An artist’s question to themselves. When is a piece of work really complete?
Chelsea Lee Winterbottom
(Read time: Bloody ages, but worth it!)
I decided to write this article after a simple yet thought provoking question was asked by a very talented artist I follow; When do I know when my work is finished? I’m not sure if I should add more or just leave it?
I’m sure as creative creatures we are all understanding when faced with this conundrum, and I am sure most of us have asked ourselves the exact same thing throughout our creative journeys.
At the beginning of my art discovery and education I was fuelled by the love of freedom and expression, although in many circumstances at school and college I found it very frustrating to follow (in my opinion) a limiting brief and essentially not being allowed to ‘colour outside the lines’ was a constant struggle. Playing with paint and using the rhythms of my own interpretation on art was for me the greatest release whether for positive or negative initial reasons.
A lot of my early workings were not of the abstract narrative, or so I thought. On reflection maybe my earlier works were an idea of ‘abstractism’ but I held my developing talents firmly in the clutches of illustration or my interpretation of realism, which could so easily be considered abstract. Until my later art life did I finally understand and grasp the idea that yes, yes I can colour outside the lines, yes I am allowed to really just do what I liked and not what I was told with regards to my work. Finally and only recently have I fully understood that I gave myself the permission I had sought after for years to be able to create works that I wanted with no rules or boundaries.
This self-allowing stage of my art creating was and still is a huge breakthrough on a personal and professional level.
My latest works have been a beautiful journey of allowing myself real artistic and personal freedom, to be able to explore the paints, the movements, the tools and the colours to produce a piece of artwork that I consider a higher level of my previous artistic self.
Rather than confining myself to the traditional paintbrush (a tool I’m sure many of us have a very close and reliable relationship with), I didn’t just explore the idea of a painting but the process in which I took to create it.
A while ago I had been inspired by an image of a porcelain doll suspended by puppet strings, my re-imagination of the piece I wanted to create was to have the doll as a reflection of myself and for her to be suspended by strings whilst descending into a ‘rabbit hole’. The piece had no real meaning initially but I always had a slight obsession with the slightly darker side of imagination and I suppose life. I first began with very slightly sketching my idea out straight onto the canvas and chose my colour palette from the oils I had available.
Whilst considering the background of the image I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed with the ‘rabbit hole’ idea, I was certain I could find a tutorial online or find imagery that fit the idea, but the thought of it being a realistic background soon fell away as I found myself picking up an innocent piece of kitchen towel (thick tissue).
The virgin white sheet was soon crumpled into a ball and finding it’s way to my paints, I splodged the piece until I had a few different earthy tones on the tissue and began dabbing this onto the naked canvas. After a few minutes I began to notice not only the colours blending and flecking well, but also the texture in which this once un-used tool had allowed me to create. It was lovely, no other word springs to mind, but just lovely. Being able to involve play in the creating process was like nostalgia, and I had finally discovered that absolute freedom I had so often looked for.
Once I had finished the background I had to let the work dry thoroughly before I was able to start the long process of painting the me-doll, however after weeks passed I found myself unsure as to continue. A few comments here and there of close family and friends liking the piece as it was almost made me question whether to continue or to just leave the piece as it was.
The ‘incomplete’ image then became something much more than I had initially thought. One comment from my husband was that the white speckle doll silhouette looked almost ghost-like, as if there had once been someone there but only their ghost or spirit remained, suspended, and yet journeying though this odd ‘rabbit hole’. What a poetic idea, what a simple yet brilliant, well, mistake. A fortunate outcome for my inability to complete a piece of work, a mistake to have left a piece so long that this was able to happen. A mistake that became something much, much more. An ability to consider the idea of acceptance for incomplete work. The work is only incomplete of you absolutely believe it is, but if a piece is left at a stage in which something else becomes the happy ever after of the piece, then this must be something important and considered by all.
I had always been a perfectionist, if something wasn’t quite right, if something was in the wrong colour, shape, style or form then I would usually just bin it or turn the page and start again. However, errors in an artist’s eye are a lot more obvious, we do not need to question ourselves or rarely ask another, we simply change it or start again.
But what happens when the question isn’t as obvious? What happens when we are unsure on whether a piece of work is finished or not? The artist determines the finish line, but sometimes the line is blurred.
We pause for a cup of tea, we wait for that certain bit of the process to dry, we run out of materials, someone calls, we should really go to bed now it’s late, all of these are occurrences that happen and stop the creating, or at least put it on hold. Sometimes we are at the point where we break naturally and take a moment to reflect on the work before we start up again, but we don’t, we stay in a reflective state until we are at point where we then start to question or doubt the idea of continuing.
This is all very real, all very understanding, and this has most certainly happened to me on numerous occasions.
The language of art and painting speaks to all but as an artist I find the language beautiful and yet confusing at times, sometimes it’s as if the rhythm and the music of the paint stop or fade, the motion of creating lessens in pace and all of a sudden it’s as if the art is speaking a totally different language. At this moment I stop, I wait and I try to listen, I try to workout if I am finished or if the piece is, or in some instances both.
Being able to know when a piece of art, in this instance, abstract art is finished can be very difficult. For my works, they are a reflection of emotion, a platform in which I am able to release a feeling or a mixed palette of emotion. I take huge inspiration from nature with regards to colour and form but ultimately my latest works have been an exploration of letting go. So with this there is no object I am referencing, no scene I am depicting and no person I am trying to recreate, the piece ends when I feel it is necessary. And when I am unsure, I leave it, I leave it for as long as I need to make a dedicated decision as to whether the piece should be left as is or whether I do have a clear path to follow with progressing and completing the work.
Every artist I’m sure is different when considering this question, but if I were to offer just a little idea, it would be to take your time. Time is very important, whether you take five minutes or five years to create a piece, take time to consider that if you leave a piece of artwork for a moment it could become something more than what you intended, which isn’t always a bad thing.
I believe I am certainly uncertain about the work I create, and actually I have come to understand its ok.
We are the vessel and the instrument in which art flows from and is interpreted by, above all love what you do, and enjoy the journey of art no matter the format or manner, discover yourself and occasionally push the boundaries.
Discovering and expanding upon the ability and importance of play within art. Pushing the boundaries of expression whilst battling with an internal anxious constant.
Chelsea Lee Winterbottom
(Read Time: Not as long as the last but make sure you don't burn the dinner!)
There are confines, whether they are obvious or on a subtle level of consciousness within the world we find ourselves in.
I am an artist, in my heart, in my blood, in my mind and in my spirit. Although I have experienced tremors of uncertainty, and my mind has often pulled me a few paces back from the dream, I find myself inevitably falling back into its safe comforting grasp.
Growing up with an escapism, loosing myself in a painting or daydreaming in a drawing, the creativity and release is like my own personal Wonderland, and something I have always cherished as well as needed.
In the last few months I have felt my mind begin to alter to something a little more freeing. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I am like a butterfly who has finally managed to burst free from its cocoon confines, but it’s similar.
There is some sort of strange self-acceptance, something inside me itching from the pit of my stomach that’s saying; “Yes, you can, why not? Just go for it,” for the (probably) eighth time in my life this has been happening again. But it’s different, this time it’s making much more sense and for once I truly see that this is the right path, that I am able to trust myself.
If anyone has ever suffered from carrying the demon of anxiety on their backs through life, you will understand me when I say life gets hard, and harder still to find the will and determination to succeed in something you constantly hold self-doubt against.
Some days the prospect of hauling myself from the comfort of a duvet embrace on some mornings is more than I can bare, but on other mornings it feels as if I have been electrocuted up the behind with a spark of determination and excitement of what the day may bring.
Each day holds a different and unpredictable feeling, the emotions and moods I experience shape the movement of my mind and used to steer me away from my main objective which was to create. Recently however, I have decided to use and abuse my anxiety the way it used to use and abuse me, by manipulating it as a tool to create works, rather than to have it ultimately control me and what I do.
Unfortunately I’m not sure I will ever be rid of the vermin that is my anxiety but it is a remarkable change I feel knowing that actually I am able to obtain my own control over something that has felt in charge of my mind and sometimes my body. Being able to understand and ultimately use this element of my being for a creative good has been a huge step forward into my dream of an art career.
I have touched upon my art experiences in my other writings, and without boring you to tears about the long history I have with my ultimate lover (art), the constant need to please others and to bow down onto my hands and knees when I was instructed to create a piece of art specifically for another’s needs was exhausting, and very much leading me away from my own personal ability to seek confidence in my own work.
When given so many briefs by so many art advisors and teachers it was a constant struggle to please them, before studying for my Fine Art Degree at university it was a world of judgement and falling short of personal expectation.
Unfortunately there were constant feelings that I wasn’t good enough to pursue my ambition and that I should really just consider another career. This was vocalise throughout my education and to this day is still hinted at from close family.
However as I’m sure many of us have hit challenges and people’s personal opinions rather than non-bias perspectives, there is always that ever burning ember in the pit of our stomachs that keeps us wanting and desiring our true vocation.
I will not give up, I may hunch over with self doubt every now and then, but this will only keep me occupied for a moment, then it’s back to the original drawing board of my art and to develop my narrative.
Brushing away rules and confines can give birth to something new and exciting, this is the starting point of which I will refer to as my ‘artistic rebirth’ and the beginnings of my true creative reflections.
Being able to play within a creative objective for me has been a priority and main focus for my works, feeling and translating my energy (be it negative or positive), has allowed me to really interpret the language of the mediums I use. I have shaken off the restraints of task or brief and I have replaced this regimented focus with the ability to let go, letting go of control and allowing my work to come through from something organic and original, with only natural inspirations and emotional understandings shaping my art.
Nature is a vital attraction to my process of creating, I have always found the air of a forest or the kiss of the sea desirable. Being able to drink in nature’s beauty and use it to influence my colour pallet or choice of organic movement with paint strokes, is an element I can curl up in within my process. The emotional side of my inspiration to create works of a reflective self nature is something I hope to develop, by using my anxiety as a point of interest, I hope to one day show others that it’s ok to not be ok. That you can suffer from something sometimes very much out of your control is a difficult factor for many, but I hope that with my writing and creative process, as well as the pieces I produce, that others might not feel as alone as I have felt due to anxiety. There is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s the choices you make that determine which route you take to get there.
The above elements are definitely the inspirations for my works, but the creation process is heavily focused on the idea of play.
As children the act of play was vital to our character and personal developments and something that I hope was encouraged. However as we grow and shape into older forms of ourselves, play becomes in most cases a distant memory.
I believe that sometimes the ability to let go and just create is a very playful process and something I have snatched back from my past to use in my present and future.
I sit, ready to work on a piece with no idea what I am going to produce. The inspirations of nature have partially shaped my colour choices, the emotional energy I feel at that time is needed to fuel the art, and the playful side begins when I touch my paint to the canvas or board.
Playing with movement and shape, playing with strokes or marks, playing with subtle or strong details are all allowed as I work. I like to begin with a fresh canvas or board, sometimes it is prepped, sometimes if I’m feeling a little naughty or rebellious it isn’t prepped, it’s naked and bland, so I dress it with colour and texture through my process.
I use oil paints with my art as oils have a natural fluidity and organic feel which is very reflective in why and what I create. The gold, copper or sometimes silver leaf accents present in my work is an element of light, almost representing the light within myself and that it isn’t always perfect or large in size, it’s very much important to the piece and myself, it’s also important to my narrative that it’s ok, it’s ok to feel down, to feel low, to feel sad, we all have a light within.
The art of play is something I am strongly featuring in my work and will continue this for years to come, I believe it is also a somewhat healing ritual of self. To have the freedom of creative expression is a gift, and I will be using this to hopefully help others on their own journeys.
No matter the mood of the day, remember the child of us still resides within, and sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised if you allow yourself a moment to play.
When life delivers the negative, grasping onto the light can seem tricky, thriving in positivity will help develop your life into the happy you deserve.
Chelsea Lee Winterbottom
(Read Time: The length of memorising pi to the 17th point.)
It has certainly been a while since my last article, but please know it is not through lack of need on my part.
As I have mentioned before, documenting my development, ideas and feelings is a very important process for me running alongside my physical work. To express myself through emotional self-portraits allows that release and is very important, but spending time writing about my personal development is key to moving forward.
Through my writings I hope to teach others about the fact it is ok, not to be ok sometimes, if there is anyone who benefits from reading my little articles in one way or another, then I have achieved a huge personal goal.
I believe it is imperative to help others, sounds cheesy I know, but it honestly works. Not only do others benefit from your help, but you yourself grow and begin to appreciate yourself in ways you wouldn’t have thought before.
So, in April 2018 I exhibited in my first ever professional art fair! And it was… AMAZING! Of course, there were elements I hoped would be a little better, but the experience and friendships made were invaluable!
For five days straight I stood, spoke, engaged, explained, laughed and expelled the initial anxious feelings from my body and mind as if they were but weak little cobwebs and I, a giant. Don’t get me wrong, by the end I was physically and mentally exhausted, pretty much falling asleep in my roast dinner on the Sunday. But it was worth it, totally and absolutely worth every aching muscle and every penny invested, everything I did I invested in myself and my craft.
Being an absolute fledgling in the art fair world, my advice should be taken as my own personal opinion, and nothing ground breaking or something you (if you are an artist showing in a fair) SHOULD follow. Everyone is a beautiful individual so with that, have very individual experiences and feelings.
Being involved in an art fair is wonderful creative chaos! The timeframes of travel and getting your area set up is a much bigger element of a fair than I can explain. An unbelievable amount of concentration needs to be paid to how you organise yourself and your time before, during and after an exhibition. To show my work publicly for the first time on the walls of an art fair was an honour, and something I did not take lightly!
So here are my personal rules to live by based off my first show;
Yes we are all individuals, and that should be cherished and respected – however – you are still representing you and your brand. Don’t forget that the public will be judging you, its sad and a shame, but it’s true. Your physical appearance is so important when it comes to selling as before you even open your mouth, they will regard what you look like. I planned everyday what I was going to wear, something that encompassed my fun character and love of fashion mixed with a professional shine. Looking good and smelling good are things that show others you take care of yourself, therefore take care of your craft and ultimately when we look good we feel good and an organic smile shines on our faces!
Dying inside? Don’t let it show, shine shine shine!
So I suffer not just from mental health (anxiety), but also from back pain when I stand for long periods of time. BUT this did not mean that I hid in a corner sat down chewing my fingernails, I stood tall and smiled constantly until the muscles in my body and face hurt so bad chewing food at the end of each day was difficult. You are a light in this world regardless of anything, and sometimes you must just ignore physical and mental pain to push your light out onto others. The more you smile the more they do, and let’s be honest, you want to sell (you have costs to cover!) so you need to make sure potential buyers see a happy face and in turn they will enjoy themselves more and be more open to purchasing.
Make friends not just network connections;
So during my time at the fair, sometimes after in the pub, I made it my mission to talk to as many other artists as possible. From this I made everlasting connections but more importantly friends. And when you are honest and build friendships, beautiful things can happen! Example; I met a wonderful vivacious artist who’s work I fell head over heels for, and one day I will own a piece if not more of her work! After talking and later that evening having a drink or two, I didn’t just know her, we became friends through the mutual love and passion of art. During the fair clients of mine came to support my efforts and instantly I knew they would also fall for my new art friend’s work. So after a quick introduction and them taking time for lunch, my clients ended up purchasing quite a substantial piece of work, and later (after the artist had delivered the piece) they bought another! I was happy to have made a friend, and for my clients to have purchased something beautiful, the artist was happy she secured a sale and my clients were ecstatic.
Stay true to yourself and your work;
There were plenty of questions, regarding my work and myself as an artist and my personal development. All of which I answered honestly but without revealing too much. Talking about my work is something I love – as long as it has been initiated by others first – rather than jumping into someone’s face raving about how and why I paint, I wait until just one little comment or question was given to me. With that you develop a back and forth conversation, it is so easy as an excited passionate artist to overwhelm someone with your words, so making sure you give clear cheerful replies that lead onto more questions from them, then you are onto a winner of a connection with someone. Now this (in my experience) can be something that happens twenty or so times in one day without securing a sale, however there will be the one individual who really benefits from the experience you are giving them enough to buy work there and then. But do not forget the sale-less conversations you do have, as after the fair maybe days, weeks or months later one of them may get in contact with you ready to buy. Remember you are not just there to show your work and hopefully sell a few paintings, but when you give a customer/potential customer an experience, then this can benefit you tenfold in securing a sale. And more importantly being remembered!
Don’t rush extra work for a show;
So in the leadup to my fair I was panicking and chewing most of my fingernails off in worry that I wouldn’t have enough stock. This was absolutely not the case, in fact I had plenty! In my worry I rushed a couple of paintings so that I felt I had enough, and those works are still collecting dust in my studio, hiding from the public as on reflection I realised I had just produced them out of worry and not love, therefore the works were not very good. I also organised a few prints to be made of a couple of paintings, unfortunately due to the late deadline the price to get these made was extortionate and the quality also was terrible. In my panicked state I took them with me and spent more precious time signing each one and wrapping them. It was only on the second day of the fair that I really considered them, not a single one had sold and on inspection they were no where near my idea of quality. The price for the prints may well have been a bargain, but it goes to show that even with a very small price, bad artwork isn’t worth a bean! So, on day two I took them down and hid them in my car, far, far away and later binned them. Lesson learnt, never rush or push yourself further than you are able to cope with, and never ever let your work lessen in quality just because you think you need to show people more.
Thriving in positivity is a must! The whole experience of my first show was spectacular and has certainly set me up for further shows, and after a month’s rest I believe I have made the best decisions moving forward.