One brushstroke at a time

Overcoming fear, one brushstroke at a time, stuart bush, stuart bush studio, contemporary artist

Overcoming fear by taking one brushstroke at a time

I want to share with you, a story about how I overcame my biggest obstacle and my biggest fear. As I look back to when I finished my post-graduate course in Fine Art in 2007, aged 29 years, I am still surprised how naive I was. I thought I only needed to display my artwork in a proper gallery, it would be seen by someone in the know, and I would be an overnight success. 

How wrong can I get it!  I realise there is no such thing ‘god’s gift’. Unsurprisingly quick success didn’t happen. Instead, shortly after graduation, I had a massive amount of self-doubt and procrastination. 

What I should have done to become successful as an artist, was to keep going to the studio and keep working. But instead, I felt the need to stop and reflect. Overthinking got out of control and became a massive obstacle. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, but I couldn’t stop myself as I was unsure of where I was heading.  

stuart bush studio, you don't understand me, the soho strut series, stuart bush prints, stuart bush artwork, overcoming fear,
©Stuart Bush, You Don’t Understand Me, The Soho Strut Series part 1-4, gouache on paper

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I decided to follow the advice l received during and after art school and I started to promote myself. I looked into all possible opportunities to get my work seen, and that took me further and further away from creating work. 

In the following years, I entered my paintings into juried art shows and open submissions. I emailed images, completed forms, entered my credit card details and applied for funding. Eventually, I learnt to ask myself; does this opportunity contribute towards my goals? Will I accomplish what I want from this exhibition? But most of the time I said yes to every opportunity.  

Like many artists that came before me, and many the artists that will come after me, I wanted to climb the highest mountain. I still do. However, at that time, I wasn’t entirely sure why I was trying to climb the mountain. I just felt the need to climb any mountain. I was moving forward with getting my work out there. However, l was not showing my real passion through my work.  

Stuart Bush Studio, No bodies fault, one brushstroke at a time
©Stuart Bush, Nobodies fault, oil on board 70.2 x 50.4 x 3.6cm

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realise now I was craving recognition because I needed to have a positive outlook to keep me afloat. All I knew was that l wanted to be an artist and break the starving artist myth. I knew I would never give up, and I was on this path for the rest of my life. Luckily I also started to realise there was no rush to get there and I needed to get back to putting the work first.  

There were at least ten different directions to take and mountains to climb. Obviously, it clearly helps to know which mountain you want to climb. After all, you don’t want to waste time climbing the wrong one. So I opened my eyes to a wider variety of approaches.  

So there l was at the foot of a mountain. Unfortunately, my mind continued to overthink, like the fastest of supercomputers. My mind worried about, ‘How long will this take?’ ‘Is my work good enough?’ ‘Can I really achieve my goal?’ ‘What will success look like when I get there?’. The life of an artist is a life of uncertainty.  

I love my work more than what it produces ©Stuart Bush Hard to Concentrate, oil on board 30 x 40 x 3.5 cm

Contemporary art: Taking one brushstroke at a time

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” —Henry Ford

The fear of success leads to even more obstacles. What I didn’t know was that resistance is perfectly normal. If I didn’t have resistance, I might have played it too safe. I used excuses; I’m screwed because I’m too young; I’m too old; it’s the wrong type of economy for my art, this was before the internet really got going. l don’t have enough time or money. l wasn’t good enough, and l was afraid of failure. What l should have thought instead was that my life is fantastic, l can paint every day and do what l love.  

It wasn’t the situation, it was my story that was holding me back. It was my perception of the situation. My perception was the obstacle. It wasn’t fear, it was my perception of fear. It took many years to truly understand that. I had to change the story and change those thoughts. I needed to find a new way to view the situation. How would l feel if in 5 years and l was asked ‘what was holding me back?’ and the answer and situation were still the same, l was afraid. I didn’t make it because l was afraid. It wasn’t anything to do with money, it wasn’t that l didn’t have the time. Right here and now l say screw that story. That story is a lie.  

The story l now have is my superpower. Every time l look at my paintings, l remember this story. The pictures l make are my anchor and the foundation for the future, not my kryptonite.  

Stuart Bush Studio, a pocket full of dreams ©Stuart Bush A pocket full of dreams, oil on canvas, 120.4 cm x 160.4 cm

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The truth is that it can take 10,000 hours of practice to locate that thing I started my journey with. To dig deep to understand the reason why I wanted to make the work. To uncover what is inside of me and the reason why I am an artist. What l needed to know back then was that l needed bigger problems.  

If people say negative stuff to me, I now use my story as power. If I hear ‘you’re not good enough’, I think, thank you. You are giving me just what I need. I am doing this because of you, in spite of you. You have just given me more fuel. Any detractors need to hear that I going to give a hundred per cent they can’t make me feel bad. 

Although l had craved time to reflect on the best way forward, l had been mainly focusing on the small problems, like worrying about what to make next. What l should have done was to show passion and commitment by taking it one brushstroke at a time. Letting the painting lead the way. Painting comes painting. 

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My new story has restarted with an unexceptional and unrecognised idea. But it took time to show and fully understand the significance of the idea. It took time to draw attention to what l had located and noticed. To see the idea’s essence and potential development. As an artist, my job is to notice things that others haven’t noticed. Then become obsessed about raising this glimmer of an idea and to show its importance. There is only one way to do this, one brushstroke at a time. 

I should have congratulated myself when l hit resistance. It is a sign I was moving forward. I needed to find a way through the resistance, over it, past it and around it. My next level of art lived on the other side of my next brush stroke. As Winston Churchill said, that his definition of success is the ability to go from one failure to another, without losing your enthusiasm. 

So now that you have heard my story about how I overcame my most significant obstacles to become an artist. I feel I would be letting you down if I did not share the journey that is summed up in these paintings that l love so much. They encapsulate my heart.  

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I would love to hear about what mountains you want to climb? What fears and obstacles stop you from taking action? And I wonder whether my painting can help you? I love to hear if they can help you to. So please comment below.  

The paintings are available on my website as well as prints and signed limited edition prints. They are available to buy on my website right now.  

Due to it being Black Friday, from now up to the end of the month I would like to offer free shipping in the UK on these prints. Click here to direct message me to get the discount, or click here to buy now.  

Thank you for reading my story. 

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4 thoughts on “One brushstroke at a time”

  1. When I left art school I was told it would take 5 years before I would have a career as a fine artist, and that’s if I did the traditional thing of rubbing elbows with gallery owners for years and finally persuaded them to let me show my work. I followed people like Jeremy Mann who said if you just focus on your work day in and day out, galleries will come to you, you’d never have to approach them. I feel it here in this article, too, where you say just keep painting, don’t worry so much, entering everything you’ve got and submitting to everyone under the sun in hope’s to get noticed isn’t the way to go, focus on the art…..

    I have a family, a 2 year-old and a wife that I need to put food on the table for with my skill set. Time is not a luxury I or most other people who live in the real world have. I cant wait 5 years to “have a career,” I can’t wait for a gallery to find me instead of reaching out to them.

    In all this time you’re reflecting, and discovering what was holding you back from your true potential, etc, etc,…how were you making money? How were you buying food? Were you living on about 5k$ a year like some of us, freaking out about trying to get noticed because your idea of success is making adult money to support a family?

    My obstacle is trying to tune out all this nonsense of “if you paint it they will come”… that might work for the already rich, or no family responsibilities, or outside obligations (debt or what-have-you), single guy willing to live in a terrible studio space…but for real people in the real world trying to scrape together a living to support a family with the only skillset they have, this idea, these suggestions are vague and unhelpful and not based in reality.

    Artists need practical, pragmatic advice on how to further their career, advice that spans many lifestyles (I.e. people who travel, people who don’t have direct access to galleries, people who despise or just don’t do social media). Every artist knows that you have to keep painting every day to get better, to discover new things about themselves, etc…we all know this. Having a career, making real money with what you do is the challenge. And none of this “well have a side job” nonsense either. Having a side job detracts from your pursuit as an artist. There needs to be real advice somewhere.

    1. I feel the bearer of bad news. There are a couple of answers to your problem but I don’t think you want to hear it the first one. Most artist have to work, they often end up teaching, I think you know that already.

      The person that gave you this advice was obviously trying to be helpful but maybe they are already teacher or something themselves? Maybe they are running workshops. They may be earning money by giving out advice.

      Just because you put in the hard work, it doesn’t mean someone is going to come looking for you. It takes a massive amount of effort, knowledge, support and advice to make a living out of art. As you’re clearly experiencing.

      I am not making a living out my art. I am a full-time artist. Re-reading my blog post, l didnt announce that l also have a full time job. But the advice still holds true.

      The tradiational route, youre talking about! I gave up on that after university after about 4 years. I met many artists in that time. I only found a couple who said they were full time artists and making a living from it. I dug deeper and found out that one artist was making £12,000/year while bringing up a family and the other one was making 25,000/year a year while raising a family and working his guts out. However running a business was taking over from making new art work. When I realise this I put the traditional approach in the bin, where I felt it belonged. I started looking for other solutions.

      There arent many artists making a living out of following the tradition approach. The ones that do are working so hard. They have no security and struggle to make it work. The only model lve seen using this kind of approach and living this kind of life style doesn’t provide the bright future I want for my kids. Just a life time of hard work with little reward. That is not the dream I want. It is so hard to break past this poor artist life and find the success that every artist dreams of.

      The top wage in the art sector in small to average organisation, is only around £20,000-40,000 for the top job. That is the director level and the head curator. Comparing that to other sectors it is very low. Even with working in the art sector to pay the bills doesn’t give a great quality of life. Most artists have to face the facts that our society doesn’t support artists. The person that gave you the impression that through hard work it does, has a lot of questions to answer.

      If you have invested in 4-5 years of hard work you are still not guaranteed success. I have researched the stone cold hard facts. It takes more than talent and hard work. It takes 50% of your time in marketing and networking. This is a massive subject that every artist needs to know about.

      Instead of waiting for a gallery why not use social media as a tool? I don’t like it and feel uncomfortable using it but it seems an easier way to start to rub shoulders with customers Or you could try galleries (they often take 50%) but they often know the people who matter. Your potential future collectors! Sometime however galleries just want more of same they don’t want you to move on and go in new directions. Although l don’t like social media l will do what ever is necessary to try to make a go of it.

      Of course I am fully aware that all artist want to do it paint. If you stick to that only, you’re going to strave.

      Legacy and advice that is passed down from successful artists is also extremely important. As long as it is realistic. Savvy painter podcast is free and has a lot of answers. You also need a marketing plan. Another option is working for an established artist who will show you the ropes. It can give you a true understanding of how the system works. Mindset, courage and ability to put yourself out there by overcoming fear also plays a massive part.

      Michael Craig-Martin said,
      “The secret of success is longevity. When you’re 20, there are 50,000 other artists, by the time you’re 30, its down to 5,000, by 40, it’s 2,000. If you make it to 70 there are only 12 of you left and you’re all famous.” His book ‘Being an Artist,’ is an interesting read. Reflecting the real and hard challenges artist face. Michael Craig-Martin was a teacher to pay the bills for many years before he found a way. He started having had success in his 50s as an artist. Even though he was the art tutor for Damien Hurst and Tracey Emins and many other YBAs. 5 years in my eyes is completely unrealistic, unless your have contacts and a lot of luck.

      I have read countless books about art and artists. Some have put their art before their family. Determined that by not getting a job in order to provide for their family is the way they want to go. The book I am reading now is on Philip Guston, Night Studio, and it is written by his daughter Musa. Every page I feel the anguish for her as her father puts his painting before her. I am finding it a painful read and feel her needs are not being met. This has clearly impacted the rest of her life.

      Personally I can’t that to my own children. I have two kids. I decided to work full-time to pay the bills. And I still can work full-time as artist. Then again full time as a parent. I get up at 5am everyday to write. I have carefully selected my approach. I started my full time job aged 23. I wanted to own a car and house and have a family and provide for them. Often I have hard times when I have not been able to paint for months and occasionally year or two. I still put my family first. But I also want be able to paint. To me my success is that I get to call the shots. I can make the work I want to make. I am completely in control.

      My new approach is that I can work towards success over my entire lifetime. This is like what Michael Craig-Martin is going on about in the above. Most artists don’t become successful until their 40s, 50s and 60s. Artists are currently achieving success in the 80s and 90s. Rosie Wylie, was in her 80s when things started happening for her. This is what is happening in the real world. I think she was following your traditional approach, making what she wanted while being patient and waiting to be found. I don’t want to wait until I am 80. I hope to build up my business using the Kevin Kelly’s a 1000 true fans approach. I want to be in charge of my art business. It is amazing how many artists are trying different models to find a way to make living.
      https://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/

      In this article, it talks about the harsh reality for artists and that there is no easy solution.
      https://frieze.com/article/why-artists-are-struggling-make-living-their-art-and-activists-fighting-back?fbclid=IwAR2XpWuLmxIB8QnPrPlY-hM8nxlFqdDSmSAQyE8AojmJK_Qvgx2l-_BqmVg

      I feel the pain in your words as you are looking for answers. I wish there was an easy answer to your frustration. I decided to writing this blog and educate myself, feed my knowledge in my work. So that I will be able to communicate and have confidence in my work. Build a future on my terms. But this does mean not selling my sole but continuing on as a life long goal. I haven’t come across a way to make success happen now.

      I have come across many people saying it is possible to make a living from art. There are coaches and people selling courses. They are not making a living out of selling art. They are trying to make a living out of giving the impression they have the answers. Instead of selling paintings to pay the bills.

      When you look deeper there is no proof and no road map to make living in 5 years. Try a life time instead.

  2. It is very helpful for me, as I wanted success quickly and I was disappointed most of the time… now I am relaxed, I am more confident and I see myself improving and I am confident . I am not seeking recognition as before and I am more happy with what I do.

    1. That nice to know it was helpful Zineb. I personal don’t think success for that comes quickly will last for artists. There are bound to be some exceptions, of course. But lots of artists I listen to that talk about making a living as an artist have multiple ways of earning an income. So not art related. That all takes time to build. We are like small business owners/entrepreneurs in a way. Selling art is often only part of a bigger picture of workshops, talks, teaching, writing, etc. If your after internal recognition rather than external recognition, happiness can be closer than you think. It is just about getting better each day. Looking back over a long period and seeing the progress, over years and decades, rather than money making right now. Sometimes you feel like your going backwards but that is all part of the journey. You need to follow what feels right in the moment. Over time those misdirection make sense. Even to find out that you won’t do that again. Failure is a good thing. Putting pressure on you and your art, means you miss following your intuition. I believe thats where the best works comes from. Making art should pleasure and freedom. Not just another job.

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