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Sorry, not Sorry: An unapologetic blog about becoming an artist. by Gemma Malcolm

I have always been a crafter. I teach a Sunday school class at my church where we use crafts to explain the weekly Gospel message, and with my work I have held a number of arts and crafts days for young people. I experiment with needle felting, cross-stitch and embroidery, and I enjoy papercrafts – even creating wedding invitations and order of services for friends and family weddings. But I have never considered myself an artist. That is until I discovered Fluid Art, also known as Paint Pouring.

I first got into fluid art as a way of helping me to sleep. I was diagnosed with insomnia in 2018 while I was completing my degree, so I used to watch videos of fluid art on YouTube, (my husband calls them my paint drying videos). I found the way the paints mixed and moved so mesmerising; they honestly helped me to relax and de-stress, and I would find myself drifting off for a couple of hours.

It looked easy, so I thought I would have a go. I bought paints, canvases and pouring medium, then I got mixing. The consistency of warm honey is what all the Youtubers tell you to go for when mixing your paints. I have absolutely no idea what warm honey looks like, so I joined some Facebook groups where I could ask questions and get advice from likeminded paint pourers. “Melted Ice Cream” was the best description I came across regarding optimum paint pouring consistency. And so, armed with the little knowledge I had, and my arrogant enthusiasm, I began my first pour… It was s***!

At first, I was desperate. I am a crafty person; I should be capable of creating art!

Then I was defeated. I am only a crafty person; I am not capable of creating art!

Then I was determined. You are a crafty person; you can create art!

Then, after multiple failures, I decided to put my studious nature to good use and started to research paint and its properties.

Learning about paint transparency and density has been a total game changer in my fluid art journey. Also experimenting with the different styles of fluid art has been an enriching experience, as well as trying different types of paint and pouring mediums. My degree is in History and Theology, so naturally I began researching the origins of fluid art - or as David Alfaro Siqueiros, the Mexican artist who first discovered the technique - called it, “accidental painting”. It has been fascinating to learn of the science behind it. Something that upon first look appears simple and accidental, can actually be a well-considered marriage between science and art. As a Christian and Theology student, I am also humbled and in awe of God’s creation, and His generosity in giving that which He created the ability to create.

Now, each piece that I create is more thought-out, and I see each work as an opportunity to use the gifts that I have been so kindly given. If I am doing a Flip Cup then I know to put the white in the bottom of the cup, because it is denser than the other paints; so it will sink to the bottom of the canvas creating the much-desired cells that some fluid art enthusiasts crave. I know that transparent colours will not show up on a dark background. I know that when doing a Tree Ring pour to make the paints a little thicker, so as to get those defined rings. And I know that when doing a Dutch Pour to make them a little thinner, as this encourages the paints to flow across the canvas. Each day I have a better understanding of how the paints will interact with each other, and each piece that I create is a milestone showcasing what I have learned, and what I still have to learn.

However, over the past few years, fluid art has become extremely popular, I would even suggest that the market is oversaturated with it. One of the things people like about it is that you have a finished piece within a couple of minutes. Suddenly, someone who has never been particularly good at painting or drawing can call themselves an artist, because they poured paint into a cup and flipped it onto a canvas. My Facebook feed is full of people’s muddy messes because they have done just that; you can easily distinguish between considered works and those where the painter has just poured their favourite colours. As a result of this, I found myself becoming overly critical of other people’s work. This then led to me doubting my own abilities. If I was getting frustrated at other people, then how many were feeling the same about mine? What right did I have to think my artwork was superior to those who were just starting out like me? What right did I have to consider that what I was creating was art?

I soon found myself making excuses when describing to people what I do:

“I never studied art, so I am not really an artist.”

“I am very new to this, so I am just an amateur.”

“I know that people will look at it and think that it is something nursery children can do.”

When I contacted Sandra, the An Lanntair Artist Support Coordinator, the above was exactly how I introduced myself and what I do. In the face of my negativity and self-doubt, Sandra was so positive and nurturing; she gave me the freedom to talk about my chosen art form and encouraged me to explore it more. She also gave me some cracking advice: “Be unapologetic. You are creating; therefore, you are an artist.”

My conversation with Sandra, and my continued research into Fluid Art and its styles and properties, have helped me to realise that if I begin a conversation about what I create in such a negative manner, I am only setting myself up for failure. After all, how can I expect people to take what I do seriously if I don’t take it seriously?

“Be unapologetic”. It is the best possible advice I could have received. Not everyone is going to like what I do, and not everyone is going to get it; some may even be overly critical. However, while it may only take minutes for me to create something, I know that I am putting a lot of work in behind the scenes. Researching, experimenting and learning from my mistakes will only improve my techniques. So, while I may not have an art degree, while I might be very new to this, and while you may think that a child could do it, I am here to say:

“Sorry, not sorry, I am an artist”.

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