Professional Artist and WebinArt mentor Helen Hallows shares her thoughts about adapting her approach in response to COVID-19 by hosting creative workshops online, and why you should consider it too.
Once I started to come to, after the initial panic surrounding the pandemic, one of the words that sprang to my mind was ‘futureproof’ – maybe it was a thought a little too late but I hadn’t been planning on a pandemic - maybe the fallout from Brexit or a natural disaster associated with global warming but really I had been naively living with the idea – build your business - grow your business – reap the rewards.
I am 46 and I have always been in this for the long hall. I have spent all my working life as a self-employed creative. There have been highs and lows as recessions have come and gone but by remaining flexible and being diverse, I have held on to my creativity and my business.
March 2020 landed me in a different place. I went through the shockwaves from the realisation that the Government was closing down cafes, restaurants, schools and social venues.
When a large part of what you do is teaching workshops and visiting groups to give talks, I felt very vulnerable – that all I had worked for could be stripped away. But then I sat with my thoughts – running a creative business has never just been about making art. Creativity is about how we adapt, change and grow. Those of us with the resources to do that will recover more quickly and feel less exposed.
Until very recently you would probably be led to believe that a career in art and design wasn’t very reliable. Now no career is reliable. I am feeling more secure than most – I have an established small business with no large overheads and no employees. Suddenly the old uncertain is the new hope.
This year I had planned to develop the wholesale side of my business but had to do a 180 turn as soon as the lockdown started. It took a couple of weeks to realise that the ‘normal’ that we had just stepped off may never be returned. Running workshops from my garden studio is not on the agenda now – for either myself, as I can’t let others into my home – or for my audience who would feel at risk in a social setting.
I’m already 75% hermit and have worked from home all my working life. My social media platforms and website have become a very important part of how I communicate. My audience on those platforms has recently grown, as people have been cut adrift from their real-life network, they are seeking their online tribe. It is a prime time for asserting your online presence, for running online ads and building your online empire.
This is what I have decided to do. I decided early on that I couldn’t ride the pandemic wave and then see where I had drifted to. I was determined to use lockdown to work on some projects. I watched as others cancelled courses and some decided to take provision online.
Two years ago, I had started running courses online and because of teaching commitments
and licensing contracts – I didn’t have the time or energy to complete on my idea to develop
a suite of online courses. In lockdown I suddenly felt empowered to get those other courses
up and running. Notebooks of ideas that had been shelved were pulled back out and the
computer was moved from the studio to the kitchen table where I could juggle family and
work – and here I have been for two months!
Setting up an e-course takes a lot of hours but needn’t be difficult. There is lots of planning
involved and I think it’s best to start from a point of confidence. You are an expert! You have
spent every day of your life getting to this point where you get to tell the world what you
are good at and how you are going to share it. There’s a great book called ‘Playing Big” by
Tara Mohr in which she talks about taking the leap of faith and finding your wings on the
way down. I think that has always been my philosophy – start and then see what you need
and fill in the gaps as you go. There is no point waiting for the planets to align – now is the
I think we are on the brink of discovering new ways of working and living and
communicating. Technology like Zoom, that’s been available for years – we are all suddenly
expert in using. Those who were lagging behind have had to embrace technology and
suddenly everyone is more proficient – including your audience. People are reaching out to
connect to their tribe. Offering online learning, blogging and sharing your experience and
expertise is the current zeitgeist.
Creating an e-course is low risk – it is an efficient way to use this unique block of time.
Without a huge investment of capital, it could be the project to help you ride out this storm
and futureproof your business, creating resilience to the sudden changes that this first
shockwave has wrought. No one expects that we will return to pre-pandemic levels of our
economy. There is a strong possibility of more shockwaves. But creating online content and
diversity in your products – selling both real and digital products helps create resilience.
Now is the time to innovate.
As self-employed creatives, we are uniquely placed. As the CEO of our own businesses we
don’t have to wait until a quarterly meeting to decide business models for the future, we
can make the pivot and step into a new version of who we are – one that functions in a
world of social distancing and imposed atomisation. We can stand as ambassadors for the
power of craft and creativity to bind people together, giving sustenance and reassurance in
dark times – we can mediate between what has been and what will be.
I’ve never felt more empowered and I would like to share that with you. So, what are you
expert in? What will you teach the world? When staying home is the new going out, what
can you offer your tribe?
Helen Hallows is a mixed media artist based near Nottingham. As well as selling her art
cards and prints online she offers online courses teaching how to develop mixed media
You can see more of Helens work here -
As part of the WebinArt programme, Helen will be presenting a webinar on June 9th at 6pm - “How to: Run a Great Online Creative Workshop”. She will share how to design and structure a great online workshop experience, what technology you will need, and where to host your course. This event is for WebinArt members and collaborators only.