Updated: Sep 3, 2020
A year ago today I was sat enjoying the big new year’s celebrations with friends in a London pub, and at one point in the evening somebody asked to hear everybody’s new year’s resolutions.
“I’m going to sell my first painting”- was my response.
I’d “sold” a few paintings by this point, family, friends, mainly just to help cover materials. I was spending several hundreds of pounds every month on supplies, so if somebody really insisted that they wanted to pay for one in particular then who am I to say no. But in my head there remained a gulf between handing over that painting that your parents like, your girlfriend likes, or the one your Nan describes as “really lovely” every time she comes over for tea, in exchange for a few quid, and somebody who doesn’t know me, has never, and probably will never meet me, genuinely wanting a piece of my work in their home.
Regardless, that was the plan, and I'd decided I was going to have a jolly good crack at this.
By this point I’d been painting (on-and-off) in my spare time for just over a decade, a few times I’d flirted with pursuing a career in it, even setting off to do a foundation degree in art, however at some point in my late teens the roads forked (as they almost inevitably do when you’re 18 years old and faced with the big next steps) and “I should probably get an actual job” became the focus.
Fast forward a handful of years as a university graduate working in business development, painting remained my quiet outlet that helped me after a rough day at work. Perhaps one day I’ll write a post about mental health in the workplace, or ADHD in the workplace, but today isn’t that day.
Regardless, as my career became more demanding and the responsibilities continued to grow, so did my urge to get home, pull out a canvas and see what happened. And that was that, for a long time. The years ticked by, until eventually I was fortunate enough to purchase a small flat in Torquay, which along with the incredible perk of no longer dealing with landlords with an apparent insatiable thirst for my security deposits, for the first time in my life I had a spare room in which to paint, really paint. If you’re familiar with my work, you'll already know that painting to me is big, it’s bold, it’s a statement. And now finally I had complete freedom, there was no more worrying about the carpets, no more concerns about storage, materials, mess, drying space, hanging space- nothing.
Painting gradually stopped feeling like a decision and became increasingly compulsive. On the drive home from work I’d catch myself impulsively pressing the accelerator slightly harder when creative ideas started to hit me. Weekends became binges, flinging myself out of bed in the morning to mix the colour palette for the day’s work ahead, non-stop until the early hours, each week hoarding new supplies, deliveries of canvas, paints, applicators, mediums, varnishes, spray cans, crafting tools, primers- everything, I wanted to try everything. These were some of the happiest days of my life.
Not everybody finds something to do in life that feels completely natural. Something that doesn’t matter if you’re good at or not, or if your friends enjoy it or not, something that, in the comfort of your own self, you can commit to for days, weeks, years, and continue to find joy in.
With ADHD I feel like this problem is compounded tenfold, with ADHD very few professional “functions” in society come naturally, or even seem possible, despite (on paper) having the capabilities to meet the role’s demands. Internal conversations about career paths were historically fraught with “I’d find X interesting, but Y side of the role would completely stump me”. Again, perhaps a discussion for another day.
Fast forward even further and eventually the opportunity arose to reduce my hours at work, and by now I’m sure you can guess what this meant… yep, more painting, lots more painting. By this point the style of work I’d been creating for so many years was developing into something coherent, practiced and deliberate. I’d found an artistic voice, which, while never static, felt right for that time in my life.
As my plan to start working professionally continued to develop, suddenly all the little things I’d paid no mind to over the years suddenly became incredibly important. I needed to use quality materials, decent photography, I needed to prepare a website, contact details, business cards, my paintings suddenly needed names, appropriate preparation for display, varnishing, hanging mounts- the list was endless. Even the silly things nobody thinks about, like spending a day practising signing my name onto a canvas.
Even months after my mental commitment to selling a painting, nothing had sold by this point, I was fixated on the idea that if I was going to actually have a have a crack at this, then I had to make absolutely sure my big first step was as good as I could make it. Sharing something that you create outside of your circle of friends was, at least for me, terrifying. I knew what I liked, I liked what I made, sometimes I even understood why I liked it, but it felt like putting an actual price on something I’d created was a statement that that’s how much I think my work is worth. I’m not sure any artist ever feels ready to do that for the first time. The art “business”, or the understanding I was trying to gather of it, was another mountain to climb, at times utterly perplexing, and at others completely inaccessible. Again, a post for another time, but regardless, I was determined that I was going to learn the sport before asking to play with the other kids.
Before long I had a small handful of contacts in the industry who were kind enough to offer some direction, invaluable advice that steered my research, my journey and my work over the coming months, and will continue to do so. And at some point, I decided to take the little money I’d saved and leave my career in business development behind, briefly, at least. The demands of getting the body of work and presenting it professionally was simply never going to work even with reduced hours. I figured I had 2-3 months’ worth of “survival money” to get to a point I could launch. Then, once I was up-and-running, I could flexibly return to my career as-and-when, continuing to put any spare time/money into painting on the side.
The months that followed this leap into the unknown were one long blur, in hindsight I genuinely struggle to distinguish week from week. I’m slightly predisposed to downplaying things I could perhaps be proud of accomplishing over the years, but the work I put in over this period still stuns me to this day. Maintained productivity with ADHD is quite a rare pleasure, I won’t rag on the details but I can honestly say I’ve never worked harder at anything in my life, and I enjoyed every second of it.
Eventually, it was done, or at least, done to the best of my ability. The website was ready, the work was ready, and I was ready.
Without being too self-congratulatory, I’m still here 12 months later.
This year has been a total rollercoaster, filled with easily the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever felt in my life. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what life is like as a full-time artist, or self-employment in a broader context. Everybody should do it once; you’ll learn an incredible amount about yourself.
But I think we’ll leave it there for now.
Happy new year, cheers to another wild one.