When she’s not teaching others, Brisbane artist Michelle Sparks (@michelle_sparks_art) spends her time painting abstract and colourful landscape artworks. She works with a striped apron on, beside her 13-year old dog, to the sounds of 80’s pop music playing.
We got real with Michelle Sparks, on what it’s like taking a leap into the great unknown and how she broke down those creative barriers, that we all face.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m a go with the flow kind of person, I enjoy a good belly laugh, especially over a wine. I love the company of my family and friends and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. I’m in my late 30’s and blessed with a beautiful son and wife.
Some people would describe me as a dreamer. Someone who has always aspired for more than just the status quo.
How did you first get involved in art?
I was inspired by a friend of mine who started having some success as an artist. I was mesmerised by the paint colours she used, the joy it gave her personally and that she could do this around her busy family and work life.
I found I was spending so much time working my day job, being a mum and saw painting as something that was ‘just for me’. So, I went out and bought some paint and canvas, turned up the tunes and felt energised and an incredible sense of freedom! Since then I have not wanted to stop.
How did you develop your style?
There was nothing structured about it that’s for sure! It sort of evolved though trial and experimentation. I’ve always been attracted to bright colours and bold shapes, which have since become my signature style. Ultimately for me, it’s all about the bright happy, joyful colours, rather than the style as this continues to change and evolve.
I paint to make me happy and how I feel on that particular day influences my style. This approach pushes me to discover new avenues for creation and helps me continue to mature as an artist.
How do you set up your creative space?
I ideally have fresh water pots, a clean work space, my favorite striped apron, lots of natural light and fresh air to put me in the right mindset to paint.
Add a mix of the right playlist and I’m primed to allow my creativity to flow. I am a shameless 80’s music lover. Once the scene is set it is hard not to have a little dance and sing as I paint. This combination puts me in the zone and allows me to paint the happy art that I’m known for.
Oh, and my beautiful 13-year-old dog sleeping under my paint table… he is deaf and is not disturbed by the music at all!
What was your experience entering the business side of things? Any tips for newcomers who don’t know where to start?
This is the part that required much more discipline from me. I am driven to paint because it fulfills me. There is nothing sexy about the business side of all this. It is hard work, requires a lot of research, mentoring and relentless dedication.
It was a huge learning curve for me. I have had to explore and learn everything from Instagram algorithms, to constructing websites, selling avenues, learning my ‘ideal client’, keeping the books and photography! There is so much to know and learn.
For newcomers to this business, I would give the following tips that have brought me the most success in selling so far.
1. Social media (no surprises) has been the best-selling tool. Just remember that every follower is important, value their comments and support and they will continue to support you.
2. Look at alternate avenues to sell your work that suit your client.
Approach local cafes, restaurants and homeware stores in suburbs that cater for your ideal client, to see if they would consider having your art on their walls.
Apply to be in art shows as this broadens your network. Gallery247 is a great one that notifies you of upcoming shows.
3. Reach out to other artists you admire & ask questions or advice from them. There are so many people out there willing to share their knowledge and experience.
Being a mum, how do you manage your time?
As a mother it can be very easy to put everyone else’s interests or needs ahead of your own. Before you know it, you’ve forgotten your first name and think it will be forever changed to just “Mum.”
Painting began as an outlet and a way for me to re-fill my “hypothetical cup.” But what I’ve learnt is that your cup needs to be filled in order to be better at all other roles you play in your life. For me, painting helps make me a better teacher, a better mum and a less naggy wife.
I’m more patient, calmer and can enjoy life more when I’ve taken the time for myself. My wife understands this better than anyone and is very supportive when I paint at nights when our son is in bed or on the weekend when our commitments permit. Painting has also allowed me to reduce my hours as a teacher, and now I can dedicate some time during the week, which is a blessing.
Outside of art, what do you do most?
Most of my time outside of art is either working as a school teacher or spending time with my family. Time with my family making memories is the other real love of my life and what I do the most outside of art. I love getting out, going on picnics, exercising or having a BBQ. I’m also a fan of gardening, but only when it’s not too hot!
What are your tips for improving in art?
On social media, it’s now so much easier to follow other artists, learn from them and also, see new styles of painting. There is no one way in this industry and almost anything goes with your creative processes. So, go wild and explore, and don’t be afraid to play.
Most definitely don’t expect or feel like every piece you create needs to be sold. I find this can block my creative flow significantly. Also, don’t try to be someone else. You can explore ways of painting like other artists you admire, but don’t copy them. It’s important to remain authentically you. Find your own path to pave in this captivating world of colour through trial and error.
How do you build the courage to show people new work?
To answer this, I think it’s important to start at the beginning. At first, I started an Instagram page purely for myself. It was a closed page and I didn't want to show anyone else my creations. It was purely for me to reflect on and adore my artworks in one place. Slowly I had more and more people (mostly friends) asking to follow me. It got to a point where I decided to put my big girl pants on and be BRAVE and allow others to follow and see me. The support I have had has been encouraging and so heart-warming.
I still get nervous posting new work. But I never post anything that doesn’t feel right to me. In saying that, my mum has convinced me twice now to post pictures of artworks that I wasn’t quite happy with, and they sold super quick…so who am I to judge what people like and don’t like. I think it gets easier with time, and I accept that there will always be nerves, especially when you have poured your heart and soul into a new piece. But the support I’ve received from my friends, family and followers on social media have helped spur me forward, not backwards.
Did you ever face any big barriers? And how did you break them down?
The biggest barrier I have faced has mostly been my own self-confidence, as I find my feet as an artist. This feeling seems to come in waves for me.
I’ve learnt that when you find a buyer for your art, they want to feel like they made a great choice. The last thing they need from you is to see someone unsure of themselves or their work during the transaction. So, I’ve learnt to be confident…it takes practice. I point out my favorite parts of their chosen artwork, which offers them reassurance and security that this was the best painting they could have bought!
Also, I have had to practice repeating these words… “I am an artist,” when people ask what I do for work. Even though I feel like an imposter at times, I now make sure I acknowledge and tell people with certainty that I am an artist. Practice these words and it will become your reality, that’s my thoughts.