Inspirational Women - Art is Life | Women, Money & Style | March 2015

1. Jessica, why did you decide to become an artist?

All I have ever wanted to be throughout my entire life, from the very first moment I can remember, is to be an artist. However, the decision to consciously choose to be a professional artist was not easy. Yes, I had excelled in art at school, and yes, I had studied art and majored in Painting at University, and yes, I had always had a natural flair and talent that was always commented on by those around me.

But along the way I had received a lot of negative feedback on this choice of career. “You will never earn enough money. You will be poor. It is so hard to ‘make it’ as an artist. It is even harder to ‘make it’ as a female artist, especially if you want to choose to have children and a family life.”

So, even though I knew at the very core of my being that I wanted to be an artist, I was influenced by others and took a cautious path. I continued on at University and gained post-graduate qualifications in both Museum Studies (in case I wanted to work in a Museum or Gallery) and Education (in case I needed a steady pay packet). In the early days I did work in these fields and worked as an artist on the side, like a lot of artists these days have to do.

There came a point though where I could not listen to others’ cautions any longer. I had to break free. To be me! Even if that meant taking a risk, I had to find out. To live it, to breathe it, to push myself and to ignore most of what everybody around me had told me from day one. It took a lot of courage but I decided to do it and took that step off the precipice.

In short, I had to be true to myself, and that is why I decided to concentrate solely on working as an artist.

2. Where did your passion for art and painting begin?

It sounds funny but my passion and drive to create has always just ‘been there’.

When I was a child I experimented with all the different mediums, exploring pencil and charcoal, line drawings, pastels and crayons, inks and papers and printing, clay, hand building and sculpture, mixed media, watercolours and oils and finally, acrylics.

My need to create is ongoing but over time I got to know my preferences. I do not like the texture and feel of dry mediums, so chalk and charcoals were not for me. I am drawn to slick, wet and full bodied materials, so paint it was. My Grandmother was an artist, and she taught me to work in oils from the age of five or six, but at University my work took on a faster pace and I found the drying times repressive. On the recommendation of my professor I switched to acrylics, and so discovered the medium that would become the most important and expressive for me throughout my career.

Once I had found my medium, life experiences influenced my work. A year spent in South Africa observing the many cultural groups, especially the Ndebele, fostered my use of strong and saturated colour. As I became more experienced in life, personal encounters started to influence my work. My relationships, my pregnancies, the birth of my children, the tragic death of a friend, fun times, low times, connections with people and the intimate relationships that we form with each other; it all comes together and fuels me.

So the passion was always there, but it has developed along the way, gaining more shape and depth and changing dimension constantly. This is what I put into my work now, whether it be a piece for a new series or a show at a Gallery, or a very personal commission for a special client.

3. How and where do you find your creativity?

The bedrock of my creativity is my innate drive and passion to create. I love to work with my hands, to immerse myself in colour, texture, shape and rhythm.

On top of this are my creative ideas that I develop as a ‘series’ of works. If I feel strongly about an experience, usually an idea is born of that emotion and I develop a way of working, a set of images, of colours or a new technique I want to use to express myself. I have ideas while I’m driving, before I go to sleep or whilst doing my laps in the pool, but they almost always come when I have some ‘head space’.

My ideas are like visions that flit across my visual space. Once the first wave hits me I usually sit on that idea and develop it visually and compositionally in my head for around twelve months. After this the concept is usually half secured and I start to pull it down on canvas. The other half of the idea gets worked out via experimentation, and evolves as I work.

If you look on the Gallery page of my website www.jessicawatsonthorp.com you will see some of my series. The ‘Butterflies and Dragonflies’ are about life, birth and the life cycle. My ‘Semi Abstract Still Lives’ are about women, the beauty of their bodies and fertility. The champagne pieces are purely about fun and human interaction.

I have just launched a new series called ‘Love Letters’, inspired by letters I stumbled across whilst going through a time-worn archive box stored at my parent’s house. This series speaks about soul connections, separation by distance and deep emotional experiences. Read more about the launch of this series by subscribing to my website and receiving my latest Newsletter.

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4. As a mother how do you find the time to paint?

This is a tough one! As every mother knows, things are usually thrown at you from all angles and schedules sometimes go completely out the window. 

I have four children aged between six and twelve – two older girls and twin boys. I must say that I am grateful that they are now all in full time schooling and I can dedicate myself more to my work.

I usually split my day into sections. Four mornings a week are for exercise and painting. After lunch I’ll try to work a bit more before collecting the children from school, or do work-related administration such as emailing clients and organizing finances. I try not to do personal or familyrelated admin until later in the day. After school I focus on the kids. I love to talk to them about their day, help them with their homework, read together and have play dates with other families. Then we have sporting and arts commitments – there’s often a game to attend or costume to get ready! I try to squeeze in some personal and family admin around this but it doesn’t always happen. Something always slips, but I’ve learned to accept that: my children and my work come first.

There have been times when I haven’t been able to paint. I had an extremely difficult full term pregnancy with my twins and breastfed them for over a year. After this, until they turned five, I only did commission work for private clients. I’ve had to be patient, but I always knew the time would come back and I’ve remained focused on this.

It is always a push and pull between my children and my work, but by creating a flexible schedule I am able to dedicate time and space to my art.

5. For parenting of creative children, what advice would you give for their career path?

Creative children are interesting creatures. You will usually notice their talents early on as they just can’t stop doing what they enjoy. I was always doing sand sculpture in the sand pit or churning out 100 drawings in an hour to show off to my parents’ friends. They will have set ideas on their own creativity and a certain arrogance about it. They will always find it hard to take creative advice from authority figures.

Creative children will know intuitively what they want to do and achieve in their lifetime. The trick is not to cloud them. It is very difficult not to be influenced as a young person. For one thing, most children ‘want to please’ and so will go along with the ideas of others on career or lifestyle choices for positive feedback. It is very disheartening if you say you want to be a painter, and every adult around you almost chokes thinking about the notion. Along the way they can lose 4 themselves and who they truly are, and then end up never being fulfilled.

Foster your creative child’s talents. Encourage them, believe in them and give them ‘permission’ to be an artist.

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6. Do you have any advice for other artists coming up the ranks?

Have self-belief Above all you must believe in yourself and your abilities, and have the courage to stick to your convictions and put yourself out there. Make the decision and do it. For me, personalising my work was crucial. I find I am most passionate about my personal experiences and when I bring them to life again through art, I paint with depth and meaning.

Never stop learning

On top of this, develop yourself and educate yourself. In the past, one thing we artists were often not educated in is the art of doing business. Things are better now, with many art schools offering courses in marketing, social media, negotiation and finance. If you don’t have any experience, then enrol yourself in night school or part time courses and workshops, or simply read about it on the internet. All small businesses need these skills to be successful and you are no exception. Connections and opportunities for self-development are everywhere. Take them.

Consider teaching others

Teaching qualifications are also a great way to bring in extra revenue if you are just starting out or struggling to make ends meet out of your painting sales. I find teaching hugely rewarding and the experience also contributes to inspiration for my work.

Outsource and ask for help

It is crucial to reach out to others who are willing to help and support you, and outsource the stuff that is not your forte. This might just be a friendly chat with an IT guy sitting next to you on the plane, or your girlfriend who is a full-time Mum but has a past life in law or commerce and would love to help you succeed with a word of advice or two. If you need a new website and you are not tech-savvy, rather than doing it yourself and ending up with a dodgy product, outsource it to a professional. The rewards will way outstrip the cost. As well as being a creative, you need to come across as a business professional. Find your niche and know your target market Finally, ensure that you fine-tune what you are creating and work out what market you are targeting. You need to be unique and stand out from the crowd. Think about how you are going to do this, then feed this message across your brand, your social media, your work, what you say if you speak about your work, the work itself. Get to grips with social media and use it – regardless of how you may feel about Facebook and Instagram, they are incredibly powerful tools to help you demonstrate your art and reach your audience. Writing my Instagram updates does not always come easily to me, but I am always encouraged by the response. You can see my work on Instagram @jwtjessicawatsonthorp and on Facebook at JWT Jessica Watson-Thorp - let me know what you think!