Finding Your FlowFliss Osborne is a multi-talented artist based in Worcester, England. Her life has taken her all over the world, from a BA Hons in Hull, to teaching in Hong Kong, followed by a decade of adventure travel. She began drawing and painting at an early age, then after specialising in sculpture she moved to ceramics, eventually setting up as a potter.
She now creates stunning mixed-media artworks evoking organic landscapes, seascapes and plant life which she sells in her flowbyflo Etsy shop. We invited Fliss to talk about what inspired her new direction, her process and influences, and what advice she has for young artists starting out on their own creative journey.
What first inspired you to use acrylic fluid? Your Etsy page mentions that it was almost an accidental discovery.
I first discovered acrylic fluid art only around 3 years ago. At the time I was renovating a back bedroom and was working with a builder to construct a small corner desk. I decided I wanted to do something different and fun on the surface, like a decoupage or paint effect and started to investigate resin pours.
My builder recommended that I practice first as resin can be tricky and expensive. So I searched YouTube for videos and fell into a wormhole of discovery eventually focusing on acrylic paint pours. I bought some canvases, paints and other materials and started to practice in my kitchen. I was hooked. The desk was never done, it was simply painted grey!
Where do you create your art? Do you have a studio, or special place that you can convert for artist purposes?
I started on my kitchen worktop, but this type of art is very messy indeed and finished pieces have to stay untouched and perfectly flat for days to dry (which is hard when you have teenagers to feed!).
Paint can end up everywhere very easily. My floor, cupboards and sink were suffering, and friends / customers were starting to ask for larger pieces. I was quite happy perfecting techniques on a small scale but I'm really happy that I was pushed to work on larger canvases as I much prefer it now. However, the restrictions of my kitchen limited the scale of my work.
I didn't have a garage or shed, and I couldn't afford to rent a studio, but I did have a damp cellar full of junk, with good ceiling height and a window. So, I thought I'd just get the floor improved, but over a 7 month period, stage by stage, as I could afford, I had it converted into a proper working space. Apart from the basic building materials and new electrics, everything else used was either discontinued, damaged stock, clearance or repurposed - but it looks amazing.
It's super cosy now, as it's been damp proofed and fully insulated. It's changed how we use the house and it's the best place to be on a rainy day! Thanks to Worcester Resource Exchange it's even painted with Farrow and Ball paint!
Do you paint for relaxation and recreation? Or is it a professional form of income?
I still feel I'm at the beginning of this journey to some extent. As a single parent, life has always been busy, with little downtime for my own hobbies, as spare time was used facilitating my children's extra curricular activities. So my enforced hobby has been trying to keep up with the maintenance of an old house. I usually have some project or other going on and try to do the majority myself. So something is usually being sanded, stripped, tiled, painted or improved in one form or another, which is how I came to discover acrylic fluid art. So, yes, this started as a fun project which has organically become something of an enjoyable recreation and a second income.
I've now sold pieces around the world and done perhaps a dozen or so commissions and projects, including label design for a craft beer launch. More opportunities are always emerging and I'm currently in discussions with a New York designer who's interested in using my designs on swimwear. However, it's not enough to give up the day job just yet! So I feel I'm only verging on 'professional' status!
Where do your influences come from? Do you have a favourite artist, period or style?
Despite having studied art history as part of my A level, then an Art Foundation Course and a Fine Art degree, my main influences have really come from other contemporary artists using these techniques on YouTube and Facebook Group pages.
There are some very generous artists who do great instructional videos on YouTube, sharing techniques and tips and I just wouldn't be doing the art I am now without them. To name a few: Nick Murrell, Sarah Mack, Olga Soby, Gina DeLuca and Rinska Douna. These artists, and more, have really helped with not just the basics, but branching out with different techniques, troubleshooting, and experimenting.
I've recently read 'Steal Like an Artist' by Austin Kleon, a great little book about creativity and how we are all influenced by each other, and 'borrowing' ideas from other artists is fine as our own versions will always be different. We don't all make original art in a vacuum, everything is stolen to some extent or another, so nobody should sit there with a blank sheet of paper waiting for divine inspiration to hit.
I also enjoy the 'Talk Art' podcasts by Russell Tovey and Robery Diament and have just bought their newly released book. I think the appeal to me again is that they veer away from pretentiousness and don't pretend to know everything about contemporary art, but simply enjoy it and want to make it more accessible to the general population.
Saying that, I have studied art formally and taught art for several years. I'm probably far more influenced by a lifetime of exposure than I give myself credit for. I think there's an element of intuitively knowing if something is working or not and knowing what needs to be done to fix it - if it can be fixed.
I'm not remotely pretentious about art, especially my own. It is what it is - paint on canvas. People can interpret it how they wish. I'm not offended if people don't like it as there are enough other people who love it! I make this type of art as I love the outcomes, they're like my off-spring. Something tangible that I'll leave behind.
It seems that people may see one of my paintings and make a personal or emotional connection with it for whatever reason. That's great. I'd never want to make out that it's about more than it really is.
It's what the viewer wants it to be. If someone makes a connection with one of my pieces, then it gives me a huge emotional reward. If they then buy it with their hard earned money and give up wall space in the sacred space of their own home, then I feel exceptionally flattered. If someone looks at my art and it makes them feel good then it's a successful piece!
The main other influence I have is from the materials themselves. Responding to what is unfolding in front of me during the process. This is where fluid art differs from pieces which are carefully planned out and executed a section at a time, like a photorealist painter for example. This is the other end of the spectrum. Fluid art is spontaneous, and very much in the moment. You can plan colour palettes, specific techniques used, size of the canvas etc., but you can never be certain of the exact outcome you'll get as there are so many variables at play. Even different brands of paint can react differently to each other and bring about something you haven't seen before.
For commissioned pieces for a specific place in the client's house, there are very straightforward simple factors which influence and determine how I go about making a piece. Firstly the best size canvas for the space, then the decor already in the room, the colours and tones of the existing interior and soft furnishings, and the style of painting the client prefers and colours that appeal. These factors combined determine how I'll approach the piece. Nothing more complex.
I find it quite sad that so many clients or potential clients open a conversation with a self conscious utterance of "I know nothing about art", as if there's some big bank of secret knowledge that only some of us are privy to. So, I just try to put them at ease and talk through their own preferences, do they want something calm and soothing or vibrant and dramatic? Before too long they're doing a 'crit' on what they find interesting or like/dislike and reveal they know more than they perhaps realised.
Do you have any advice for young artists, who are trying to find their style and the courage to pursue their aspirations?
Try everything, be bold and brave. Find your tribe - people who thrive off the same passions, whether it's a local group, evening class, Facebook group, Instagram, virtual course or whatever. Enjoy sharing ideas and outcomes which enrich your own work in return.
Drawing is the start of everything in art education. It's not necessarily the outcome that's important but learning to look at things objectively, intensely and with accuracy. I started my art education at evening classes at the age of 13. I was taught observational drawing and to focus just as much on the negative space (the space between objects) as much as the positive. Don't let your mind make assumptions and fill in what you think is there from pre-existing knowledge, but look at what you really can see.
When I was teaching art at secondary level the main challenge was to get students to be more adventurous and experimental. Many tended to work of a safe, small scale with familiar materials. So I advise to not narrow down your art until you've explored all that you can. This is the wonderful thing about Art Foundation courses. Students can try a variety of materials and disciplines and be experimental. I specifically chose a Fine Art degree after my foundation course that gave students a rotation in the first year, between painting, printing, sculpture and photography, giving me yet more exposure to different mediums. Having done around 7 years of drawing, watercolours, acrylics etc. it was only in my second year of my degree I specialised in sculpture, mostly constructed from scrap materials like rubber and felt.
After I completed my degree I went on to discover ceramics, working with a potter for 6 months, eventually setting up my own studio and selling thrown domestic earthenware. Here I am 25 years later, now working with paint again. I'm also still learning through my work as an art technician as I often have to use materials I haven't used or find solutions to pupils' problems. Being pushed a little may feel uncomfortable at the time but usually brings rewards.
Follow your dreams and passions as much as possible. If you can't pursue art at a tertiary level of education, as you feel it's too risky or from parental pressure, then pursue something that will provide you with an income and give you the flexibility to pursue your art on a part time basis, until you can develop it further. You don't need to feel like you're selling out or giving up your dream if you need to earn a living. Paying the bills, keeping a roof over your head and food on the table comes first.
Budget so you can have enough financial control to be able to be free to continue your art and enjoy it. You won't enjoy it if you're constantly worrying about how you're going to live. Schedule yourself with time when you can pursue it instead.
My part-time job gives me several things other than an income. I'm working in an art filled environment, I'm still learning new skills, I'm making connections with local art schemes and community projects but above all, it's not all consuming. It leaves me enough time and energy in my week to pursue my own work.
How do you promote your work and grow your audience? Do you have collectors?
I've only really started to actively promote my art in the last 12 months. I joined the local Worcestershire Etsy group who meet either in person or online. There are Etsy promotions and 'Etsy Made Local' market days. As well as that I've joined Worcestershire Open Studios. They've recently had an online Art Market which I've participated in, and also have a website featuring local artists. This helps with getting local exposure. I'm planning to take part in the open studios in the summer.
On a day to day basis, I have a business Facebook page. This is the best social media for the demographic of potential clients. I also participate on the 'Worcester Virtual High Street' Facebook group and 'Destination Worcester'. I regularly post on Instagram and Pinterest, and do the occasional tweet!
I have about a dozen clients that have several pieces, so you could call them collectors! I think the top score is four of five paintings owned by one person. These tend to be people who've bought a piece and after seeing the paintings directly, rather than photos, realise how much more there is to them that the camera doesn't capture.
Thank you Fliss for your great answers, insights and advice. For further information you can follow Fliss on Instagram and Twitter, watch videos on YouTube and buy her art on Etsy.