Thoughts on Radical Kindness: Why writers and artists should practice it (Part 3)

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[This is part 3 of a series of blogs about kindness. Please see parts 1 and 2 here]

When I began writing these posts I kind of thought this would have been one of my ‘here are my random thoughts on this’ kind of posts and that would be it. However life rarely turns out as you expect. I have been thinking a bit about my own journey as a person, and as an artist and writer, and what I’m about really through these posts.

I actually wanted to write and make art when I was a teenager, but I also wanted to ‘help people’ and somehow got it into my head that being an artist/writer would mean that I wouldn’t be doing that (I have seriously revised my view on this now!). Instead I went off to university to study medicine, thinking that doctors ‘helped’ people so that was what I should do. While I really loved learning about the science, and believe that having the opportunity to study human anatomy through full body dissection was one of the great privileges of my life, it turned out that the practice of medicine was not for me. I left after four years to do a PhD in psychology, during which I studied things like advertising, persuasion and the impact that stories can have on us. I still wanted to write and make art, but some how I wasn’t ready, because I hadn’t really found my subject.

Later I did research into mental health and genetics, and I left a long term relationship because my then partner would not even talk about having children (hence I am quite late to the baby party). After this I had a bit of a break down really, although I would not have called it that at the time. I was depressed, very anxious, and drinking lots. I was in a bad way, and (cliche alert) I became attached to a number of men who were not attached to me.

I continued to work in mental health but the kind of work I did changed so that I was doing research with colleagues who also had mental health issues. We talked a lot, and I listened a lot, and in the middle of all of that, I found I was ready to make things and write things. I am now writing a novel in which people have experienced trauma and who live with those things. It’s also a fantasy novel, so I am trying to weave in strands of myth and magic, which makes things a bit complicated, but and I think I finally found my subject. I think this is the many splendid forms of being human and all the emotional consequences of that. 

So why do I think that artists and writers in particular should practice radical kindness? I think that, beyond just being a good person, there are a number of reasons. I think to create art, or convincing characters that really speak to people, it can really help to understand people. It can really help to understand the rich and varied emotional lives many people live. To understand people, you need to connect with people on an honest level. To connect with people, it really, really helps if you are kind. People will tell you things about themselves, and help you, incrementally, to better understand all the different ways of being human, if you are kind.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Friday fun

I wanted to share a quick pic of these origami elephants that I made last week for my boyfriend’s birthday. My normal creative MO is cutting paper, but I didn’t start there. Several years ago I became interested in paper art forms through trying my hand at origami. I really loved the elegance of the forms you can create through simply folding paper.

I moved on to paper cutting after seeing an exhibition in the Tate Modern by Matisse. His late work included very large organic shapes cut from large vibrantly coloured pieces of paper. To begin with I was interested in the different silhouettes I could create using bold and contrasting colours. More recently I have been exploring different textures and patterns, including using cloth that has been coated in PVA glue. My practice continues to evolve.

But now and again I try my hand at origami again to make my brain work differently. It’s more like art as a puzzle for me as I still need to follow other people’s patterns. The elephants here were folded from this lovely pattern at spruce crafts.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Building an audience: Redbubble, Threadless and Society6

When I first started this website I was thinking about different ways to try to make money out of my art. In the last few months I’ve been trying out a few different websites that enable you to do this, and now have profiles on Redbubble, Society6 and Threadless. All three websites work on the model that you upload high quality digital photos to the website which can then be printed via good quality digital printing on a range of products, which include wall art, T-shirts, bags, clocks, mugs and stationary. All three sites give clear guidance on the file types and sizes you will need for the different types of product.

I have been thinking about writing this post for a while while I get the hang of using these sites. They all have positive features and drawbacks, which I will probably need to make a few posts on while I continue to get the hang of them. Here are a few early thoughts:

Control over how your design looks products: For me Redbubble have the clear advantage here. Their interface means that you can change the size, and position of your art on the respective product. At the moment Redbubble is also the only site in which you can have your image appear as a repeated pattern on the the product without effectively creating a new design. It is also relatively easy to change the background colour of a number of products, which isn’t that easy on the other two platforms. The other two platforms are much more reliant on the work you do to prepare your files in the first place in ensuring that your image looks good on the products.

Building an Audience: All three platforms operate a kind of internal social media system where you create a profile which is visible to other people who buy or sell art through the sites. In all three platforms you can follow other artists and hope that other people will follow you. The advice appears to be that most sales will be made to other platform users, so collecting likes, followers and comments is a good way of monitoring if your work is being seen, and of eventually generating sales. I have found that so far it has been much easier to build a follower base in Threadless, and Society6.

Threadless runs a regular design competition which enables you to submit a design and invite other Threadless users to vote on your design, which is great fun. Designs with the most votes are likely to be featured on the main website. There appears to be a core group of people who participate in voting in these competitions on a regular basis, so it is a good way of getting your stuff seen. I have a design up at the moment, you can have a look here.

Society6 has an App (unfortunately only on iphones/ iPad at the moment) which functions a bit like instagram, which means that it is relatively easy to scroll through other people’s art and find artists that you like. Commenting and liking other people’s art is a way of drawing attention to your own work, and I have been relatively successful here in a short period of time.

I have found Redbubble less easy to negotiate when trying to build up an audience. While you can participate in challenges, forums, comment on people’s work and follow people in Redbubble I have not been particularly successful in getting my stuff seen there. I don’t find the website particularly easy to use in comparison to the other two platforms for this purpose. I am not quite sure why I am finding it difficult, and this may possibly be a ‘getting the hang of it’ issue. They have a new App which again operates in a similar way to instagram, and which looks good. Unfortunately at the moment you can’t log into it with your profile so it’s not helpful in drawing attention to your own work through interacting with other people (I have been told they are working on a log in feature – personally I think this will really help). That said, I have made sales to people other than my boyfriend, or my boyfriend’s mum, through Redbubble, so it’s not clear to me that gaining lots of followers actually translates into money in the bank.

Getting paid: Both Threadless and Society6 pay through Paypal, and there doesn’t appear to be an option over the currency you are paid in here for either site. As both sites are American, I will be paid in US dollars, while living and designing things in the UK. Redbubble again is the winner here – you can choose to be paid directly into your bank account and you can also choose which currency you want to be paid in, which definitely works better for me.

Tax: For all sites you are responsible for paying income tax in your own country on your earnings. You may also be responsible for paying sales tax in the countries in which your art is sold if you make enough sales to take you over the relevant country’s tax threshold, although they appear to collect VAT so it’s not entirely clear. I am not sure what this mean at the moment, I have some more research to do here.

Those are my thoughts this morning – I am sure that there will be more to follow. I would love to hear about other people’s experiences about using these platforms.

 

Don’t for a minute think about stopping you lovely bunch of creatives

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[EDIT: So I had a nice formal sounding title for this post, but then I went and changed it because this feels better in getting across what I want to say]

I was procrastinating before work this morning and read this article from George Monbiot on the Guardian website about neoliberalism and loneliness and mental health. I thought it was an interesting article and feel he has a number of valid points about how the two things are connected. I was particularly interested in the scientific work he referenced about the link between stress, pain and physical contact. Anyway it’s a good article – I’m not going to re-write what he says here – go check it out for yourself.

The article this morning happened to come to my attention just two days after I had stumbled onto the work of Prof. Paul Crawford from the University of Nottingham after I me him during a day job event. Paul has been suggesting some really interesting ideas about how we enable people to use arts, humanities and creativity in looking after their own mental health and in their recovery from mental illness. He has a particularly interesting ideas around some form of collective healing through arts and humanities. He’s recently published a book called Health Humanities on the subject with Brian Brown, Charley Baker, Victoria Tischler and Brian Abrams. I’ve not read it yet but I’ve downloaded it and will be putting it on the list.

Both Crawford’s talk and Monbiot’s article have lead me to thinking a bit more about our culture and the role of arts in it. I feel over the last decade and probably for longer there has been this odd political positioning of people who are ‘Artists’ who get to do the making of things, and the rest of us as consumers, who are consumers who are meant to buy things. And things have become very easy, and very cheep to buy. This feels like quite a different situation to the one my parents and grandparents grew up in. My grandfather would probably not have called himself an artist, but he could make anything, and it was common for people to make things for each other, like jam. I like jam.

When I was younger I think I had quite a dismissive attitude towards people who made things (unless they were one of those special, magical, serious people, a proper artist), especially people who made things in groups or clubs. I was a child of the 80s, and while I grew up in the countryside without much stuff, the prevailing political climate was one of stuff worship (and not hand made stuff either). I’ve completely changed my mind about this. For people to gather together to share their making, like a meal, or to make things together, like kitting or music, or in staging a play, is a profoundly creative act. To be connected to each other through our creativity is a profoundly human one.

I think there is a backlash towards this at the moment, and it is thrilling. The internet used to be full of cats. Now it is full up of people having a go at being artists. And crafters and cooks and gardeners and poets. And people making Jam. It is full of artists cheering on other artists. A community or creatives supporting other creatives. Brilliant. Don’t for a minute think about stopping you lovely bunch of creatives.