Studio Notes II January 2017

During my twenties (and after an unsuccessful application to Art College) I had a huge gap of around ten years where I did not create any art at all. Nothing. I had been a good art student at school and whilst don’t have a single piece of art from that time, I remember many of the pieces I created as being rather ‘good’. My teachers encouraged me to apply for Art School but for one reason or another my portfolio was not up to scratch and so followed a long period where art was not in my life.

Fast forward ten years and I began attending some classes at an artists house who taught from her attic studio. I felt like I had lost every ounce of ability to create art –  it had disappeared completely. But I began – one afternoon a week with instruction – feeling like I was starting from scratch when actually it was more a rediscovery of muscles that had long since been unused and neglected. Muscles have memories though and once I began using them again, progress came quicker than I could have imagined. Beginning with simple exercises I stumbled through creating lots and lots of hesitant drawings – still life set ups, portraits copied from magazines, animals from old copies of National Geographic. My tutor was endlessly encouraging and eventually persuaded me to take up classes at a local college where I gained confidence – working out and building up those artistic muscles that had been dormant for so many years.

Eventually I successfully applied to the Art School that had previously (and quite rightly so) rejected my application. I now see that I was really too young and too green to be immersing myself in an Art School Education at the very young and tender age of eighteen. At aged thirty it suited me better. I was more serious, more curious, open-minded and open-hearted. I finally had something to say. I was eager to explore and devour new techniques. I was more able to inquire, research and connect. It was also easier to figure out the difference between what I thought I should be doing and what I really wanted to be doing.


A warm up piece from my studio last week. (22 x 15 inches) Exploring harbour colours and textures from memory. Just beginning with marks on the paper and allowing an image to unfold.

Fast forward another fourteen years and I remember that prolonged period of time where I did not create at all.  It happened too for a time immediately after leaving Art School. Immersed in looking for jobs as a costume designer I once again had a couple of years where I hardly picked up a pencil or a paintbrush. But once again I started from scratch. I remember how it felt to take those first clumsy steps back into drawing and painting after such a long absence.

Whilst I wish I could get to the studio every day now, running an art and teaching business means that it is not always possible. I won’t bore you with the never-ending list of ‘other jobs that need to be attended to’. Nowadays it might only be a short amount of time between studio days (no barren months and years for me these days!) – but even a couple of days can still cause me to feel tense  and out of practice even with daily sketching at home.


A work in progress – from initial marks to acrylic on paper – working from sketches of Craster Harbour (24 x 18 inches)

Below are my studio notes from such a day last week.

Tuesday 24th January 2017

So here I am at my studio again. The days in-between feel like a pause until I can return. A part of me is in stasis whilst the rest of me attempts to complete All The Other Jobs that need to be done. Then I come back to the studio and I sit for a while – somehow feeling like I have taken a step back. Out of practice and uncertain how to begin –  unsure of what to do and how to do it. Absent even though my body is present.

But I know from experience that all I can do is begin. My task is not to over think or wait. I can’t depend on the arrival of some magical bolt of lightning heralding ‘inspiration’. My task is simply to ‘do’ ….. Something. Anything. Just make a start.

Make a mark.

I take out paper and the most simple of materials – charcoal and erasers. I make a mark as a defiant statement of intent.

A statement of intent. I like that.

This mark is a beginning. Something that creates a question that now needs a response. For how can you just make one mark? Something has to follow! What comes next?

Indeed, what does come next?


Work in progress. (30 x 22 inches) Starting with dusty charcoal marks and exploring memories of harbour towns on paper.

Thank you so much for the wonderful response and comments to my post last week. I am so delighted that my writing resonated with you and I hope you don’t mind me continuing to indulge myself with these Studio Notes. I know that I find it inspirational and heartening to read the ‘behind the scenes’ stories of other artists.

I have a few bits of news going out to my subscribers next week (including an announcement of a ‘hardly ever happens’ online studio sale of previous work) so if you would like to receive monthly News from me then please make sure to sign up using the form at the top right of the page here.

Do you have any techniques or words of wisdom for those moments when you hesitate to get to the easel or when you feel out of practice? I would love to hear them!

Comments 8

  1. kath

    thank you Gillian, your words are just as inspirational and grateful to hear as your painting and work is in your classes. sometimes that gap of non-activity can feel like too far, but I’m glad to hear it can be overcome (or narrowed) with lots of hard, regular work.

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Thank you so much Kath for visiting and commenting. I think the gaps are important too – as long as they do not go on too long ; ) But yes, having long since overcome the belief that we can ‘wait’ for inspiration to come, I know that for me just getting to work is the key – starting somewhere!

  2. Caroline

    Dear Gillian,
    Beautiful post…loving your studio notes very much. . .genuine and generous. It is reassuring somehow to know and to hear from you, an artist who went through art school, that this is a journey that we can all experience from time to time. And loving your art, experiments and creations that I found always raw and emotional and that always inspire me to learn more. Thank you Gillian.
    With love

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  3. Aino

    Again, I feel privileged to peek inside your journey. I adore that your are so honest and fond to earth. So it shines through in th our art. I always feel eager to open your blog posts and IG photos. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Sue R

    Dear Gillian, you are so open about your experiences and your journey – this made me feel quite emotional; humbled that you are prepared to share what many others would not, and inspired because you connect with so many of the blockages, emotions and challenges many of us (your students) experience. Priceless, thank you.

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Thank you dear Sue – ah in some ways it feels quite self indulgent – but I do know that for me, I have spent far to many hours just obstinately sat staring at the block waiting for it to shift of its own accord. The more I recognise that I just need to get up and walk around it and take another route – the more time I have to focus on getting to work! And if that can help anyone else – then I can likely write about it till the cows come home!

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