On being the person you needed when you were younger

It’s one of my favourite phrases lately.

I was recently invited to speak at the June Creative Bedfordshire Networking event which was centred around arts within the community.

When you were a young and budding artist, did you have someone in your life who helped and encouraged you? If yes, you’ll know how fundamentally important that person was to your development or maybe you don’t know? There are a large amount of artists in the world today that never had that person, it doesn’t mean they aren’t successful and happy but how many fell through the cracks?

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A local drop in workshop centred around Fairytales.

By creating safe spaces for young people to learn and grow as artists we expand not only their community but our own as adults as well. We do this by making sure we don’t forget that these young people should be treated as artists first and foremost and everything else second (although making sure they are safe is always our utmost priority.).

I’ve worked with several organisations creating these safe spaces and all of them work slightly differently. The main thing I have found is I always come away surprised and with something to pass on to the next group I work with, sometimes a project but more often a way of thinking.

For example- from the first workshop I did I realised how fragile a young person’s creativity can be. Some of the youngest I work with have no problems getting stuck in and making a masterpiece and although they’re confident in what they have done they are usually the most receptive to constructive comments as well.

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I know illustrators who would love this style and confidence in their work.

As they become pre-teens and teenagers I sadly find that enthusiasm is often lost. I’m suddenly met with cries of ‘I can’t do it’ , ‘It looks bad’ or ‘Can you do it for me?’

What’s changed?

The answer is often the level of encouragement. They’ve been told this isn’t a career path and they shouldn’t waste their time. All this while being put under unbelievable pressure by their schools and caregivers to succeed at GCSEs and A Levels at all costs. While helping with a teenage group recently the atmosphere change was unreal from their usual fun and giggly sessions. Even in their down time pursuing their passions they can’t switch off from these pressures.

Not to say education and ambition isn’t important but isn’t their childhood, passion and mental health just as important?

This way of thinking doesn’t benefit young people at all. Surely instead of telling them what they can’t do we should be talking to them about the infinite possibilities open to them. Around 65% of children starting primary school today will be in a job in the future that doesn’t exist yet (Source). ┬áIsn’t that something to celebrate and explore?

Working with a group recently they asked me what ‘Illustration’ was and we explored film, comics, fashion, street art and even the textbooks they use at school for science. Suddenly ideas were being thrown around left right and centre and shouts of ‘I can’t do it’ subsided with the broad range of styles on show.

Which brings me to the point. I wish someone had shown me that when I was younger.

To clarify, I had a very supportive parent and now have a very supportive partner as well. But it took me a long time to get away from how I thought it should be done and how it actually was done. I certainly had tunnel vision when it came to what I thought my art should look like.

If I can help one young person realise that in an afternoon instead of the years it took me to realise on my own, I’ll consider that a win.

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In progress prop for local carnival by young people.

Meeting the like minded people who create these groups has been amazing and humbling. Finding out what drives them and motivates them as artists in their own right. Most of these people I have met through working with another group or my name has been passed on as I’ve passed other names forward as well. If we can encourage this with the young people we work with as well, we create communities within communities always growing and connecting and hopefully doing the same for other young people as they get older.

But we have to step outside our own boxes first. Performing arts, media, photography, Illustration and graphic design can all help each other, It’s always worth reaching out even if ‘they don’t really do your type of thing’.

Maybe no one’s asked them yet, and they’d love to have you.

Botanical Illustration

Flowering cactus

Since moving quite recently, I’ve found myself with a lot of windowsill space. Like a lot.

To be honest with you I’ve gone a little bit Crazy Plant Lady. Couple that with the fact I now have more space to work on art, my leafy little buddies are now a prime source of inspiration.

I’ve found myself daydreaming of project after project involving illustration and plants from an illustrated diary on life’s little dramas to a fully illustrated Herbology tome.

Alpine Strawberry

While I’m not quite there yet I have been experimenting in painting the plants around our little home and getting a feel for how I want my personal form of botanical illustration to turn out. Not to mention trawling every second hand shop I can find for lusciously photographed and illustrated books to draw inspiration from (although if there’s one thing I have more of than plants and art supplies right now, it’s books.)

I’ll probably start a little section in the portfolio for these when I’ve got a better feel of what they should cohesively look like but for now, please enjoy the ones I’ve scattered through this post.

Kind

-Arkolina