of Social Media
by Jessica Gledhill
The rise of social media has been a game changer for the Arts, toppling ivory towers and redefining arbiters of taste. It’s even become the very stuff of arts practice, with “social media art” a recognised movement in itself. This radical reshaping of the Arts in the age of social media has had a ripple affect globally and locally. It has seen artists harness the potential of social media to better connect and grow local arts communities and economies, and one such doer on the Central Coast is Felicity O’Connor – artist, art coach and art therapist.
Felicity now calls the beachside suburb of Avoca home but she grew up in the village of Sassafras in Victoria’s scenic Dandenong Ranges. She remembers a “beautiful upbringing” surrounded by nature and creativity, attending the local Rudolf Steiner high school which nurtured her passion for music, visual arts and literature. After high school Felicity studied a BA in English Literature before applying to study at a Melbourne Arts college. Despite being accepted, Felicity turned down the offer; “I thought that artists were all poor, struggling and chaotic … I wanted to be famous,” says Felicity, laughing.
Around this time Felicity discovered Art Therapy, a relatively new area of study in Australia, and opted to study an MA in Art Therapy at the University of Western Sydney. Throughout the course Felicity developed her arts practice, regularly participating in life drawing and painting classes. While participating in classes at Willoughby Art Centre, Felicity was tutored by Tony Tozer a highly respected artist and teacher who introduced her to abstraction. “I immediately became excited by that language.” However, her first tentative steps into abstract art needed some encouragement from her tutor; “Tony would say to me ‘Yes, you can do this, it’s a thing!’ … And then it was instant … In love … Boom … That was it! I thought to myself – scribbling, pushing the dynamics of figures, constructing and deconstructing is a thing, I can do this. – Art just kept seeping back in. It’s almost embarrassing looking back now, because it was obvious art always going to be me.”
Working as a therapist for the next 20 years saw Felicity put her own arts practice on the back burner and use her daily train commute to study for her MA in Psychology. Some years later when she was establishing her private practice on the Central Coast, Felicity found herself inspired by the idea of supporting women in business and fostering entrepreneurship. “I found business and entrepreneurship really creative, and as I started learning more, I became excited about the possibility of an online solution that linked both my art therapy and visual arts practices.”
Felicity had picked up her arts practice again, exhibiting and selling regularly, with her network of artists rapidly expanding. “I realised I was going to set up a Facebook group for artists online as there wasn’t anything like it at the time.” Felicity went on to establish the Facebook group From the Easel with the aim of providing a platform for artists to connect, inspire and share the creative process. Today the group has over 800 active members from across Australia and the USA who share tips, exhibitions and workshop opportunities, and their personal goals, successes and challenges.
Creating a new artwork is like starting a new relationship, with all the potential success and failure. Felicity knows the highs and lows well. “Misbehaving artworks get sent to the naughty corner, with their back turned to me and I threaten to deal with them later.” she jokes. But jokes aside, unblocking creative flow is no laughing matter for artists; it can mean the difference between the success or flop of an exhibition. Being equipped with tips and exercises to tap into creativity is an important skill for artists and it’s no surprise that Felicity’s Facebook group and artist coaching sessions have been so well received by fellow artists, and integral to building a connected, resilient and robust arts community both online and on the Central Coast.
The demand for Felicity’s art coaching sessions has been so great that she’s looked to social media for an innovative solution to scale the business and deliver services to more people. Felicity’s lightbulb moment came during a holiday in Byron Bay in mid 2016. “I was invited to join a networking meeting and on the way back I felt that I needed to ask the universe for a sign my career was on track. Literally 30 seconds later I’m walking past the second-hand bookshop and right there at eye level was Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. The next day I sat on the beach and read the book and realised I could teach Julie’s program in a 12 week online program.”
The Artist’s Way is a self-help program for artists who need to rediscover and channel their creativity. Written over 20 years ago, Felicity’s online program re-contextualises Cameron’s original program to better reflect the state of the Arts today in the digital world. Felicity’s first ‘Artists Way Program’ got underway in August with a second program following in September.
Felicity would run rings around the Energizer Bunny and the prowess with which she runs three businesses is inspiring. What is her secret? “Outsource, outsource, outsource…that’s the key” replies Felicity. Delegating tasks to her Manager and a Virtual Assistant relieves her of the more mundane aspects of running the businesses, so that Felicity can focus energy where it’s needed. With so much of Felicity’s time and energy channelled into fostering the personal and creative development of others, I asked how she manages to nurture her own creativity. “My own painting practice is the answer, as it is the core of me and my business” replies Felicity. “While some people feel resentful that they have to squeeze their arts practice in around a 9-to-5 job, and that the job steals from their art, I don’t see it that way. For me, one feeds the other. My work as a psychologist feeds my thoughts about life, which in turn feeds my painting and enables me to filter out some of the potentially toxic emotional issues I have to deal with in my profession; so it’s all connected.”
Working predominantly as an oil painter and on a large scale, Felicity’s paintings are characterised by her direct, expressive and emotionally charged mark making. “Art for me has always been about telling the truth about myself.” explains Felicity; indeed there is a rawness and honesty in her work which explores both the literal and emotional places she has travelled to. Through the painting process, Felicity “re-experiences these places, drawing on memory and connection through marks, gestures, colour and relationships of space” with spectacular results.
Felicity is part of a co-operative of residential painters and sculptors selling work directly to the public at the new Art Gallery on Darling. The group were formerly at the Hunters Hill Art Gallery but have regrouped at the Balmain gallery, opened in November.
For art coaching and The Artist’s Way program enquiries visit Felicity’s website.
For The Easel Facebook group visit www.facebook.com/groups/fromtheeasel
Follow Felicity on Instagram