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The Muse Game

“No! Not like that!” cried Ads, his eyes wide with horror. “Lift it higher! It’s burning.”

I jolted the milk jug down, lifting the steamer out of the milk. For a moment it made a screeching hiss and an explosion of foam sprayed up.

“Down! Further down,” Ads blurted. “So it makes the sound of paper tearing.”

But I’d clearly pushed it too far down because now there was a rumbling like the cappuccino gods stirring in hell.

I could hear Adam dying inside.

This, my friend, was me trying to learn how to foam milk correctly. Because, it turns out, being a barista is not as straight forward as it looks. There is an art to making coffee that involves the perfect technique for heating the milk, turning it silky smooth and avoiding any bubbling that will impact the pour and glossy finish. This is important because without the correct milk – and then a very specific pour – the latte art is impossible.

Since then, I’ve never looked at baristas in the same way. That day I realised that behind something that looks fairly straight forward, is a system, a method and a whole tonne of technique that allows the end product to happen.

Which is kind of like running an arts business.

It turns out that running an arts business is not just heading out with a satchel full of pencils and pads, sitting in lazy summer meadows, gazing at beetles and butterflies then capturing them in one’s pad. It’s not just creating gorgeous designs and uploading them to your online shop and waiting for the money to flood in.

It’s not just making art.

It’s also making a business.

Similar to steaming the milk for a perfect cappuccino, there’s multiple things to think about; marketing, selling, multiple income streams, admin, spreadsheets, adding up numbers (horror of horrors), invoicing, taking orders, fulfilling orders. Then there’s the commissioned jobs such as illustration, one-off-paintings, surface design, wrapping your head around other people’s briefs when they inspire you with as much mojo as a turd on a plate, hitting deadlines. And then finally, when all else has been ticked and crossed, you then need to find time to actually feel creative. To still be your own artist. To fill your own inspiration well. To still find the joy in art.

When I started on my journey into an arts business, I quickly realised that there were three distinct roles behind this creative cappuccino.

No 1

No 2

No 3

One of those roles I was very happy in (artist).

One of those roles I was okay in (commissioned artist).

One of those roles didn’t fill me with the joys of spring (business / admin / invoices).

But I knew that I needed all three in order to make the biz work.

And the only way I could get my head around the different roles was to do what all the old school artists did; claim a muse … some sort of visual or symbol that would guide me through the role with inspiration and motivation.

So how does this work? (because it’s literally something that any of us can apply to any area of our lives / businesses / stuff we wanna do)

Years ago, as a fledgling runner, I used to use this same method to get me pounding the streets in rain and shine. Pre-run, I’d summon up an image of Milla Jovovich - main badass Zombie slayer in the Resident Evil films - and imagine myself embodying her. With Milla in my thoughts to train with, my running sessions were no longer just running sessions. They transformed into vital training sessions that were vital for agility, speed and strength when combatting hoards of undead.

And …. It worked.

I became a runner.

That was over ten years ago.

I still run today.

Thanks Milla.

So, in the same spirit, I decided to apply the image/symbol/muse game to my arts business.

For the Businless Aspect, I’d require someone who I could feel inspired and motivated by. And if I was going to summon a business muse, then hell, I may as well summon one of my oldest, most potent influencers.

Hello Anita, you beaut!

Anita Roddick was the founder of the Body Shop, humanitarian, activist and one of my biggest inspirations since I was 7 years old and used to drive past the Body Shop on my way to school. She built her business and her influence like a master artist constructs a piece. In her life time, she was powerful, capable and got the job done. This woman fires me up with passion – particularly around how a business can hold an energy and drive for good in the world.

“Will you be my business muse?” I asked Anita.

But she’s dead and she couldn’t reply, so I replied for her and so she said,

“Yes. Of course I will Bethan. We’re going to smash this!”

Thanks Anita.

Then, because I didn’t want my Commissioned Artist to feel left out, I summoned up a muse for them.

Hello Da Vinci.

I mean … go big or go home, right?

Da Vinci was commissioned to paint work from all sorts of people, from Florentine merchants to Milanese dukes. His piece “The Last Supper” was commissioned by Duke Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d’Este and the Mona Lisa was commissioned by a wealthy trader from Florence called Francesco. The Vitruvius Man, however, was not a commissioned piece but a sketch that Leonardo made in his sketch pad. This man was an artist but he was also a commissioned artist and that was how he made his money.

“Will you be my commissioned artist muse, Mr Da Vinci?” I asked him.

But guess what?

He’s also dead … so … I gave him a voice and he replied, “It would be my honour, Padwan.”

Thanks Leonardo!

Finally, for my Inner Artist, I called in my old pal, Frida.

Why her as a muse?

Well, to me Frida represents commitment to being a true Artist. She symbolises vibrancy, sass, truth, pain, beauty and the whole spectrum of human emotion that makes up this beautiful, messy, imperfect, paint splattered life. Her art is a form of therapy, of self discovery, of processing deep emotions and alchemising those emotions. She’s an old friend and a loyal friend and I wouldn’t want anyone else.

“Frids my friend, I need you to be my artistic muse,” I said.

She grinned, drew heavily on her cigarette and said (cos she’s obviously dead as well), “I won’t be your muse, but I’ll be your artistic playmate.”

“That will do nicely,” I replied.

So now, with these three muses, it’s like I’ve finally managed to balance the three hats that my business require and each one is as compelling and as juicy as the next. Each one I’ve grown to love.

When I’m facing a week of mega admin and business development, I ask myself “How would Anita approach this?” When I’m feeling a bit lost with what I’m doing, I ask myself, “If your business was a vehicle to bring goodness to the world, what would you want to bring?”

Result? I’m remotivated and refuelled.

When I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed or lacking in mojo for a commissioned project, I ask myself, “How would Leonardo see this project?” Or, “What characteristics would he display when working on this piece?”

Result? I lift myself up, pull my shoulders back and create with every fibre of my being.

And as for the Inner Artist and Frida? Well, they just hang out, smoke Mexican cigarettes, drink tequila, sketch people walking by and talk about sex.

They’re a bit of a nightmare.

If I’m honest.

So, bottom line/s:

1. Behind every smooth, sailing swan there’s some wacky leg work going on beneath the surface (whether that’s making a cappuccino, running a well being centre or illustrating a book).

2. Success symbols / muses are vital. Yes, we can do everything solo in life, but with strong, powerful blueprints for success guiding our actions and lifting our aspirations, we have a much higher chance of fulfilling our greatest potential.

3. Creativity is EVERYTHING. When you can think creatively, you will find the solutions. If you find yourself stuck in a rut where you are hating some aspect of your life/job that you “HAVE” to do, think creatively about how you can approach the issue or change the relationship you have with it.

And finally … For the record I haven’t got a Barista Muse … and surprisingly, still haven’t mastered the art of the perfect cappuccino. Luckily I’m an americano girl all the way. Xx

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