Posted in Professional Practice

Is Art A Job Or A Joy? Why Romanticising Artists’ Work Is Harmful

Romanticising artists’ work is harmful

“Painting is not a job, it’s a joy.”

So said Jonathan Jones in a review of Rose Wylie’s show at the Serpentine Gallery, Quack Quack. This stuck with me.

Jones was getting ahead of the reaction to Wylie’s naïve-style work, saying that, in the UK, we need more of Wylie’s type of work to shake us up a bit, because we “still expect painters to do a proper, hard-working job.” The art critic proclaiming that artists’ work transcends real work does us a small favour and a huge disservice at the same time.

The favour is that it acknowledges the magic inherent in art and the process of creating art, and it’s in that magic that the true value of art is born.

The disservice lies in the implication that creating art is not real work. Thanks to this kind of attitude, we can carry on romanticising artists and their work, and expecting them to exist in a moneyless bubble where they waft around at their joy instead of work at their jobs.

The idea that artists don’t have “real” jobs is destructive in two directions: it damages the public’s perception of working artists and encourages those who refuse to pay artists for their work, and it damages emerging artists’ perceptions of themselves, causing them to hold back from investing the time and care their practice requires.

The hypocrisy of art and money

Of course you can make art and make money.

Despite what you may think, there’s no either-or; the problem comes with the limiting scripts that we’ve picked up… and then put down… along the way.

Artists don’t work for free. At least, I should say, professional artists don’t. If you had to name a famous artist, what likelihood would there be that your choice would be an artist who had never sold a painting? That likelihood would be very low, simply because fame develops from exposure to the consciousness of others. (The exception to this would be the Van Goghs of this world, where the secondary art machine has seized on a story and mined it for all its worth, idealising poverty and mental illness.)

Because of the romantic idealisation of artists by filmmakers, writers and publishers, we’ve absorbed the idea that being an artist is so wonderful that it should be payment in itself, and those who are seeking anything more cannot be “real” artists somehow. Yet we want our real artists to prove themselves by having the track record of sales and shows.

Writers sell books, musicians sell recordings, artists sell their art. But that’s just the surface. Writers, musicians and artists can do much more than focus on selling an end product: the problem often lies in the bewildering multiplicity of options for making a living as a creator, and that there isn’t one single, direct path to follow.

Throughout all of human history there has been an exchange of skill for money. The skills of artists – all the skills, not merely the technical skills – aren’t exempt from this, and that’s a wonderful thing. Society needs the arts and artists to keep its heart beating and remind us what it means to be alive.

The relationship between art and money isn’t rocky; it’s plain sailing. The way we’re made to feel about money and art, however, is full of stomach-roiling contradictions.

The first step to finding your own path is to ignore those who tell you it isn’t there, simply because they can’t see it themselves.

The second is to realise that making art is a job. It should be a joyful job, but if you never give it the respect it requires and never put the work in, can you ever expect the results?

If you never put one foot in front of the other because it looks too much like hard work, how far will you go?

Why Your Business Should Become My Patron (And How To Do It).

Why your business should become my patron, and how to do it.

There are several great reasons why your business should consider becoming one of my patrons – here are a few of them!

It’s great PR!

Supporting an artist enhances your brand’s image. Your company or client will be known as a patron of the arts, and being an individual artist’s patron carries a lot of credibility.


Muse 2.0 by Lee Devonish, 2012
Muse 2.0 by Lee Devonish, 2012


Networking and building links

My patrons are mentioned on my site, and depending on level of support, receive a link back to their website. This is a fantastic way to network with other like-minded businesses and individuals, and point back to your brand.

Valuable advertising

Patronage is fantastic advertising for your company. As well as acknowledgement on my website and in my newsletter, I will promote my patrons page on my social media channels.

There is also the option to commission sponsored posts or directly support an individual post or page – get in touch for a sponsorship pack.

Find out more –

You can either become a Patreon patron, or a contribute as a direct patron.




Why your business should become my patron... and how to do it.

Can You Use Pure Sable Brushes With Oil Paint?

Can you use pure sable brushes with oil paint?

I sure hope so, because I do!

Seriously though, it seems as though every brush guide makes the blanket assumption that hog bristles are for oils and sable hairs are for watercolours. Unfortunately this just glides over the vast range of possibilities that paint holds out; there is no single way to paint in oils, and no single type of brush can cover every technique.



Sable brushes with oil paint

I’m using them with very liquid, thinned oil paint, so they serve my technique much more than rough hogs hair brushes do – although I’d been getting by with sable and synthetic blends beforehand.



It’s the only way to create the fine lines and flat surface I’m after.



My current brush set:

I recently bought four micro brushes, two riggers, two brights, one angular liner, one filbert, one spotter and one domed filbert.

I’ve used watercolour brushes for oils for a long time now, and I can’t see myself going back. I keep my old, scrubby hog brushes for mixing paint and pick up the colour from the old brush with the soft new one.



They arrived just in time to start a new painting (watch this space), and so far I’m delighted with the investment.


Keeping sable brushes in good condition when painting with oils

Of course, keeping a soft brush like a sable in good condition is going to be more of a challenge when using oils as opposed to watercolours. Besides doing my heavy-duty mixing with my old, scrubby brushes and a palette knife, I clean them more carefully than my older bristle brushes, first with a bit of Sansodor and then with good old soap. Nothing more expensive needed!

A bit of conditioner also helps to keep the hairs… well… conditioned. So far they’re holding up brilliantly and I’m looking forward to expanding my kit and sharing the latest additions and new work!


Is Etsy Any Good For Selling Fine Art?

Is Etsy any good for selling fine art?

There’s always so much to think about when it comes to practicing as an artist – will it be commissions, participatory work or studio based? If you’ve decided to create pieces for sale and then, to represent yourself as an artist, it still doesn’t necessarily make your path much straighter.


Where to sell? Choosing a platform as a self-representing artist

Today’s proliferation of outlets for selling art is a fantastic thing, but it can also be confusing. Just because you could be everywhere at once doesn’t mean that you should be. Now that the internet has democratised so much of the creative industries, it’s important to put your work in the right places – places that avoid the ‘cheapening’ effect that this democratisation can inevitably bring.


I’ve tried a few different platforms for selling my artwork, and what I think has become the most important thing to influence the selection process is faith. Does this website and the way it feels inspire faith? Do I have faith in the way it makes my work look and feel?


Fight, oil on paper painting by Lee Devonish, 2016
Fight. Oil on paper, 2016. Available in my Etsy shop.



My initial doubts about Etsy: was it appropriate for selling fine art and not just crafts?

For my original artwork, I have faith in Etsy. I’ve been aware of it for years, but never used it to sell my art before… but I set up a shop in 2016.

Etsy has definitely changed since I first heard of it: it’s big, and it’s not as purely hand-made as it used to be, but it still seems to be the natural home for a self-representing artist like myself. It’s professional but personal at the same time, but just seems more… human, I suppose.

I’ll confess that I was wavering at first as to whether to set up a shop or not. I’m the kind of person who always has 5 projects on the go at once, and I didn’t want to jump into something else that might not have been right for me.

My friend Ellie had recently opened an Etsy shop of her own for her handmade candles and wax melts, and whilst I admired it, our work was very different. I was convinced she’d do very well, but wasn’t sure about my kind of art (and my kind of prices) working on the same website.

Maybe this was because I thought of it more as an outlet for craft and jewellery – perhaps better for the kind of things I made years before (bags, clothing and the like) when I had a craft-based business. I had to see my current self inhabiting the space, not my former self.

It wasn’t really helped by the fact that I couldn’t find a category for art on the homepage, either.


Other artists selling on Etsy

I got the push from another artist whose Twitter link led me to his Etsy shop – and it was just what I needed to see. His shop seemed authentic, accessible and true to his story, and didn’t detract from his work at all.

Looking around, I found lots of other examples of fine artists using Etsy to showcase and sell their work, with shops such as littleprintpress standing out as a beautiful example of an online gallery. It turned out that art & collectibles are nestled under the home & living category – finding my nook made me feel more at home.

I set up my own shop at last, and very importantly I’m happy with the company it keeps, surrounded by artists, craftspeople and designers.



How to set up, curate and market your art gallery on Etsy

Often, something as simple as being able to envision success can make the world of difference to actually attaining success… but the best way to attain it is to stop waffling and just go for it.

If you’re interested in selling on Etsy as well, click this link to get 40 free listings. It’s the best way to get started without fear of financial outlay.

Creating listings is easy – I’m not a natural salesperson or schmoozer, and like I said, having 5 projects on the go tends to make me less than patient when it comes to administration, so I really appreciate a simple system!



I’ve partitioned my work out amongst the different platforms I currently use, so that Etsy gets only the original, high value work and I list prints and cards elsewhere. From here my intention is to add relevant work to maintain a collection based on quality over quantity.



With so many artists vying for attention, the only way to stand out is to take control of your own marketing: promote your listings yourself, through social media and offline contacts. Join my Facebook group for artists to network and my Pinterest group board to promote your blog posts and Etsy listings.

Join my Facebook group for artists and craftspeople.



Is Etsy any good for selling fine art?



Give me something I love, and I’ll find a way to make myself hate it.

I don’t mean people or even objects; I mean things I do. Let me get a whiff of being good at something, and I’ll want to be the best – or at least the best I can be.

The cycle.

The harder I work at getting better, the better I get, then the harder I work, and then… do I get even better? Actually, after a few cycles, that’s when I stop entirely, because I’ve burned myself out.

Then the separate cycle of despair over not being as good as I could be starts, and it takes me a while to work up enough momentum to fling myself out of that orbit into being obsessed with being good at something again.

There’s not a lot of time left for enjoying yourself in this pattern, is there?

I loved art before, when I was younger and the purpose of art was to make art, to be part of it and not just to see it. After I dropped out of art school at 20 to have an unsuccessful stab at happy housewifery, I felt as though I’d betrayed my real self, and that was the start of the trouble with art.

I couldn’t blame anyone but myself, because I’d stopped myself from getting better. I did try to push through on my own, but nothing connected until I enrolled in art school again, at 31.

This time, I was going to squeeze eleven years’ worth of practice into two years of education, and I was going to come out of the other side with my old life back.





Of course, that couldn’t happen. Private views, residencies, commissions – these are easy when you’re fresh out of college and don’t have to fit in the school run.

I tried to take on as much as I could, because the sky would fall down on my head if I didn’t hit the ground running. After all, getting a job with the word ‘art’ in the title would prove that I was worth something, right?

Suddenly, the happiness of finally getting that BA in Fine Art (with a lovely 1st class to add to the CV) bled into dread of not being able to get a job, and of having to face the dreaded JobCentre and the supercilious agents of employment scorn therein. Then, the happiness of finding a job! Of being asked to start a band! Of getting onto an MA course! Of moving to London!


Overwhelm strikes…

Such a lot of happiness all at once… of course, I had to keep my job, practise with the band in Kent, study for the MA and raise my son as a single parent and be the best I could be at all of them at the same time. But, the thing was, I missed making.

The MA was challenging and interesting, but the studios at Goldsmiths looked so much more appealing than the library. I started to wonder if I was the only one who thought that the theory wasn’t half as important as the art itself. I thought I was.

It was starting to look like a very expensive mistake, as if it was all for the sake of some more letters after my name to prove I was worth something.

The job was good, but was physically very tiring sometimes. It would only be there for another few months, and then I’d have to find another one – panic. The singing was incredible fun and the band had my name on it, which was all a dream come true, but it took me an hour and a half to drive to rehearsals each Saturday and then an hour and a half back home, and the same for gigs.

It took four months for me to crack, but I did crack. I got so physically run down that I became depressed. I had the flu for about a month,  lost my voice and barely recovered in time for our first gig.



A few months later (this is the short version), I had the answer handed to me by my deus ex machina in the form of my future husband, who picked me up and dropped me in Lancashire and made me get on with life away from the things I loved that weren’t loving me back enough.

Three years on, the sky didn’t fall down because I’ve only had a few exhibitions. My son loves me as much now as he did when I didn’t have two degrees. I have a job with ‘art’ in the title and I can still find something to complain about. No-one who loves me cares that I’ve never been an artist in residence anywhere and I stopped caring as well.

What am I doing now? Two websites for two separate businesses, a half-started novel, a part-time job, and a full-time family. Sounds like I haven’t learned, right? Only this time, everything else has to come after what’s best for me and my family. If you’re panicking about what comes next in your art career, don’t. Seriously, don’t.

I’m happier now that I’ve stopped panicking and started living.

You can make something happen by simply making your own work for your own gratification and making your own opportunities. Panicking won’t help. It certainly won’t help you to enjoy your life.

Make your (art)work fit your life, and you’ll realise there’s nothing to prove – you’re already worth something.



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Do you get stuck in a cycle of creating overwhelm in your life? Here's my story of facing burnout and getting past it.