Creative process Small business

Three things that I’ll be focusing on in 2021

This time every year we’re bombarded with messaging and pressure to set resolutions. New year, new you. That kind of thing. Personally I’ve never been one for that and I think January is just about the worst time of year to set goals or think about being productive. January for me is about eating Christmas chocolate under a blanket and waiting for the days to get longer.

That said, there is something about this time of year that makes you reflect on the year just gone and think about what’s to come. Especially after the year that we’ve just had. I’ve also been thinking about what this year will bring, which has led me to a list of three things that I want to focus on in 2021 – as an artist, a business and a human.

Looking back

Before starting to plan ahead, it makes sense to look back on where you’ve come from. And boy is there a lot to reflect on from last year. 2020 was a lot. Environmentally, politically, socially, pandemically.

Like most people I’m reflecting on the year gone by with very mixed feelings. I had more time at home to paint, but sometimes found it hard to be creative. We had a lovely summer of adventures in the van, but lots of events were cancelled. Physically I was healthy, but I struggled with my mental health (that’s a topic for a whole other blog).

Back page of my 2021 Awesome Animals calendar
2021 Awesome Animals calendar

Looking back on the list of business goals I naively set for 2020 is pretty surreal and the world feels so different now. I have achieved some of them – like releasing a new print design each month, designing a 2021 calendar and creating a range of greetings cards. Unsurprisingly some of them just didn’t happen – like trying a new creative technique each month (I managed eight) and writing loads of blogs.

One thing 2020 did teach me was to be flexible. And I don’t just mean my new love for yoga. With my usual stockists closed during lockdown and no markets or arts trails, I put a lot of effort into my Etsy shop. I refined my product photography, rewrote descriptions and updated my keywords.

And it paid off. At the start of the year I had made fewer than 40 sales on Etsy – in May I reached 100 sales and last week I passed 250 sales. This is a big achievement that I’m super proud of. It also allowed me to donate to charity, which is a lovely thing to be able to do as a small business.

Planning ahead

Now we’re in 2021, planning ahead still feels like a challenge. It’s difficult to know what’s around the corner and what things we’ll be able to do or when restrictions will be lifted. We’re told there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but I can’t see how long the tunnel is or whether people will want to buy art prints at the end of it.

The world outside my studio window still feels very uncertain, so for my goals this year I’m focusing my intentions inwards. There are no grand plans for solo exhibitions or sales targets. Instead I’m going to focus my energy on becoming a better artist, running a better business and being a better human.

My three things

I remember reading an article back at the start of the pandemic that suggested having three things on your to-do list is a good strategy for getting things done and focusing on what’s important.

So here are the three big things on my to-focus-on list for 2021.

One: Creating collections

For the last two years I’ve painted a different animal each month. The main reason I decided to do this was to make sure I had enough paintings for a calendar at the end of the year, but at times it felt restrictive. I did a commission over the summer where I painted two things at the same time and it really made me realise how much I love painting things in sets. It’s a really satisfying way to paint with watercolours, as you can move between pieces while layers dry and stay in the painting zone.

This year I’m planning to create four different collections, each containing a number of pieces that complement each other and based around a shared colour palette. These collections will be based around the four elements – earth, water, fire and air.

The collections will still be inspired by the natural world, with a focus on conserving and protecting wildlife. Pieces from the collections will be released as prints throughout the year and I will still end up with enough pieces to create a 2022 calendar. Which is a good job because I had sold out of my 2021 calendar less than a week into January.

I also want to refine my painting skills and process to improve the quality of my paintings, which is something I’m really looking forward to doing. Over the last week or so I’ve been working on the first collection and it’s been so enjoyable. Here’s a little look at what I’ve been working on.

From sketchbook, to painting

Two: Painting things that aren’t animals

While working on my adventure themed notebooks last year, I realised how much I enjoyed painting things that aren’t animals. These little elements often find their way into my paintings of animals, like little breadcrumbs of nature around the main subject.

This year I want to paint more of these snippets of landscapes and natural ephemera. I’d like to show some of the amazing natural habitats on our planet, not just the animals that inhabit them.

Over the last few years I’ve experienced first-hand the restorative power that spending time in nature can have on our wellbeing. Whether it’s climbing mountains, hiking in the fells, wandering around woodlands or wild swimming. Focusing on some of these environments in my work will make my business a better reflection of me. Maybe I’ll finally get round to using some of the many reference photos I take while we’re out and about, like the album full of mushroom photos. No, really.

Don’t worry though, there will still be plenty of awesome animals throughout the year. I’ve got some ideas for animals outside the main collections that I’m excited to work on in between.

3: Finding more ways to give back

One of the main feelings I took away from last year was how thankful I am for what I’ve got. I have a safe home, amazing people around me and I get to do something that I both love and care about for a living. This year I want to find more ways to give something back to the world around me.

This is where I get to work on running a better business and being a better human. Throughout the year I will be finding ways to give back:

  • to the environment – finding ways to make my business and my lifestyle more eco friendly and sustainable, by building on my environmental practice.
  • to the community – finding ways to share my experience and time to benefit my local creative community, by supporting like-minded people and groups in Bristol.
  • to charity – finding ways to donate funds from my business to charities working to protect the environment, as well as local charities working to improve people’s lives in the Bristol area.

Getting on with it

So that’s my lessons learned from 2020 (well, some of them) and a list of three things that I’ll be focusing on in 2021.

It’s a new year but I’ll still be the same me, and by the end of the year I might even be a slightly better version of me. My hope is that by focusing on the things I can control, I’ll be more capable of handling the things that happen outside of my control.

Although I fully expect to end the year eating chocolate under a blanket and waiting for the days to get longer.

See how I’m getting on

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