What a year that was!

I know we say it all the time - but where did that year go? I can't believe it was a whole year ago that I started putting together this blog and opened my Instagram account.

My goodness, what a year it's been as I began sharing my art with the world. I worked hard to improve my skills and find a style all of my own, all while juggling my life as a full-time mother.

Well, after a year of massive ups and difficult lows, I've learnt a lot about my strengths and I have to say I've surprised myself. So, here's a summary of my year as an artist...

The Highs...

Any doubts I had that I wasn't a good enough artist mostly went away as my work gained attention in the Draw a Dot Instagram open calls (see here and here). It was a huge boost to my confidence and always seemed to coincide with times when I was struggling with everything.

Instagram was my barometer for every illustration I did and I learned a lot from the likes and comments of followers. I've discovered that my fashion illustrations are the most popular posts, even stuff I've been uncertain about has received a lot of attention.

Another positive thing about using Instagram as a platform for my work is discovering the most amazing community of creative people, and even some unofficial mentors. Finding out that even the most popular and well known artists struggle with confidence and lack of motivation from time to time made me feel less alone.

Allowing myself this first year of going public to experiment with different styles, mediums and subjects, I've learned what I'm good at and what I'm most definitely not - although more practice might improve my skills in areas I really enjoy, like brush drawings.

Overcoming my fear of using watercolour was a big highpoint for me, it was a medium I loved but one I thought I had no skill for. Some of my most popular posts were done using watercolour.

Discovering that even if an illustration didn't turn out as well as I hoped I learnt something all the same was a biggie for me. That initial fear of a blank sheet of paper eased as I realised I had to dive in and try or I'd never improve.

Having a lack of spare time was actually a good thing. It stopped my tendency to procrastinate and that in itself didn't allow room for me to worry about the outcome of each drawing.

The Lows...

I suffered dreadful guilt because I was taking time out for myself, so I could indulge my passion for creativity, which gave me a much needed break from being a mum 24/7. Being a mother has been the most profound and amazing experience of my life but, as Little Bear approached her third birthday, I wanted to rediscover my own identity once more. Finding time for my art, especially as Little Bear began to drop her afternoon naps, was really difficult. I couldn't work when she wanted me and that was that.

If there's one downside to Instagram it's feeling under pressure to post something every day. I could not produce an illustration a day, even if I had the time to do so, I don't work that fast. I tried to do sketches but was rarely pleased with the results. I totally admire those artists who can work this way and produce the most wonderfully expressive work quickly. Kudos, my friends.

As the year wore on I was feeling less and less well. What began as tiredness, which I put down to trying to do too much on top of being a busy mother, got much worse by the end of the summer. I'd been helping my mum take care of my dad, who has had five heart attacks and kidney failure within the last three years. This is on top of being diabetic. My mum has only partial sight too, so it's been a tough time.

By October I was in quite a lot of pain and it was this that finally took me off to see my doctor. Tests and scans followed for the next two months and I finally got a diagnosis just before Christmas. I have an underactive thyroid and am also anaemic. It explained why I was so very, very tired that I struggled to get out of bed and felt as weak as a kitten. Just lifting Little Bear or carrying shopping required a gargantuan effort that was mostly willpower. I couldn't be ill, who would look after Little Bear if I didn't keep going?

My digestion had pretty much given up and eating was no longer pleasurable. My body wasn't absorbing what it needed and the pain and discomfort after each meal didn't help my appetite. It was a vicious cycle that I had to break if I was to get well. Looking back at my medical history revealed an overuse of antibiotics when I was a child that had led to digestive and other vague health issues I'd suffered as an adult. My body had finally made me realise I had to do something - now.

So, over the Christmas break I've been doing my own research, learning about the importance of gut health - which is the likely source of my current health problems - and begun making changes to my diet with added assistance from probiotic supplements. So far so good, and I'm hoping that I'll soon start to feel a lot better.

What next?

As always, I'm looking forward to the new year and what it might bring. I feel excited about my art now I've had time to see how it fits in with everything else in my busy life. I plan to continue exploring styles and mediums to see which best fits my skills and realises my vision.

Once I have a body of work that has a cohesive style that I'm happy with, the next step will be an online portfolio and shop.

On a personal level, I'm looking forward to more mini adventures with my family, travelling and exploring in our caravan. As a mum, I want to make sure I am present and enjoy every single step of Little Bear's last few months at home with me, before she sets off on her full-time educational journey. A bittersweet time for me, I'm sure.

For now, keep an eye of my Instagram page and new blog posts to share my journey with me.

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