HOW TO GET UNSTUCK

 Wet paint, work in progress.

Wet paint, work in progress.

I had one of those great days in the studio this week, a day when everything seemed to work and I was in a wonderful creative flow. Paintings seemed to unfurl and burst into life with ease. Everything just seemed to work. It was like magic. 

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And that got me thinking about the days when the magic is missing. That these wonderful easy days, the days that feel full of artistic alchemy are not all that common. There are so many days when the creative process is harder, days when I feel stuck or uninspired.

So incase you feel the same, I wanted to share with you some of the tools and techniques I have found that work for me. Things I find so valuable on the 'unflowy' kind of days.

Tricks to magic up the 'flow' when it doesn't seem to be appearing on its own.  Ways of getting unstuck whilst creating and ways to start yourself creating when inspiration seems elusive. 

Getting perspective

When  you are  stuck whilst in the process of creating, getting some perspective can work wonders. 

Sometimes you are just too close to the piece of artwork that you are creating. A little distance can be so useful to get some perspective so you can see 'the wood for the trees'. There's the classic, 'leave it and come back to it the next day' technique. This time away from an artwork allows you to see it with fresh eyes. It gives you the objectivity that might be missing whilst you are actually working on it.

But sometimes you need to magic up some in-the-moment perspective when you don't have the luxury of lots of time. My go-to technique is taking a photograph of the work on my phone. Somehow I see the work with more objectivity by using this one-step-removed method. I invariably see things in the photo that I didn't see whilst working on the painting. I might even take a black and white photograph so I can see the tonal differences.

Helen Wells art

Another way to get perspective is to move yourself physically away from what you are working on. Look at the work from a more removed vantage point, I might put it on the wall and move away or just put it on the floor.

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Another technique is to turn the painting upside down. Basically all these methods help me to see my work with new eyes, give me a new perspective and often this is all I need to release me from being stuck in that moment.

More than one on the go

I find that working on more than one painting or piece at a time helps to get me unstuck. By working on several different pieces at once, I'm creating my own flow and momentum.

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In some ways this is also practical for me, as I  use lots of layers of paint and it stops the 'waiting around for the paint to dry'. It also creates an energy and if I'm feeling stuck on one, I can just move on to the next, it creates a break in routine and means that I'm not just looking or obsessing about one piece, it’s just another way of gaining valuable perspective and a little bit of distance.

Don't wait for inspiration

I read somewhere that 'inspiration is for amateurs' and whilst I think this is overly brash, I do agree with the sentiment that you can't just wait around for inspiration to find you, you have to go and find it. If you're waiting for a time when you feel truly inspired, you could be waiting around for ever.

I find that sometimes I have to actively kickstart my inspiration. On days when I'm feeling decidedly under inspired, I have to manufacture my inspiration. I find that taking some action, doing something, turning up at the blank page and just starting is often enough to get the ball rolling. When inspiration is elusive I set myself a small task or project to manufacture my missing inspiration. (See setting boundaries for some ideas.)

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Setting boundaries

Sometimes infinite possibilities are paralysing rather than liberating. Sometimes it can feel daunting to know that you could do, or create absolutely anything. Limitless options can lead to lack of action.

So on the days when my mindset is decidedly 'unflow' like I set myself small tasks just to get myself going and create the momentum that comes with action. I set myself parameters and boundaries that help me overcome the issue of infinite choices.

I might go to the greengrocer and decide to pick one piece of fruit or one vegetable that I find interesting and use that to inspire some drawings.. (I particularly like pineapples and broccoli). I might set myself a limited colour palette, ie I can only use blue or red, or I can only create a piece that is pink or grey.

I might use one small bit of stimuli to create 10 images, i.e. one leaf drawn over and over again.

I might open a magazine at a random page and use whatever text or image I see as a springboard.

I might take myself and my camera on a 10 minute walk, actively searching for inspiration and something I find interesting.

I might pick an artist I'm interested in and use one of their paintings as an inspiration.

I might re-purpose an old painting, cut it up and use it to create something new. I find that setting my own boundaries makes it easier to start and once you've started, it is easier to carry on.

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Letting go

Because I'm always happy to start over with a painting if it's not working, to paint over it, cut it up or repurpose it, it means I am now less attached to every piece being perfect.

Some of the things I create are wonderful and some of them are rubbish. Over the years I've learnt to let go of my perfectionist tendencies, the unrealistic expectations which put too much pressure on the act of creating, the expectations which can even stop you creating completely.  I've discovered the hard way that the less I am attached to perfection the better the piece seems to turn out, the more I embrace playfulness rather than perfection the better my work ends up.

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NEW SERIES OF COLOURFUL PAINTINGS ON CANVAS

Colour in a picture is like enthusiasm in life
— Vincent Van Gogh

I've been working away on some new colourful paintings. The series is called Colour and Joy and I had a lot of joy painting them. 

I love experimenting with different materials and these art works are made by applying lots of layers of acrylic paint to stretched canvas.

I don't use acrylic paint that often, but I'm currently having a good full blown love affair with it. I don't use square canvases often either but I'm really loving the dynamics of using a square. So creating this series of paintings has been a lovely reminder to experiment, use different materials, get out of my comfortable groove, try something different and see where it takes you. 

Helen Wells abstract art

I am always obsessed by overlaying colours and patterns on top of each other to create crazy combinations and I've found acrylic paint allows me to do this in a different way to watercolour. So let's see  how this new artistic experiment develops. I'm toying with doing some big canvases.

I've just put these four brand new paintings in my shop where I am currently trialing free international delivery. 

 Colour and Joy Two by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy Two by Helen Wells

 Colour and Joy Four by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy Four by Helen Wells

 Colour and Joy Three by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy Three by Helen Wells

 Colour and Joy One by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy One by Helen Wells

PAINT, PATTERN AND COLOUR IN MY STUDIO

I love taking photographs as I work. Often stepping back and looking at an art work through the camera or phone lens gives you a totally different, more objective view. I often see different aspects, areas or dynamics when looking through the lens.

There are lots of good techniques for gaining this kind of perspective, looking at an artwork in the mirror, coming back to a painting on a different day or even turning it upside down, but my favourite is taking photographs. 

My obsession with patterns and colours mean that I often spot an interesting combination as I work. Here are some of my favourite photographs from my studio. A celebration of paint, pattern and colour...

Helen Wells Artist
Abstract art by Helen Wells
Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist
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Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist
Abstract art by Helen Wells
Abstract art by Helen Wells
Helen Wells Artist
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REFLECTIONS ON WATER

These landscapes of water and reflection have become an obsession
— CLAUDE MONET

I've been working on two new paintings this week, inspired by reflections on water.  A theme I keep coming back to again and again. I seem to be endlessly intrigued by how patterns and images shimmer and transform when water is their mirror.

For those of you who know my work, you will know I have an enduring love affair with multiple layers, shiny shimmering elements, dashes, splashes and dancing dots. Somehow  reflections on water satisfy all my obsessions for  shifting shapes and magical hidden depths.

Below are the two paintings that I've been working on called Mirror Water and Mirror Water Two. They are made by adding multiple layers of paint on canvas. When I say multiple I mean multiple, probably about 15 layers.  The first painting started off like this..

 

 PAINTING IN PROGRESS, WET PAINT DRIPPING

PAINTING IN PROGRESS, WET PAINT DRIPPING

And developed into this:

 NEW ACRYLIC PAINTING ON CANVAS called mirror water BY HELEN WELLS

NEW ACRYLIC PAINTING ON CANVAS called mirror water BY HELEN WELLS

 DETAIL SHOT OF NEW PAINTING 

DETAIL SHOT OF NEW PAINTING 

 DETAIL SHOT OF NEW PAINTING MIRROR WATER

DETAIL SHOT OF NEW PAINTING MIRROR WATER

 mIRROR WATER TWO

mIRROR WATER TWO

 DETAIL OF MIRROR WATER TWO

DETAIL OF MIRROR WATER TWO

This one off painting  is now available  in my shop.

A little rummage through my art archives showed just how often I come back to this theme. I  often use watercolour as the medium. I think there is a lovely synchronicity between the subject and this type of paint, the way water flows and ebbs on the paper creating unexpected colours and shapes with the paint. Here are some more of my paintings which have been based on this theme:

 LAKE IN HANOI VIETNAM

LAKE IN HANOI VIETNAM

Reflections on water by Helen Wells

There are some beautiful lakes/ponds in my local park and I love the way throughout the year the reflections of the trees morph and change as the seasons come and go.

 REFLECTIONS ON WATER, MORNING WALK IN ALEXANDRA PARK HASTINGS

REFLECTIONS ON WATER, MORNING WALK IN ALEXANDRA PARK HASTINGS

 PAINTING THAT WON WINSOR & NEWTON WATERCOLOUR REVOLUTION COMPETITION

PAINTING THAT WON WINSOR & NEWTON WATERCOLOUR REVOLUTION COMPETITION

Reflections on water by Helen Wells

THE INSPIRATION OF SEA AND SKY

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
— Jacques Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer

This year I've been working on a series of paintings which are directly influenced by living near the sea in Hastings on the south coast of England.

I'm super lucky to have the sea at the end of my street and can see it from my studio window. It's a magical and alluring presence in my life and its influence is evident in my abstract art works. 

it strikes me that there is a powerful connection between this inspirational force and the medium I'm most often drawn to - watercolour paint, which comes alive because of how it combines with water. 

Helen Wells Abstract Art

I love the way the colour mixes with the water on the page and creates unexpected patterns. I love the transparency of it, the ability to build up layer after layer of paint. There’s a wild-childness about watercolour, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do, and I love it all the more for that.

Helen Wells Abstract Art

The Sea and Sky series of paintings I've been working on this year feature this wonderful wild-child watercolour paint as well as acrylic ink & paints and gold paint details.

I love mixing different kinds of medium and paint to achieve patterns and textures, multiple layers and sometimes it creates a total mess, sometimes it creates magic. 

Helen Wells Work in Progress
Helen Wells Work in Progress
Helen Wells Artist work in progress

This new series of paintings is now available in my shop

MONOPRINTING WITH A GELATIN PLATE

I've always loved collaging with various found patterned paper. I quite often just cut bits of pattern from the pages of magazines and use those, but this week I thought I'd print up some of my own papers to use. As a lover of layers and intricate pattern, I find that collaged paper gives an extra special dimension to my sketchbook pages. I was inspired by a walk in the park, where I picked up all sorts of random autumn leaves and interesting twigs that were lying around. I used these with my Gelli Arts® gelatine printing plate to create some colourful, textured pages which I will use within my sketchbook. I might tear them up, cut them up or work over the top of them to create interesting layers and patterns.

Helen Wells Printing Experiment

Here's how I made them. I rolled some acrylic paint onto the gelatin plate with a brayer and plonked some leaves on the wet paint.

Helen Wells Printing Experiment

As I was just wanting some pages to use in my sketchbook, I used cheap copier paper. I have used beautiful watercolour paper with the gelatin plate before and it gives a lovely texture, but this time I wanted some papers to cut up and use, so used cheap and cheerful paper. I pressed the paper onto the leaves and wet paint with my hands to achieve a silhouette print effect.

Helen Wells Printing Experiment

I then removed the leaves and it left behind a lovely relief image which I used to make a print.

Helen Wells Printing Experiment
Helen Wells Printing Experiment
Helen Wells Printing Experiment

I printed each page several times to get the kind of effect I was after. Above I added white paint onto the plate and printed over a print I had already taken.

Helen Wells Printing Experiment

Turning the leaves around so the inky side was facing the paper gave another interesting effect.

Helen Wells Printing Experiment

I used the same leaves over and over again. 

Helen Wells Printing Experiment
Helen Wells Printing Experiment
Helen Wells Printing Experiment
Helen Wells Printing Experiment

I love this kind of printing. It is super quick and you can get some beautiful and unexpected results very easily.

Helen Wells Printing Experiment
Helen Wells Printing Experiment

As soon as I have used these hand printed leaf pages in my sketchbook, I will let you see them. In the meantime here are two examples of pages from my sketchbook which incorporate hand printed pattern collaged elements. Talking of sketchbooks I am still working away behind the scenes, writing and filming my Expressive Sketchbook course, it is taking a little longer than I had planned so it is now going to go live in May 2018.

Helen Wells Printing Experiment
Helen Wells Printing Experiment

PLANNING AHEAD WITH FEELING

The fabulous thing about being an artist is that you are entirely responsible for your own productivity, motivation, money generation, creative flow...but this self reliance can also be one of the hardest things...

helen wells artist

PLANNING AHEAD

I wanted to share with you a simple exercise that I have used this year to help keep me (mostly) motivated, (mostly) focused and (mostly) on the right track, incase it might help you too. 

It's a deceptively simple tool, yet not necessarily easy. Back in December 2016 - I thought about the year ahead and scribbled some notes in my sketchbook to answer these three questions:

  • What do I want to achieve in 2017?
  • How do I want to feel in 2017?
  • Why do I do what I do?

I found these three questions, very powerful in helping me to think through not just what I wanted to do in the year, but how I wanted to feel about doing it and ultimately the reason I do what I do... 

helen wells organic art

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE?

Let me share with you, how I answered these three questions, so you can see what I mean. Starting with the "what" question. This was perhaps the easiest list to write as it was more practical and action orientated. Here are some of the things I wanted to achieve in 2017: 

  • Develop an online class on sketchbooks
  • Go to a ceramics class
  • Incorporate embroidery into my artworks
  • Travel to India
  • Rebuild my website to include an online shop
  • Try new recipes, experiment with different cuisines
helen wells artist

HOW DO YOU WANT TO FEEL?

The second list was definitely harder, but I thought there was real value in articulating how I wanted to feel. I know that one of the tricks of goal setting is to write ambitions in the affirmative, as it they are already a reality, ie "I am xx" rather than... "I really desperately hope that I might someday be xx". So with this in mind, I started off by writing down a list of feelings/ values which were important to me.  I played about with them and managed to turn them into 7 short affirmative sentences. Here are four of mine:

Helen wells artist
  • I live a live full of colour, creativity and pattern
  • I work hard and try new things
  • I embrace my quirky weirdness and stay true to it
  • I am grateful for the joy and abundance in my life
helen wells artist

WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?

This was definitely the hardest thing to even begin to answer, but even having a stab at trying to answer it was quite enlightening. I had to really think about what makes me get out of bed in the morning, why do I do what I do...what is my bigger purpose..I found it very hard indeed.

 I wrote this:

"I want to develop my artistic practice and push my creative boundaries so that I can inspire and help others to do the same and make the world a more colourful/joyful place"

I have recently bought Simon Sinek's book on Finding Your Why. This book is meant to help you articulate your why or life mission, I haven't read it yet, when I do, I will no doubt completely re-write the above...

helen wells art

BIGGER PICTURE

So that was the process I followed this time last year. Just three simple questions. The What, How and Why of my year. I definitely haven't achieved everything I set out to, nowhere near, I have been more grumpy than joyful at times...I'm still writing and developing my online class, I didn't get to India (I did go to Vietnam), BUT I did find the thought process very helpful indeed.

Throughout the whole year I have revisited what I said and it has given me a renewed focus and a wider context to move forward and take actions.

I'm going to follow the same process for this coming year and see what changes. There is something about the start of a new year that I find very appealing. It comes with an inbuilt sense of opportunity, a sense of possibility and newness. 

For me,  it provides a re-set and a time to reflect, review and re-focus on what I would like to achieve and how I would like my career, life and creative adventure to unfold. Watch this space....

expressive sketchbooks
helen wells artist

Life as an artist. Some things I've learnt.

Don’t be a good girl. Do embrace your weirdness. Jealously guard your time to create. Don’t iron your shirts. Feel scared and get on with it.
— Helen Wells
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I read a lot about creativity, what it is and how to nurture it. I have so many books on the subject. I'm fascinated about the creative process and find myself frequently reading about it. Recently, as I've started to develop my online class on Expressive Sketchbooks, my reading on the subject has reached fever pitch. And today I was thinking about whether this excessive reading was helpful and why I felt the need to read every single book, ever written on the subject...

It dawned on me that I was doing what I know a lot of women do and what we have been conditioned to do. I was being good and diligent. I was over preparing. I was hiding behind research. I was being a good girl. I was wanting to know all the theory to feel equipped and confident and in charge and in control. I was hiding behind collecting and collating other people's ideas.  I was unconsciously thinking...if I read just one more book, one more article, it will make me a better teacher, a better creativity coach, more informed, less vulnerable and it might do these things...  

Then I gave myself a talking to....the truth is I've been running sessions on creativity, and teaching people creativity techniques for 20 years, I'm a professional artist, I literally create new art works every day. I have a story to tell and I don't need to tell somebody else's. I have my own thoughts on this subject, I don't need to collect everybody else's to validate mine. 

So in the spirit of not telling you what other people think, today, I thought I'd shake myself out of good-diligent-over-prepared-researching-not-doing mode and just write a blog post, off-the-cuff about what I've learnt as an artist. I'm just going to get on and type and see where it goes. No preparation, just honesty. Here goes:

Helen wells art

 

1. WEIRD IS WONDERFUL

There is no such thing as normal. I've done my fair share of people pleasing and trying to fit in. But now, rather than trying to straighten out my quirks, I realise that my weird bits are perhaps the most interesting bits about me. My lifelong obsession with patterns (I can still remember all the carpet and wallpaper patterns in a house we left when I was five), that fact I think that some smells have colours, my highly sensitive personality, my all consuming love affairs with random items from the natural world, (shells, feathers, pine cones, leaves, seaweed, fish scales)... all these things are the things which come out in my art. Rather than suppressing them, I am trying to embrace them, celebrate them, utilise them.

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2.SET BACKS CAN HAVE SILVER LININGS

I was once rejected from a prestigious London Art School because I was useless at talking about my work. I heard after the interview that they would have enrolled me on the strength of my work, but that I was terrible in the interview. They had a point, I was terrible in the interview. I think I was actually crying as I zipped up my portfolio case and left the interview room. The interview was brutal and left me feeling bruised and humiliated. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, I would have hated studying at that particular university.  I've probably been more successful and happier because I've followed my own wonky path and forged my career on my own terms. 

Helen Wells sketchbook

 

3.ONLY COMPARE/COMPETE WITH YOURSELF

Social media has made it so easy for us to compare ourselves, our lives, our creative output, our artwork with other people’s artwork. Or so we think… in my experience we tend to compare our very worst bits with someone else’s best bits. I've now learnt to stop comparing my artistic journey with anyone else's. I believe that comparison is the thief of joy. I now only want to compare my work against my work. Am I learning? Am I developing? Am I expressing myself? Am I connecting with others? Am I doing my best work? Am I feeling fulfilled by my output? Am I pushing myself?

helen wells.

 

4.CREATIVITY IS A PRACTICE

Creativity takes practice, it is not about innate genius, or talent necessarily, it's about doing, and doing some more. I'm a great believer in the power of starting. The power of taking some action and going from there. Turning up at the page and just starting. We can spend out lives thinking... and planning...and pondering... and ...considering. Sometimes this thinking and planning can be especially valuable, but we need to guard against it stopping us from progressing. See above.. I'm as guilty as anyone. So rather than thinking about starting and unproductive procrastination, sometimes we just need to give ourselves a good push up the bum, count down from five and begin, five...four...three...two...one.. and we start. And then we respond to what we have done. And then we edit and refine, but we take some action...we are progressing.

Helen Wells abstract art

 

5.MAKE AND FIND TIME

Life is hectic. There is always too much to fit in. I get it. But finding and making time to nurture my creativity and explore my ideas has been life enhancing and life changing. I am often guilty of playing the too busy card, but when I find time to play and experiment in my sketchbook I always feel more alive, more inspired and more connected to myself. There are always other things I should be doing, but I now don't iron a single thing and my life is better for it. I draw whilst watching television. I always carry a notebook and write down ideas whilst on the train or at the bus stop. I take photos of interesting patterns on the way to the Post Office. I bung food in a slow cooker before breakfast and dinner miraculously makes itself. I turn off my phone and paint. I sometimes cancel social engagements because I want to make art. I have become better at jealously guarding my creative time and carving out space.

HELEN WELLS ART

 

6. FEEL SCARED AND GET ON WITH IT

Insecurity, anxiety and fear will always rear their heads. In the past I have let my internal negative monologue stop me in my tracks, in fact it stopped me creating and drawing for years.  I’m sad that I let that happen, but I’m making up for lost time now. I still fear scared, I still feel uncertain, but I just get on with it and the 'doing' makes me feel so much better than the 'not doing' ever did. 

helen wells abstract art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO NOT 'GET IN THE WAY' OF YOUR OWN CREATIVITY

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Creative people are curious, flexible, and independent with a tremendous spirit and a love of play
— HENRI MATISSE

You are a creative powerhouse! I know that sometimes it may not feel like it, but I believe we are all innately creative with a massive amount of creative potential.

Sometimes we get in our own way and in the way of this potential.  I certainly have.  

Here is what I have learnt along the way about the creative process, or as I’m being snazzy today “Seven ways to develop your creative courage”. I hope it may resonate with you and your experiences.

helen wells art

1. LOVE THE PROCESS.

Whether it’s creative writing, or drawing, or making music, a big, important part of the joy of creating is the process itself or the ‘doing’. 

We often get hung up on the result, without remembering that the 'process' that got us there is just as valuable. 

I used to be a crazed perfectionist when it came to my art. So much so, that I let my negative judgement get in the way of my enjoyment of the activity. 

For many years in my 20s I didn’t draw anything at all, because I was so critical of what I did draw. I stopped making art entirely because I always thought the end results were, quite frankly rubbish.  I found it easier to not do it at all. I let my own criticism get in the way of something which I just loved to do so much. 

So, now I try to not be so attached to the outcome. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “life is a journey, not a destination” and perhaps this also applies to our creative endeavours. If we can love the 'doing' and learn from the process, then the outcome isn’t EVERYTHING, it is just part of the magical mix! 

helen wells creativity

2. BE KIND NOT CRITICAL.

Apparently, our beautiful brains create up to 50,000 thoughts a day (that's quite creative) but unfortunately up to 80% of them are negative. Not so helpful when we are trying to ignite our fledgling flickers of creativity. Negative self-talk or chatter is just part of being a human and we can’t stop it. We can’t eliminate the “critical radio” that is broadcasting constantly in our head. I don't think trying to replace negative thoughts with positive ones works. What we can do, is remember that our thoughts are just thoughts. They are not necessarily true. 

 If we keep playing the same thought on repeat, it can be helpful to unpack it. I find it helpful to ask:

•    Is it true? 
•    Is it helpful? 
•    Is it kind?

Sometimes when we probe our self-critism in this way it can take the sting out of its tail.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t assess or critique our creative output – but self criticism is only helpful when used as a positive tool, not a weapon.
 

Helen Wells abstract art

3. DON'T LET ANXIETY AND DOUBT STOP YOU CREATING.

Insecurity and anxiety about our abilty/skill level or artwork hinders our ability to create. I let it stop me in my tracks and it stopped me creating and drawing for years.  I’m sad that I let that happen, but I’m definitely making up for lost time now. 

creative courage HELEN WELLS

4. SPARE THE COMPARING.

Comparison is the thief of joy. Creativity is about being the glorious individual that you are, it’s about expressing yourself, it’s about allowing your song to be sung and embracing your own wonderful weirdness. 

Social media has made it so easy for us to compare ourselves, our lives, our creative output, our artwork with other people’s artwork. Or so we think… in my experience we tend to compare our very worst bits with someone else’s best bits. So don’t get side tracked by someone else’s journey, get focused on yours own.

creativity HELEN WELLS

 

5.  DEFINE YOUR OWN SUCCESS CRITERIA.

The wonderful thing is that we are all in charge of making up our own rules when it comes to defining our success criteria. Success is a personal thing and should be unique to us as individuals. For some, success may be being represented by a gallery and super 'rock and roll' famous, for others it may be showing a painting in a local cafe, for others it may be trying a new type or paint, or drawing in a sketchbook for the first time. Don't let other people dictate your success criteria, we are all different and have different motivations, so don't let someone else's definition of success be yours by default. 

creativty and kindness

6. FEEL LIKE AN IMPOSTER AND DO IT ANYWAY.

Impostor syndrome is definitely a thing.  It is the feeling that you're a fraud or that any day now you'll be exposed. Apparently it is, in part, due to being unable to internalise success, or take credit for your own achievements. When I started out as an artist, I thought every success was a fluke, every achievement was a happy accident. I still sometimes feel like this. When it happens I label it as "oh you're feeling that imposter thing again', acknowledge that I'm feeling it, do a mental run down of all my successes to remind myself I'm not really a massive fat fraud and I carry on regardless...

helen wells work in progress

7. BE PLAYFUL AND BIN PERFECTIONISM.

I once heard that there is no such word for creativity in the Tibetan language and that the nearest translation was ‘natural’. I like that. I like the idea that creativity is a natural and innate way of being. When you look at young kids you have to agree. They can turn an empty box into an amazing adventure...I think that having a playful approach to our own creative endeavours can be so helpful. If you're playing, you're not obsessed with perfection. When you are playing  you are free to mess about a bit, try things out, it removes barriers and restrictions. When you are playing there are no rules, just experimentation and joy. When you are playing there is a lightness and an innate curiosity. Playing is fun, perfectionism is not.. 

helen wells art

 

 

WHERE AND HOW I FIND INSPIRATION

About my work

My artwork is intuitive and intricate and often features ideas and imagery from the subconscious. I use expressive mark making to create abstract pieces which feature repetition and rhythm, layers of complexity and organic abstract imagery. 

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Responding to materials 

I’m fascinated by the interplay of colours, shapes and patterns. My paintings are rarely envisioned but develop over days as I respond to the materials and the marks on the page, creating complex illusionary landscapes.

My artworks have been described as having a magical or other worldly quality, although I am very much fascinated by the magic and wonder in this world. I’m mesmerized by the beauty, colour and pattern in our natural world. I’ll frequently have a love affair with something where I become obsessed with it for a while; from snow flake structures, to patterns on shells, or the colours and patterns on fish scales, or antique Indian textiles, or bird feathers or butterfly wings, or the patterns on maps… I also have some magpie tendencies and am rather drawn to the glittering and glinting, iridescent or luminous… 

Helen Wells Art

Influenced by the sea

Many of my abstract paintings are influenced by living by the sea. It strikes me that there is a powerful connection between the inspiration and the medium watercolour paint, which comes alive because of how it combines with water.Most of my work is painted in watercolour. There is something about the unpredictability of this kind of paint which I find alluring and magical.

I love the way the paint and colour mixes with the water on the page and creates unexpected patterns. I love the transparency of it, the ability to build up layer after layer of paint. There’s a slight wild-childness about watercolour, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do, and I love it all the more for that.

Hastings art

My workspace

I am very lucky to have two rooms at the top of our house in Hastings. I’ve painted the walls and floor white to maximize the light. Having painted wooden floors also means I can roll back the rugs and make a real mess without any worries. I love rugs and have them everywhere, bright bursts of colour and pattern that sing to me. So, although the walls and floor of my space are white, the space is far from minimalist. 

I love collecting weird and wonderful objects and picking up old or unusual objects in junk shops. My place is scattered with old tins, patterned ceramics, pebbles from the beach, old books and interesting textiles.  

MY FAVOURITE ART MATERIALS

I love art materials and experimenting with different products and techniques. Here are some of my favourites:

Watercolour paper

I mostly use watercolour gummed blocks. These are paper pads which are gummed on all four sides so that the paper remains taught and entirely wrinkle free. They tend to feature a little gap in the glue so that the painting can be sliced from the block with a pallet knife once completed. 

These types of pad allow me to use a large quantity of paint and water and for the paper to remain smooth and beautifully flat. They do not require pre stretching.  I use different types of paper finish depending on the type of painting. I will use 'hot pressed' paper when adding pen detail as the paper is super smooth and allows the pen or pencil to glide along, and I will use rough or cold pressed paper if I want the finished paintings surface to be textured. I mostly use Arches Aquarelle with is aside and chlorine free and made of 100% cotton fibres for strength and stability. 

 Contemporary watercolour by helen wells

Contemporary watercolour by helen wells

Watercolour paints

I use two types of watercolour paint, either Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour Paint or Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolour paint. Sometimes I use tubes and sometimes I use pans (small cakes or pigment which are placed into a metal box allowing you access to several colours at once). 

 Watercolour paints

Watercolour paints

Sketchbooks

I have used lots of different types of sketchbook over the years. I often have a small moleskine notebook in my pocket or bag.  My favourite larger sketchbook thoughis a Fabriano Venezia, it has thick 200gsm paper which handles wet paint and ink really well. They come in a variety of sizes, I often use the 23cm x 30cm one. You can learn more about how I use sketchbooks here.

sketchbooks

 

Ink pens

I use black ink pens regularly in my work. I most frequently use a Rotring Isograph pen which has a metal nib and and a refillable ink reservoir. They come in different thicknesses and deliver a high definition and precise line which allows for fine detail work.  

 Artworks by Helen wells

Artworks by Helen wells

HOW I BECAME AN ARTIST

I often get asked how I became an artist, so I thought I might share my story. In some ways I have always been an artist. As a child I was always drawing. I loved nothing more than spending hours creating elaborate patterns and playing with coloured pencils. I used to collect little pieces of coloured and brightly patterned paper so I could create crazy colourful collages. My love affair with coloured pencils, paints and beautiful paper has been a long and satisfying one.

 HOw I became an artist

HOw I became an artist

I became an artist later in life

So if being an artist is an approach or someone who creates because that is just what they do, then that is what I have always been. As a profession though, well that's a different story. I took a rather circuitous route to get here and it is perhaps all the sweeter for it.

As a child, I was always drawing. I loved spending hours creating elaborate and intricate patterns from my imagination. I used to get through so much paper that my dad started to buy me large rolls of wallpaper lining-paper to keep up with my insatiable demand for more paper.  I used to have a large box in which I collected shiny and patterned papers, from sweet wrappers, pages torn from magazines, bits of shiny wrapping paper. I loved my “special paper” box, I used to like tipping it on the floor and seeing how the different patterns and colours combined with each other. So, drawing and painting was something which came innately me as a child. But I only became a full-time artist later in life. I took a rather circuitous route to get here as a profession and it is perhaps all the sweeter for it.

 A Ten year old me...

A Ten year old me...

 

When I was 18 I gave up studying art and I can't really understand why. I do not really believe in regrets, but this lazy decision by my teenage self is one I have questioned many times over the years. I gave it up to concentrate on more academic subjects and blithely altered my career trajectory with little thought at all.

Art was a passion not my profession

I went off to study Journalism and then completed a postgraduate degree. And then for over 15 years I had a great full-on career, working with great people in PR agencies and charities with my art and creativity as something I did away from my day job. I went to art class, after art class to help satisfy my passion. I studied printing, textiles, ceramics, collage, drawing I then completed a three year part time Fine Art course which i found so stimulating and satisfying.   I thought that was enough. I was happy. I was successful in my job. I'd met and married a wonderful and inspiring man. Everything was just fine. Art was a passion not my profession.

A lightening bolt I could not ignore

Then in my 30's out of no-where a thought occurred to me that I couldn't ignore. A thought that would change my life and my career. It was early morning in winter and I was off to meet a client for an early breakfast meeting. As I waited for my train on the still dark platform, a voice in my head said "You’re on the wrong path and you need to be an artist.” It sounds bonkers, even to me now. No one thinks like that, in the third person. But that is how it happened, it was a bit like someone was talking to me. A weird yet absolutely wonderful lightening bolt. And that was it.

Taking action 

It was such an overwhelming sensation that I couldn’t ‘not’ do something. So I did do something. I changed-up my life. I handed in my notice at my company, where I had worked for a decade and hoped a path would become clear. I jumped without a safety net. I took action.

 

Becoming a professional artist 

And I started off on an amazing artistic-rollercoaster of a journey. I started painting and put some paintings online. I was astonished when I had sold one within a week. I found a  new job, that was two days a week rather than the six I was working before. It gave me space and time to create, explore, experiment and make art. It also meant my husband and I could move away from London and head for the seaside. And I kept taking small yet decisive actions which together created big life changes.  

 

 At The Saatchi Gallery London

At The Saatchi Gallery London

 Photo credit: Jim Holden

Photo credit: Jim Holden