Give and Take

So here’s the thing: what to do about requests for advice? It’s something I have been thinking about recently as these requests escalate. I should start by saying that I am pleased to be consulted and even more pleased that people should think that I am worth asking.

I do try to wait to be asked though. When we were sorting out our new home we found we had a neighbour who began every conversation with ‘I don’t want to give you no advice, but…’ and then proceeded to not only give us his advice, but also his opinion that, as feeble creatures etiolated by life in London, we would be doomed to failure in any practical pursuit. In fairness, we were so energized by fury that we proved him entirely wrong. Perhaps a positive result, but it was a salutary lesson in when to keep my mouth shut. I remember all too well how we planned to hit him with a spade and hide him in the concrete foundations for my Albion…

Solicited advice is another matter and I am happy to help provided I can and have the time. Mostly it is a fair exchange: I get the rosy glow of having helped out (this, I confess, is greatly helped by a thank you), the questioner remembers me as a decent and helpful artist and none of this hurts my reputation. In fact, if I check why people are buying prints, visiting me or taking a class, I often discover it is because I’m thought of as that supportive, kind person who makes good prints. Taa daa, a result the meanest bean counter would appreciate.

However there are times when I say no. I don’t like doing it. In fact I can probably guarantee that for every half hour spent fuming at my refusal, I will have had an hour of squirming guilt in the style of Alan Bennett. The refusals happen when I’m asked to advise on how to teach my branch of printmaking rather than how to print (nobody enjoys shooting themselves in the foot), or if I’m asked to advise when the person has been learning with another teacher who should, in my opinion, be their first port of call. Reasonable eh? But it does upset some.

As yet nobody I have refused to help has come back to say ‘Fair enough, thanks for taking the time to explain yourself’, but a few have taken the trouble come back to be cross. I take the opposing view and make a point of responding positively to people who turn me down. A quick message of friendly thanks and wishing them well is actually very cathartic for me and I’m comfortable approaching them again if needed. Oh and it’s probably nicer for them too. A little win-win in the face of disappointment if you choose to see things that way.

So I will carry on helping where I can, though I may ask to publish and answer questions through my Facebook page as a way of broadening my audience while helping out if demand increases. But, unlike our neighbour, I promise not to throw in any nasty comments on your upbringing. I have no wish to end up under anyone else’s Albion…

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that…’

Ten vital facts

I haven’t written a blog for a long time and I apologise. This isn’t so much a blog as a nod to the world of Facebook: ten amazing facts about being self-employed and, more specifically, a self-employed artist.

I’ll write a proper blog soon. I promise.


1. Spiders love studios and the big ones especially enjoy snuggling up to artists when they are doing something fiddly with Indian ink.

2. Moths hate studios and will take any opportunity to kill themselves by adhesion to wet prints, especially if they can achieve this by being chased onto the print by a cat.

3. People are uneasy when you open the door to them mid-afternoon wearing pyjamas, a woolly hat and a large apron splattered with scarlet, but the couriers get used to it.

4. It is entirely possible for an artist who is no longer bound by a school timetable to lose track of time. My clock stopped at 2 o’clock and I believed it was 2pm from about 12pm until 6pm when I wondered why it was dark at 2pm.

5. The people of Radio Four cannot hear you shouting however loud and shouty you get. This is probably a good thing.

6. The Archers are not your friends

7. You can play the honourable game of ‘self-employed poker’. The rules are simple: you call a self-employed friend and say ‘I had an abscess on my molar (simple colds and slight aches are not acceptable) and still taught/saw a client/met a commission’ to which your self-employed friend says ‘I see your abscess and I raise you an ear infection, a high temperature and a class of disaffected teenagers’. At the end of the year the most extreme illness wins.

8. Your excellent sense of colour and composition will make choosing household sundries a nightmare. Hours spent on the Internet because it’s obvious that every ironing board cover you see has been designed by a moron on crack cocaine.

9. Visitors will want to improve your studio for you. In my case they usually want me to add plumbing. I suspect if I had plumbing they’d suggest a fridge or a small kitchen or a Jacuzzi. This causes me the conflict of pride in being as hardy as Bear Grylls in my primitive hovel and tired because I thought through the plumbing conundrum long ago and have decided a bucket is the answer.

10. You describe real days off as days off-off because simple days off always involve work, but in a lesser sense; perhaps a trip into town to buy supplies for students (trip into town yaay!) while the day off-off is a wonderful but slightly anxious time where you take a complete break from work, but know there is something missing. A bit like leaving your baby behind at a service station.

Bonus Fact

Your family will give every appearance of being completely unimpressed by the original artwork you send annually as a Christmas card, but look hard enough and you’ll find the drawer where they have carefully stashed each and every one. Do not mention your find to them, it will ruin everything.