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Six Hundred Sales!

I can hardly believe it myself! On Tuesday I sold my 600th painting via the online gallery www.artfinder.com. My sales total had been stuck on 599 what seemed like an unbelievably long time – it was a week in fact. I have actually sold more than that either directly or through other online galleries. All of those paintings were unique too.  I have never gone in for mass producing generic scenes. I believe that novelty keeps my work “fresh”.

My work may explore certain themes such as the Brecon Beacons, Gower Woodlands, Swansea people, the Gower coast, but each painting is an individual. Each painting is of a real specific place or of real people. Perhaps that shows a failure of imagination on my part, I don’t know.

Although I may have had periods when I have felt a bit “flat”, such as after an exhibition, but so far I never actually run out of inspiration. This is partly due to the world around me constantly inspires me but also, more importantly,  because of the unfailing encouragement, inspiration and support provided by my artist husband, James Henry Johnston (known to his friends as Seamas – pronounced “Shay-mas”).

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Seamas

Seamas founded our Art business in the midst of one of the most difficult times of my life. I had developed PTSD after a car accident and this contributed to a breakdown. Painting was an essential part of my recovery (and still is). Not only did he give me crucial emotional support through an incredibly  difficult time, (all whilst sitting his Psychology finals) he set up a website and put some of my paintings on an online gallery called Artfinder. To our delight I started selling. Like many artists, I find the marketing side of the business challenging at times. I was terrified that people would be rude about my art and that would then affect my fragile confidence. Happily that has rarely happened.

So in those early days Seamas acted as “shield” and would write all those upbeat posts on Facebook about sales and upcoming exhibitions. He would also work on direct sales, face-to-face and online, negotiating terms with collectors. I have only really come to appreciate the sheer amount of time and effort he has put into promoting my work since I started working as a full-time artist and had to tackle platforms like pinterest and instagram. That term “full-time artist” is a misnomer as it might give you the impression I spend all say in the studio. I spend at least half my time working on social media and marketing.

Artfinder has been a massive part in being able to make that leap and become a full-time artist. Being self-employed is full of ups and downs, it’s very much “feast or famine” so to look back and see 600 sales over 5 years is quite amazing. Long may it continue. I was going to end this by quoting Samuel Butler, Victorian novelist and satirist who said; “Any fool can paint a picture but it takes a wise man to be able to sell it”, but I want to rephrase that with “Any fool can paint a picture but it take a genius to sell it.”

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Tenby Tide
Tenby Tide  Large professional quality signed and mounted print £45
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PTSD Creates the Need to Paint

How Art helps soothe my soul

I have a mental health condition that I have had to learn to live with, which I can forget about for days at an end when things are going well, but it continues to limit my life and my career both as an artist and as a teacher. I face difficulties because I look and sound reasonably normal in conversation, I can do a lot, like teach 5 lessons in a day or paint a picture over three days. However, I suffer anxiety and I have difficulties with fear-based thoughts. I can also run into “brick walls” energy-wise. I have to have “rest days” in the middle of the week.

I need to sit at home and paint to restore my energies and spirits. The repetitive movement of the hand somehow calms me, as does familiar actions. I have met others who are going through traumas who cut up magazines for collages or build structures to occupy and calm their frayed nerves. I have always painted so this soothes me.

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“Passive Smoking”

 

I am usually pretty shattered by the end of my third day of teaching. I cannot travel far because of limited energy levels and this has limited me to do exhibitions to within a 2 hours driving limit on A roads (I can’t do motorways because of panic attacks).

When I first developed PTSD 4 years ago, I was totally bewildered by the experience. I had been involved in a minor car accident and had briefly lost consciousness. This was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and over a matter of weeks I came apart at the seams in way that that seemed as comprehensive as it was unexpected. Looking back I can see that I had lived under enormous stress in my personal and professional life for many years and an earlier traumatic incident when my dog had been killed on a busy main road provided the “crack in my psyche.”

At different times I shook like a leaf, cried most days, experienced the blackest despair, experienced flashbacks, had nightmares, and became very emotional at anything to do with death or war. I could not bear horror on TV and “The Walking Dead” gave me nightmares after I watched it once. Never again.

I was hyperviligient, I no longer felt safe; every car on the road was coming directly towards me. I flinched at minor accidents (I remember leaping out of my chair when someone dropped a cup on the floor in the staff room), and mis-saw things out the corner of my eyes (I mistook a hoverfly for a zeppelin in the sky).

I also felt utterly and completely exhausted.

Social interactions were very difficult, except with the kindest and most sympathetic people. I avoided people. I remember panicking when I saw a work colleague out in town and hid under a table in a cafe to avoid them!

I found it extremely difficult to trust people and felt very alienated from people who had been friends.

Painting was the only thing that gave me hope. I felt like such a failure and it gave me a tiny measure of achievement. It has been a Godsend and I can honestly say that I cannot live without it.

I remember experiencing utter exhaustion for about a year after I’d had EMDR therapy (which was extremely tiring in itself but thankfully it helped “plug in” the wire in my head that had become unplugged”). The following year I was just exhausted all the time, in the third year I improved to tired all the time and now I have days when I am not tired but I have to careful to marshal my energies wisely.

I went back to teaching after counselling but I could only cope with working three days a week. It has been a tremendous struggle and I was very proud that I managed to keep my job, even if it was only part time.

I have been devastated, recently as I have recently been given notice of redundancy. My union is very helpful and supportive but the future remains very uncertain.  Painting is helping me cope on a day-to-day basis.

The popular perception of PTSD is that you have to be in the army or the emergency services to develop it, but I think that its more common than people realise; years of bullying as a child, rape, domestic abuse, living with an addicted partner/parent, even the distress of nursing a loved through a terminal illness can trigger the condition.

However, that’s not to say that everyone who has had trauma in their life will develop PTSD, I think it depends on how long they have endured stress and their sensitivity as a person. Two people may experience the same event and react differently.

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Painting like Your Life Depended On It

oil painting of woodlands

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Great feature in Walesonline and the Western Mail today on how art therapy is helping me to recover from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how painting still helps me therapeutically today. I do not know where I would be if it was not for art and painting. Also I am thankful for my husband, Seamas, who runs all the art business side of things, as well as being my agent.

This frees me up and allows me the time to simply paint and nothing else. I paint when not teaching as I need to, it is an essential element of my therapeutic recovery from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a condition that can only be managed and is unlikely to ever return to “normal”. As the article states, it has left me with reduced energy levels and things can threaten to overwhelm me sometimes so I need time out with my oils! 


As I paint so much the paintings obviously started stock piling so my husband decided to try and sell them. He contacted Artfinder and went online there. As we started selling from the start, we have kept going although I would paint regardless and I need to. So there you have it. That’s me. Thanks to you too for all your support, likes, comments, well wishes and friendship. It means a lot to us.

 

Lopsided Trees Professional quality signed mounted print £45
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A 60 Second Interview Doesn’t Cover it All!

Here is my 60 second interview on Artfinder  in which I explain how painting was an integral part to my recovery from post traumatic stress disorder. I also explain my technique, inspirations, influences and how post trauma impacted on my art. Although I do not mention it explicitly in the interview “Fractured Light” was born and borne out of my worldview being fractured as the result of my post trauma which occurred as the result of a car accident. Thus the fractured perception of this painting represents my perception at the time. As my recovery continues and my mental health improves I find my painting also metamorphizes into being more expressive, coherent, unfolding, lighter and celebratory (if not relieved). Less fractured.

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I have to add that my post traumatic illness has revolutionized my way of painting. By husband suddenly became much more interested in my work and has acted as my agent ever since. He was now sure that I had the necessary ‘scar on the soul’ to make it as an artist. That I had made the breakthrough. I still paint prolifically because I need to paint still, not only professionally but must importantly in a therapeutic sense. Painting is when I am most ‘whole’ alive, engaged, fulfilled, free from self and doubts. Principally I write about how art has been a massive and continuing therapeutic benefit to me even though I initially returned to it very ‘broken’ despairing and distraught. I hope to engender some hope in other suffering form this most misunderstood mental health problem. I do not mean to say art was the only part of my therapy. EMDR was a vital core to my treatment and I would recommend this to others also. Now I paint with urgency, painting, painting, painting.

Life is unpredictable, it is best to seize the day and to enjoy the precious gift we have to the best of our ability. Most suffers of PTSD will not relate to this sentiment at present in they are in the terrifying, disjointed, fractured, despairing heart of it. I have been there too! The light at the end of the tunnel probably looks microscopic and is, in fact, a train coming. The light does eventually become bigger and brighter until you arrive on the other side and experience a brightness until then never experienced with such intensity. There can be a rebirth from this dark tunnel.

The intrusive memories have lessened. I re-experienced and reprocessed the negative emotions- the fear, distress, helplessness, guilt, shame, faulty pride etc –  which kept memories from being safely embedded in my hippocampus. Blaming myself for things beyond my control, that were not my fault, never were my fault. Random happenings, with no logic to them, no way of understanding them into reason, they were accidents, not in the script. Life can be like that, period.

Why is not always helpful. How is. How can I get out of this distress?   Perceiving things as they were, not what my brain continually told me meant I had to revisit the trauma, re-experience it and correct the faulty thoughts and destructive emotions which accompanied the memories of it.  Eventually allowing these memories to rest in my long term memory instead of continually stalking and attacking my equilibrium I started to feel better. Although it was exhausting and left me this way afterwards and to an extent now. Still, these months later. It can get better, not perfect. It never was perfect. Ever.

The mind and brain do not like being ill, they rally against it. This is often counter productive. First we have to accept we are in distress, suffering from a mental illness, that we need help from professionals, support form family, faith that we can recover. Check out EMDR professionals in your area. Start the journey to wellness knowing it can be done and will be done. Have faith, you will get better in time. Have courage especially, be brave.

I still have about 40-50% the energy I used to have but I have more peace of mind and gratitude for what I have, not what I wanted to have. I am still in recovery still getting better. It will take more time, months and months if not years. But I have turned a vital therapeutic corner.  So can you. Life has create new possibilities, new avenues to explore, pathways that were never obvious before, and which have ultimately led me back to me, to knowing me, to doing more of what I would want for me, that which expresses me most.

To my fellow PTSD sufferers, you have my love, best wishes, and support here on this blog should you need it. Spread the word – we can recover from PTSD,  one day at a time!  Just live this day, that is enough for now and for always…

I include a painting “Up Cwmdonkin” which was a painting representing a movement in my therapy, a getting better, a unforeseen island of relief in a, until then, daily tempest. I love this as it reminds me of the warm seaside breeze that can caress the autumnal leaves of the trees at the top of Cwmdonkin Park, a park hugged by the house that Dylan Thomas, the famous Welsh composer of words, lived in while growing up. The light wind almost signifies a ‘breathing out’, an emerging respite after months of therapy.

Emma

https://www.artfinder.com/story/emma-cownie/

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