Natasha Newton on finding her true calling, painting nature and growing a huge following on Instagram

Natasha Newton is an artist and illustrator who currently splits her time between Suffolk, with its vast skies and seascapes, and Surrey, the most densely-wooded county in the UK – perfect for someone who loves nature.

After a lifelong interest in art, it wasn't until her mid-twenties that Natasha became a professional painter and illustrator, exhibiting work at numerous galleries across the UK and overseas, and picking up clients such as Random House and Moo.

A lover of beachcombing, she also paints pebbles with her landscapes, often depicting her two favourite seasons – autumn and winter – and sells them via her online shop, which prove very popular and sell out almost immediately.

One could point to Instagram as a major contribution to her fame and success (74,000 and counting) but it's clear she has simply captured the imagination of many with her nature-inspired beautiful artworks. We chatted to Natasha about her journey so far.

First, tell us more about how you got here

I've always been interested in creating art. I started to draw as soon as I was old enough to hold a crayon. I was constantly working on my paintings and drawings throughout my childhood, and I can still remember the thrill of getting a new set of felt pens!

So, in that respect, I think I always knew I'd become an artist, but for many years I was unsure as to how I would actually make it happen. I remember that in my early 20s, people seemed to think that being an actual "artist" wasn't really a career option – I even doubted it myself at times – and I did consider becoming an interior designer for a while so that I could have a creative career that seemed more attainable.

I started studying interior design at one point, but eventually dropped out when I realised that painting was my true passion. So I decided to concentrate on that, taking part in local exhibitions, and I also had some work selected for exhibitions in London, which gave me hope for the future, as these were hard to get into.

I won an art award at one of them and the prize was £500 worth of art materials – a huge boost to my career at the time as I didn't have very much money! It felt like a dream, being able to choose whichever art supplies I wanted from the Winsor & Newton catalogue. It was after this that I tried acrylic paints for the first time and I was hooked! Then, in 2006, I joined MySpace, and shortly after that I opened my first Etsy shop, and the rest is history. It's all just snowballed from there, really.

Nature plays a big part in your work. What is it that sparks your interest so much?

Nature is the main inspiration for my artwork, for a couple of reasons. It's endlessly inspiring. There's so much diversity, how could one ever become bored by nature? Standing in a vast landscape, or looking up at the moon and stars, gives me such a feeling of awe.

I love all the details, patterns, textures, and colours. I've also been through quite a tough time personally over the past few years. I've always found that getting out in nature helps my mental wellbeing more than almost anything else.

I'm often told that the scenes I paint are very calming (fun fact: a lot of psychologists either buy my work for themselves or have it on the walls in their offices), and I think this comes from a desire to create a "safe haven" for myself, somewhere I feel calm and happy. I paint where I'd like to be!

In today's current climate, do you think we need to look after our mental health more than ever?

I think it's incredibly important to take care of our mental health, as the modern world is a very stressful place in which to live! We have so many demands on our time, and with the internet, social media, email etc, there's the feeling of being "switched on" constantly.

We're also able to have more of a glimpse into other people's lives than ever before, and that can sometimes cause us to feel less than good about ourselves – as let's face it, most people share the great parts of their life online, and not the messy, difficult parts. Although this is slowly changing, I think.

Time away from the internet, just living your life and enjoying the moment is essential. Just enjoy that delicious pub lunch with the person you're with rather than feeling the need to share it with thousands of strangers! It's fun to share and helps us make connections, but privacy and time out are important too.

Would you attribute your success to a growing need for nature?

I've honestly never thought of it like this, but now that you mention it, possibly yes! I certainly think that's a part of it. Even if someone can't physically get out to enjoy nature that day, maybe by looking at one of my prints or paintings on their wall, they feel calmer and more uplifted or inspired? I hope so anyway!

Could you ever live in a city?

I'm not sure I could live in a city. I love visiting cities, but I'm much happier in the countryside or on the coast! I find cities a little overwhelming if I'm there too much. I crave getting away from the people and the noise!

You're a big fan of beach combing. Tell us more

Beachcombing is an activity where I can just become totally absorbed in what I'm doing for a couple of hours, and in that respect, it takes my mind off anything I might be worried about. I love wild, desolate beaches, and the thrill of finding a beautiful piece of beach pottery or sea glass, or a perfect stone.

When I take them back into the studio to paint on, I try to respect the object itself and allow it to somewhat dictate the design, if that makes sense. What started as a little side project has become a huge part of my creative output! My collectors have really connected with these pieces; I try to keep at least some in stock in the shop on my website but they keep selling out!

Is it true you live in two places?

Over the past three years, since meeting my fiancé Dominic, I've been back and forth between Suffolk, my home county, and Surrey, where Dominic lives. I'm gradually spending more time in Surrey now and we are renovating the apartment we live in on the top floor of Dominic's family home, a Victorian country house.

Work-wise, my studio here is more or less finished, and my little office will be next on the agenda! Once that is ready, I will finally be able to move the remainder of my belongings here and settle in properly. But to be honest, I now spend about 90% of my time in Surrey anyway.

What's worked well for you in getting your name out there? Instagram has certainly played a part?

I think it's a combination of things, but being consistent in posting on social media over the course of the past few years has certainly helped. I also think that sharing my thoughts on different situations I've been through, and speaking honestly about things, has helped people to connect with me and my work; it helps them to understand where the work comes from.

I recently started a YouTube channel so that I can share more of my life and the behind-the-scenes process of my art making, and even though I'm very new on there and my channel is small, I seem to have found a lovely community – they're very supportive!

Would you say you've found a good balance in life?

Not at the moment, but I'm constantly striving! I'm definitely moving in the right direction now.

Is there anything that currently frustrates you about the creative industries?

The culture of businesses and publishing companies who want you to work "for exposure" (in other words; for free) or offer horribly low payment for certain jobs. I'd like to balance this by saying that I've had a lot of great clients who value my work and have paid me very well, but a couple of experiences I've had recently have left me feeling frustrated and somewhat jaded.

Thankfully, by speaking out about this on social media, I received a lot of support and help from the illustration community, who confirmed that I'd been badly treated and advised me what to do next time. As someone on Twitter said, "If they're earning money from it, you should too".

What's next for you?

I honestly don't know! Over the past year or so I've been making changes to the way I live and work – trying to find more balance – and gradually cutting down on the number of galleries I exhibit with, commissions I take on etc.

I used to accept virtually everything that was offered to me, as I felt that classic "freelancer fear" of never knowing if or when the work is going to dry up, so you exhaust yourself taking on jobs you don't really want to do because you need the money. I'm sure this is familiar to many artists and illustrators out there!

Now I take on only the commissions I feel passionate or excited about, I sell my own work directly to my customers and collectors, as I can earn much more than if I sell it through a gallery (who take anywhere between 35% - 50% in fees), and I can maintain a close connection to my buyers, which I really love!

When you sell work through a gallery, you often have no idea who the buyer is. I also realised that I just wasn't getting around to all the projects I wanted to work on that I feel will further my career and help me to move in the direction I want to go in.

At one point, almost all of my time was taken up with creating art for other people and working to deadlines! Now I definitely have a better balance, and my work is going in exciting new directions. I have a lot of plans, but I don't want to talk about them before they've happened, so I'll just say: keep an eye on my Instagram!


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