Over the past five years I’ve been in business as Gatekeeper Art. My small creative business is my full time occupation and when asked what I do I usually term myself as an artist and social historian with a community practice.  I wrote a blog recently for CCSE called “Welcome to the Lockdown Lounge” which outlined how I had with my social historian “hat” on been designing and delivering heritage/ cultural related workshops online.

Like many in self-employment this past twelve months has been a real test of resolve. In this blog I want to outline how I’ve experienced this but with my artists “hat” on. Pre-pandemic I was selling prints, cards and original art works via retailers all of which ceased as an income stream when the pandemic saw non-essential shops forced to close.

I found myself in between delivering online heritage/ cultural workshops with enforced time on my hands.  I immersed myself in my art work not only as a way to figure out what I might be able to do to get some kind of income from this strand of my business but more importantly as a “stress buster” for me.

In terms of the business I decided to invest some time and money in to something I’d been promising to do for years.  I worked with another local creative business (the wonderful Media Monty) to create a website to showcase my paintings with an online shop to sell my existing prints and cards and with a new range of gift products featuring my artwork. (www.gatekeeperart.co.uk)

Painting is my “happy place” and has always been important to me but never more so than during this pandemic.  I decided to throw myself into a large scale painting project.  I wasn’t sure what it’d be but I knew it would be something related to an old map of Paisley that had really caught my imagination.  I finished the canvas a few days ago and I’ve called it the “Map of Seestu”.  To find out more about the painting I’ve written some blogs on my own site.

It has been a great joy to me despite the uncertainty and isolation of the pandemic to work on my painting and experiment with ideas that I have been formulating.  I also had the chance at this time to look at what other artists and creatives were doing locally and nationally.  I did this by looking at social media, attending online talks and enrolling with various e-zines.  It was from one of these that I found out about a suite of grants being offered by Renfrewshire Council as part of the “Future Paisley” initiative and funded via Renfrewshire’s Cultural Recovery and Renewal Fund.

I decided to apply for one of these with hope rather than expectation of being successful.  I applied for the Artist Development Grant as the criteria for it fitted with the aspiration I have to grow my small creative business and practice as an artist in Renfrewshire.  My dream for some time has been to have a “solo” exhibition with some associated community workshops.  My application outlined my wish to complete a process of research and development to establish just what kind of “solo” exhibition I envisaged as well as finding out about what it takes to put on and fund such an exhibition.  To my amazement and great joy my application was successful and I was granted an Artist Development Grant in January.

I’ve been researching potential venues, themes and funding streams as well as speaking to a wide range of practicing artists and arts professionals. I have now completed my research and I have an idea of how I want to stage my “solo” exhibition with a draft plan of how to move forward to make my “dream” a reality.

This is not the place to expand on what I’ve decided to do for my exhibition but what I will say here is that without the Artist Development Grant I’m not sure my dream of a “solo” exhibition would have been any more than just that.   Why?  Well the grant has given me:

  • Vital financial support to allow me to take the time to research, formulate ideas and develop a plan forward
  • Support during the uncertain times of the pandemic as the confidence placed in me as an artist has meant so much to me
  • The encouragement to keep going and be part of the “Future Paisley” initiative which will place creativity in all forms at the heart of community regeneration.

I’ll end by saying thank you to everyone who has helped me and to Renfrewshire’s Cultural Recovery and Renewal Fund.

I hope soon to be writing a “blog” to tell you everything about my “solo” exhibition but that’s for the future – Future Paisley…!

Lil Brookes is an artist and social historian based in North Ayrshire. She is also an alumna of UWS.

Images are supplied by Lil Brookes and all images are Copyright © Lil Brookes 2021