How to Stay Inspired and Motivated as an Artist.
Starting a creative art business is hard. I’m sure starting any business is tougher than people expect. Staying curious, inspired and motivated is essential to keep moving forward.
I’m driven by combining a love of creativity with inspiring people to care about animals. But there have been times when I have felt so challenged.
Hours of energy and devotion go in, with no guaranteed results. The building blocks take time. Sometimes things flow, other times it’s a struggle. And creating can be a lonely process, unless you are surrounded by a creative community.
Here are my tips on staying curious, inspired and motivated — which I am learning from my first year of running an art business.
‘You have extraordinary treasures hidden within you. Bringing forth those treasures takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion. We simply do not have time anymore to think so small.’ — Elizabeth Gilbert
- BE CAREFUL OF COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER ‘SUCCESSFUL’ ARTISTS
When we hear success stories, we are rarely told about the years of hard work and challenges to reach success. For most creatives, it takes them years to reach a place of stability in their craft.
‘The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.’ — Paulo Coelho
I think it depends on what success means to you. For me, it’s being financially stable doing work that connects with my heart. Our days are precious. If we feel connected to how we spend our time, we are likely to be satisfied. It’s important to remind myself that other creatives go through, and have gone through, hurdles and struggles. In times of doubt and uncertainty, I remind myself to keep going forward. I have been lucky to have a very supportive partner. He has encouraged me to continue with my ideas and artwork.
Comparing ourselves to others can let fear take the lead. Too easily, fear can stop us embracing change and following our dreams. I’ve recently discovered that my fear is not against me. She just wants to protect me. Instead of resisting fear, I’ve told her she can join my journey, but is not the decision maker. Fear wants us to stay put, because change is heading into the unknown. And that’s scary! But the unknown can be a plateau of beauty and discovery. I remind myself daily to keep moving forward. I’ve got this. You’ve got this. Don’t allow the success of others to overwhelm you and stop you pursuing your dreams. Creative work takes time and commitment.
‘You’re already making a success of your business. Look back to when you first started and see where you are now. Growth, for many people, is slow. But it’s strong, and you are making progress. It’s good to hear “success” stories, but for most of us running a creative business, it’s an ongoing thing — even when from the outside it looks like someone is “successful”. Running a creative business isn’t an easy option, it’s tough, but there are lots of people to support you, and that’s why it’s crucial that we all find those that can help us along the way. You’re doing great, and every day you work hard, every day you struggle, every day you doubt, every day you are proud, will lead you to the place you are meant to be.’ — Helen Bottrill, Founder of The Creative Business Network.
When someone supports my artwork, it lifts me up. It’s a reminder that somebody enjoys my creativity enough to take it home, or offer it as a gift to someone they love. It also reminds me that it can be possible to run a creative business. It’s still early days, but I am grateful for those who have so far supported my work.
Remember those who already support you and lift you up. Surround yourself with people who encourage and lift your heart. There will always be people who criticise. Let it go. Stay uplifted.
‘You have one glorious and brief shot at being the you that is you on Planet Earth, and the power to create whatever reality you desire. Why not be the biggest, happiest, most generous, and fully realised humanoid you can be?’ — Jen Sincero
- FIND A PURPOSE
I am an artist creating watercolour and ink paintings and prints, to raise awareness of animal and wildlife rescue worldwide. My packaging is biodegradable and compostable. I have started by attending art markets, and I’m currently building my online shop. I have volunteered around the world, supporting wildlife and community projects. I aim to volunteer again in the future as part of my research. My inspirations include wildlife, nature, animal companions and world travel.
It has been encouraging and rewarding meeting people who run fantastic organisations, inspiring positive change in the world. I recently met a wonderful couple who run the charity OVAID — helping support the welfare of orangutans by providing veterinary medicines, equipment and expertise to rescue groups in Indonesia and Malaysia. In Borneo, the orangutan was classified as critically endangered in 2016. I have also teamed up with the ocean charity ORCA. The work and mission of these organisations inspire me to continue.
Finding a purpose within my business has led me to discover organisations who are trying to educate the world about compassion for the planet, the environment and wildlife. Blue the Film, The Whale Company, The Big Blue Ocean Clean Up and The Jaguar Rescue Centre in Costa Rica are just a few.
‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.’ — Robert Swan
Some years ago, I spent time travelling through New Zealand and volunteering for the organisations WWOOF and HelpX. I remember seeing whales off the coast of New Zealand. A sense of awe fell upon my heart. The earth, with all her amazing life, is precious. These experiences remind me how we are all a part of nature.
‘If we consider that the human body is a universe within itself, it is only natural to conclude that we carry within us all the elements.’ — Masaru Emoto
- BE INSPIRED BY THE WORK OF OTHERS
The brilliant artist Michelle Fleur inspired me to explore painting whales in watercolour. Her stories of whale life off the coast of Australia are so beautiful, and a reminder that it’s more important than ever that we work together to help look after the ocean. Right now, humpback whales are swimming North through the Pacific. What graceful beings.
I have also been inspired by Maori culture and indigenous communities from my international travels. Ika Moana means ‘whale’ in Maori. These beautiful creatures are often regarded as guardians on ancestors’ canoe journeys. In many cultures around the world, whales are deeply respected.
I believe art gives us the ability to share messages and raise awareness. It’s a powerful tool in this world. Images and words have such weight and meaning. Artwork can inspire and change lives. Artwork can create positive change. Artwork can connect with people’s hearts.
Jane Goodall has always been such an inspiration to me. I wrote my thesis at university on animal minds and our connection to other species. Throughout my degree, I studied books by Jane Goodall, Peter Singer, and various other inspiring figures.
‘There is no passion to be found in settling for a life less than the one you are capable of living.’ — Nelson Mandela
- CONNECT WITH A CREATIVE COMMUNITY
Having a creative community is essential to staying positive and motivated. Last winter was very difficult. We had moved to a new home, and had to start building a community from scratch. My dad was also diagnosed with cancer. It was the first winter of running my art business, and I felt so lonely. The short days, lack of creative community, my dad’s diagnosis, living in a new location and moving away from friends in the city led to a deep sense of isolation. I cannot count the number of times I thought about giving up on creative pursuits. But I kept reading, learning, reaching out and connecting.
In May of this year, I started an eight-week online course ‘Joining the Dots’, on developing a creative business and marketing. This course is run by Helen Bottrill of The Creative Business Network. It has been amazing to join a weekly online community of artists and makers, and learn new techniques on how to develop and build a creative business. I have also attended a marketing workshop, held by Patricia van den Akker of The Design Trust. She offers lots of information and tips on how to develop your creative business.
I am slowly meeting other artists and creatives all going through a similar journey. It’s been invaluable talking and connecting with others on this path. Keep reaching out. Keep connecting.
- KEEP LEARNING, READ STORIES, EDUCATE YOURSELF
I was recently contacted by Real Africa — an independent travel company with conservation at the core of their ethos. They asked me to feature my work in Sketch for Survival 2018 with Explorers Against Extinction. This is a wildlife conservation campaign. They work around the world to encourage the protection of wildlife and the environment. Sketch for Survival is an exhibition of wildlife work to raise funds, helping protect endangered species. The exhibition will be displayed in London and Manhattan, New York this autumn.
Through creating wildlife art and animal art, and honing in on a specific project, I am learning so much about species around the world. I am painting animals that I have never heard of before, such as the Guatemalan Resplendent Quetzal. These beautiful birds play a role in Mesoamerican mythology, which have retained some shamanistic elements. In Mesoamerican cosmology, mountains and tall trees connect the middle and upper worlds. Caves connect the middle and underworlds. Nature is the source of our existence.
I have painted ocean life and bird life. There are six species of toucans in Costa Rica. The countries indigenous communities build up extensive mythologies surrounding Costa Rican wildlife. Amongst the Bribri and Boruca tribes, animals feature strongly in their legends and healing ceremonies. Shamans predict the possible future of the dreamer, by exploring the appearance of certain animals in their dreams. Animal presence has spiritual significance to these people. For example, the silky anteater is believed to carry the Bribri’s souls to heaven.
These are beautiful stories.
Art educates. A dear friend of mine creates stunning artwork of wildlife. Her polar bear illustration is one of my favourites. Through images, we can share stories. We can inspire. When I saw her polar bear illustration, I began researching this beautiful animal. I learned how sea ice is vital to their survival. It provides a place for them to hunt, live and breed. Sea ice is an entire ecosystem. The plankton and micro-organisms provide food and nourishment for seals, which polar bears survive on. Nature is cyclical. Everything is interconnected. The existence and health of these habitats is vital for wild animals to survive.
Through creating doodles of jungles and rainforests, I have learned about the Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon is home to a third of the world’s species and a quarter of the world’s fresh water. A fifth of the world’s forests live in the Amazon, and two-hundred indigenous communities reside in the Amazon rainforest. What a place full of life, nature, wilderness, culture and abundance.
Painting a sloth, I have learned that the Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth is the most endangered of all the Xenarthra (a group of placental mammals represented by anteaters, tree sloths, and armadillos). This particular sloth population is confined to a tiny island off the coast of Panama. These little guys spend their lives in tropical rainforests and move at a rate of forty yards per day. They also sleep fifteen to twenty hours a day. And they can swim.
Painting elephants, I have learned that these majestic beings are known to be intelligent, intuitive animals. Lawrence Anthony — known as the elephant whisperer — spent his life saving animals and rehabilitating elephants. When he passed away, wild herds of elephants visited his home. They walked over twelve miles to reach his house in South Africa and say goodbye.
Stories help us to understand the world — to see life from a different perspective — to empathise.
Travel changes me. Meeting people from all over the world opens my mind. Being in a place I don’t know the language, I become more aware of my words. Walking across landscapes I do not know, humbles me. It allows me to step outside the bubble of home and realise how connected we all are. Travelling opens my heart.
My international travels over the years — throughout Europe, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and Taiwan, have immensely inspired my creative path. The colourful art filled streets of Europe, temples in Asia, wilderness and nature in New Zealand, and indigenous cultures in Taiwan, have all left a mark on my mind and imagination. These experiences change and transform us. I love exploring this diverse and beautiful world.
I once spent time travelling in Taiwan, teaching English. Any opportunity I had to escape to the hills, I went. The mountains of Taiwan are rich with culture. I feel so moved whenever I meet people from different cultures around the world. It’s a reminder that we are all sharing this one beautiful planet. The Amis people of Taiwan speak Amis, an Austronesian language. There are sixteen recognised aboriginal communities in Taiwan. I felt humbled to be welcomed by these people, and learn about their culture.
We stayed with a local tea farmer, who showed us the process of preparing and drying tea leaves. His homestay was perched on the hilltop in Wushe — the gateway to Taiwan’s high mountains. There is an aboriginal museum in this town. Here, I learned about Taiwanese indigenous cultures and the Wushe incident. For anyone who wants to learn about Taiwanese indigenous history — have a watch of ‘Warriors of the Rainbow — Seediq Bale.’ It’s a brutal film about the Wushe incident in the late 1930’s.
At this man’s homestay, we were well fed and ate delicious local food. I am so grateful for these experiences in life.
‘Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.’ — Anthony Bourdain
- REMEMBER THAT YOU HAVE ALL YOU NEED — FIND CONTENTMENT IN THE PRESENT
Beyond the Break, is the story of a group of pro surfers who give up their sponsored careers surfing around the world, to be environmental and stay at home in Ireland, growing food and planting trees at Moy Hill Community Farm — realising the waves they were chasing across the globe were always there, back at home. A good reminder that sometimes we keep chasing more, when all we need in our lives is already with us.
A couple of years ago, I started writing my first memoir about independent travel, fear and courage. Writing a book is one of the hardest projects I have ever worked at. I now have an appreciation for the time and energy involved in writing a book. I have started sending my story to literary agents. A number of writers, including Elizabeth Gilbert, Paulo Coelho and Cheryl Strayed, all inspire me to keep following my creative dreams. They also remind me to enjoy the process. It’s all a part of life’s journey.
We are filled with so much information and distraction every day. With social media and the internet, it’s too easy to compare our lives with others. How important it is to take time for contemplation and practice gratitude. In my book, I write about regret. It’s very easy to let our minds wander. When we feel down, all too easily our heads can ponder on ‘what if’ and ‘could have.’ This thinking doesn’t serve us. I now ask myself ‘What am I doing today? What am I doing in the present moment?’ Make friends with inspiration and gratitude. Watch movies that make you laugh. Accept failure, she is our best teacher. Fill your head with interesting, positive stimuli. For myself, all these things and a healthier lifestyle have done wonders. I am always learning. Be compassionate to yourself.
Creative projects take time. I am learning to be patient and enjoy the process. We are all striving to achieve our goals, but the journey to these goals is just as important. I’m learning, each and every day, to appreciate the now and trust the path I am on.
Sometimes it feels as though everyone is running, rushing and moving forward — always onto the next thing — going to the next place. To have patience — this, my friends, creates a butterfly from a caterpillar. Writing is such a cathartic and personal process. Nothing we dream for is easy. We must work diligently and stay focused. But remember to trust your journey and remain true to your heart.
Mark Nepo is a writer, poet and philosopher. He believes that daily journaling can help us develop our own conversation with the universe. By practicing daily, being present, following and trusting what comes up, we can gradually and slowly begin to understand ourselves more clearly.
‘Honest, authentic expression, helps us transform ourselves into who we really are. You become who you are, not who you think you are going to be.’ — Mark Nepo
- REMEMBER — YOU ARE NOT ALONE
A friend of mine suffers with depression. She recently told me she feels so left behind and alone, whilst the rest of the world carries on, and people keep moving forward. It got me thinking about social media and our modern world. The internet is a fantastic tool to grow a business and make contacts, but we often only share the positive and successful aspects of our lives. Rarely do we share the pains and losses in our lives. I told my friend that no-one is immune to pain and suffering.
Depression has a cruel ability to make the sufferer believe that their pain and loneliness is more intense than the rest of the worlds. But it is a trickster. I hope those words gave her some solace. Talking and opening up can help people.
‘Those who truly love us will never knowingly ask us to be other than we are.’ — Mark Nepo
Feeling alone can be one of the most challenging parts of the creative process. Listening to podcasts whilst painting is a great way to get inspiration and feel less lonely. Dan Blank offers a great podcast on We Grow Media. I recently listened to him interview one of my favourite artists, Meera Lee Patel, about the creative process, the time and energy taken to build her creative career, overcoming fear, comparisonitis, and being OK with where you are at. She shares so many encouraging and insightful words.
‘Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’ — Einstein
- KEEP PLAYING AND LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
Beyond trying to run a business and work, we still need play in our lives. To be creative, purely for the joy of it, is invaluable to my wellbeing. I played guitar for about fifteen years, before transitioning over to the ukulele. This instrument is so uplifting and playful. I’m absorbed by Bossa Nova. Music brings people together — from all backgrounds and communities. Music is a truly universal language, to help people connect all over the world. Perhaps, if you feel stuck or stressed, explore a new hobby — just for the joy of play.
We also need to look after our physical and mental health. Yin Yoga helps me feel calm and grounded. It was first brought over to the US by Kung Fu master Cho Chat Ling. He passed his teachings on to Master Paulie Zink. He practiced Monkey kung fu — which has roots in ground work, breathing meditations and Yin Yoga.
I take time, when I can, to be amongst nature. Spending time surrounded by trees is so grounding. In Japan, they have a passion for ‘forest-bathing.’ This is called Shinrin-yoku. The forest helps our wellbeing. I often notice a shift in my being when spending time by the ocean, amongst the forest or on a mountain top.
Connecting with an animal companion can also bring joy and contentment to so many peoples’ lives. De-stressing with a doggy pal, walking, and cuddling — all help create calm and support wellbeing. There are plenty of shelter animals waiting for a forever home, who would love nothing more than cuddling all day long!
Life is busy. Our behaviours and responses to life are an ongoing journey of learning and practice. I do believe though, that instead of spending hours in front of the TV, or scrolling endlessly online, creative living can bring inspiration and joy into our lives.
‘At any moment, you have a choice that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.’ — Thich Nhat Hanh