For this month's Creative Courage blog post I wanted to explore ideas around resilience, and how when your creativity is your business you find the resolve, and energy to keep moving forwards. I have always admired textile artist Alice Fox for her ability to keep focused on her own creative development whilst also running the business of her creativity - teaching workshops, writing books. Recently Alice has also recently committed to doing an MA, on top of the usual responsibilities of life and running a family. Alice kindly agreed to answer my questions to see what we can learn from her approach...
How long have you had your creative business and how did it all begin?
I graduated with a degree in Contemporary Surface Design & Textiles in 2011 and have worked as a full time self-employed artist ever since.
The textiles degree was re-training after a first degree in Physical Geography and a short career working in nature conservation. This environmental background forms a firm backdrop to the way that I work now.
You have a strong creative voice, what’s that rooted in? What are the strands of what you do?
My work is rooted in being curious about what surrounds me. It is about personal engagement with the natural world and exploring ways of recording my experience of it. I am driven by a desire to experiment with materials, exploring the potential in what I find and always trying to work sustainably. For me this means attempting to be fairly self-sufficient in materials and considering carefully the 'new’ materials that I use. I make surfaces and structures using simple repetitive textile techniques, but in unconventional ways. I create work for exhibitions and produce publications that record the development of the work, setting a context for the exhibition and forming a kind of interpretation for it. I regularly teach technique-based workshops and give talks, sharing my experience in a variety of studio and private group settings. Behind these strands of the ‘public’ face of what I do is all the admin, correspondence, organisation, marketing and other aspects of running a business.
What skills do you have that mean you’ve been able to sustain your business over this time? Do you need the same skills for being creative as for running your business or different skills for each?
I am well organised, and (I think) I’m quite efficient with my time. I find I have to be quite disciplined about making time in the studio - there is always lots of admin to do and it would be very easy sometimes to just spend all day in front of the computer and not get anything practical done at all. The wonder of email and social media means that there is an expectation of instant answers, which just isn’t possible all of the time. Routine is a good way of dividing the day up to get different aspects of work done, but teaching interrupts this, as do school holidays. A lot of my creative work is repetitive and time-consuming. I have worked on a small scale for recent exhibitions, which enables me to complete small units of work in small units of time. This means that completed ‘units' build up and progress is noticeable. Working this way means that the outcome has a certain free-form element as small units make up a larger whole with flexibility about how things can be arranged for display. As well as juggling all the practical and business stuff there is also the small matter of being a Mum and the other commitments that make up family life, including various voluntary roles. Sometimes it can feel like you are being pulled in too many directions, but it all makes for a rich life!
What keeps you strong? How do you avoid burnout?
I make time for certain things that are important. Music has always been part of my life and I sing regularly as well as play the violin (less regularly). I spend time outside, which I always find restorative. Walking is important, but recently my outside focus has become my allotment. I took this on last Autumn and I always feel invigorated when I’ve been there. The place is bathed in birdsong and I’m really enjoying the challenge of getting things ready for the growing season.
What do you most love creating? And what do you most love about running a creative business?
I really love it when I feel I am getting to grips with a technique or finding a way to work successfully with a particular material. Because I am constantly working with different things it can feel like I am going back to the beginning constantly. When I find a way to work with a found material and can make a form or structure that feels ‘right', that is when I feel real satisfaction. The best bit of running a creative business is when I share things with students on workshops and they get as excited as I do about the results. To find that others can gain something really positive from my own experiments makes it all seem worthwhile.
What has been the best advice that you’ve received about keeping going? (in the face of tiredness/criticism/self-destruction :)
I’m not sure about specific advice, but I’ve learnt various key things through contact with a number of people who’ve been leading creative careers for much longer than me. There really is no replacement for regular and disciplined routine of work. You may not feel like you’re getting anywhere or where it is you are going to end up but practicing really is the most important thing. Self-confidence can go up and down in huge waves, but always having something to aim at or work towards means there is always a reason to keep at it, however positive (or not) you feel about things on any particular day.