It’s been a while since I’ve written a personal post. When I first started blogging ten years ago, it was all personal. I was just {re}starting my artist’s journey, and I began my blog {on Blogspot back then} to track my progress for myself.

I never imagined in my wildest dreams {and to be honest I didn’t really have any wild dreams then – I was just trying to heal from decades of depression and knew I needed to get my art back} that ten years later I’d be doing what I do now.

Life’s funny like that.

As my fledgling business hatched {let’s just go with the egg metaphor}, with my first course, Creative Spark, the blog started to become less inward focused and more intentional, more devoted to helping others on their own artist journeys. In the past year or so it’s actually started to fly – a little uncertainly – on its own, which is pretty exciting.

My life has changed beyond all recognition since then, and so have I. And lately I’ve been finding myself wanting to write more personally about my experiences and learnings as an artist again. I love writing a ‘how to’ post {srsly, bullet points are addictive}, and I’m one of those annoying adorable people who always wants to be helpful.

But with so much learned over the past ten years, and with new aspirations forming, I thought I’d revisit the way I used to write, albeit more articulately hopefully. I’d like to share some of the more personal journey, as well as what I’ve been learning recently. {Because I’ll always be a teacher at heart it seems.}

The bold move 😉

Tara Leaver

Since my move to Cornwall last year, I’ve been discovering a side of myself I actually didn’t know existed. There’s someone in here who, after five years of being almost entirely {and necessarily} reclusive, is tentatively raising her hand and suggesting she’d quite like to connect more.

And part of that connecting is a desire to make art that can be seen and bought not just online, but also by walking into galleries.

This doesn’t sound particularly shocking for an artist to say perhaps, but it is when until recently you knew for sure that it wasn’t the route for you! And with this new desire came a realisation that it was time to step up my game with my painting.

I’ve continued to paint for pleasure – and because I just have to – as my little family of courses has grown over the years. And what kind of teacher would I be if I wasn’t walking alongside my students? But it’s time for the next phase.

My work sells from time to time, and like many artists I’ve found that side of it challenging. Lately though, I find myself wanting my own art practice to take up more space in my life, and I want the work to be the best I can make; I want to be on my own edge. The courses aren’t going away, but the emphasis is shifting to a greater focus on developing my work and selling more of it.

The bespoke degree

Tara Leaver // Sway, Undercurrent, and Plunge

I never did an art degree {just a one year foundation diploma about a million years ago which I loved}, and have had no formal teaching since then. {Lots of courses taken though! Always the student. :)}

So I decided that I’d give myself a year to do a ‘bespoke degree’, during which time I’d experiment a lot, really focus, spend significantly more time in the studio, and develop a strong and cohesive body of work, with which I could then {in theory} feel confident approaching galleries.

I also applied for a place on the Porthmeor Programme at the St Ives School of Painting. It’s a year long mentoring programme designed to support you in developing your art practice, and with my passion for this part of the world, my love of the school, at which I’ve now taken several short courses, and my desire for a focused container in which to develop my work, it seemed ideal. I was nervous as hell about getting in, but the universe supported my desire on this one, and it’s proving every bit as wonderful as I imagined. Better, actually.

So I had my ready made container of one year in place, and although I’ve temporarily downgraded from my dedicated attic studio to making art in the kitchen of a rented cottage, I’ve been spending a lot more focused time painting since moving to Cornwall.

{I also created a new course, and continue to devote love and attention to that side of my business.}

The first gallery and the new work

Out of the Blue Gallery Marazion

All those Pinterest quotes about the universe coming forward to meet you when you set an intention are not wrong. Since the move and the shift in my desires, I was unexpectedly offered a little space in a local gallery, which felt like the door to my dreams opening and me putting a foot tentatively through.

And if you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed my art has been shifting too. I’ve recently become obsessed with the idea of immersion in your environment, of experiencing the world with the immediacy of the body’s sensations, and in particular in water. And that’s really starting to come through in the work.

I’m still very much immersed {ha} in experimenting at the moment. The Porthmeor Programme is allowing me to explore freely with things I might not have considered or tried, and helping me to ‘fill the cupboards’ as Kerry, our tutor, puts it. This is a year of filling my cupboards, so when I’m on my own in the studio I can just open those metaphorical doors and find all the ideas, inspiration, material, sketchbook notes, and knowledge of how to get past blocks and keep going, right there.

It’s inevitable of course that I am already learning a huge amount, just a few months into my bespoke degree year. And I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t share them! So, here we go….


9 things I’ve learned from experimenting in the studio:

1) We all want to be more consistent, and yet once that starts happening it’s surprisingly easy to get stuck there and lose the spark that seeking brings. Don’t wish away your current state too soon!

2) Having a range of apparently unrelated paintings not only feeds the insatiable curiosity beast, it also allows your main body of work to develop further even while you’re working on similar pieces.

3) When you reach the inevitable Ugly Phase, or simply a place in the painting where everything looks and feels a bit ho hum, the first thing you’ll probably hear in your head is ‘Oh crap I’ve ruined it’. This never has to be true. In fact, it’s a place of power. A tiny shift of perspective, from ‘it’s ruined’ to ‘huh, now I have something to respond to’, means the difference between frustration and the buzz of a challenge. The other side of that phase is where your best work lies.

4) ‘How can I….’ and ‘What if I….’ are the two most powerful questions you can ask in the studio.

5) A successful painting has both intentional decisions and uncontrolled chaos in it.

6) You’ll never reach your definitively best {aka perfect} work and that’s a good thing. You can make your best work ‘right now’, but even a deeply satisfying piece never feels like your ultimate best, and that’s why we keep painting. That’s the gift – we get to start another one and continue to do what we love. When you reach the top there’s nowhere left to go.

7) Every painting has recognisable phases or cycles. Some pass through them very quickly, and when that happens you’ll probably feel like you’ve cheated because it was so easy. {You haven’t.} Some seem sent to endlessly torment you, and those are also a gift because they’re offering you the chance to go up to the next level of ‘best right now’.

8) Every painting – every stroke of every painting – is full of paradox and deep teachings. The more open you are to listening and learning,  the more mature and nuanced your work will be.

9) Podcasts and Classic FM make excellent studio companions. {Once I’m settled in my new place I plan to add a dog to the mix.}


If you got this far, thank you! I’d like to share more of my ‘bespoke degree’ year here in future posts, if that’s of interest. Yes I create and run courses to support others, but I’m always learning too. They feed each other, and it gives me great pleasure to do both.

I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever done a DIY degree? Would you? And what lessons have your experiments taught you? Let me know in the comments!