The art life balancing act?


This blog focuses on my studio practice. How I go about my art, what I use and the challenges I encounter. My initial aim is that it offers some insight into the life of a practicing artist and some useful tips for other creatives. In hindsight I think it may help me more that others. The self reflection about what you do can uncover some sloppy habits and manic moments. Maybe it’s my self therapy? As an artist we spend a lot of time in our heads. This blog will expose my thoughts, focus points and revelations. I can’t guarantee it will all be pretty or insightful, but I’m inviting you to join the ride anyway … strap yourself in for a seat on THE GINGERNUT EXPRESS!


The art of balancing commitment and creativity?

Ok so I think this month I have imposter syndrome. What is that? Well it’s when you call yourself an artist but think you shouldn’t really have the right to because you haven’t spent enough time painting! And that is what happened this month. Art is something I have really struggled to put at the top of my ‘to do’ list but sometimes having to pay the bills just gets in the way. This month I have had a lot of design work to do. Of course I am grateful for the opportunity to ‘generate income’ but it does steal you away from creating. I keep trying to run away from graphic design but there are many things I am thankful for, that actually help me in my art practice, when I get to do it!

Discipline and establishing time frames are some of those things. Why is it that all things creative always tend to take an extra 50% more than the time you allocate. Time and again I am reminded of this but I forget this as soon as the project is finished and always have to factor in the buffer zone on the next project.

Perhaps one of the most valuable things I have learned from design world is that everyone has their own agenda. Any artist will tell you that your work only ever feels authentic if you pour bucket loads of your heart and soul into it. Then, when you get brave enough to put the piece out there for the rest of the world to comment we let ourselves be mortally wounded if everyone doesn’t love it as much as we do. That defence muscle  is one an artist must keep flexible. They tell us to have a thick skin. Design will do this… Try spending 20 years defending your concepts to others, try explaining to your client that your 20 years of experience might have some influence on why you can find the right image for their product and that maybe their 12 year old daughter might not have the best experience of the market place. The thing is no one is wrong, they just have different agendas.

As an artist you really have to work hard at what yours is. It’s your suit of armour. If you know what you are trying to achieve it helps when you feel like your work has been rejected. Actors know all about this. They are constantly being told they are too old, young, short, tall, blond, etc for a role. And that’s the key, knowing your own agenda. Galleries, shows and opportunities are built on being in the right place at the right time. A judge’s agenda may be very different to why you decide to create work in the first place. If the two don’t meet then it makes sense that you just don’t fit.

So the trick is to stick to your guns. Stay committed to your cause (purpose) and keep creating. I guess there will always be interruptions, its unavoidable. I am still coming to terms whether they help or hinder my own art progress though.

In a way it only makes me fight harder to grab that time in the studio. My colours are my drug. I just need to make sure I get my fix, and the world becomes lighter. I have been grabbing minutes in the studio and I am excited about my new body of work happening for August.

Art making in the Ballard Studio


But how to balance it all?

I have to admit, there is no such thing as balance. And as an artist, balance seems a little tepid. If you love anything passionately then there are some things you are just going to go overboard with, and that means other things get left out. We all only get 24 hours a day.

When I get a little low or feel like an art imposter my quick fix is to look to other artists for a little solace. John Olsen is always great for reminding me to stop whining and get on with it!   


The Masters as my mentors … what John Olsen taught me…

John Olsen in his studio in the NSW Highlands


John Olsen is recognised as one of Australia’s most significant and accomplished artists. Born in Newcastle NSW in 1928 he still maintains his joy for creating at the age of 90. Understanding his process make me only appreciate his work more deeply. He was a master at developing his unique voice that now Australia adopts as its own. His work shows an energy and joy for life and what lies before us. He also ran an Art School and perhaps teaching others is the reason he can articulate his process so well. He has won the Wynne landscape prize twice, the Sulman Prize and the Archibald. He has been awarded an Order of the British Empire and an Order of Australia for his service to the arts.

Here are just some of the things I learnt from Mr Olsen…

Don’t let other’s opinions stop you. Find a way to get your art happening.

If you want something bad enough, find a way to get there. John Olsen did not come from an artistic background. When he told his parents that he wanted to go to Art School their response was “What will the neighbours think?” He moved down to Kings Cross and got a job a an Office Cleaner to pay for his tuition. He would get up at 4am and clean offices so that he could attend art classes during the day.


Seafood Paella 2007 by John Olsen

Seize the opportunities when they arise. Worry about the outcome after, you never know where it may lead.

In 1957 a Sydney businessman, recognising the talent of the young John Olsen, paid him to go to Majorca and paint. The trade was the trip for all the work produced. A gamble for the curator that paid off. For Olsen it was an opportunity to engage in a new landscape. It triggered his love for the vitality of food and sunshine in Spain.

The businessman sold most of the paintings for a profit and Olsen was transformed by the influences of European art and the Mediterranean. On his return to Sydney in 1960 the extent of his talent was soon widely recognised and it became a major stepping stone in his work and recognition for his unique voice.

John Olsen’s mural, Salute to Five Bells, at the Sydney Opera House.


It’s will not always be fun…

Olsen is now famed for his ‘Five Bells’ mural at the Opera House. He found creating an exhilarating and exhausting experience. As it progressed he was happy with it in daylight but felt it weak under night light. A problem when it would be viewed mainly at night. At a point of crisis he commented…

“There are ways of making a picture, but there is no known way of making a work of art. Art is an affair of the heart – of love, if you like. When I am really working well, I am propelled by forces bigger than myself, I am conscious and unconscious at the same time, I become part of the big force, or void. Perhaps art is the yearning to be part of that, this could be the reason why even mediocre painters cannot ‘give up art’; they have, if only for a moment, had a glimpse at a timeless present.

Never forget to enjoy the moments you get to create…

‘What joy there is in hearing yourself think, and to make that thinking into ink.’ 

John Olsen



My inhouse art critic, Sketch >••<  has been sitting in the sun and collecting a lot of leaf action as Autumn drops golden leaves throughout the backyard. He has been patiently waiting for me to get back in that studio!

Patience, waiting, waiting, waiting by Sketch the inhouse art critic.


To those lovely folks who have heard me bang on about some of these topics before I send my apologies. It is sure to happen again as I bang on a lot.


The Gingernut Express is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on
© Kristine Ballard 2018