A bit more on process
During the year I’ve been invited to do a couple of Instagram takeovers. What they all had in common was an emphasis on process – a key theme in my professional development this year. It can feel counterproductive to spend time looking at old work. Creativity is after all about making things and it can feel like a failure on some level if you’re not constantly generating new material. However, as an early career artist it has been important to review what has been more successful and why – what conditions was I working under and what did I do that gave certain projects a positive outcome?
On learning through mistakes
It’s been a mixed year in terms of how I’ve approached things. I was lucky enough to be awarded DYCP funding from Arts Council England. The purpose of this wasn’t to create a specific project but to follow a sustained programme of learning skills which I can apply to future work. During this time I was also shortlisted for an emerging artist award for which I had to design and exhibit a proposal model of a site-specific art installation. This was an unfamiliar way of working for me and vastly different to the DYCP grant, which has placed priority on leaning into manual creative processes rather than proposing concepts without a guarantee of ever making them. There was also a strong emphasis placed on the competitive aspect of the award (it involved a public vote) and I was out of my comfort zone. I didn’t win but in taking part I’ve learnt that while it’s good to experiment and take risks occasionally, it’s sometimes better to keep things simple and stick to what you know. Especially if the fee is not substantial and you have to factor in your time as money, which in the instance of this award covered five months of development.
An inevitable part of being an artist is rejection. People rarely discuss this publicly, but it happens to everyone. It can be discouraging but in learning to reconcile with it, it can be an opportunity to develop rather than a barrier to growth. This is more than a platitude. It’s important to seek and apply for opportunities even if you think you won’t get them. Filling out application forms not only gets you in the habit of talking about your work but also helps you evaluate where you are and take stock of your achievements.
On moving forward
The NEPN Shifts scheme has given me time and freedom to reflect on past work, and with that consider which projects have been successful, which haven’t and understand why. Through developing alongside my peers and learning from established professionals I have been constantly reminded that everybody has a different definition of success, and you should define what it means to you on your own terms rather than measuring yourself against other people. Having a sustainable practice was a significant objective for me and this scheme has helped me explore what that means.
I have reached a stage where I want to do fewer things more thoroughly, which means establishing boundaries with others but perhaps more importantly with myself. This year has taught me that it’s important to work hard and apply yourself, but also find structured, healthy ways to spend time away from your work occasionally. Not only is this basic self-care, it frees up the mind to wander – as fundamental a part of the creative process as discipline and perseverance.
It is important to me that I enjoy what I do and am motivated to keep learning while being realistic and acknowledging that paid work will always involve a level of compromise. You’re delivering something for someone else – you just have to find a way to make work that aligns with your interests, values and long-term goals while honouring your commitments. This in time hopefully becomes ever more self-fulfilling.
Monetising my work was never an objective I prioritised, although that is of course a positive outcome. Bills don’t pay themselves. Residencies that play to my strengths are something I will continually seek to engage with. They offer unique opportunities to immerse yourself in an environment and explore subjects in depth, often providing access to institutions, resources, and people you might otherwise find hard to establish. Within them there can be potential for collaboration too. These are the learning frameworks that stimulate and inspire me the most.
I enjoy working with people and will keep portraiture as a facet of my practice. They’re useful photography skills to maintain which are likely to feed into future projects as well as generating some income.