Creative Lives — Juggling jobs, mastering budgets and keeping a “business head”: meet artist Daisy Parris
Creating large-scale, colourful and textured oil paintings from her South London studio, artist Daisy Parris was recently named one of Instagram’s British Artists (IBA) by Elle magazine. But her journey to where she is today wasn’t all plain-sailing. Starting out, she had to work gruelling 14-hour days as a cinema usher and a pizza chef just so she could afford the time to paint. Then two years ago she quit her job in a “rage of anarchy” and took the plunge into working as a full-time artist adhering to her own schedule – a bold move that has meant working her dream job, producing works that explore inner-dialogues and a spectrum of human emotion. We caught up with Daisy to discuss budgeting and sacrifice, the importance of putting on a “business head” while navigating financial struggles, and her conflicting relationship with social media.
BA Fine Art, Goldsmiths University London (2011-2014)
Intern, Lazarides Gallery (2013)
Usher, chef and other general cinema duties, Everyman Cinema (2015-2016)
Sous chef, pizza restaurant, London (2016-2017)
Self-employed artist (2017-present)
Daisy in her studio
How would you describe what you do?
I do large, colourful and textured oil paintings as well as very small grayscale drawings. I work for myself and I rarely take on commissions. It seems that the minute I take on a commission, my body and my mind forgets how to paint and starts to reject the fact that I have to do something. So, I steer clear of that.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
My studio is in South London. As it’s now nearly winter, I have much shorter working days. I tend to walk to the studio around 10.30am – I get there at 11am and leave around 4.30pm, just as it’s getting dark. I have quite short and intense bursts of energy when I’m working on paintings.
At the moment, I have several small paintings on the go as well as quick works on paper. Then, when I get home in the evenings, I catch up on admin and emails. I’m lucky to pick and choose my own schedule. If I don’t feel like painting, then I can work from home and draw on paper, or work shorter days. But for some I’m working up until midnight on emails, admin and my website.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
My favourite thing is when I’m totally lost in the zone, listening to music and having fun. I feel fearless while I’m painting – it’s so pure and there's nothing like it. My least favourite thing to do is stretching and priming canvases, but it’s so satisfying when I have a neat stack ready to go. I work with quite large paintings that are much bigger than me, so it’s a full-body experience to stretch canvases of this size.
“It seems that the minute I take on a commission, my body and my mind forgets how to paint and starts to reject the fact that I have to do something.”
What inspires your work? And how important do you think it is to land on a recognisable style as an artist?
People really inspire my work. Sometimes I walk down the street and I see sadness in someone’s eyes, and then I start to think about the whole world and wonder whether everyone’s okay. The recognition of sadness and worry is something I’m really interested in – I paint about it a lot. I just worry about people and the world, and I think about these things when I paint; often my paintings have a sense of melancholy or anxiety.
I think having a recognisable style comes naturally when you stop worrying about what other people are painting. As long as you’re doing what you need to do then that’s the main thing. Painting is always going to have a regurgitation of imagery and iconography, it’s just how it is.
[Left] Does Everyone Ache, pencil on paper, 25.5cm x 18.5cm, 2019; [Right] Mouse, pencil on paper, 25.cm x 18.5cm, 2018
Would you say that gallery representation is crucial for your progression as an artist?
I’m the kind of person that will get to where I need to be and still keep working regardless of what happens with gallery representation. I have to admit, it does sometimes get to a point where it would be great to have the help of a gallery, in order to get my work out there more and get more shows. I have recently started working with Sim Smith Gallery and it’s the perfect balance for me – consigning a few pieces to them to sell every now and then keeps me going without too much pressure or restriction. Either way, I handle all my own sales, as well as the organisation of my work and shows.
How do you go about pricing and selling your work, have you ever had any challenges with this?
I find this very difficult and I have always been embarrassed about money – I used to undervalue my work a lot. I’m also really interested in making art affordable, because otherwise it’s just a constant cycle of middle and upper-class people buying art, making art and being represented. I think it’s a good idea to look at what your peers are selling for and realise the context of your work, factoring in your age and what stage you’re at in your career – making sure not to get ahead of yourself.
How has the digital sphere and social media affected or changed the way that you share and make your work?
I’m really struggling with this at the moment. I get pretty much all of my work and exhibitions through social media, and it has been crucial in being able to continue as a full-time, self-employed artist. I also find it really dangerous and damaging to get sucked into.
At the moment, I’m in a bit of a rut and I’m not making work that I like – the pressure of having to constantly share your work and your process on social media is making me feel even worse and it’s bringing me down. Sharing your process and work prematurely and publicly is super damaging. There’s no time to even think about what you’ve made. I want to go back to making work in private and secret for a bit, but I’ve also got to have my business head on and I need social media at the moment. I guess it’s all about finding a balance.
Daisy's work on show
[Left] I Feel Everything, pencil on paper, 25.5cm x 18.5cm, 2019; [Right] I Feel Everything, oil paint on canvas, 200cm x 160cm, 2019
Paintings in her studio
How I Got Here
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
I’m not sure to be honest. I’m from a low-income family with quite minimal means, so basic necessities for survival have always been a priority to me – anything else is luxury. Painting is a luxury to me and I am very lucky to do it. I feel guilty about it all the time because it doesn’t guarantee income or stability. But something in me really believes in myself and believes that I deserve to have a shot at my dream of being an artist, just as much as anyone else. I’ve always been thankful for what I have and I also think that this has taught me principles about how to make do. I make do in art quite a lot – if I can’t afford to paint then I won’t; I’ll just draw with pencils or whatever I have lying around.
The tension of not having much to work with often creates a friction and I’m really interested in that energy. A Cry For Help was painted using very minimal paint; I had just about enough to paint the border. The green and pink brush strokes in the middle are where I cleaned my brushes on the canvas to not waste paint. I pretty much always clean my brushes on a fresh canvas.
“If I can’t afford to paint then I won’t; I’ll just draw with pencils or whatever I have lying around.”
After graduating, what were your initial jobs or steps?
I was lucky enough to be awarded a five-month residency in Hamburg after graduating from university, so I went to live there while making work in a huge studio. When I got back to London, I was really lost. I got a job in a cinema and I was working four or five 12-hour shifts during the week to get back on my feet. The more it sucked the soul from me, the more I wanted to make art.
I gradually started painting again in my bedroom after work. Then, my bedroom was starting to get full of paintings and I knew I wanted to get a studio again. I was working like a dog at that job, and it made me really ill and depressed. So, in a rage of anarchy, I quit and I had a month off.
My friend and I had been on the waiting list for a studio for a while, and one finally came up just as I quit my job – it was like all the energy had aligned. I had a month of intense painting and it was the best. Then I had to get a job again, so I took one on as a pizza chef. I gradually worked my way up to sous chef while making art as much as I could on my days off. I don’t know how, but it got to a point where I was working two full-time jobs at the same time and I started to hate my life again.
I was lucky enough to be able to manage my work schedule, so I decided that the less days at work was for the better. I did two 14-hour days a week and one eight hour day so that I could be at the studio on my days off. I was really smart about it and I had my business head on the whole time – slowly preparing to get out of there and be a full-time artist.
I quit the pizza job two years ago and I have been self-employed ever since. I didn’t think it would last this long – I just about scraped by most of the time. Although, I wouldn't have done it any other way.
Daisy in her studio
A painting in her studio
Paintings in her studio
A painting in her studio
Would you say you ever experienced a lucky break? Or has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
As soon as I quit my last job and aligned my energy in the right place – as in, I decided that I am capable of doing what I love – then things started to come my way. I am thankful to be a full-time artist as it is. It always seems to be when I’m at my lowest, and I’m about to get a job again, that some luck or a sale comes my way and it means I can survive another month as an artist – that’s just how it’s been over the last two years.
What have been your biggest learnings with making money as a creative?
Money comes in very inconsistently. In fact, I never expect it to come in at all, so I plan a lot. I was raised to be very money-conscious, so naturally I am good with budgeting – which is very essential in my work. I make a lot of sacrifices in my personal life and living situation so that I can paint and have a studio. Painting makes my quality of life better anyway, so every sacrifice is worth it.
Creative people are often taken advantage of – expected to work for free, pay for shows, shipping and high commissions to name a few. We are led to believe that people are doing us a favour by ‘offering exposure’ of our work. I have learnt the hard way. But one of the best investments I’ve made is learning how to say no to the things that I don’t benefit from – this has saved me a lot of emotional and economic strain.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to work in a similar way?
It’s easy to forget, but you must remember that you can make and do whatever you want, and don’t worry too much about what everyone else is up to. You’ve also got to have your business head on; be prepared to be your own manager and motivate yourself when you don’t feel like working or getting out of bed. You’ve got to be your accountant, social media manager, PR, build your website, document your work, have meetings – all of that and create work. These are skills you will need to pick up on to further your career. You really have to invest and believe in yourself – all of this stuff doesn’t do itself.