When Life Gets in the Way (Pt. 2)

F**K. I keep waiting for my life to be…less. Less Stressful. Less Hectic. Less Drama. But the thing is, it’s just not going to be. At least not for the foreseeable future.

For awhile there, we were just running screaming and crying through life. Everything was changing moment to moment. Shit was hard and raw and real. Things were mentally and physically exhausting. Things change though and you find yourself getting used to a new kind of normal where the tiredness is a quiet hum on the edge of your brain, the hypervigilance feels like that itchy jumper your Mum used to make you wear and the grief for what should have been and now is not is an ache you can’t describe and are weary of talking about.

My Mother in Law was moved from hospital to respite while we were away on a holiday we planned months before anything had happened. We arranged it, it happened and we thought when we came back that we would be able to bring my Mother in Law home. Long story short, that didn’t happen. It won’t happen. This is not what any of us wanted but it just turns out that sometimes plans go astray, health and dignity and care and compassion need to come first and you have to accept things you never thought you would have to accept. Listen…this sucks. And it is hard. But we still have some time left and I was reminded recently by someone that it’s ok, we can do hard things.

Slowly we are rebuilding a new normal. But my life is still in the way. I factor visits to the aged care home and various errands for one mother and shopping, bills and banking trips, medication reminders, life reminders and visits “just to check” for the other mother into my days. I still have family at home and friends who I neglect too often and chores. It’s a lot. Everyone has stuff like this. It’s ALWAYS there. One day I was thinking about time and how I was going to fit my new life into a schedule when I barely seem to have enough time now and I thought back to something my partner said when we were discussing whether I should take on a new career responsibility or not (ok, so it wasn’t that calm, it was more like me a crying mess on the couch sobbing through a discussion about how I felt like I wasn’t sure I could cope with the added pressure on top of everything I needed to do with the mothers and at home and him pouring me a glass of wine and and wondering how the hell he gets into these situations). Basically he reminded me that if I was currently in that job, I would just have to work my way around these things because life happens whether you are in a new job or not. So he suggested to place myself into that space where I am in that job and try to visualise how I would actually do that and what that would look like for me.

So I did. The first thing I did was work out what my ideal work week would look like. Then I worked out what my ideal day would look like. I tried to fit in all the things that were important to me. Equal amounts of time for art and business on business days plus an extra studio day. Time with my family and friends. Time just for myself. And also, time to sleep. I made my own diary. I have kept bullet journals for years but I needed something a bit more this year so I made my own diary. I downloaded templates for A4 sized pages and put it all together in a binder along with pages that were important to me, like pages for doodling or notes.

I have to say, it really helped. Looking at my day calmly, deciding what I wanted to do with the time I have. Ordering my mind to understand how long tasks take and that some things can be moved. Some days work, some days do not. I can accept that because it is so much less chaotic than it all was and I see progress. When I am really stuck, I refer back to some videos by Struthless who is an artist who does a lot of artist mental health and life advice. I find this video particularly helpful when thinking about goal setting but he has heaps of really helpful videos on his page. Also, this video by the wonderful Jess Karp about creative habits for artists is a filled with fantastic advice from herself and other artists.

Last but not least, making goals for my art weekly and daily. Treating it like it actually IS my job (because it is) and blocking artworks and merchandise into my days and weeks like they are projects with deadlines that have to be met (because they are). This forces me to get my art work done, to keep drawing and sketching out ideas and to get things ticked off my lists.

It seems pretty regimented, but for me, I find comfort in that. When life gets in my way, I think it’s a sign to pay attention to what I need to do and what I want to do and to find a way to make my time work for me as best I can. Not every day is a perfect day. Mostly they are, “You are doing OK!” days. Sometimes they are screaming, crying, my life is a dumpster fire days. But you know what? My life is no longer IN the way, it is simply a matter of finding my way.

Gel Press Printing Noob

I bought a gel press. Yes, I was totally swayed by all the beautiful instagram reels and tik toks coming out about it. But I could also see it being a super useful tool with the photo transfer printing and the interesting textures you can get out of printing with it. I was like…this is gonna be SO EASY. HA! Life loves it when you say stuff like that. Just a disclaimer before I start, do NOT use this post as a tutorial. I do not know what I am doing, I am just experimenting and telling you about it, but at the end, I will leave you some references from people who DO know what they are doing and you can check them out for tutorials.

Firstly I have to say this. I often have a hard time when things don’t work as they should or as I expect the first time around. First I get frustrated, then I get upset, then I get really stubborn. I am kind of at the really stubborn stage at this point.

The gel press is a squishy piece of…well…gel that you use as a mono printing plate. Basically you lay down colour on the plate, whether that is the most widely used acrylic paint, or ink or anything that, “if you can wash the media off the plate with materials you would use to clean your hands – then it should work well on the plate.” (FAQ – Gel Press). Once you have laid your colour down, you can press items onto the surface or use a photo transfer technique to make texture or a print and then you press a clean piece of paper over the top and VOILA! PRINT! Or in my case, VOILA! WTF?

I used Golden Acrylics, Chromacryl and Matisse Structure paints for mine because that is what I have on hand. I know they say to use cheap acrylic paint, but in all honesty, I don’t HAVE any. I had one tube of Silver Chromacryl. I usually use my Golden Acrylics like cheap paint because I don’t like them (don’t come at me if you are a Golden fan, I just prefer Matisse for the kind of artworks I do. I know lots of people that swear by Golden for everything!). I do have a Brayer that I usually use for lino printing, and now I have sullied it with paint, I find that is an adequate excuse to buy myself a new one. And for paper, I just used Reflex 80gsm printer paper.

The first prints were kind of cool. The stencil worked out really well for imprinting on the paint and the ombre effect of blue and pink turned out nicely but I did learn you can WAY overwork your paint and you need to move QUICK because that stuff will dry out if you step away for a moment. I still don’t really have a feel for how much paint to put on to the plate I just throw some on there, close my eyes and hope for the best.

The problems really started when I tried the photo transfer printing. I have tried it a few different ways now. I tried it with a couple of magazines, I tried it with black and white photocopies and colour photocopies (from Officeworks because I made an assumption that their copiers use a laser printing process. ). None of the above worked AT ALL. I followed the tutorials (they make it look super easy and you know what? It probably IS if you know what you are doing) I did the paint and the laying of the image and what I got was a big nothing. Each time. Not even close. I genuinely have NO idea what I am doing wrong, if anyone has any idea, please tell me. Luckily, I am in the really stubborn phase of learning how to do things so I am currently watching and reading through every tutorial I can find at the moment and trying as many things as I can to understand what is happening.

But then I went back to using simple stencils and masking techniques and layering the paint in different ways. This was a much happier time for me, I was just throwing things on there and seeing what came out of it and I really liked some of it. The botanical prints I did the next day were another interesting little experiment for me. the negative print came out well, but when I went to take the positive print, the paint had already mostly dried on the plate, so I decided to let it dry completely and try another technique where you roll another thin layer of paint on top of the dried layer and cross your fingers that it will all pull up together.

I am enjoying the process when I get out of my head enough to. The botanical prints and learning to layer while drying the layers in between have been a lot of fun to experiment with. Two things I would like to mention…Using paint and using copy paper. The chromacryl I had was a metallic silver and I found that if I didn’t do a thick enough layer, it dried WAY too quickly and ripped my paper. The picture below, I was trying to do a thin layer in order to pull up a double layered print, but as you can see, that did NOT work. The red golden paint I have is also thick and annoying to use. So, Chromacryl was too thin, Red Golden paint, too thick. All around I find it strange to be using paint to take prints with but only because I am so used to using oil based printing ink. I have some water based printing ink that I think I will give a go at some point.

Secondly, using Reflex Copy paper. I am a paper snob. I did not love the experience of using copy paper. I can see how that would be ok if you are just using the prints for journaling or collage or something like that. For works that go to exhibition however, I would very much need to switch up my paper and use something more suitable. I do realise you can use any paper for this sort of printing, provided that it is not a photo paper as the film on top sticks to the gel plate and can cause problems. Reflex paper was indeed a much cheaper option for experimenting with, but I have some handmade papers I would like to try with it too.

Overall, there is still a long way for me to go with this technique. it certainly has potential. I can’t wait to take it to art group and see what other people do with it. Clean up is really easy, no more than cleaning up paints and paint brushes, and once you have your plate it really can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. Will I keep going with it? Totally. A lot of the time it was really fun to do and I think once I start using different things on the plate it will be even more so.

Lastly, some other useful information…I bought my gel press plate from Oxlades. It arrived within 2 days of ordering. This is the Oxlades website where I ordered it.

And some tutorials and other information…

Gel Press Youtube Channel – has a LOT of tutorials and inspirations videos

Nitsa Creative Studio Gelli Printing Playlist (Youtube) – Nitsa does a lot on Photo Image transfers but also there is a lot of ideas and inspiration and other techniques on this playlist.

Gel Press Website – if you are going to use the Gel Press brand, you may as well hit up their website.

GELLI Plate Image Transfers in Acrylic Paint (Youtube) – this was a livestream of a photo image transfer class.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Gel Printing – A Colourful Journey (Written + Video) – I saw the video first and then went to the website page. The page is basically a run down of what happens in the video but is useful if you prefer your information in a written format.

The Basics of Gel Printing – Einat Kessler (Written + Video) – a good solid run down of what gel printing is and the basics of how to do it.

When Life Gets in the Way

There have been some things happening in my life recently that have meant that I have not spent the time I want to in my studio. There are some big life changes coming. One thing that is happening is that I will be giving up my home studio so my mother in law can come live with us. It is the first time in 14 years I will not have a space to work in and I feel…vulnerable and sad. Don’t get me wrong, I give up the space willingly beause this is what is wanted and needed but I feel the loss of it very keenly indeed.

This was precipitated by a couple of accidents my Mother In Law had which means that she is now in hospital for awhile, prior to which we were visiting and caring for her on a daily basis at home…Now we are at the hospital everyday from morning to night and hospitals are not the most creative of spaces to be in. My days are a lot of note taking of medical concerns and understand health care systems, learning to navigate elderly care spaces and trying to be an advocate, helper and keep up the flagging spirits of someone who is in pain and feeling mentally low.

My family have been looking after the needs of my mother and mother in law (I often just refer to them as the mothers but that seems to confuse people into thinking I have two mothers who are in a relationship with one another) for many years now. The primary care of them falls on mine and my partners shoulders and since covid, we have noticed a steady decline in their physical and mental health. So we have been on call 24/7 with them for the last 3 years.

When their care needs are high, often my own work is put aside. Life gets in the way and and I find myself getting burnt out, resentful, teary, exhausted. Its really difficult to keep up the creative energy flow state when every ring of the phone startles you because it may be bad news or someone wanting you to do something for them on top of everything else you already do. Its hard to find your way into imaginative spaces when you are in a state of hypervigilance constantly.

While I am at the hospital, I have been finding moments to draw or read. Sometimes, if I forget my sketchbook, I draw in my medical notebook. I take art books in with me to flick through and read for inspiration. I find when I do this, I am more likely to be able to get through the long days without feeling like my whole life has been taken away from me. I don’t try to do any serious artistic work. I am not making huge life decisions about the way I want to take my art career or trying to write business plans. But indulging in imaginative drawings while my mother in law is sleeping doesn’t take away from time I need to spend paying attention to what is happening in the room and it helps me to keep practising my art skills in an easy and non pressured way.

I get to soothe that part of me that needs to express itself in some way through visual means. No-one is judging the quality of the work I produce, least of all me because this is not a space for perfectionism. This is just a space for taking my mind away from quite traumatising and hard to live through moments and into a moment of respite. I think when life gets in the way, having those moments of respite where I can sink into being who I am wholly and completely, is really important to my mental health and ability to cope.

There is always going to be something. Life is always going to find a way to get in the way. I think however, what I find helpful in this moment is keeping a vision in mind of who I want to be and where I want to be going and firmly walking towards that, even when those steps are small and shuffling.

P.S. Please note that I wrote this blog late last year and then life really got in the way and the blog about that is coming soon. My Mother in law is no longer in hospital…but…spoilers.

Dream With Me…If I Had a Gallery

The horse stamps his dinner plate foot and snorts. I can see his wild eye glaring at me as if he is annoyed. His muscles ripple under his skin impatiently and I can tell what he really wants is to take off and bolt in a direction, any direction. His breath is a tempestuous wind blowing heat and desire at me. I can hear his fierce, bold heart pounding out a rhythm that sounds a lot like a question, “What now?”

I want to dream for just a little bit. I am feeling…like something is coming and I want to take a moment to pause and dream with you for a bit before it smacks us in the face and we stand in stunned silence with our mouths open going, “What the…???” So let’s just follow a line of thought and see where it leads us.

I have had this dream of having an art business for quite some time. It has been churning away in the back of my mind and has a number of iterations. The main thing that led me to this place was the pen shop idea. I have a thing for stationary. Especially pens. A good pen is a delight. It’s so satisfying when the ink flows properly and it glides over the page and different pens have different uses. You need the right pen for the right job and then you need the right paper to go with the pen. I could go on for a long time about the joys of pens…I won’t though. I can see your eyes glazing over already.

Anyway, part of that pen shop idea was to have a section in which to hold workshops teaching people how to use ink in different ways, a studio in which to do ink pieces and a gallery exhibiting ink drawings and paintings that use the pens and ink from the pen shop part of things. While I am willing to let go of the pen shop, the idea of having a gallery and studio sticks. The workshop idea sticks too, well, a part of it. I feel like there are many people way more talented and knowledgeable than I at teaching how to use inks of different kinds. Also, I am not sure how I feel about teaching art techniques.

What I am sure of, however, is there is a lack of galleries in this area for community artists. My recent experiences have made this very clear. I want to show my work in places that know what they are doing and are up to date with basic things. I want a place to be clean and tidy and not confused about what the space is. I want gallery representatives who are present and engage with me to deliver the best exhibition I can possibly deliver to the vision I want to deliver it to. I want to work with my gallery to sell my work through a number of different avenues or at the very least, have them deal with the selling of my artworks because as the artist, I am not the best salesperson. I want them to have a good handle on media and marketing and to design good quality, well branded and consistent content and marketing materials that reflect my art.

I want the gallery I am working with to get my name right and dates right and hand me a package when I sign on with them and agree to their fee, that outlines everything I need to know. I want that package to outline basic things like bump in and bump out dates and times, be transparent about fees and charges and help me to understand the process of putting on an exhibition. I want it to discuss what they require of me and what I can expect from them.

I want a gallery studio to be clean looking. Freshly painted white walls. Swept every night before lock up and also in the morning before opening if it needs it. Holes patched and maintenance done. I want it to look modern but inviting with everything in its place and easy for everyone to know the purpose. I want it to be well lit so everyone can see clearly when making art work or when looking at the art work.

I want to make art amongst the art. To have standing tables out in the middle of the gallery space to work at or to have sketches displayed and books for people to flick through. I want to be inspired by the work and engage in conversations with other artists and people passing by. I want a gallery to be a space where creatives of all sorts come together as a community and I want that gallery to be a living part of the art community it promotes.

I want to work hard at making things work. I want to be proud of my achievements and help other people to be proud of theirs too. I want artists to feel less like annoyances and more like they are valuable and their work is worthy. I want to engage the community and breakdown the barriers between artistic practice and community perception. I want people to walk into the gallery studio and for them to WANT to be there and stay there for a little while. I want people to support living artists.

I want this gallery, for myself…and others.

I want the dream.

The horse pushes me with his big soft nose and huffs in my ear. We look out into the distance and dream of running. Everything that he is, is barely contained in the powerhouse of his large body, his muscles tight and quivering. He is ready to spring into action at any moment and I wonder at the beauty and strength of him. I hesitate. It is me holding him back. Me with my fear and my worries and my doubts. He stands so near, I feel the warmth of his flesh radiating out and my nose is filled with the heady scent of his horseyness. He huffs in my ear again, a breathy noise that sounds a lot like a question, “What now?”

The Great Supanova Con Virgin Experience…

Some thoughts I wrote down prior to the convention…

I have to be honest, this is not something I thought of doing on my own. My oldest daughter (@menitopia on Instagram) wanted to be a part of a stall at Supanova and so I suggested we do it together. My current art series, I am unsure about showing there as it doesn’t really fit with the target audience, however, my last body of work that saw me enter the world of self representation in online worlds just might.

When I think of the venue, I see superheroes and gamers and all ages and cosplay. I see colour and noise and people looking to be entertained or delighted or be drawn into a reality that is representative of themselves without constraint. It is imagination given voice and freedom.

So, in examining my own work and where I would like to take it and how to monetise it so I am able to make a steady career of my artwork, I need to consider all these things. If I consider this as a project to be managed, and I am the product, how do I get to be that version of myself that fits in with the aesthetic needed here? I really don’t know…but I think I may need to look at this opportunity as a way of trying a whole lot of things and seeing what may or may not work.

Now it is done I have some things to say…

I did not consider it as a project to be managed. I SHOULD have. It definitely would have helped if I had.

Ok…so a few things actually happened in the lead up to this that kind of impacted on what I did and how I did it. Firstly, I came straight off the back of a successful exhibition, into open studios fortnight where I wanted to support as many of my artist friends as I could and then I had about a week or two to organise, get ready and make product. It was a LOT and in all honesty, exhausting. I do NOT recommend this life plan for ANYONE. That week prior to Supanova, I saw dawn a total of FOUR TIMES. I existed on an average of fours hours sleep a night and days were pretty much a blur. The night prior, I had one and a half hours sleep. Again, I do NOT recommend this to anyone. Ever.

Secondly, I did not give myself enough time to research suppliers for things like prints. I went with who I knew. Don’t get me wrong, they did a great job. LiveImage at QCA have a 48 hour turnaround, they do excellent art prints and at a really decent price for art prints, but for Supanova and popular culture conventions, I feel like that kind of archival quality is overkill. I will ALWAYS use them for high quality art prints for exhibition or for gallery sale, but after talking to a few people at the convention, I now have the names of some other suppliers and will be looking into that.

Also, I made my stickers myself. This is an excellent low cost way of doing things, and you have a lot of control over it…BUT…It took a LOT of time. MORE time than what I estimated, and I was only doing rectangular stickers. If I had been using the silhouette machine, I may have lost my mind. Watching my daughter use it the week we were prepping together and constantly hearing its beep boop robot noises and the pace at which it went, was quite enough for me. I lost about a quarter of the stickers I printed as well to faults like ink blotches or bad cutting at stupid times of night. Some of them took multiple printings as well to get the colours right. This is something else I wonder whether it may be better spending the extra 20c per sticker to simply outsource to a big supplier.

Next, I did not consider consistency and branding when I went into this…AT ALL. I really should have. I threw a desperate hodge podge of my stuff together and put it out there. This was both good and bad. It was good in that I was able to observe what people were looking at. I had a LOT of people asking me about my art style in regards to virtual photography. A few people really liked the lino print stuff…which they remembered from doing in high school and I sold a few stickers of my ink drawings which was also interesting. I genuinely understand why the She Dreamed Sticker was popular. It suited the context it was in.  It was fascinating to me that my more darker, moodier virtual photography pieces were more popular in this context too. The art style of the virtual photography was a draw card, lots of people stopped to look at it…the subject matter though was NOT relateable for this audience. I will need to think about that more carefully for future conventions.

Communication with Supanova…not the best. This is apparently quite normal in the Convention circuit here in Australia. There was no one to call if you had questions. You had to email, but you also had to wait up to a fortnight to get an answer. As a first time stall holder, that was really nerve wracking. There was a lot I did not know and could not find out. I just had to basically get there and see. Luckily, we were able to get advice from my son who had done Goldnova the previous year and also did Brisnova this year.

Sitting on the booth WITH someone…an absolute must. I was privileged enough to be doing this with my daughter and we get along really well and also work well together. I think it is important to do this with someone you mesh well with. It genuinely made this a lot easier and lots of fun. Also, Menitopia did exceptionally well her first convention. She had LOTS of good ideas for setting up, really did her research, knew her target audience and took a chance that paid off. I am so freaking proud of her and overjoyed at her success.  It was one of the highlights of my time there, watching her just…take off and be incredible. My son was also at Supanova on a booth with his friends.  I am so proud of him too. I was also so happy he was there as well and I was able to visit him at his booth and see how he and his friends were doing and have someone else I knew there as well. I know he was a little disappointed with his sales, but again, that is all a part of the learning experience isn’t it?

Along the lines of sitting on a booth with someone else though…know THEIR product too. Be able to talk about it. I am now going to have to play Cult of the Lamb and Slime Rancher so I don’t look like an idiot when Menitopia is taking a break and I am running her part of the booth. It is also really helpful to be able to know what their prices and deals are. I think if we had a product catalogue of Menitopia’s things or a list even behind the display, that would have been really helpful. I had a product catalogue and the original idea was to have it on the table for people to flick through, however, there was just not enough space on the shared table. It was awkward and clunky out there and I quickly changed it up to simply displaying prints on the table instead.

 I want to have a better system for storing and containing products. Ours were literally on the floor in plastic bags. We were constantly worried about damaging them, it was hard to find the one we wanted quickly. Menitopia and I already discussed this and we want to get a file box for the prints and package the keychains and lanyards into individual boxes. That worked well for our stickers and I don’t know why we didn’t do it for other product.

Oh…Lastly, I was so glad we packed our lunches. I actually took my breakfast and lunch. Those sandwiches and snacks were THE BEST when I was hungry and I really didn’t feel like eating overpriced deep fried convention junk food. And then each day I would go on a Starbucks coffee run in the afternoon to both get out of the convention for a little bit and stretch my legs (look…the booth area you sit in is pretty small and cramped with stuff!!!) and treat us to something sugary and caffeinated.

Did I make a lot of money? Nah. I did not to be honest. That’s ok. I am actually alright with that. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed at first, but I feel like I learned a LOT about branding and consistency of art style and choosing art for audience. It was as worth doing as any class I have ever taken and more than some I have paid for. So really, if I consider it that way, I was refunded some of my money through sales and I learned a heck of a lot…how can I be disappointed or mad at that?

I had SO MUCH FUN. Doing this reminded me what I missed about doing the events circuits. The comradery between the stall holders and the support you get…everyone is SO lovely, from the security guards to volunteers to other stall holders. I did not come across anyone I would not want to run into again. I met some pretty awesome people that I hope I get to see again.  Sitting at the booth and looking out at the cosplayers…also a BLAST. You basically have a front row ticket to all the entertainment of the hustle and bustle of people. I was able to take photos of cosplayers when I mustered up the courage to ask and every one of them were so happy to be asked and they were fantastic at posing.

Will I do this again? Actually…I am planning on it. I would like to do both Gold Coast Supernova (April) and Brisbane Supernova (November) next year. My partner is trying to convince me we need to do the Sydney one in June next year as well so we can go visit the Blue mountains afterwards but I am not quite sure I am willing to take that one on just yet. I may see how we go with Goldnova and Brisnova next year before committing to one I need to travel for. This is also just one of the projects I have in the pipeline for next year, so I need to be careful about overcommitting my time. Three tries is quite enough to work out if it is something I want to add to my repertoire…

…then I will see.

Open Studios

If you read the last blog you would have seen I mentioned visiting Open Studios, or if you follow my instagram you would have seen a LOT of posts about open studios from last weekend and this weekend and you may be thinking, “What the heck is open studios?” Weeeeellllll Let’s chat about that for a bit because I find it fascinating and I love it as a great grass roots movement that, when done well, really advances the community of artists in the area as well as demysitifies the process of art for a lot of people. Buckle up buddies, this is a bit of a long one…

The romantic ideal of the artist being a loner in a studio with their paintbrush feverishly churning out masterpieces from their tortured souls couldn’t be further from the truth for most of us. For a start, a lot of us have families and responsibilities outside of the studio. Quite a number of us have day jobs and other interests. I can’t speak for everyone, but my studio is not a quiet place. But I should also mention, that not all of us HAVE studios. Some of us make art wherever we can.

For me, my studio is my haven. You can often tell my state of mind or the progress of a series I am working on from the state of it. I am really lucky to have about 30sqm of studio in my own home and even though it is at the very front of my house where visitors enter, it is still, for the most part, a private space. I don’t often invite people into that space, not just because it is often crazy messy but also it’s quite personal.

I am always curious about other people’s studios though. I wonder where they do their creating and what that looks like and how they store their finished artworks and whether they display their work or not. I am insanely curious about other artists lives, so the idea of open studios and being able to satiate some of that curiosity is just too good an opportunity to miss for me. All that being said, not everyone is showing from their own studio, for a variety of reasons. Some artists are showing from other people’s studios and some were in community spaces that they could find.

Having visited 12 studios over the course of 2 weekends, I have to say, it has not just been the opportunity to see into the studios of other people, but also an opportunity to show work to the public. It was a great casual opportunity for artists to be able to both show and sell their work from their spaces.

Some studios very much followed the idea of open studios as being places where they worked on their pieces while chatting with members of the public. People could check out their work that was hanging around in purpose built home galleries or just around their spaces. This was very much the case in places that had purpose built studios, like Naracoopa Gallery and Studio (Studio 1) with Grace and David Cross, accompanied by Paul Kately, who had a beautiful studio and gallery. Theirs was the kind of studio I aspire to. It was clean and organised and so incredibly functional. Their work was displayed with care and thought to placement. Another really good example of this was Emily Street Shed (Studio 11) with Marie and Ross Smith accompanied by Linda Brandt. I covet the incredible storage unit for canvases they had and the beautiful natural light that falls into that shed. Marie and Ross are always working on pieces in there with Ross in his leather apron and Marie’s easel set up. Bayside Gallery (Studio 15), home of printmaker Owen Hutchison and textile artist, Jan Hutchison was another delightful example of a home studio gallery that was set up perfectly as both a working studio AND a gallery. Brenda Hall (Studio 3) also had a gorgeous home studio with her pieces hung on her walls as well as some pieces she was currently working on.

Mancini Art Gallery (Studio 8) which is the home of mixed media artist, Kim Mancini, Workshop It (Studio 7) that housed weaver, Kass Hall and Shorncliffe Potters (Studio 5) were all working studios also providing workshops and demonstrations while I was there. It was good to see these spaces being used to teach and pass on art skills as well as watch artists at work and see their pieces. Special mention has to go to Arthouse Studio (Studio 6), which is where, artist Leah Gay had her studio attached to her day job where she sells art supplies and has a framing service as well. Leah was also working on a piece that she specifically intended for the time of Open studios which was a fantastic idea and really interesting to see it develop over the time. If you followed the progress of it, you were able to gain good insight into artist process and the way a piece is developed over time.

Other places, like the ones set up in community spaces as in the case of Studio at Sandgate Uniting Church (Studio 4) with a large group of artists – Trevor Proud, Tania Geyer, Karen Roberts, Ramon Marrero and Judy Kearney, and spaces that had multiple people in it such as Rainbow Street Studio (Studio 12) with the delightful artists, Sandra Walshe, Helene Rawson and Suzanne Murcott, Esther Street Studio (Studio 9) that housed Ginger Harper and Liane Worth, and Ray’s Pop Up Gallery (Studio 2) featuring Raymond O’Brien and his grandson Jesse, were more…art fair like. Few people worked on their pieces, mostly people sold their work. Setup of these spaces was less like a studio and more like a a display of works to be sold. I want to stress that there is nothing wrong with this and in fact for reasons I will discuss below, this actually helps to generate a lot of momentum, interest and atmosphere to the whole event. I would also like to point out that it is difficult to set up a studio in a public space and work on pieces while being interrupted by people to talk about your work and sell it as well.

So now you have seen into the types of studios and artists, I would like to talk a little about my impressions of the event. I have not hidden the fact that I loved it. I loved the excitement and the atmosphere. I loved being able to talk to artists and share in their enthusiasm for their art. I loved seeing so many different styles of artwork in so many settings.

I think the art fair atmosphere of the public group studios really added to the momentum of the event. These places were exciting to visit. They made me WANT to buy pieces not only from these studios, but also from other studios. I think they are really valuable for breaking down the barriers between art to be sold and potential customers because in a lot of ways, it is less scary to buy from these places than it is to buy from the more formal studios, but it also gives people that example and an ease to buy from private gallery studios because members of the public know that this is acceptable and expected behaviour.

The more private gallery studios were places I wanted to take inspiration from. I loved seeing into people’s spaces because I am a nosy busybody. I liked seeing how people display their artworks at home and how they set up their work places. It was reassuring to see I am not the only hoarder of art materials and frames. Don’t get me wrong, I bought pieces from these places too, but I am not exactly a member of the public so I specifically LOOK for things to buy. I know the work these artists put into this and I want to support and encourage them in any way I can.

Every studio I visited had an excellent range of things to purchase. You could often buy prints or postcards, greeting cards or small art pieces. You could also buy larger framed pieces. Prices ranged from about $2.50 for hand made cards to a couple of thousand for some really large original pieces. I certainly would not discourage anyone from spending a larger amount in one place in order to get a unique piece as a present or for their own home or collection, and there were a couple of pieces that hurt my heart to leave behind but I knew that I had a budget and I HAD to stick to it or face my partner’s wrath when we couldn’t afford to buy groceries next month. Every thing I saw was fairly priced and for me, it was good to be able to buy smaller things here and there so I could buy from multiple places.

Lastly, I would like to say this…I was INCREDIBLY impressed with how this open studio event was run. It was a slick production with incredible media and marketing, team building, community support, sponsorship and communication. Their social media was on point at all times and as a commitment of the Sandgate Art Society, I must commend them on putting on an extremely complex and professional event. This is a prime example of what a good team of volunteers, community organisations and creatives can do when they are motivated and it should be held up as a model of good practice within the arts.

I hope all the team, artists and everyone that contributed are all having a good rest and spend the following year being proud of their achievements, inspired to make more art and excited for whatever may come next.

What Now?

Alison James. 2022. “What Now?” Virtual Photography. 4964px x 7016px

The horse bolts. It is a wild thing, filled with manic energy and untamed directions. I feel the damp heat of its body and the hear the loud angry breath as it collides across the landscape. It is a machine that doesn’t seem to tire. The landscapes flash past. I see them. I know them. Hoof beats morph into heartbeats, pounding out a question with a ferocity I cannot deny… “What Now?”

I have had a few days now since the end of the telling of my story. I have to say, I kind of miss writing everyday. It has been over a week since I pulled the exhibition down, but I am still super busy. I kind of hate and love that super busy-ness. I love it because it gives me purpose but I hate it because I know I can’t keep this level up forever. The inability to sleep because my brain is stuffed full of ideas and my hands needing a pencil in them constantly, or waking up at weird hours of the night and having to write down a thought and then the days of running from one thing to the next and being unable to just…sit. I know it is the track to exhaustion, but I worry too that if I don’t get the things done now while I have this boundless energy, if I fall back into another cycle of mental struggle, I won’t be able to do them.

That is something I guess I will have to go through with my psych the next time I see her, but for now…I guess the biggest question in my mind is, “What Now?”. Well, to be honest, I have a lot of thoughts about that one. I have multiple projects in mind for next year. A couple of them are big, life changing things and I hope to take you along that journey with me. Some of them are the quiet hum of learning in the background when starting along a new direction for another exhibition series, that again will be a couple of years in the making.

People who have come by my blog because I was writing about the incredible online world of Second Life, might be finding all the art stuff not what they originally signed on for, but it was always who I was. The good news is that, I will be heading back into Second Life again for the new exhibition series. I have unfinished creative and philosophical work in there and truth be told, I miss it too. I think online worlds and how we build reality is even more topical today than it was when I was writing about it, so it’s as good a time as any to step back into that life…with a few changes to my process.

People who have come by my blog because of the exhibition and my writing about the artwork may also be thinking this is not what they have signed up for, but actually…you may find that it is. I will continue writing about my artwork and expand out into other art topics as well. I have new processes to learn in the making of the new series and that is always a wild ride. I would like to do a better job of documenting it all this time around and let people see into the process of what it is like to develop a series of work from the beginning to the actual pieces on walls exhibition time. I also have some other big projects rumbling along that I am eager to share with you when they get closer to forming into reality.

I have been busy in my real life. We have had open studio weekends here and I just love it. I love being a part of the art community. I have had the pleasure of visiting other people’s studios and chatting with artists and even buying artwork from local artists. It feels like a festival. I love seeing the artists happy and chatting to people about their work and getting to sell their work in whatever form they might choose. I love watching people visit artists studios and not being afraid to approach artists and ask questions and have conversations. It is something we don’t get to do very often when we are sitting in our studios usually. I think next year, I would like to be a part of it, but I am glad for this year, I was able to visit and hang out and listen to conversations.

I am also preparing for Supernova which is a popular culture convention here a little bit like Comicon. I have a table in artists alley with my oldest daughter and I only have a couple of weeks now to do the last minute rush of preparation for it. I was up late last night working out square and how to link it to the website and updating some things here too like my portfolio and my shop…and the boring artist blah page. It’s all important but often gets neglected because other things get in the way. However, with Supernova just around the corner, it was time to do it.

After that, I hope to take my family away for a holiday. We are waiting to see if our passports get to us in time in to go overseas this year, but if they don’t I have an alternative destination in mind. Either way, we are taking time and going away. Sometimes, I have to force the downtime. I know I will come back refreshed and revitalised and ready for the HUGE year to come, and the work can wait. It can’t really, but it’s important that I at least practice stepping away from it!!

The horse whinnies a challenge, loud and clear like a bell in the dead of night. It is thunder in my ears. His constant movement is making me dizzy and I am unsure of my footing. I consider for a moment. He is a wild thing, but so am I. She smiles and holds out her hand. He stops to stare at her with unreadable purpose.

His ragged breath sounds like a question, “What now?”

She answers quietly, calmly, “Come with me and find out.”

Ending an Exhibition and Starting Back at Life.

Well…That was quite a thing. The Exhibition is over. Everything is pulled down, so now it is time to say a few things. I know some of you reading this are waiting for me to spill the tea BIG TIME but it has gotten to that point and well…we shall see how it goes as I write.

I enjoy exhibiting. I don’t love exhibiting solo. It is a means to an end for me. The “She” exhibition I just finished required it to be shown just on its own because that was the nature of the story. But solo exhibitions are kind of lonely affairs to be honest. When you have a group exhibition, multiple people get together and talk about what is going to happen and how you are going to do things. There is a group excitement about things and a connection you just don’t get when you are on your own.

The event night was planned to coincide with the beginning of Queensland Mental Health week. I registered it as a Queensland Mental Health Week Event, so I was able to use the logo and promote mental health week as well.

QMHW Registered Event Advertising

I also partnered up with my favourite local café, Myrtle and Blossom, for catering. They did NOT disappoint. The food was incredible and it was presented beautifully in abundance. I did not get a lot of photos of event night, I was kind of busy at the time and it was a bit of a blur. I think next time, I would invite one of my photographer friends to come along and capture the moments. Usually I AM that photographer friend so I honestly did not think about how that would not work for me on the night. These photos that I took were all taken prior to opening…

I had maybe 75 people there that night? I stopped counting at 50 as by then I was engaged in conversations with people, but I do know some more people came in after that. Some of the people who were not able to make it on the night visited the gallery after, so I could not give you an honest estimate of numbers. 95% of the people who came were people that were connected to me, not the gallery. If I was to give you some advice, I would say to you that you should expect those numbers to be a bit more balanced out. The gallery should actually DO something for the commission they earn on your artworks other than a random amount of facebook posts and a black and white photocopy of an ad they have knocked up in 20 minutes.

The gallery should have their own networks of people that they invite to events and they should be working with you to sell your artworks, not just show it. You should also expect a level of cleanliness and professionalism from the gallery. Basic things like, how payments will be taken, agreement on commission for things like merchandise, Bump in and Bump out procedures and times, not getting shirty at your artist because they want their pieces hung in a particular way as they are showing a NARRATIVE series of works and have presented you with an exact floorplan that was a printout of a to scale 3D model, confirming dates and then not getting them wrong on the advertising, sweeping floors and cleaning walls….All of these things are basic and IMPORTANT.

That is all I have to say about that.

For me, I am happy that I managed to hit all my goals with the exhibition. It was important to me that the exhibition:

  1. Sold enough pieces and merch so it paid for itself.
  2. Allowed me to gain another exhibition from it
  3. Raise awareness of mental health struggles and
  4. Started conversations so that people felt less shame and blame about their own mental health struggles and understand that there is both hope and help.

I accomplished all these things, so in that I am more than satisfied. I am proud of the work I put out there. I can say that honestly and without cringeing, so that is nice too. I was ecstatic to be able to celebrate it all with friends. that was the best part of it all. To be able to show my people these things I had been working on and celebrate success with them…that was a truly special moment and one that shines far brighter than any of the tumultuous ones.

Pull down happens so much faster than putting everything up. Everything was bubble wrapped and transported back to my studio. Pieces that have been sold will be handed over to their new owners, other pieces are going up on my own walls. I am now getting back into the rhythm of life and doing some little pieces in my sketchbook as part of Peachtober that are a giant leap away from things I have done. It has been fun.

Despite it all, there is one thing that keeps pounding through my brain with the force of a horse that has bolted. It has a desperate, wild look in its eye as it smashes through fences and churns up the ground with hooves the size of dinner plates. I can hear it asking insistently in the rhythm of its laboured breathing,

“What now?”

She Exhibition Piece 12 – She Was Real

This is the twelfth artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

This is the last post in the series of 12. I feel exhausted. It has been mentally and physically draining in the telling. I am a little…hesitant about this one. I don’t like putting photos of myself out there, but honestly…It suits a purpose. It ends the story. So let’s go…When we last left her, she was ready…she wanted to be a part of that world again….so here we are.

She was real you know. I was real. We were both the same person working through our trauma. It was hard and I want that vulnerability to be what I leave this story at. Mental health struggles are so fraught with shame and blame that it becomes difficult to tell our stories. I wanted something else for people with mental health struggles. I wanted them to know that it was ok to share if they wanted to. That we could take hold of our stories and turn them into something beautiful and meaningful. I wanted them to know that we could journey through acceptance of our mental struggle mindscapes.

Remember this statistic that I wrote about way back in the beginning?

“Over two in five Australians aged 16-85 years (43.7% or 8.6 million people) had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life” (https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/2020-21)

2 in 5. But to me, I felt like the only one. I didn’t want to be alone anymore and I certainly didn’t want anyone else to feel alone. I wondered if in the telling of my story, it would make it easier for people to in turn tell theirs. I hope it makes it easier for you if you are struggling. I hope that in the reading of this that you can see you are not the only one.

I also wanted to start conversations about mental struggle and mental health and in doing so, take some of that societal taboo away. It feels like tides are changing for mental health, people are more aware these days and there is a lot more understanding for people who get a diagnosis. However, it can also be difficult to get a diagnosis, waiting lists can be long and treatment can be expensive. Your mental health affects your physical health and my hope is that the more we talk about it, the more it will become normalised and recognised as part of a wholistic health care plan.

My story is neatly wrapped up in this series but it continues. It is a bouncing ball. Sometimes I am the She who is so small, and sometimes I am the she who is all powerful and chooses to hold on. Some days are hard and I fall and I struggle. But I do need to say this, those days are no longer months for me. The times I talk about in these stories, individually they took months to work through. Therapy took years. I still continue to see my psychologist, just not with the same frequency at the moment.

I took this photo myself with my camera in my studio one day when I was trying to work out how to use the camera for a start, but also how I could take a photo of myself that showed something…more. It was a moment of vulnerability captured amongst many moments. It was not the prettiest photo of myself but I liked that it showed that I was weary and sad and REAL. That moment of rawness, without the artistic slant….there is no makeup and no filters. You can see every pore and wrinkle. You can feel the sadness and weariness, the way the days wear on her but there is also HOPE. When you see this piece, I hope you recognise that. I hope you find a moment to reflect on this story and see it all in her face and demeanour.

I still feel the echoes of these moments that I have talked about. They have forever changed my life and the way I walk through the world. This is my story. It was years in the making and retelling. I accept it wholly and fully as a part of my journey. For better or worse, it is now out in the world. I can’t control what happens next but I can tell you this, she and I will continue to journey together and even though to you, these are just stories and She was a character used as a device to tell a story, to me…

She was real.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

She Exhibition Piece 11 – She Wanted to be a Part of That World Again.

Alison James. She Wanted to be a Part of That World Again. Virtual Photography. 985mm x 630mm.

This is the eleventh artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

This has been quite the journey hasn’t it? We are so close to the end now and I am not sure how I feel about that. What I do know is that we won’t get to the end unless I keep writing and get this out so…let’s keep going. Last time we were left dreaming of a better moment in time. It was the beginning of many moments that were worth fighting for.

My psychologist and I did this exercise where she had me project myself into a place. I know this place very well, I have been in it many times since and it is always the same place. I am walking down a cobblestone street at dusk in a steampunk scene. I can hear the clack of my boot heels on the cobbles and the swish of my skirts as I walk. I can smell the steam and salt in the air. The fog is rolling in and the world is sepia toned. There are street lamps on, casting yellow puddles of light and flickering shadows along the uneven street.

As I walk on, I come across a child sitting on the grass in a park. She is wearing a ragged red dress and dusty too big boots. Her black hair is wild, like she hasn’t washed or brushed it in a very long time and she is pale and thin, like she has never had a proper meal. Her face is hidden and she is crying quietly. It is the loneliest and most heart wrenching sound I have ever heard. She is so little and so alone.

I have to stop. I can’t help it. She needs someone and there is no one else around. So I walk over the dew laden grass and sit with her. She pulls her skinny little legs up and wraps her arms around them like she is cold. Refusing to look at me, she buries her head into her knees and tries to pull her rag of a red dress down a little further. I say,

“Hey. Just wanted to let you know…I see you. If you want, we could maybe talk for a bit. I can listen. Maybe I could buy you a meal. I know a place.”

She just shakes her head at me, she doesn’t say a word and refuses to lift her sad little head, so I continue on,

“OK then. I will sit with you. And when you are ready we can get up and move on from here. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but it is going to be better. There will be proper meals and warmer clothes, maybe some boots that fit right. There is a whole new moment for you to grow into if you trust me enough to take my hand and walk with me out of this one.”

So we sit. I wait patiently. There is nothing else to be said in this moment, but I know this….this scared, little, ragged, feral child…she is worth waiting for.

I see her. I will fall with her and struggle with her and worry with her. We will float and we will hold on together and




Together, we will dream of a better life and when you see this piece, remember our story. And know that we are here, looking out this window at the world outside and hesitating. She took my hand you know, that ragged little girl and she grew up into this woman who, for all her flaws and failings and doubts, stands straight and tall and accepting of her story.

This kind of virtual photography allows this particular scene to be shown with clarity. The amusement park rides in the background, the trees, the world she wants to be in. It is no longer a dark and tumultuous place. You no longer see the void or the storm. You see where she wants to be, not where she has been. Her hair is no longer wild, her ragged dress has been replaced with a clean red shirt and she no longer looks like she is starving. She looks like she is ready and that…

She wants to be a part of that world again.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/