Alyce Brown: Feminism, Activism and Wearable Art

Alyce Brown is a forensic science graduate who became a self employed artist after discovering her passion for wearable art and statement designs. She is an activist, and much of her work deals with feminism, beauty standards and mental health. We discussed why wearable art is a great way to promote a cause, how she creates her pieces, and why she chose to leave full-time employment to pursue her passion.

Tell us a little about your work?

I am a full-time artist, but that wasn’t always the case. I have both a BSc and an MSc in forensic science and forensic anthropology respectively. However, there are no jobs in forensic anthropology. I taught for approximately three months and it really wasn’t for me, so I decided to take the leap and be self-employed. I started with prints of my illustrations but didn’t get very far. When I made my Smile painting and print, it instantly became a bestseller and I realised that instead of making ‘pretty for the sake of pretty’ illustrations (not that I believe they do not have their place), I could make art that has a purpose and can make a difference. This evolved into wearable art when I bought my badge machine (Betty) and started making acetate stencil patches.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

What materials do you like to use?

My most frequently used materials are my Huion tablet to design all of my badge designs; Betty my badge maker to actually make the designs into badges; Speedball, Vallejo and Permaset screenprinting inks, acetate, a sharpie, a scalpel, sponges, the lid of a jar (as a palette for the ink – see, you don’t need fancy equipment!) and various canvas and floral craft cotton fabrics to make patches. I also work with markers for my illustrations and work with oil paint for commissions and for my own enjoyment. I love to try new things, but making badges and patches seems to have stuck pretty well in my restless brain. If I won the lottery tonight, I’d still go to work on Monday making badges and patches.

What inspired you to start to create feminist and activist art?

My first feminist print was “Smile” which sports the slogan “It’s my face and I’ll smile if I want to” became an immediate bestseller as soon as I listed it. I’m a feminist, I’m an activist, I suffer with my mental health and I’m a chronic illness warrior. There are a lot of things in the world that need awareness raising for them. In a day and age where women are still hesitant to refer to themselves as feminists (I know because I used to be one of them), because of the negative connotations the word has picked up, I feel that feminism and the promotion of feminism and social activism is more important than ever. I don’t mean to imply that my work is doing grand things; but I like to think that it at least makes a small difference, whether that be providing a ‘he him’ pin for someone who is sick of people referring to them with the wrong pronouns, or just someone who wants a quirky neon witch patch.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

What do you like about making wearable art, compared to making art on paper?

I’d wanted a badge machine for ages because I had loads of ideas that I felt would work best on pins and the like, quick slogans and small images. I like making wearable art because whilst people may not have room on a wall for a large painting exploring issues of feminism and social activism, they usually have a garment to which they can affix a cute pin or patch.

What themes and motifs are most often present in your work?

My most consistent themes are feminism, activism and chronic/invisible and mental illness awareness. I don’t have any particularly consistent colours or motifs but I do tend to go with pastel colours rather than anything particularly bold or bright (though some of my work is very bright or dark or both!)

What is your creative process like?

I have sketchbooks lying around that are filled with ideas, or I have ideas that I’ve scribbled on pieces of paper or the notes section of my phone. If I want to create, I go to those first if I don’t have anything firmly in mind. Sometimes my other half and friends makes suggestions to me as well, sometimes I ask my audience what they’d like to see on a pin, a patch, a mirror.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?

It’s kind of hard to explain how, exactly. For pins; I colour the background, I add imagery or text, I remove the bleed lines, I print the inserts, I run them through Betty and press them into pins. For patches I rough the design onto the acetate using a sharpie then I cut it out by hand with a scalpel, then I tape them to the fabric (also hand cut, but with scissors) and I use a sponge to blot the ink on; I peel the tape away and then I peel the acetate away and voila! Sometimes patches need touching up a bit with black ink to crisp up the lines, or if it’s on floral fabric and it’s been smudged it is destined to become a misfit (essentially, an imperfect patch sold as a second). Whilst I’m working I usually listen to music or watch YouTube videos (I’m a big fan of Minecraft let’s play videos) or The Simpsons.

Where do you create your work?

I have a studio in my home. I work mostly at my desk and generally I spend most of my time in my studio. I have it set up so that everything I need is within easy reach (badge maker on the desk, badge parts in the drawers by the desk, saxophone for stress relief, and so on).

What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?

I think one of the most challenging aspects as working as a self-employed person in general, let alone an artist, is dealing with the uncertainty. Mostly it’s financial uncertainty, but sometimes it’s the uncertainty that you’re going to be able to create anything worthwhile that day. But that’s okay. As long as you’re creating that’s fine. Your tastes will overtake your skills frequently, you just have to try and keep up. With being an artist comes the necessity for a willingness to live with those uncertainties.

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

And what are the best parts?

Being able to get up every day and do what I love. I love creating, I love making feminist and activist art because it has a purpose, it furthers a cause. As I said previously, even if I won the lottery tonight, I would still get up on Monday morning, go to work and make pins and patches. It is a passion and it is unceasing, so I have to be unceasing too.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

All you have to do is never give up. It is not easy, but it is simple. My dad (very successfully self-employed) has wise words on this subject. This is a message he sent me when I was having a bad day, early in my self-employed journey:

“Keep going! I know you think you aren’t getting anything back, but you’re wrong. You are. You just have not seen it. But it’s there, waiting for you and it’s yours for the taking. But, only those who REFUSE to give up will get there. I am one of those few people. You are too.”

Image courtesy of the artist. Image © Alyce Brown.

What are you currently working on?

I’m always working on new badge designs but I’m currently, at the time of responding to these questions, working on a collaboration with a wonderful artist called Emily from KittyCraftsCo on some moon phase pins. I’ve wanted to make moon phase pins for ages and Emily recently made a watercolour painting of moon phases – so it seemed perfect!

What will you be working on next?

I got a laser cutting machine for my birthday but unfortunately the CO2 laser tube was broken so the laser was not firing and the machine didn’t work. I’ve just ordered a replacement machine so I’m really excited to make some acrylic jewellery, wooden and acrylic charms and badges and other awesome things!

All images copyright of Alyce Brown.

You can find Alyce’s work at,, and on Instagram and Facebook at @doodlepeoplexo. 

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Beth Garnett: Pyrography, Eclectic Materials and Playful Creativity

Beth Garnett is an artist and maker who creates quirky mixed media work. She has worked with ceramics, needle felting and crochet, and recently started to work with pyrography. She currently lives in Cornwall, after moving there to study an MA in Illustration. I was interested in the playful, eclectic way that she uses materials. We spoke about the differences between creating art with wood and paper, Beth’s creative process, and why she works with such a diverse range of materials. 

Tell us about you and your work?

I live in Cornwall, though I’m from Reading originally. I have always liked drawing. I’m a complete introvert, more so as I get older. I do a bit of drawing and painting, and I make things too. At the moment I make a lots of brooches and decorations on woodslices, using a combination of pyrography and paint.

What materials do you like to use?

The woodslices I use in my pyrography are currently locally sourced offcuts from pruning and tree felling. Having a gardener for a husband is really useful! Sometimes customers save me bits of wood from their gardens or drag things they’ve found on their walks back for me. I also collect fabric, threads, wire, and all sorts of things because I always have it in my head that I’m going to make more. As for my 2D work, it’s mixed media: inks, crayons, watercolours, felt tip…it would probably be easier to make a list of things I don’t use!

Pyrography by Beth Garnett

Your painting style is very lively and fluid. How has your work and style developed over time?

I’ve spent a long time trying to develop a really gestural, lively way of mark making. I can’t spend a long time on a piece of work, I get bored, but I have spent hours repeating a three minute image until it looks perfectly impulsive! As I’ve got older, and since doing my MA, I’ve developed more confidence. I’m quite a perfectionist but I’m drawn to the imperfect; the honesty of the mark. So I use play as a way to try and make that moment when something just works happen more often, and I’ve learned to care a little less. It has to be fun otherwise it feels pointless and I don’t end up with work I care about.

How did you begin pyrography? What do you enjoy about working with wood compared to working on paper?

Completely accidentally! My husband carves wood. He makes these beautiful spoons and trinket dishes and things in the green (fresh wood). He fancied trying pyrography on his work so I bought him a cheap machine for his birthday. Somehow I ended being the one who used it.  I was doing a Christmas market so decorations from all this wood lying around seemed like something worth trying. It’s sort of gone from there. If I’m totally honest, this happened by accident and I don’t love working on wood, in fact it’s really frustrating at times! But I do love making things rather than just images, and this just happens to be the thing I’m making the most of at the moment. I find making puts me into that creative place really quickly – that relaxed focus that my best creative moments emerge from. With my painting and drawing there’s so much history and struggle behind it – it’s hard to relax and have confidence in it sometimes. But for some reason I find making stuff is like having a sneaky way in through the back door to that place I need to be in.

Ink Painting by Beth Garnett

A lot of your work focuses on animals. How did this theme develop?

I think it’s just a natural interest in them. The natural world is weird and wonderful, and I can’t believe some of the stuff that’s in it. Plus, animals have faces, they can look so silly or sneaky or whatever you like. I also love birds so I draw a lot of them. My first degree was in Illustration for Children’s Publishing so that’s affected the way I draw, but I’ve never been interested in drawing things that don’t move or don’t have life in them. In recent years I’ve become more interested in the habitats and creatures around me, insects like moths and bees and bugs, so I also work on some less silly things that celebrate those.

What are your main sources of inspiration?

For my character work it tends to be things I find silly, joyful, just playful, idiotic stuff. I definitely think I’m funnier than I am, so it’s a good outlet for that. But on a wider level it’s colour, nature, pattern, wildlife. Cornwall is a constant source of inspiration, it’s such a beautiful part of the world to live in.

Pyrography by Beth Garnett

What is your creative process like? How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?

It’s playful and experimental. I always have my materials to hand, so often I’ll just fancy drawing birds and using some neon paint so I’ll do that and see where it takes me. For new character work I tend to sketch things out in brush pen or soft pencil first, quickly trying different ideas, but other times the idea is just sort of there. I’ll think, well – maybe there’s a chicken who’s really into the Wu-Tang Clan, that might be fun. I’ll do a little scribble, the chicken will look at me, he’ll be saying something utterly stupid and I’ll think, right, you’re going on a brooch.

When it’s not silly chickens, or cats, or whatever, it’s still playful in its process. I play with the media, I make patterns and marks, I try to pinpoint what it is I am really interested in about a thing and it will either slowly come together or it won’t. Recently I’ve started using collage to use all the bits and pieces in those times it doesn’t, to make something whole. That’s quite an exciting development.

Beth Garnett’s Work Space

What is your creative set up like? Where do you create your work?

The spare bedroom is my workspace. I’d say it’s 65% full of materials I rarely use because I collect craft things hoping I’ll get round to doing something with them. The other 35% is the stuff I need regularly. My husband calls me a craft-grazer.  There’s a desk, drawings on the walls, general chaos and a window that looks out to the field behind our house.

What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?

Having confidence in your work. Not knowing if you like what you’ve just made because it’s new or because it’s good. Trying to be you and not anyone else. Always wanting to do more. Pricing. Selling yourself. Networking when you’re an introvert. Having to say ‘I burn cats’.

Illustration by Beth Garnett

And what are the best parts?

When someone just gets something the same way as you do. They think a grumpy cat singing MMMbop is funny and  – who would’ve thought it – worthy of parting with cash in order to pin it to their cardigan. Or they see a drawing and respond with the same buzz I was feeling when I was making it, they point out my favourite mark or the same splash of colour that makes my heart sing. That’s always a very pleasant surprise. Getting to say “I burn cats.”

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Assuming you already make or draw stuff and you want to start selling it…look at the stuff you make and try to work out what connects it all. That’s the thing that you are selling, and knowing what that is will help connect with your customers and followers better. If it’s something weird, don’t worry. That’s the best kind of thing to have.

Know who your customers are and focus on them. Don’t waste time trying to sell to just anyone, not everyone is a potential customer. Friends and family are completely valid customers, don’t worry if that’s all who buys your stuff for a bit. They will be the ones who rave about your stuff the most.

Define your own idea of success. Where do you want this to go? It’s not always about creating full-time.

Think about business cards, packaging, promotional materials, photography. You can’t do it all to start with but every time you can afford to up your game on this side of stuff, do it and aim high. If you do craft fairs, talk to the other stall holders. I’ve had good fairs and rubbish ones but I’ve always come away with contacts, good advice, tips, leads and – best of all – swapsies!

Most importantly – Play!!

Pyrography Brooch by Beth Garnett

What are you currently working on? And what’s next?

At the moment I’m entering full-on Christmas mode. I’ve just dropped my day job down to 3 days a week to try to make my creative stuff into something bigger. My idea of success would be to not need to work full-time in a day job because this stuff make a fairly consistent and significant contribution to our income, so this is a big step for us to see if I can make that happen.

All images copyright of Beth Garnett.

You can find more of Beth’s work on her website at, or on Facebook at 


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Reading Inspiration: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Sometimes you find a book that really resonates with you, revealing parts of yourself that you hadn’t fully recognised.

I love finding these kinds of books, and in a stroke of luck Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl caught my eye while I was browsing the bookshop. I devoured this book in two days, hungrily pouring through the pages in every spare moment.

After glancing at the cover – beautifully illustrated by Charlotte Day – it was Lucie Green’s review from the Observer that compelled me to flip through the first few pages – ‘Leaves become elegant machines, soil is the interface between the living and the dead, and seeds, well, they are transformed into the most patient and hopeful of life forms’ – elegantly describing the way Jahren looks at the world, and her love of plants and science.

Jahren is a geochemist, geobiologist, and professor at the University of Oslo. What I found particularly nice about this book was how it finds common ground between the scientist and the artist. The way Jahren describes her lab powerfully echoes with the way I feel about the artist’s studio:

“My lab is the place where I put my brain out onto my fingers and I do things. My lab is the place where I move. I stand, walk, sit, fetch, carry, climb, crawl. My lab is the place where it’s just as well I can’t sleep, because there are so many things to do in the world besides that. […] My lab is a place where my guilt over what I haven’t done is supplanted by all the things that I am getting done. […] My laboratory is like a church because it is where I figure out what I believe. […] It is my retreat from my professional battlefield; it is the place where I cooly examine my wounds and repair my armour. And, just like a church, because I grew up in it, it is not something from which I can ever really walk away.”, – (pp.23-24).

A place to retreat, a place to work and make and do and reflect. That, to me, is what the artist’s studio is all about. I also loved the part where Jahren talks about how what she does forms deep part of her identity. “In our tiny town, my father wasn’t a scientist, he was the scientist, and being a scientist wasn’t his job, it was his identity. My desire to become a scientist was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more; I never heard a single story about a living female scientist, never met one or even saw one on television,” (p.22). In the same way, being an artist has been part of my identity, and I imagine many artists feel the same way.

Other than finding a lot of personal identification in Jahren’s description of herself and her work, the book is beautifully written and is a great read for anyone interested in plants. There’s enough information to learn something new, but none of the language is too technical, so anyone who doesn’t have a scientific background can easily pick it up and dive right in. The way that Jahren describes the natural world – as a person or a friend – is incredibly moving. A particularly lovely paragraph is:

“Every piece of wood in your house-from the windowsills to the furniture to the rafters- was once part of a living being, thriving in the open and pulsing with sap. If you look at these wooden objects across the grain, you might be able to trace out the boundaries of a couple of rings. The delicate shape of those lines tells you the story of a couple of years. If you know how to listen, each ring describes how the rain fell and the wind blew and the sun appeared every day at dawn.”, (p.102). 

I really enjoyed every page of this read and would recommend it to anyone who has some kind of passion, because I think that we can all find some form of identification in Jahren’s words.

H. Jahren, Lab Girl (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 2016).





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How to Find Confidence as an Artist

Creativity needs confidence.

Without confidence we limit ourselves, we stop trying new things, and we no longer take chances. By confidence, I don’t mean being the loudest person in the room. I mean that you need to have self belief, because that’s what confidence really is. Knowing who you are, what your values are, and why you do what you do will help you develop true confidence to create powerful, authentic work.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about developing a strong sense of self believe.

Write down your values

Writing down your values is a way of finding out what you stand for and what your work is about. Consider the values you uphold, your goals, and your vision of how to want to present yourself. Once you have discovered the answers you will feel more purposeful and empowered.

Focus on the process

Sometimes we are too focused on the goal or the finished piece. We build up an image of it in our minds and are disappointed when it doesn’t match up with reality. We spend too much time focusing on these failures and imperfections. It is important to remember that there is no ‘destination,’ and that the process is far more important than a perfect finished piece. In my last blog post I wrote about how much I learnt from simply making a painting without worrying about how it would look when it was done, discovering how much I liked the sketchy, free flowing pencil lines that I would normally erase. Remember to enjoy the process, to learn something each time, and to try and make each piece of work a little better than the last. Know that you are constantly improving, and even if you are not yet as skilled as you would like to be, know that one day you will be.

Find support

Sometimes we put a lot of emotions into our work and can become upset or overwhelmed when things don’t go as planned, or in those moment where we are no longer sure if we’re good enough. Analyse the situation, and you’re finding it hard, a support network can come in handy. Ask them for their critiques, their advice and their experiences. Discuss what led you to lose self-belief and act on what you learn. Friends, family, other creatives, local or even online groups are all great ways of finding support.

Challenge yourself

Belief in yourself grows when you prove to yourself that you can do it. Get out of your comfort zone, whether it’s finally sharing that piece online, doing a live Q&A, or starting a project that you’ve been putting off for absolutely ever. These spaces may be scary but they are where you grow.

Always be learning

Learn as much as you can about what you do – and everything else. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes about 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of a field. The more you know, the more confident you will be in your own ability. Not only this, but learning improves our understanding of the world around us, and gives us the inspiration for new ideas.

There you have it. As always, feel free to ask questions or leave a comment, and let me know if you tried out any of the ideas above.


Photo credit: Oliver J Cooper.

Model: Hannah Rose Shaw. 

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Five Biographies Every Artist Will Want to Read

I am a huge fan of reading, and while I usually stick to fiction, I’ve started reading artist biographies. I love having a glimpse into the lives of such creative people, lives that are wild, impetuous and moving. I have compiled a list of some of my favourites-only five of many such books, of course, so if you don’t see your favourite on the list, add it in the comments below.

Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot

The focus of this book is Picasso, one of the best-known figures in 20th century art. Though from Spain he spent most of his life adult life in France, where he developed the revolutionary Cubist style. This biography is interesting for fans of Piccaso’s work and private life, but what I found more interesting was the voice of the author, Françoise Gilot, partner of Picasso and an influential artist in her own right. This is Gilot’s story as much as it is Picasso’s. It is the story of a young woman who left her home in the middle of the German occupation in France to become an artist. It is the story of how she met, studied under, and, eventually, became the partner of Picasso. She describes Paris, life during the War, and Picasso’s friends (Henry Matisse, André Breton, Gertrude Stein) in vivid detail, and reveals all the highs and lows of building a life with him. After their separation she went on to become a prolific painter, best-selling author and a designer at the Guggenheim. If you haven’t seen any of her work, I highly recommend that you take a look.

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

This book is a beautiful glimpse into the life of Vincent Van Gogh, one of my favourite artists. It has clearly been researched in painstaking detail, drawing on Van Gogh’s letters to his brother. The focus on these letters and Van Gogh’s own words is what makes this book special, an inspiring account of his life that will leave you feeling as if he only just walked out the room.

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait, Frida Kahlo

A beautiful facsimile of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s dairy, exploring the last ten years of her life. The emotions in this book are often raw and heavy, and if you’re expecting a traditional diary detailing what she did each day, think again. The diary explores her life in watercolour illustrations, hand-written love letters, memories and poems. The varying mediums come together in beautiful chaos to help you get a little closer to Kahlo’s inner life and art.

Virginia Woolf, Alexandra Harris

This is an intriguing book about a vibrant and complex woman. It follows her life from the early days where she would write it the attic while her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, would paint by her side for hours on end, to the final days of her life in the Sussex countryside. It is an inspiring look at Woolf’s inner life, her life-long struggles with depression, her inspirations and the development of her ideas. Harris combines a staggering amount of research with a fresh perspective and thoughtful commentary. This biography is an excellent gateway to Woolf, her work and Bloomsbury.

Lee Miller: A Life, Carolyn Burke

This book is both a glorious glimpse into life during the early 20th century and a remarkable portrait of the photographer, model and war correspondent Lee Miller. Burke does not sugar coat or hide any parts of Miller’s story, and at times you will hate, pity and be in awe of her. She lived a spectacularly messy life; she was a model for Vogue, maintained a long standing in the surrealist world, was close to Man Ray and Picasso, reported on the devastating impact of the war and the Nazi death camps (breaking new ground for female journalists), and eventually sunk deep into alcoholism. Both glamour and sadness seep through the pages. It’s all impossible to believe and yet wonderfully true.

If you read any of them I’d love to hear if you liked them as much as I did! Let me know your thoughts, and suggestions of other great biographies, in the comments.


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My Top Seven Daily Drawing Tips

If you think you’re bad at drawing, or that you’re uncreative, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Drawing is a skill that can be improved, and if you practice once a day for one month, I promise that you will see a difference. I’ve put together a few ideas that help me in my drawing practice. Why not challenge yourself to 30 days of drawing?


Begin with a cheap sketchbook where you can scribble ideas. This way you don’t need to worry about messing up expensive paper, just sketch whatever ideas pop into your mind without thinking too hard about the outcome.


Make yourself a desk or workspace where you can draw. Make sure it’s somewhere you won’t be disturbed. For more tips on creating a workspace with little space, check out my last blog post.


Create an inspiration board where you can keep colour palettes, beautiful photographs, pages from magazines, book quotes and anything else that gets your creativity buzzing. It can be a pin board, a scrapbook, or a digital board like Pinterest.


Choose the amount of time that you want to spend practicing everyday. The more the better, but starting at 10 minutes a day is just fine.


It’s OK to release your inner child and have fun. It isn’t about being perfect or comparing yourself to others, it’s about the process.


Hold yourself accountable for your improvement. Once you have finished drawing for the day, tick it off on a diary or calendar. Take an extra step by sharing your daily drawings on Instagram or Facebook.


Try drawing with someone and sharing your work. It will make the process more fun and sociable, and if you have an artistic friend, why not ask them for some tips?



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What I’m Reading: ‘Virginia Woolf’ by Alexandra Harris

A friend found Alexandra Harris’s Virginia Woolf on the streets of Brighton and gave it to me. I am really interested in the eccentric characters that made up the Bloomsbury set, a 1930’s group of artists, writers and philosophers. This book has been an infinite source of inspiration. It is the story of a young woman, armed with a notebook, determined to become one of the greatest writers of all time. She defied convention, pushed the classic boundaries of the novel as a form of writing, advocated the needs of women to have their own spaces to create, and worked almost constantly, despite suffering with mental illness for most of her life.

Desire for freedom

At the age of 29 Virginia wrote to her sister Vanessa, saying: ‘to be 29 and unmarried – to be a failure – childless – insane too, no writer.’ (2) She had suffered the loss of her mother, father and older brother. And yet, after many years of having no choice but to rigidly stick to Victorian social norms in the family’s big old house at 22 Hyde Park Gate, she finally had some of the freedom that she so often expressed a need for.

Just as her sister Vanessa had always known that she wanted to be an artist, Virginia always knew that she was going to be a writer. As children they worked competitively and pushed each other to improve their respective arts. Neither of the sisters had a formal education, and Virginia taught herself to write by compiling notebooks and setting herself exercises. She insisted on writing standing up so she could stand next to Vanessa, who painted at an easel, and the two girls stood for many hours on the top floor of the house, determined to perfect their crafts.

Follow your instincts

Having never been to university Virginia was often forced to challenge convention, especially in academia. In her short essay How to Read a Novel, she wrote that “the only advice that once person can give another … is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions” (3). Many of her works focus on the inner lives of women, a subject that had not often at the forefront of a novel. Those that did received little critical acclaim, but Virginia was too impressive to be ignored.

In the months after their mother’s death, Virginia experienced the first of her breakdowns. The desire to write left her for two whole years. Though she slowly recovered and began to write again, her illness remained with her throughout her entire life, and there would be many periods where she would be unable to write.

Boundless creativity

Now, seventy years after her death, Virginia is celebrated for her moving novels, essays, memoirs, letters and diaries. Alexandra Harris tells Virginia’s story beautifully, and offers the perfect introduction to her writing. Even if you are not a fan of her books, it is hard not to admire Virginia for her boundless creativity in the face of adversity.

I think we can all relate to sometimes feeling not good enough, not creative enough. We have things that hold us back, experiences that shape us for good or bad. But despite these things Virginia was forever determined, and held an untiring interest in the world around her.



(1) A. Harris, Virginia Woolf (Thames and Hudson: London, 2011), Blurb.

(2) A. Harris, Virginia Woolf (Thames and Hudson: London, 2011), p.7.

(3) V. Woolf, The Second Common Reader (1932).



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Gaea: The Process

The goddess Gaea weaves through Greek mythology as the personification of Earth and the creator of all life. Greek vases show her as inseparable from her native element, rising from the Earth. In mosaic art she is clothed in green and surrounded by infant gods of things that grow. Described as the eldest of divinities, a giver of dreams, a nourisher of plants, Hellenistic worship of Gaea was a celebration of nature.

The ancient Greek explanation for the creation of the world was written by Hesiod in his poem Theogony in about 700bc. In the beginning there was only Chaos, a great void. From the void appeared the Earth, Gaea, who gave birth to the sky and the sea. The Romans called her Terra, and almost every culture on Earth has a name for her; the Aztec Coatlicue, the Inca Pachamama, the Celtic Dea Matrona, and the Hindu Add Para Shakti.

‘Gaea’ began as a sketch in November last year. I had been reading a lot of Greek mythology and while there are many strong female characters – Artemis, Athena, Nemesis – Gaea stood out to me as a powerful and creative force. I think there is a strong sense of duality about her that makes her such an interesting figure. She is maternal but also the strongest of all the gods, she destroys as well as creates, she brings into being both good and bad, she works in both the physical, natural work and the intangible world of prophecy and dreams.

Gaea, Hannah Rose Shaw, 2016, ink and watercolour on A4 watercolour paper.
Gaea, Hannah Rose Shaw, 2016, ink and watercolour on A4 watercolour paper.

I started this piece by sketching the face and then the leaves and flowers. The drawing process took several hours. I don’t like to rush my work, and I create best when I am in a calm frame of mind and simply let the piece develop.

To colour the drawing I used bold pinks and oranges intermingled with more natural blues and greens, allowing the colours to melt and merge. For this piece I used Daler Rowley watercoloursPebeos’ Colorex watercolour inks – the brightness of which I absolutely love – and tried out my new Finecolour markers, which are subtle but wonderful for adding detail.



I had so much fun working on this piece and working in a slightly different style to usual. The outlines in black pen makes it look more illustrative than my usual work, but I think it fits the boldness of the subject and colours. I’m looking forward to creating more mythology-inspired work. Have an idea which figure I should paint next? Let me know in the comments.

‘Gaea’ is available as an A4 print in my shop.


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How to Always be Developing Creativity

I’ve been getting a lot of questions via my Facebook page asking about being a self taught artist, using different materials, and where to find ideas.

To answer some of these questions I’m making a series posts about my work and some of the techniques I use. Todays post is about creativity, and how to always be developing it.

Creativity is the foundation or any type of creative work, but what is it? I have had friends tell me that I am lucky to be a creative ‘type,’ as if creativity is something that certain people are born with and others aren’t. Sure, maybe some people are more naturally creative than others, but often, creativity comes from hours, weeks, even years of practice.

Sometimes I feel creative and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’d much rather scroll through social media. But I do think there are things you can do to develop your creativity and get your creative buzz going even when you just don’t feel like it.


You have to go out and see things. I don’t mean that you have to go see most beautiful scenery in the world. I mean that wherever you are, whatever you are doing, really look at things. Even the everyday things. Notice them, look at them in a different way, let them take hold of your imagination. If you’re on a bus look out the window, if you’re in the supermarket notice the people around you. Sometimes you see little architectural details and colour schemes, other times you hear a conversation and a scene unfolding. Anything can spark an idea.

To get you started, I really recommend Keri Smith’s books, they’re really fun with simple creative exercise to help you start creating and see the world in a different way. I particularly enjoyed How to be an Explorer of the World and The Wander Society.


Once you begin to notice some interesting things, start to collect. Again, you don’t have to go to exotic scenes for inspiration, just go out on your street and see what you can find. Pick up, keep it, put it in a box or a scrapbook. If you find something that doesn’t give you the spark of an idea, can you use it as a material? Can you collage it, paint it, write on it?

If you don’t want to make a physical scrapbook, use the Internet. Store pictures that you like on Pinterest or Tumblr, refer back to it when you want some inspiration, and soon you will have a personal archive of things that are interesting and mean something to you, and when you need inspiration you will have an amazing resource.


Other creatives are often the very best source of inspiration and advice. Creative friendships where you can bounce ideas off one another are one of the very best ways of improving your work. My friends have helped me develop my work so much and are literally invaluable.


Daily sketching or journaling has helped me to generate regular ideas. Recently, I’ve been filling up sketchbooks every one to two months. As they say, practice makes perfect, and according to the author Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Don’t worry if you’re work isn’t perfect right away!

Sometimes the simple act of doing something that is familiar can help you to create good work. Practice being creative, being disciplines in your work, not getting distracted, letting your creativity flow.


Experiment. Experiment. Experiment. It is only by experimentation and practice that you will learn the types of colours and materials that suit you and develop your own style. Get over the fear of being wrong. I often don’t realise my ideas because art materials are expensive. Why would I want to waste money on a piece of work that I’m not sure I’ll get right? But it is only through practice and experimentation that I will ever become really good at my skill. Sometimes, the most important thing is simply starting.

It’s a process of development. It won’t come together right away, but the important thing is that you are taking action. You are learning. Creativity does not magically appear under the right conditions. It comes through practice, it comes once we open our eyes and put pen to paper.

So, what are you waiting for?


Photo credit: Oliver J Cooper.

Model: Hannah Rose Shaw. 

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