Leeds artist Gosia: ‘We don’t need to be working all the time to be valuable”
Growing from a love of art and a desire to escape the claustrophobia of halls in times of COVID, Leeds student Malgorzata MacDougall has found herself with both a brand and art collective that provide a beautiful escape from the busy-ness of life.
What started as drawings for friends, ‘Secret Santa’ presents, and homemade stickers, developed into Softer People, an environmentally conscious art brand with the aim to encourage us all to slow down and feel good. Gosia has created a variety of super fun pieces; colourful and funky designs that offer a little pick-me-up or reminders to try and look for the positives in life. The t-shirts, tote-bags and prints also reflect Gosia’s keenness to make sure that her creations don’t cause undue damage to the environment. Products are either climate neutral, ethically sourced, or fair trade.
“Yeah that has been hard, its expensive and difficult and you have to make sacrifices because you can’t have climate neutral, ethically sourced, fair-trade all-in-one, that doesn’t exist”. Manufacturers that offer eco-friendly options are often costly and harder to come across but she accepts that you have to compromise on certain things in order to create products in a way that feels appropriate, otherwise “It’s just too hypocritical”. That is the essence of Softer People after all, to be gentler to yourself and the planet and to spread that message through art.
Gosia admits, though, that it can be difficult to not get overwhelmed by the nature of the system. Instagram, in particular, offers a viciously easy means to get trapped in a cycle of feeling that art needs to be constantly produced and as popular as often brands. “We’re all part of this capitalist system”, says Gosia, “but we don’t need to be working all the time to be valuable”. It gets to a point where we have to wonder, how can you make art, produce it, sell it, engage in it, in a way that is healthy for you and enjoyable for you but also actually doable? It’s hard to escape the trap of Instagram but it’s also entirely unsustainable and Gosia says she’s changed her approach to remind herself that Softer People is for the sake of art and connection, not something that should be adding more stress into life.
Navigating this dilemma is certainly something many artists face, especially when you’re turning something that is a hobby into a business. Sometimes it can be difficult to return to the essence of why we create art. In this vein, Gosia has also led the marvellous Slow Space Creative. The events, which take unused spaces across the city and turn them into temporary art studios, have seen over 100 people come together to create, collaborate and share art. Gosia also got Leeds-based DJs to perform and was sponsored by local brand Equinox Kombucha. Slow Space Creative similarly originated from being in halls during lockdown but Gosia admits that at times things were stressful. “I was thinking of not doing it, I thought ‘I don’t need the stress of it’”. She humorously admits “It’s nice that it’s a memory now but it was pretty stressful at the time”.
Despite the support of friends and especially the staff at the Corn Exchange and Hyde Park Book Club, Gosia reflects that there is always an “internal pressure [about running events like this] because this is your thing if it fails”. A lot of care and planning goes into the events and it could be very easy to be swept away in logistics. Nevertheless, as Softer People would encourage, Gosia demonstrates a calm and generous approach to planning. It is a collective after all, and the majority of people involved are students. This gentle attitude for if and when things go wrong not only maintains the pure intention behind the events but also helps to keep the pressure off a bit.
For any other aspiring creatives, Gosia has some tips:
- “Put value on what you’re producing.”
People see art as the value you give it. It can be embarrassing and Gosia reflects that it took a long time for her to overcome the awkwardness that can come with sharing and selling your own art. At the end of the day, however, none of this would have happened if she hadn’t have taken the first step and shown someone else her work. Nothing has to be perfect but just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean your art doesn’t have value.
2. “Back yourself.”“Instagram is great… but limit your time on it.”
It’s a handy tool, but we need to remember that it is just that, a tool. It is not an indicator of your value or your popularity and it can be incredibly draining to constantly analyse and criticise yourself through statistics. And comparison is your biggest enemy, try not to be swept in by what other people are doing, it doesn’t really matter.
3. “Remember why you’re doing it.”
To express yourself, to connect with others, to escape a lockdown. It can be easy to lose sight but always come back to the essence of why you’re creating. It’s also not always about making a business of your hobbies, you can make simply for the enjoyment of it. Try to keep the pressure off.