In this edition of ‘Spotlight’, I’m talking to Wendy Massey, a successful member of ArtWeb whose career has included teaching in a young offender’s institute and producing children’s personalised art. Wendy seems to have achieved the balance that many artists are striving to find; loving the work they do whilst earning enough from it to make a living! I spoke to Wendy about her career shift, confidence issues and the enjoyment of craft fairs!
How long have you been creating both your art for children and your acrylic paintings?
The children’s side of it has probably been since the beginning of this year but the other art about 2-3 years. I have another job on the side which is as a teacher but I only teach a max of about 8 hours a week. I don’t teach a lot of hours. I teach crafts and literacy which is actually a good balance!
How do you manage to fine-tune the balance between your fitting in your day-job and your art?
It’s not easy! It does focus you in a way because for example the teaching I know has got to be done and also the orders for children’s art that customers put in have got to be done so I’ve got that framework to work with and that motivates me quite a lot. It’s also nice to do something different! It’s easy to get bogged down doing the same old thing all the time so the change is nice – although fitting both in is a balancing act!
How did the children’s art develop from your original paintings?
What really pushed me into it was being made redundant! That certainly made me jump! I was teaching in a young
offender’s institute in a teaching managament role and that role was swept away with a re-structure. That was a huge leap for me primarily because it was a well-paid job. I’ve gone from a good salary to being a starving artist! I’d been thinking about the children’s art for quite some time and I just decided that with being offered redundancy, this was the time to do it. So although it was a choice it was a little bit of a shove as well. It’s something that I’ve always thought about because my life has always been quite child-orientated; I’ve got four children of my own and two grandchildren and they take up quite a big chunk of my time. So I’m very aware of what things people do buy for children and the gift aspect of it. I also think my style lends itself to children’s art anyway; it’s bright and colourful.
What sort of feedback to you get from people who buy your work?
I do a lot of art & craft fairs and also school fairs and I love watching people’s faces as they’re walking past and don’t know they’re being watched! I like the reactions; usually people smile and I get a lot of good feedback there at the actual event. People will say what they really like. Getting feedback later is really nice as well; people will telephone or email once the event is over to tell me how much they like the art and how the child is enjoying it so that’s all good! Feedback is really important for developing your work because people’s responses will trigger ideas that you haven’t yet thought of.
How important do you feel it is as an artist to ‘get out there’ and not just rely on your website?
It’s very important! The main thing for me, as I’ve touched on, is the feedback; you need to know what’s working and what’s not. The website is great but meeting people face-to-face, getting the responses first-hand and immediately is really helpful. Another big bonus of ‘getting out there’ is having a break from working by yourself! Again, it’s getting that balance right. Sometimes I feel I’m doing too many fairs and not enough art production so getting the balance so that you’re happy with it takes some time.
You started your art career with many paintings of the seaside! I can guess that you love it?
Oh, yes, I do love the seaside! I find that I do paint what I’m inspired by – that’s natural. I’ve not yet been able to live by the sea but maybe one day!
How do you get them done?
I do take photographs of anything I see that inspires me. I’ll always simplify any photographs I take as I like my paintings to be quite simple. I do sketches as well; if I’m sitting on a beach, I’ll always have my sketch-book with me! There’s a bit of imagination thrown in there as well. I don’t paint on site though! I think that’s partly down to a lack of confidence to be honest. I’m not always happy with all the stages of my paintings so I’d prefer not to do that in public.
There seems to be a lot of escapism in your art; is that intentional?
Oh, that’s absolutely important in my work! I’m not quite sure why I do it but I think it’s simply that we have to deal with so much heavy stuff day-to-day that it’s almost a release for me. It’s an antidote to stress. I absolutely love to put a smile on people’s faces!
Why do you choose acrylics?
I’ve tried more or less everything else! I like acrylics because they’re so immediate; you can produce and finish your art quite quickly with them. I’m quite impatient, especially when I’ve got an idea so I want to get it down, done and finished. Even if the first draft isn’t perfect I like to get it done then I can always go back and improve on it later. If you’re not quite sure on the colour you can paint over it with no problem. I don’t like the smell and the ‘slowness’ of oils! Although I’ve done a fair few watercolours but I feel that the colours themselves aren’t as bright.
Can you offer any advice to artists who may be wanting to start selling their art?
Yes! I mentioned having a lack of confidence in getting out there and painting in front of people. I think a lack in confidence can really hold you back. There’s a book I read a while ago called ‘Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’ (author Susan Jeffers) and the best piece of advice from that was to just get out there, drop your fear and do it. Also, don’t let other people do all your selling, especially in the first few months. I think it’s really important to do it yourself, not
only in terms of it helping shape the direction you want to go in but in terms of your confidence levels. Doing it yourself boosts your confidence no end! Hearing people say that they like what you do – you’re the artist, you should be hearing it! Another thing that’s really helped me with regards to selling my art is doing my online blog (http://www.1stuniquegifts.co.uk/blog/). Promoting my work through the blog has been absolutely great and it’s really popular.
What’s next in the pipeline?
I’m definitely going to continue with the children’s art. I’m interested in getting into designing and creating things for kitchens; some of the things I’ve been making have been bought by people for their kitchens, even though that’s not what I intended them for originally! So producing something along the lines of wall clocks and so on would be great. I’m thinking also about doing some prints of my work and personalising those prints by hand with names, dates and so on because I think that gives you a bit of a wider scope for selling. And it’s got to be commercial for me because this is my business!
I’d like to thank Wendy for kindly giving up her time and talking to me about her lovely art and life as an artist. You can have a look for yourself at Wendy’s beautiful creations on her main art site and the site for her children’s art and gifts;