Amplify Your Artworks Voice

Amplifying Your Artworks Voice…

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Can art really talk to us?

Each week I write a new article for members of our four Facebook groups, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artists Lounge, and The Artist Hangout. This week we follow on from my previous article and take another deep dive into the use of symbology in art. Are we tuned in enough to see and hear it, and we explore that age old question, does art really talk to us, and if it does, can we make it talk even more loudly?

This week I had pretty much given up on the idea that I would be able to publish anything at all. I’m almost a week into my Jury service and as yet remain waiting in the wings to be called upon to serve my public duty. To be totally honest though, I am slightly relieved because my Crohn’s has been a little sparky and my back is being very un-back-ish. It could all change at any moment, all it will take is a call and my online world will become dark and silent as I intently follow the judge’s orders.  

So this week I looked through the now more than seventy five pre-prepared articles I have written diligently over many weekends and into the early hours of many mornings and I finally settled on the one article I wrote as a follow up article to, The Art Has Landed, which you can find right here

Last time we spoke of little green men and flying saucers and I shined a light on not only the seriousness that should be given to the subject of ufology and space, but also on how the art world is often looked toward for answers, especially when it comes to translating the symbolism and meaning of art. 

This week I want to expand on that a little more so I pondered for a while (he means weeks) and we will deep dive into the subject of symbology in art. I will also have a thought or two on whether the use of certain colours and symbols can make the story our art depicts even more compelling. In short, does art really communicate with us, does it really talk and can we make it talk even louder? As always there are plenty of external links to sites that can provide even more information, I scour the web so you don't have to!

So I asked the question…

I asked members of The Artist Lounge what made them want a piece of art?

The answers weren’t too surprising. There was no mention anywhere of buying the art as a potential investment. This wasn’t at all surprising because I know that the majority of people who do buy art never base their buying decision based solely on its potential to increase in value, if they did then no sane person would buy art. The market for high-end investment art might be one of the biggest art markets in terms of wealth, but it is represented by a minority of buyers.

The art market as I have mentioned many times, isn’t just one market, it is a multiplicity of markets each with their own nuances, and each sitting within an overarching system we call the art world. Something that those who should know better sometimes forget. As artists though we all feed into many different markets with very different audiences, each audience interpreting the art in their own way, each tuned into individual frequencies and listening intently to what the works are saying.  

More people buy art because they like it, it goes with the décor, or because they fall in love with it or it is representative of something they connect with. The art spoke to them and I think this was the resounding consensus from those who answered the question in the group.

It seems like an art world cliché but in fact there is research that supports the theory that art does indeed talk. We often hear that art talks for itself, but often we as artists have to amplify its voice for it to be truly heard. You can find an entire research paper on the subject right here

I also stumbled across a senior thesis which has been published on the internet right here, which looks at art and symbolism in way more detail than we can go through here. It also looks at the technique of applying hidden meaning and communicating specific ideas through art, and it did feel like a worthy read as we are trying to figure out if art really does have a voice and whether or not there was a way to amplify an artworks voice to make it even louder.

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Be Creative... Be You!

Art Has A Voice…

As an artist we listen to our inner creative voices all the time, our job is to then translate the conversations we have with our creative selves and present those ideas in a way that people can understand visually.

I have always felt that art talks. I would even go so far as to say that every artwork has a voice whether it is a masterpiece, good, bad, or indifferent. What’s good to one viewer might be bad to another, or it might be something that provides no value to the viewer either way. There was mention of this in some of the answers. Sometimes art really doesn’t say anything much at all, but it doesn’t always have to, yet it might to someone else, I don’t think there is even such a thing as either good or bad art, it’s art that we as individuals like or love or don’t.

In my almost half a century of being, I have seen great works of art that others think are merely meh, and I have seen plenty of seemingly bad works of art that others fall in love with and who then go on to label the works as masterpieces.

I don’t for a moment believe it is the artist’s job to tell people how to feel about a work, and I’m not keen on the idea that we should be telling the viewer how to interpret the art either. I am a believer in that the artwork itself should do that.

All we can do as artists is create the visuals that direct the art to tell the story, and then help the art to surface in front of its people and to an extent, our people too. The people who believe in us as artists, and sometimes this can even mean that the art becomes almost secondary.  

Our experiences in life, our beliefs, our thinking, what we have been exposed to and what we haven’t been exposed to, all have a bearing in how we see art, and how we listen to, visualise, and then interpret what it is telling us. The same is true when we create it.
Good, bad, or indifferent, I really do think that every artwork speaks to us in some way. It is whether or not anything we have been exposed to, believe in, or thought, has tuned us into the same frequency as the art to be able to hear its voice and whether or not what it is saying resonates with us and connects us or maybe even tells us to move on.

Some artworks scream I am great, some scream I am bad, and some we don’t hear at all. That might be because we just aren’t tuned into their frequency and so we never quite see or hear the artworks vibe or message, yet others might. Perhaps though those artworks have a voice that tells us to move on in the same way that we scroll right on past certain posts on social media.

Perhaps there is some subconscious thing going on that tunes us into social media posts in the same way we take messages and stories from art. The decision to move on and scroll past is subconsciously taken within nano-seconds, the posts might not be screaming at us to stop and take a look and that seems to be kind of what we do with art, so why would any other visual communication be any different?

There are artworks that tell us loudly that we need to pause and take a look and some even tell us to handover the cash and take them home, but there are some works that I for one, just don’t seem to be able to tune into at all. If we’re not tuned into a particular works language or it’s not resonating with what we identify with, believe in, or connect with, it’s not telling us to stop and listen to its story so we move on. Or maybe it is trying to tell us but we don’t hear it. Of course the work might make total sense to someone else, it really is subjective is this art business!

In my previous article we looked at symbology in art. The moon and sun often being symbolically represented by alien looking characters flying what look to be flying saucers. We found that this was often a result of mistranslation and to some extent, not fully being aware of the context around the art.

Art history has taught us that colour too has symbolic meaning and whereas it can be difficult to figure out the true meaning of specific symbology in older artworks, the use of colour to represent something is often easier for us to translate. Colour is the most popular symbology we seem to use today, whereas if we paint the sun, it is more likely that it will now look more like the sun than a spaceship. Symbolism takes on different meanings through time.

We give our work a voice through stories, but the question is, is there anything that we can do to amplify that voice within the artwork even more?

I think we probably can. We know that visual imagery has been found to trigger certain responses and we know that there is now some evidence to suggest that certain colour palettes are more likely to help a work sell more than others. There was an interesting article in the Telegraph (a UK publication) back in 2014 which explained how works created using a red palette were more likely to rise in value. You can read that article right here. Useful data perhaps for the minority in the cash rich art market.

We also know that blue has been found to be the art world’s most popular colour following a study where there was a notable shift from orange being the favoured colour in the 20th century. You can find that article right here. Yet blue isn’t a colour that was suddenly new to the 20th century, blue pigment had a 6,000 year history before the shift which you can read about right here. Something changed that took us from orange to blue, blue started to become more prominent, could it have suddenly found its voice?

So it was of little surprise when Smithsonian Magazine wrote an article highlighting a further study that found that paintings featuring red and blue hues sell for more money at auction. You can read the story right here

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Colour Theory

When we use the cliché that art talks it is meant in the metaphorical rather than literal sense. I have never come across a painting that verbally communicated on its own in the literal sense, well maybe other than a few interactive installation pieces. But when a painting talks to us it is doing so in its own way, it is telling us a story and it is using colour or sometimes even lack of colour to reinforce whatever the story is about. Colour or lack of it really can connect us with a work.

As artists it is a good idea to learn about colour theory. It is an art in itself to be able to pick a colour palette that you know will just work, but something we often pay less attention to is the art of colour psychology. Both colour theory and colour psychology though are equally important things that can really amplify an artworks voice, but from experience I know that this is often the last thing on my mind when I am deep in the zone of creativity, and I think many other artists do this too.

Colour psychology is one of those art forms which seems to be very well used and understood by the retail sector, but as artists many of us probably don’t have to think too much about the palette we use because we use palettes which we instinctively feel will look right for whichever work. Sometimes we use them because they are the palettes that we always use. Maybe though we should occasionally question our instincts, why does the sky always need to be blue? What message would we like this work to send, is there a colour that will reinforce this or that element in the story? Would this colour work better to trigger an emotion in this or that element?

Our instincts come from that inner creative voice that guides us through creating the work. It is a voice that has been trained through our own experiences and what we have been exposed to, and what we believe, and it comes from both our consciousness and our subconscious. But what happens if we were to start taking even more notice of the palettes we use and we focused more on the symbolism that is contained in the work? Would the paintings voice become louder or trigger different reactions? Do some paintings work better because there are many symbolic references?

It’s difficult to say but we do know that throughout art history both colour and symbology have been used to convey stories or elements within stories in art. Some we might never have noticed, but other works have brazen messages that leave the viewer in no doubt at all of their meaning, and there are a few that will forever have us scratching our heads.

Art history isn’t always quite what the author Dan Brown makes us believe it is. There isn’t, as the books suggest, always some hidden meaning in an artwork and when there is, it’s not just in Renaissance art. I can see the lure of being the first to find some hidden code in a work, it elevates the artist and finder, as some genius who knew something that couldn’t be told, it adds an air of mystery, and we become even more interested if we think some hidden code, once deciphered, will lead us to some buried treasure or the answer to the meaning of life.

It’s not always that there is some coded biblical message, and in some cases where there is, it could very well be that the symbology wasn’t intentional or was put in just to play with your mind. Artists even back in the day probably had a sense of humour too.

That said there are plenty of works that have messages or what we would today call Easter Eggs within them, I have included some in my own works over the years. Some with a key message, others just because I thought it would add something, others contain no subtle message at all. And yes, probably a little bit in one or two cases, just because, but there is some meaning to those extras even then. It is something that a few of my collectors have noticed and if there is a work that contains a lot of detail there might or might not be something in there. Mostly it is because I have some opinion on something, there are definitely no clues to the meaning of life, it is just something I have always periodically done.

There are some works that really do stand out as slightly stranger than others though. The Voynich manuscript seems like it was designed to mess with your head, an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. The vellum on which it is written has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), and it may have been composed in Italy during the Italian Renaissance. The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish-Samogitian book dealer who purchased it in 1912. You can read more about it right here

Perhaps the earliest known instance of wall-tagging as used by street and graffiti artists of today goes back to the Arnolfini Portrait. The Arnolfini Portrait (or The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Marriage, the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, or other titles) is a 1434 oil painting on oak panel by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. You can see the work on Wikipedia right here

What makes the work stand out even more is when you look at the background you will notice some writing on the wall which translates to, “Jan van Eyck was here 1434.” Picking up elements like that adds to the story of the work and in this case it was probably included as humour, but then I do try to see a funny side to most things.

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The Mona Lisa and the hidden code...

If you want even more mystery then we need to look at one of the art world’s most iconic works, The Mona Lisa. Letters in her right eye can be seen under a microscope and it is possible to just make out both an L and a V. In her left eye, the letters CE can be seen but there is speculation and debate that suggests it is the letter B.

The arch on the bridge in the background has an inscription which can be read as either 72 or L2, and on the back of the painting 149 can be seen along with the remains of an erased number. Could this be the date the painting was said to be created in the 1490’s when Da Vinci was in Milan? You can read more about it in another Telegraph article right here.

Colour as symbology…

Colour has been used as symbolism in art for millennia to convey deeper meaning and to help communicate the subject. Of course the introduction of new pigments through the ages has given artists a much broader spectrum of colour to work with, but colour is not only about the aesthetics of a work. Colour holds significance in different cultures and religions. Ask someone from one cultural background what the colour red indicates to them and they will provide a very different answer to the one provided by someone of a completely different cultural background.

Not only do colours have meanings in culture, they have many different meanings when it comes to emotions too. In the Western world, green is considered a lucky colour, it also reminds us of nature, and freshness, but also jealousy. In Indonesia, green has traditionally been a forbidden colour, and Eastern cultures often see green as symbolising youth, fertility and new life, but it can also mean infidelity. In China, wearing a green hat is indicative of a woman or girlfriend cheating, and this dates back to the Yuan Dynasty when relatives of prostitutes were forced to wear green hats.  

Over on the Shutterstock blog there is an interesting read which you can find right here, that looks a little more in depth at various colours and how they are perceived around the world. Colour can tell a story and help make a work speak, but the message might get lost in translation if the wrong colours or symbols are used, although that might be why the wrong colours are used in some works. Symbology in art is one huge and fascinating subject that runs deep.

As the world has become much smaller with the advances we have seen in the internet and with us all becoming increasingly connected, a majority of working artists today tend to work globally and in some cases more frequently than they will ever work in local markets. This is a topic we discussed in another one of my recent articles about community which you can find right here, and it seems that there are many nuances when working globally that need to be considered when creating art, especially when it comes to choosing the right palette.

Colour isn’t just important in artworks either. Graphic and web design can fall flat if the designer hasn’t considered some of the tiny details such as the palette. Whilst colours can vocalise an artwork they can also vocalise it in the wrong way in some regions and countries and in some religions too. There’s an interesting read about using colour in web design which you can also find right here

If you want to learn even more about the use of colour in art then Incredible Art is a website that has been serving art educators and students since 1994 and it is filled with fascinating insight into the world of art beyond learning about making a sale. You can find the lesson on colour symbolism and culture right here, and I really do think that learning about other aspects of the arts will do as much, if not more to help you market your work than anything else.

So how do we vocalise our art?

I think perhaps more so in recent times we have lost some of our ability to see some of the symbolism in art. Today we are surrounded by a constant flow of art. Some of it strange, some of it weird, some of it is even, wow, WTF weird, although we have become very adept at reading some of the more subtle symbology in modern artworks.

But when it comes to the finer details such as the meaning of certain symbols or colours, we sometimes lose the ability to see entirely clearly, and that means we can miss out on so much of the meaning of the art and the story it is trying to tell us. Having an insight to symbology or at least an awareness because sometimes it can help us to create more meaningful art too. It can help to vocalise and communicate what we want the art to say and this is what artists have been doing for centuries.

Recognising Symbology…

The Egyptian god Khepri, Ra as the rising sun, was often depicted as a scarab beetle-headed man by the ancient Egyptians who believed that Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it above the horizon and then carrying it through to the other world after sunset.

Spiders have been used as symbols to depict mystery and growth, a wolf would often be used as a representation of loyalty, guardianship and strength. Peacocks were associated with grace and awakening, and royalty and self-expression. 

Aside from the symbols and colours that we see in artworks and discovering what each of them means, there are other ways that as artists we can use symbols and colour to amplify the voice within our own creations too.

Having said that, you don’t always have to use specific symbology, sometimes you just have to explain your art better. I have felt for a long time that vocalising our art so that it has a voice so loud that it can’t be ignored is as much about vocalising us as artists first, but how do we do this?

We talk about our art…

Even the most prolific and gifted artist can stumble when it comes to talking about their work. I know that if there is one thing I could choose not do as part of my creative process, it would be to not have to talk about my own art at all. That’s because like many artists I fall to pieces and find that I crumble at the thought of verbally presenting my work in front of an audience.

Yet here I am as someone who has over the years stood in front of an audience and given tens of dozens and probably by now hundreds of keynote lectures, I write about my experiences good and bad in the art world, and I am a vocal supporter of every independent artist. But I am human, I crumble at the same things you do, none of what I do shields me from the reality that I am as susceptible as anyone else to critique, or self-doubt, maybe even more so.

Occasionally as artists we might feel as if our words will detract from the work, sometimes they even do, but if we are to give our work its voice we do have to help it along. If we are aware of the obstacles that can trip us up whenever we help our work or amplify its voice, we are less likely to stumble over them when it comes to the moment when we have to do that one thing we all dread, public speaking.

Over the years I have given plenty of keynotes. The nerves fire up about 24-hours ahead of the event even today. I have also been sat in the audience and seen how nerves and poor preparation can affect a speaker, even professional speakers. If they’re unprepared or haven’t thought about the questions they are likely to get asked it can be a painful experience for both the speaker and the audience. I have had cringe worthy moments in front of and behind that lectern.

Whenever I am asked how long I need to present a keynote I always ask for the least amount of time the organiser can offer me. I figure that less can go wrong in 15-minutes than it could if I were to stand up for half an hour, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes event organisers need to fill in a whole day of speakers but they might not have that many, or even worse, you might be the only one. Whatever time they give you means that you have to be prepared in advance, and you have to second guess what the audience might ask you either during the keynote or after.

Being asked a question mid-way through a keynote is just about the worst thing that can happen. It can put you completely off delivering the rest of it but sometimes it can help you to fill in however long you have. If you have been asked to speak then someone recognises you as the authority so having something to talk about for fifteen minutes or an hour should be possible. With artworks though I have always found that anything longer than ten to fifteen minutes is overkill, unless you are talking about a major project or the process you used in detail.

When it comes to the questions you should be prepared enough to never have to say the words “I don’t know,” even if you don’t know. The audience wants to feel as if you know what you are doing. In art that becomes a little challenging in that we don’t always know what we are doing because so much of what we do comes from our inner creative voice and instinct. 

Instinct comes from your experience though so if you do find that you are struggling to explain something that your instincts added, talk about how you drew down from you past experiences. If you are using colour or symbols to convey the story, talk about those because that will really give your work more of a voice. These are the things you know about and its way better to talk about the things you know about than the things you don’t.

You need to be honest, you need to be genuine, and you need to be authentic. Those are the traits of truly successful artists, those are the traits of true success in any area. Don’t try to oversell, the load of the conversation should be shared by both the artist and the art.

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Be Real, Be Authentic, Be You...

But we don’t like talking about our art…

If you ever have that fear of rejection it only gets worse when you talk publicly because the response you get back is instant, you can’t hide from it. A lot of artists who have any slight whiff of self-doubt will tell you that the fear is very real and almost paralysing at times. I can categorically confirm that it is a real fear folks, it happens to us all.

When we do go through these periods it is easy to set the bar of self-expectation on its lowest setting and we can fall into a trap of putting our own work and ourselves down. Never ever set the bar that low. Your inner art critic might be shouting and screaming at you but sometimes you just have to place it on mute.

You might find yourself in the position where you are convincing people to part with their money and purchase your work, and when people hear you say that your work is rubbish, they believe you more easily than if you say your work is good or great. Rubbish is an easy word, great is harder to explain, and as humans we often have this innate ability to find the path of least resistance.  Always take an extra dose of self-confidence along with you that reminds you to never set the bar that low. Yoda moment over.

There is another kind of doubt that we sometimes confuse as self-doubt, and that’s the doubt we have about the ideas that we have and it is distinctly different. Where self-doubt is brutal and paralysing, doubting ideas can be energising.

That’s the moment when we can give ourselves permission to question why the sky is blue, why we paint or create something in a traditional almost realistic way. It becomes more about not accepting the default and becoming the kind of person who takes the initiative to doubt the default and look for a better or different option. It helps you to be original and we know that being original is one of the best methods of amplifying an artworks and an artist’s voice.

This doubt about your creative ideas should motivate you to experiment, to refine, to become better, to think differently, and instead of confusing it with self-doubt where you think that you are never going to become the artist you want to be, you begin to realise that the works you did before were simply precursors or drafts for the work that you will do from now on. You will go through that phase many times.

When we talk about our art we forget that we are also amplifying the voice of the artwork and we are vocalising in a way that will hopefully connect the buyer with both us as the artist and the artwork. Your art is positive, the fact that you create art in the first place is positive, but your own vocalisation, if it is negative, can detract and take away so much from the work. No one honestly wants to listen to negativity whether they are attending a keynote or having a one to one with you about the art or you.

We can all get frustrated with art especially when something doesn’t turn out as well as we would like it to, or because we are going through a tough period of few or no sales, but these are exactly the times when your outlook towards art has to be even more positive. It’s also really, really hard to do but remember why you started creating art in the first place and let the artwork help you to vocalise just as much as you are helping it to become more vocal. The relationship between the canvas and the artist is symbiotic.

You are not a part-time artist, you are not aspiring to be anything, you are not emerging, you are an artist and have been from the day you picked up the brush and started doing the work of an artist. I am almost certain that the words aspiring and emerging were created to enforce some mysterious hierarchy, to control the flow. The art world is different now.

There are no customs checks where you have to apply for some magical pass that confirms you are an artist. Even a PhD is only the beginning of the journey of discovery that you will go on in art. It might be useful in some circles but it’s not essential and its certainly not some magical pass, you still need to do the work. The real learning and work starts the very moment you decide that it is time to be the artist that you are, and the moment you realise that this learning continues every day thereafter.

Over the years and throughout my career in the arts and my career in medicine before I moved into justice, I have witnessed the self-sabotage that artists and non-artists are capable of. Sometimes that self-sabotage stems from a fear of success and an assumption that we know what success would mean and there’s something that we don’t like about it. Sometimes success seems frightening, hey, we might even have to change or step out of that comfort zone.

Deep down we might be happy to keep on doing what we already do. We might be scared to have aspirations because sometimes we know that attaining those aspirations comes at a price we don’t really want to pay.  

Deep down we might also be really happy in our comfort zone, in our bubble, it’s a safe space, but if the thought of aspiring to reach some pinnacle of you career scares you, that’s probably a good indication that you shouldn’t be afraid to aspire to reach that pinnacle. We definitely should never be afraid to become successful whatever successful really is.

We have all likely seen this throughout every sector, creative or not. When many of us, when we have an important idea, we don't bother to try. You become an artist the moment you realise that it’s too important not to try. You won’t be judged on bad ideas or on taking risks unless they’re so bad they are dangerous. Giving your art a voice is as much about you as it is the art. I really do believe that for the art to have a voice, the artist needs one too.

With the definitive don’t do’s out of the way, there are some definitive must do’s when you are amplifying your artworks voice.

If we look back through art history the greatest masters and the artists who produced the most original works are also the ones who failed the most, and that’s because they are the ones who also tried the most. They produced lots of art, some of it good, some of it bad, some of it so-so. My guess is that they produced fewer great works than they did bad ones or indifferent. What the masters realised is that they had to generate more art and then they had to produce even more art, and more ideas and then even more ideas before they discovered something original. The most definitive thing you can do to give you and your art a voice is to keep on doing it, and then do it some more, and then some more, but don’t stop there.

Building the story and the voice…

One thing that I frequently say is that everyone likes a good story. People connect to our stories as artists if we tell them. We might think that we don’t have an interesting story at all but there will be moments in life that have contributed to your story. Our art should be telling a story too, even if it is only a single scene within the story or a character.

The most useful thing I started to do a few years ago was to work on a short story for each painting I created. It gives me direction, sets out the stage on which I can place the props and characters, and it needn’t be long. Usually half a page of thoughts and ideas is enough to start working on something. Not only does the story give me the direction, it becomes the voice of the artwork. The image tells the story using the characters and symbols and colour, and each of those elements are breadcrumbs in the puzzle that we want the viewer to solve.  
Having this background really helps with that other part of the artistic process that very few of us really like. Yes, that bit that is writing up the documentation and the artist’s description, the metadata, the marketing campaign, the list goes on, and having a story can also help you to decide on a title because the title is often what gives the artworks voice some power.
There is of course a real art to storytelling in artworks that could have an article of its own. In short, everything needs a sense of belonging to the story or a sense of connection with the story, but colour and symbols, shapes, and visual nods, can all add to the vocalisation that the art needs to communicate with people.

Art does indeed talk but as artists, we are the ones who need to tell it what to say.  

Be You…

At the risk of sounding like one of those un-inspirational, inspirational gurus or posters, and I’m most definitely not, the most important thing you can do when you are an artist is:
To be yourself. Be brave because you already are, be authentic because you are unique, and when you find yourself you will find your art, it is then that your art will have a voice.

Next week…

Who knows! I could be sat in a court room performing my civic duty. As ever, I will be around whenever I can be on the Facebook thing. But what would be great is if you could do one simple thing for another artist, and that’s to leave a nice comment on their posts. It really does help to amplify that works voice and often gives an artist a much needed boost. And with what’s going on around the world lately, we all need some of that beautiful noise.
As always, best wishes, and Happy Creating!

Mark xx

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here:  
Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes towards to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at

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If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here. Supporters will also get a mention and a link to their art websites or art portfolio on the Go Fund Me page on this website! 


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