Thursday, 23 May 2013

The problem with being an Artist

Let's get down to business. I'm an artist. Yes, I have no future ahead of me, you can't make money out of art and I'm most likely to end up completely poor and in poverty, if not living on the streets. I should have gone to University for a Law Degree, Science Degree or, in general, something that I don't love or care about simply to make money. I'm not even in University for an Art Degree yet. I'm a complete and utter failure at life. I also dropped out of College and moved in, to live in sin, with my boyfriend in Glasgow. He's a chef. I'm not taking any courses of any kind, I simply have an easel and some art supplies and I work by myself, when I don't have artists block. I will end up depressed, addicted to drugs, addicted to alcohol and most likely try to kill myself at several points during my life time. I may even slice off a body part. I also work as a waitress, when I can, so I am as low as you can get...

See above? That's what some people think when I say that I'm an artist, I'm applying to the Glasgow School of Art and yes, I would like to just make Art for a living. I'm not in education, I'm working by myself and I live with my boyfriend, who is University drop out and works as a Chef. I can see it on their faces that they judge me. Even people my age can be very derisive, like it's something dirty. That I am wasting my life because I'm not in higher education and still aspire to be an independent artist. That's ok, I don't actually care because everyone around me, that matters, supports me and have every expectation that I will one day succeed.

Even if I don't they'll still be there for me and think I'm awesome. I have recently been thinking on how I would actually like to be a teacher even if I do manage to become an independent artist. So lets have a look at the story so far...

It most likely started when I was very young, as my eldest sister, Lisa, was great at drawing Disney characters and they were all over my bedroom walls as a child. I remember wanting to be as good as her and since then it became one of my favourite things, to just sit and draw to my hearts content... or until I would be distracted. Then throughout Primary School I was best friends with Holly, whose Mum was an Artist. I remember a sculpture of a head living on the stairs in their house and how she would come into the school to help with art projects. At this point I dreamed of being a vet, as did Holly and our other best friend Gillian. Towards the end of Primary School and the start of Secondary, my Uncle Ken and Aunt Lydia moved up from the borders of Scotland to Drumnadrochit in the Highlands. For the first time since I was a baby, or 5 years old, I met them properly and they were both mad as hatters. My Uncle Ken was a self taught 'fashion' designer and had just retired from running his company, Aero Leather. It was the infrequent visits to their home were I remember my Mum and Aunt discussing my Art, especially during my fourth year art as I had the teacher from hell. I also hero worshipped my Uncle Ken, he is just one of the coolest people you could ever meet. What I truly love is how successful he is yet he hasn't changed. He's not aloof, he's not on a pedestal, he's just a cool guy who makes cool clothes and has amazing stories.

Uncle Ken, John Taylor and Aunt Lydia

In 1st year and second year, art just remained a favourite hobby really, being an artist isn't something that is encouraged. However in 3rd year I started to think that maybe I had something I should check out and that was down to my amazing teacher, Michael Rush. He was a no nonsense, grouchy old man who wore a black leather coat and would ramble on from the lesson plan to random facts or interesting articles he's read recently. He was a proper art teacher, eccentric and passionate about what he was teaching. He reminded me of my Uncle Ken, but a really angry version... Still he knew his stuff and always knew what to say to keep me working on my art. He's the reason my parents bought me my first table easel and acrylic paint set.

Unfortunately my class got given to a different teacher, who then became known to me as, 'The Demon Lady'. When you think of an art teacher they are odd, eccentric, dress funny, have a very energetic flow when they speak and in general don't act like your stereotypical maths teacher. This woman was everything you expect an art teacher to be the opposite of. The thing that truly made her queer, in the art teacher sense, is that you never saw her draw, or correct a piece of your work. She'd just hover over you, tell you that you had to change this. If you didn't she'd then distract you for half an hour asking why you hadn't done it and why you were making her life hell. She really didn't like me as I was strong minded. If I didn't see a reason to do what she said, I'd ask her to explain it and would often tell her why I preferred it my way. This had never been an issue with any of my previous teachers but it really put her out. She also tried to dumb down any essays I'd submit. I was taking Credit English at the time along with 3 sciences, I enjoyed using a large vocabulary, especially when I was writing about art, but she would always try to imply I was just copying and pasting or using words that I didn't understand. If she could make life difficult or a simple task complicated she would. All the other classes had the opportunity to practise painting before their prelim, our class got a five minute colour wheel explanation the day before. After my final exam the head of department, Mr. Douglas, asked if I would be coming back next year to take Higher and was surprised when I said no. I never expected to ever go back, so when he asked me why, I told him exactly what I thought of 'The Demon Lady' and her 'teaching skills'. To this day she makes me angry because she was such a bad teacher and I had such a bad experience that I refused to take art or even draw for my own pleasure for a year after.

That year without Art was awful, I had just gone through my first break up which was fairly brutal, I had taken five demanding higher courses and it was just too much all at once, especially without having art as my outlet. By the end of it I was a different person. I'm sure I scared a lot of people but I'm really glad that they were there for me. Due to all of this, I pretty much got thrown out of any science based career plan, I had failed Chemistry, Maths and only just scraped Biology. I was supposed to be going into 6th year with my future already set ahead of me but instead I had to change everything and that's when I decided to go back to Art. I went to Mr. Douglas again and discussed taking Intermediate 2 level Art as long as I was not in 'Her' class. I got my wish, sort of. He put me in Higher as soon as it came round to assessing our work but I was already working at that level so I didn't affect me and it was a good time. Life started to get back on track and I even had a new relationship. After taking that year out, with it all going so wrong, it felt right to be sitting in an art class again, especially as he was such a good teacher, he left me alone if I was going on the right path and if he wanted me to see something he would demonstrate it, on a scrap piece of paper, thankfully. He got me to try new things including a project where I spent most of my time playing on the computer and painting a still life based on idiosyncrasies I associate with my mum. This nearly turned me into a hermit and I skipped many classes to get that finished. It was worth it though, to have a finished piece that you know you have put your all into. 

Mum's Religion

However, I thought I couldn't take Art seriously as I was only in Higher, it was my last year of school and, in truth, I was scared that I couldn't do it full time. I decided to go for Psychology, it seemed safe. Apparently it wasn't meant to be and it was a bad day in my Advanced Higher English exam that took that away from me by one mark. So I wasn't in University, everyone I knew would be in a months time, I began to discuss staying on in school for a 7th year, to do Advanced Higher Art, with my then boyfriend, who was just going into 6th year, and I got dumped not long after. It was the last straw and I became sick for a while, not eating properly, not sleeping and it affected my work as a waitress/barmaid. This followed me into the beginning of 7th year. I felt like I was a complete failure at life.

It even infected my work, the first few self portraits are really harsh representations of how I felt about myself at the time, I just stayed in the art department, I didn't even leave for lunch. It was especially tough as I felt like I had no one to talk to. Everyone had left and I had to try and make new friends, which was difficult after seeing the same people every day, for seven years, in the same place. Everyone had moved on in life and I had been left behind.

Luckily, I had two amazing girls taking Advanced Higher Art, Keara Blackhall and Amber King. I also had Douglas again, which was amazing not just because we both knew how the other worked, but also because he knew as soon as I walked in that I wasn't well. He really went above and beyond to look after me, including listening to me moan about everything that had happened, kicking me out at lunch and, as an extra precaution, he would buy small bars of chocolate that I was to eat by the end of the day. What really helped though was getting all those horrible nasty thoughts toward myself out of my system and stuck on paper instead of me.

Various Self  Portraits

Self Portrait in the Snug

Life went on, I felt better and my work improved immensely, although I could never quite get that tired look out of my self portraits. I had a great time in Advanced Higher, it was an amazing year, mainly because I could just focus on Art. I didn't have to go anywhere, didn't have to see anyone unless they were in the department and if I didn't want to be distracted I just put my iPod in...  that didn't stop me distracting other classes though with my awful singing...I'm sorry. Amber was a crazy little creative whirlwind and we bounced off each other really well, sometimes if I was stuck or had a block I'd just sit and watch her create a massive page of work to get motivated again. Keara, when she wasn't AWOL, also was great with her natural talent for photography and ability to, at least, throw something together at the last moment if she had to. Which was often, but equally inspiring in that she could have just walked into the department and already half the floor was covered in her work that she had made five minutes before. These two kept me on my toes and, honestly, kept me going.

Thinking of  Lucian Freud

Pele and Barry

Iain Strachan


After a hard year of work it paid off, I had applied for the Glasgow School of Art and had an interview! I was in shock, I didn't think I'd ever get the GSA to even reply to my application. I'd only ever been to the city once before for the open day at the GSA. This time I was going by myself and staying at my best friends', Eilidh, student halls. This was an amazing time, not only because I had the interview but because I was spending time in this massive city and we had even planned to go out for a few drinks after my interview. This is also when I met my current boyfriend, Kieran, who lived in halls with Eilidh's boyfriend, who is also called Kieran... Yeah, that's not confusing, at all.

Unfortunately I didn't get into the GSA and I was oddly calm. Purely because when I got the feedback I saw how close I had gotten and became determined that I would one day get in. If I get so close with half a portfolio a full one would be sure to get me in. I continued to work hard on my Advanced Higher and achieved an A. Which is close to impossible in Art. I think always be proud of that.

Of course, I wanted to stay in some form of art course to continue working and hope to get into the GSA the next year. I ended up in Inverness College and it would prove to be one of the worst choices I could have made. It was a massive mistake. After being in school as an adult student, to come and go as I pleased, I had basically been spoilt. So to then go somewhere that expected me to stop work I was in the middle of to sit at a computer and learn about Art that I will never do, or have to reference was jarring. It didn't help that I was working until potentially late at night, to then get up at half past five in the morning to sit on an overcrowded bus, to then get on the bus and go back to work. I didn't have time to see my family, let alone going down to Glasgow to see Kieran, all for a really annoying, patronising woman to tell me about the theory of drawing ellipsis and how the colour wheel works.

I managed one term before I had enough. It got to the end of the first holiday break and I was sitting in the kitchen with my mum and sisters. I just blurted out how I didn't want to go back and everyone seemed to let out a sigh of relief. Apart from Lisa... she had a victory dance on how she was right and I shouldn't have gone for that course. Which is true. I never should have done it, especially as I have had a massive art block ever since. 

I just don't know what to do with myself and I keep waiting for it to break, or attempt to work through it but it just doesn't seem to be working. It even affected my application for the GSA as my portfolio has not progressed since my Advanced Higher, not really. I know that it's in me, I know that I can do it but it just feels like its hiding. Which is especially bizarre as I now live in Glasgow, Art central in Scotland, with my boyfriend and I just can't get it to happen for me artistically at the moment. I have all my unfinished work on the wall to try to shame into action, I still creep on the GSA website and on the GSA itself when I get the opportunity. I even hang out in art shops but the most I get is a little flicker of creativity that dies as soon as I see my easel or drag out some materials to work with.

However, just the other day, I was floating around in an art shop in Buchanan Galleries when I found out that it has recently been bought over and the fellow offered to look at my work. There's a spark in me but I'm too scared for it to go out if I touch something art related. So to try and break this standstill I will be e-mailing this man and seeing if he wants any help at all putting the little shop back together and who knows I might even learn how to frame at the same time, while getting great experience if this goes well. After all if you don't ask, you don't get.

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