm mushroom brown. The destaurated colour lets the other colours take centre stage and the bird becomes slightly hidden.

Of course this now needs to be taken to the studio and created in paint! But having a clear idea helps me make adjustments with a similar clarity of approach. Is this part small and controlled or am I creating a large textured ares with subtle gradations of colour. Either way, better not to be tentative, but decisive.

This painting has now SOLD but you can see current available originals here.

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When I first decided I wanted to commit to making art full time, instead of going back to my graphic design career, one of the first things I investigated was whether I should be applying to do an MA in Fine Art. Because that’s what you need in order to be a ‘proper’ artist. Without that, no one would take me seriously and I would have no idea what I was doing.

So, I looked into all the options and realised that an MA wasn’t going to give me what I needed. I spoke to students who spoke of little interaction with their tutors, lack of studio space due to  increased student numbers, the cost… and I realised that instead it was better to set my own intentions. To develop my own working practice. To decide for myself what I wanted to learn.

And I wouldn’t have to write a dissertation again!

Setting your own course

Since then I have made a continued practice of reading endlessly: artist biographies, books by art historians and others in the art world, books about the creative process.

I’ve also been building my own creative network of other working artists and looking for people I can learn from. I think I first came across Nicholas Wilton’s blog in the summer of 2015 and enjoyed his whole approach to art making. He was open about his practice, his struggles and his practical solutions and that is rare in the art world which can be very closed and sometimes secretive.

In April 2016, in the middle of packing for a holiday I somehow realised he was just about to run a 3 month online programme. At the start of that year I noted how much I would like to do a workshop with him – but getting to Mexico from the UK could be a bit of a problem. So here was the perfect alternative.

The most expensive course I had ever taken, but put in comparison with an MA it was a bargain. Still, I was nervous about signing up.

It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

If you’ve been following me for a while you will have seen how my art has changed in this time. Initially it disrupted my ongoing work as I could see what we were learning was too powerful to be ignored – I couldn’t just continue with what I was doing, but I needed time to integrate it with my own path.

The connection with other artists restored my faith, and everyone worked hard on their art and behind the scenes to make this the most helpful and response place to be learning. Truly inspiring.

For the first time, I didn’t feel like I had to play a game. Simply keep working, but this new framework of ideas helped to give me confidence, understanding and a structure. I had a way to review my own work, which is invaluable as you get so close to what you are working on it can be hard to be objective.

When they asked if I would give a testimonial I agreed without hesitation and you can see it below. (Look how much I wave my hands around!)

 

As an artist the moment you stop learning and exploring is the moment your art dies.

There are many ways you can continue to develop your approach. Later this year I shall be taking a residential course with Lewis Noble which I’m looking forward to. But this CVP course I know I shall always see as a turning point. If you are interested in enrolling in CVP for 2017 you have until 8th Feb to make your decision. You can find out more about it by clicking here.

Let me know below if you have any questions about it, or if you decide to go for it!

PS. I seem to have replaced a dissertation for blog posts, but I know which I prefer!

unearthed-framed-landscape-painting-grey-wall-alice-sheridanEver wondered what happened on a painting before it was finished – how it looked along the way? I wrote a while back about knowing when a painting is finished but sometimes it’s hard for me to remember where it began, and quite how many stages it passed through on the way. So I thought it would be interesting to search back through my photobank on my poor groaning phone and share how this one progressed. The story of the painting if you like. There may be some jumps where I forgot to take photos, but hopefully there are enough for you to follow.

I started painting over a previous painting where I had used just black and white, which I really didn’t enjoy! However it gave a good base and something to react against from the start. With absolutely no preconceptions about where this would lead, I was free to experiment and be led by the painting each stage…

This was an entirely new way of working for me, prompted by taking part in Nicholas Wilton’s Art2Life tutor programme earlier this year. The images below cover time from May until November. Yes, that’s a long time for a painting, but I was working on others at the same time. I mention it to show how impossible it is to answer the question “How long does it take you to finish a painting?”

I hope you enjoy seeing this develop, it’s fun to play spot the difference between each image!

first-layer-after-black

Large loose marks using colour, any colour, after that black! The brighter cobalt blue is strong enough to stand out from what went before and jolt this into a new space so I’m no longer connected to the dilemmas of the painting underneath.

light-blue-notebook

I rotated the panel to get a fresh perspective on it and decided I wanted to introduce a sense of horizon and skyline. As well as drawing through the new layers of wet paint I began to add oil pastel linear marks, almost picking a colour at random, yet knowing the mustard yellow would contrast well with the blue…

blue-yellow

Taking more cues from yellow, but keeping it light and bright and bringing in deep purple… heather and shadows perhaps?

with-orange

Time to do something radical – the colours are all a bit minty green and blue and I prefer more richness. Starting with a thin layer of a deep russet orange, this earthy tone knocks back all the existing colours on the painting. Another layer of thicker rust and the blues and turquoise underneath begin to sing – and now it begins to get exciting – and risky. Once you have parts you begin to really like, it’s harder to move on and keep a sense of loose and lively elements.

orange-white

As the lower layers were full of more painterly brush marks, I like the feeling of the sharp edges of the orange shape. But I didn’t like the shapes I had created which felt like an obvious layer of ‘windows’. Adding more brings more intrigue and the sense of depth starts to grow. The thick creamy neutral colour is scraped through and scratched.

orange-on-floor

Some small dark areas to overlap the white and play with a sense of distance and foreground. And some smoother areas of richer greys bring a natural balance to the areas of multi colour. I’m still not sure what it is I’m trying to paint but I’m enjoying the complexity which is emerging. By now there are parts I can’t remember how I achieved them, and this makes it slightly easier to see what I need to add or remove to try to make the painting work as a whole composition.

with-paper

Using torn paper to experiment with where to add new areas of colour. The scratched marks revealing the blue from the beginning layer encourages me to think about bringing in small chips of blue in other places, and I want a much stronger dark area in the foreground. The paper is only an indication though, and of course, once the paint mixing starts again it goes in a slightly different direction…

unearthed-painting-almost-finished

This is a big jump – I got carried away and forgot to take photographs! It feels like it’s almost there. The biggest change is the rich indigo blue which leads you back through the painting. A lighter area brings definition to the horizon and multiple layers translucent blue now links the sky to the colours below. Small areas and certain edges are more defined, but just some finer details to tweak…

1625-unearthed-alice-sheridan

Final adjustments. I always think this will be quick – not much more to do, maybe it’s hard to see the differences, but for me they are the changes which take me from being unsure to knowing there is nothing further I want to change. Some deeper blue right up in the top left of the sky, tiny swatches of white and turquoise like the flight of birds across the grey sky and many more too tiny to notice perhaps – the subtle variations within the lighter shapes which lift the overall painting.

Having started so boldly, it was a surprise to end up making finishes with a tiny brush to refine small differences which add richness and areas of discovered detail. It’s not time efficient! But it’s a strong indicator that this is complete. I could go on forever, but it’s time to take those sparks into a new painting.

I called this ‘Unearthed’. There is a feeling of excavation, of history and discovery. A rich red of soil,  the movement of changing weather, man made scars in the land and large boulders of rock which won’t be moved.

This painting was shortlisted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2017 and is  now SOLD  but it is available as a print in different sizes > click here to see buying options <

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