In recent years each December I’ve done a round up of the past twelve months in my art and business. It’s always surprising, validating, and insight-bringing to revisit the things I did, the boundaries I broke through, the things that didn’t work out as well as anticipated, and the whole bundle of creativity over the past twelve months.

It also shows the thinking behind the choices I make in my work, in case you’ve ever wondered about that! I do it in two parts, because: long.

This time I’m including lessons learned, so you’ll see where I made errors in judgement as well as good decisions. Much of what I learned can be applied in the studio {and indeed in life generally} and vice versa.

{If you’d like to take a look at your own creative year just passing and ahead into next without any pressure, I made a creative ‘non planner’ which you can download free here.}

And so, 2017, part one. Be warned – a beverage and a snack of some sort would be a good accompaniment for this post. 🙂

{Some of the links are affiliate links.}



Bright Steps / Tara Leaver

Bright Steps

Business coaching

At the beginning of this year I hired Kyla Roma to help me with the marketing side of things. I had a ‘sort of’ system for marketing and launching my courses, but it was feeling awkward and a bit chaotic, and I needed some clear eyes on it. I also knew that despite my resistance to too much structure, I did need some sort of framework, so I wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel every time, which is stressful and inefficient.

After some research I chose Kyla because she felt right {my main criteria for any decision, business or otherwise}, and her clarity and experience contributed to that. My feeling was right; she is not only lovely, professional, and easy to work with, she also helped me with writing emails that didn’t feel icky, and setting things up so they felt genuine and focused.

Lesson learned: It’s totally worth investing in help for the areas you don’t feel strong in, even if it feels like a stretch and especially, in business terms, if being more effective in that area will positively impact the income you can make. Not only do you get valuable information that isn’t necessarily native to you, you also get support and accountability. This is true whether it’s business related or painting related, and as valuable for both.



This was also the month I finally hired a bookkeeper, after hunting for months and receiving about nine rejections! Bookkeeping is clearly a more stable job than being an artist. {Who knew!?} I found her via word of mouth in the end {often the best way}, and she is brilliant and very patient with my appalling lack of understanding around numbers.

Lesson learned: Definitely pay for help in the areas you aren’t strong! I went from crying every month over the numbers {not kidding} to freeing up hours of my time I was then able to use creating courses and doing other work I’m effective at, a bunch of headspace, and feeling confident that the maths was being done correctly for my accountant.

2017 giveaways


I had an idea to run a monthly giveaway this year, as a way to express my gratitude for every person who engages with my work in some way. It went well for the first half of the year – I’d make a painting each month and give it away on Instagram. It was a way to reach more people and offer original work free, since not everyone’s in a position to buy art. With the move to Cornwall and all that that involved I kept forgetting, and then just decided to let it go.

Lesson learned: Always try out your ideas. It’s fine if they don’t end up where you thought, or if they end up with a shorter life span. The point is to act on inspiration, not let it slip away unexperienced because of silly brain backchat.

A new course

I started filming for the Expressive Charcoal course this month. I have a deep and abiding passion for charcoal, and wanted to share the love and help answer the questions people so often asked me about using it. The course proved popular {yay} and was so fun to create. {These two things of course go hand in hand.}

Lesson learned: You will always wonder why you procrastinated when you finally start doing something you’ve been wanting to do for ages. It’s like, a law of nature.

St Ives School of Painting

A new love affair

Instagram tells me this was also the first time I took a painting course at the St Ives School of Painting in Cornwall. Little did I know it would be the start of a complete life change, within the same year! I’d been wanting to do a course there after seeing a couple of artist friends do it – if nothing else, it has to be the best location in the world for art studios. I found the teaching exemplary, the group dynamic just what I needed after years of hermiting, and the experience expanding and challenging and utterly magical.

Lesson learned: Sometimes copying your friends is a really good idea.

Favourite blog post this month: Free painting video lesson: how to make a simple abstractified painting




Filling the well

My birthday month saw me turn 39 {what}, and by way of celebrating I went to see Cirque du Soleil with my mum at the Royal Albert Hall in London, as we have done several times before. This has nothing to do with work but was a highlight of my year so gets a mention. And you could of course make the point that taking time out to relax and do things you love with people you love is essential well-filling for your creativity. 😉

Lesson learned: Do the fun, out of the ordinary things; life is short and your creativity can be fed from pretty much any source. And the world needs more happy artists.


Feeling the fear {and doing it anyway}

I don’t often do audio interviews {about 100% more articulate and confident in writing, true introvert that I am}, but when Teri Belford of Inspired Livelihood asked me to contribute to her new course, Inspiring Teachers, with a recorded chat about teaching art online, I decided to embrace the terror and do it. {Recommended if you’re wanting to branch into teaching art, online or off.} I kept telling myself it was just a chat about something I love and feels meaningful to me, and that took the pressure off enough that it went really well! I actually felt like I’d been unusually articulate and even a bit helpful, so…

Lesson learned: Do the scary thing, sometimes. It’s fine to say no more than you say yes {discernment is a wonderful thing}, but sometimes it’s worth saying yes even when you’re kind of terrified. It can’t fail to grow you, and that is also a wonderful thing. Plus you never know where saying yes may lead.


A challenge

Ran a free 8 day challenge on Instagram entitled ‘Discover Your Painting Language’. The premise was to explore and get more familiar with your unique artist’s vocabulary – marks, style, colours, inspiration etc. It came with a series of emails and I’ll definitely be running it again in 2018.

Lesson learned: The things you most enjoy doing will always reap the most rewards, whether that’s in terms of well-being, remuneration, helping others, or any number of other hoped for and unforeseen benefits. The energy you put in is the energy that will come back to you.



Read and thoroughly enjoyed Brian Rutenberg’s Clear Seeing Place, based on and developed from his fantastic Studio Visits on YouTube. Check out one or both – heaps of food for thought and an inside look at the artist experience by an artist who has a wealth of it.



Favourite blog post this month: 14 ways to be a happy artist



Two courses

This month seems to have been quite quiet, apart from running two courses {hadn’t quite worked out the schedule in the most efficient way yet!} – Abstractify and, excitingly, the first ever session of Expressive Charcoal.

Abstractify is my most popular course, and I love that it continues to be relevant and useful to people looking to deepen and clarify their unique artistic self expression.

Expressive Charcoal, as mentioned earlier, is exactly what it sounds like – a course designed to get you playing confidently and expressively with this magical medium.

As of 2018, both will run twice a year {as will Touchstone and Artist Inspired II – more on this later}, so if the first session is not great timing you always have the option of another one later.

Lesson learned: Everything tends to work out fine if you don’t quite manage to plan things properly, but it never hurts to look for more efficient ways to do things. 🙂  Also, trust yourself – if you loved making something, people will love experiencing it.

Favourite blog post this month: How to be inspired by other artists without copying them {part 1 of a series of 5}



Website revamp

Started working with designer Allie Rice of Allie Creative on a complete overhaul for my website. I wanted it to be clearer in terms of copy and mission, easier to navigate, and to bring painting sales to an equal footing with my courses without being confusing. I usually do all my own designing, but my digital skills are very limited and I loved Allie’s style.

I did change the WordPress theme {with some technical help from my brilliant tech guy, Rob from IT Arsenal} and set up the framework ready for the new graphics. Allie created the new logo {from my sketch}, the icons you see on the homepage and for each course, and helped me create a more user friendly experience with visuals and copy that matched what I wanted to express.

The result made me very happy, and the feedback told me it was a good idea as people did find it easier to use once we’d streamlined and moved things around a bit.

Lesson learned: Yup, that old chestnut from January about investing in the things that will help you grow, reach more people, and bring in more income {if that’s what you’re aiming for}. This was a massive outlay and that did freak me out a bit, but it was also a one off that should last a while, and was worth it for a more effective website. I bootstrapped for a long time and that worked for a while, but there comes a point where your online presence needs to sit at a different level.

Favourite blog post this month: You don’t have to be fearless



I think it would be quite hard NOT to have an epiphany on this beach

Cornwall epiphany

This month saw me back in Cornwall for another course, and, even more significantly, was the time of the Epiphany on the Beach, when I realised short trips were never going to be enough and really I could just try out living there for a while and see if it worked out. That one tiny/huge moment of clarity on the beach was the top of the rollercoaster; it was then followed by months of a confusing mix of exhilaration, upheaval, uncertainty, and a deep knowing that this was right.

Lesson learned: The whispers only ever get louder and more persistent – listen to them and be brave enough to at least give them a chance. You don’t always have to commit 100% irreversibly to explore an idea that won’t go away. Find ways in that feel doable, and just take one baby step at a time.


Secret Sale

Every May I make a selection of paintings available in a pay what you like sale. These are paintings that are perhaps one offs or don’t fit in with the others, but are made no less lovingly. I make it available to Artnote subscribers first, and after a couple of days open it up to everyone. It’s a way to enable those who can’t stretch to the full priced work to own some original art {by me}. It’s also a lovely way to sell some work in a low pressure way and clear some space, both literally and energetically, in the studio.

Lesson learned: I didn’t sell as many paintings with the Secret Sale this year as last year. It was a very clear way of seeing how directly the amount – and even more significantly, the quality – of energy I put into marketing reflects in what comes back. And I mean energy I feel motivated and aligned giving. My attention was somewhat divided because of the Cornwall developments, and that showed in the reduced income from this year’s sales.


Another challenge

I’d had a sudden ‘download’ and conceived a new challenge, which was designed to be valuable in and of itself and also a way to draw attention to Abstractify.

’21 Days in My Art World’ was about getting more comfortable with sharing your work and yourself as an artist. It ran on Instagram, and was designed to help people connect more meaningfully, clarify their individual processes for themselves, and gain confidence in putting their work out there. With support and encouragement, and daily emails and prompts. It was a huge success and I’ll definitely be running it again in 2018.

Lesson learned: When an idea swoops in and feels compelling, do what you can to create space to pour your attention into bringing it to life. I find when the idea is in alignment this all happens very fast, and is always reflected back in being a positive experience for all involved, and sometimes with far reaching consequences.



Interview: This month the interview I did with Teri Belford back in February for the Inspiring Teachers course came out this month. You can listen to it here.

Favourite blog post this month: 41 lessons to transform your life as an artist



New workshop

Calm from Chaos was a little workshop I created as part of Hali Karla’s Spectrum, a collaborative series of lessons from several artists that she orchestrates each year. After a certain period of time you can release your individual workshop to the world at large, so I made mine ‘pay what you like’, and it’s available for whenever you’d like to do it. I haven’t been great about promoting it so far, but since it’s a low income source that’s ok.

I try to offer a range of valuable and useful things from free to the more expensive courses {which really aren’t that expensive when I look at what else is out there}, so I like to have a few little things like this workshop available.

More courses

Ran Abstractify and Expressive Charcoal again – as mentioned in March, next year this will be more organised and each course will run twice with a six month gap between.

Lesson learned: This year was a lot about learning how to make it all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, and it was definitely the start of something effective but still ended up being a bit feast or famine, so I’ll be working to rectify that next year.

Moving plans

This month I also started to put things in motion to rent out my flat {first via Airbnb, and then longer term} and move to Cornwall. Cornwall and the move have been the backdrop against which everything else has happened this year; for me it’s intricately woven into everything, including my business, not just because it has impacted how and where I work, but because a move changes you and creates shifts you hadn’t anticipated.

Lesson learned: Different areas of our lives have emphasis at different times. Sometimes things of similar size or weight have to jostle for attention a bit but it will all work out if you stay connected to your dreams and do a little something towards them every day if you can. Action is the bridge from panic/overwhelm/confusion to the energy actually moving enough for things to shift and gain their own momentum.

Favourite blog post this month: Lost your art mojo? Try this


Phew! If you made it this far, thank you, and have a gold star! Part 2 will be coming along shortly.