Being an Artist – Hazel Dooney

One of the best ways to learn how to be an artist is to talk with other artists.. people that are in the trenches and know how to survive. It’s fine to listen to a university lecturer talk about being an artist, but they’re at best an artist/teacher hybrid, which is also fine if you enjoy teaching. But if you want to paint during the day and relax at night (rather than teach during the day, paint at night and have no life), you should learn from those that are doing just that.

Australian artist hazel dooney

I read artist biographies, artist interviews, collect artist quotes, and pick the brains of any successful artist that comes within talking distance of me. Artists are generally an open bunch of people that aren’t good at keeping trade secrets, so you just have to ask if you want to know something.

The Australian artist Hazel Dooney has been making quite a name for herself nationally and now regularly has works appearing for sale at major auction houses around the country. She also has one of the most interesting artist blogs online and is very open with her experiences as a working artist.

Hazel has kindly allowed me to share some excerpts from her diary. It’s a small insight into some of the challenges that an artist faces when he or she becomes a full time working artist..

A Year Of Thinking Dangerously
Excerpts from a Journal – Hazel Dooney

11th February
I was getting impatient for the base coats to dry on a large enamel piece, so I started work on a new series of watercolours on paper. I am really bad at doing nothing.
Putting down the first marks of a new work is always hell. I suffer a flood of anxiety and self-doubt, and the initial effort is always terrible. I try too hard. My lines are tight. I am hesitant about how and where to use the paint. I waste a lot of time pacing around instead of working. I have to force myself to finish the damn thing. Then I lie it face down and try to forget about it.
When I’m not happy with my art, everything in my life is fucked. When it’s going well, everything is perfect. It’s irrational and unpredictable, and it’s downright unpleasant for everyone around me.

4th April
I spent at least half this day sick or sleeping off the effects of using enamel paint. My tolerance to it has declined in the year or so since I last used it. Tomorrow morning I’m going to my favourite industrial paint store to buy a protective suit and some fresh chemical filters for my mask. I’d take a photo of myself in all that gear here but it’d feels too ridiculous. Then again, the ramifications of not taking it seriously are anything but ridiculous.
I’ve been reading about the German-born American sculptor, Eva Hesse. She worked with lethal material and was diagnosed with a brain tumour, probably caused by the carcinogenic fumes wafting around her studio. She died in 1970, aged34. I love her work: she made impermanent, unbeautiful media incredibly tender.
I think I understand – maybe too well – why she didn’t change materials even when she understood their toxicity, even when she knew, in the end, they were killing her.

15th June
At the opening of my solo show, I overheard two young women, both artists, discussing my work. One of them was visibly upset by the graphic sexuality of some of the images, and the undercurrent of violence. She wondered aloud about my mental and emotional stability. “Well, I guess we all feel that way from time to time,” her friend replied. “We just don’t feel the need to paint it like she does!” Which got me wondering, if an artist wants to avoid the conflicts and contradictions of their interior life, what’s the point of making art at all?
The conceptualist American artist, Jeff Koons insists that art has been too subjective in the past, too concerned with the messy, emotive sprawl of self-expression, as opposed to what he calls objective art, art so sanitised of the germy interior life of the artist that his or her only role in its creation is an idea. The actual making of the finished work, the elements of craftsmanship, are, for him, best left up to others, preferably others who have no real interest or engagement with the artist other than interpreting his instructions with as much technical precision as possible
I am so not into this approach. The work I’m drawn to most often – in art, photography, music, literature or film – is intensely personal and inextricable from the artist’s every day life: if anything, the more diaristic it is, especially when it comes to words and images, the better.

1st September
Lately I’ve received a lot of emails from strangers. They begin by telling me they are “fellow artists”, then, on that tenuous basis, they ask me to help them market and sell their work. I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve found these requests so offensive, especially as I am not exactly a shrinking violet when it comes to self-promotion.
Then it clicked. There’s nothing in their emails that is actually about art, theirs or mine, and they imply that my focus is more on marketing and sales than creativity and plain old hard work.
Well, f##k ‘em. I make art not only because of a passionate desire to communicate but also a jittery compulsion to make real what resides only in my imagination. And when I have a body of work that is ready to be viewed, finding an audience for it is sure as hell very different to launching a healthier breakfast cereal or a gentler washing-up liquid. There is no demographic research you can (or should) do to identify a consumer niche. Whatever some people think (including an increasing number of critics and curators) it is not about brand development and key selling propositions.

11th October
Yesterday, I accepted three commissions for large-scale paintings which, on top of several other private commissions and exhibition commitments, have closed out my schedule for the rest of the year. I will now have to tell clients and galleries that I’m unable to look at any new projects before 2009 – and maybe later, if I decide to spend Christmas, next year, in Brazil, where I want to join a samba school and dance in one of the Carnival parades.
I am still a little gob-smacked by how quickly all this has happened. Eighteen months ago, I was working part-time in a clothing shop to make ends meet. I was living with my father and trying to recover from a debilitating mental breakdown. I hadn’t touched a paint brush in almost six months and at least a couple of artists and gallerists I knew were already talking about my career in the past sense. Hell, I was, too. There was nothing in my life then that suggested any reason for optimism.
What got me off my self-pitying ass was the opportunity to paint… a skateboard. Thanks to the American artist, William Quigley, I was the only foreigner among 75 artists and celebrities – everyone from Julian Schnabel, William Wegman and Tony Alva, to Peter Beard, Robin Williams and 50 Cent – invited to submit a hand-painted skateboard to be auctioned for the benefit of the Boarding For Breast Cancer charity. The boards were exhibited in a show entitled Style Sessions at Milk Studios on Manhattan’s lower West side and mine attracted one of the highest bids.
A month after the auction, I quit my job. I decided to leave Melbourne, too. For better or worse, I was committed to the idea that I was an artist. As I packed up my few possessions, I couldn’t help thinking of this passage from Goethe:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one element of truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans – that moment one commits oneself, then providence moves all.
“All sorts of things occur ton help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed could have come his way.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin in it now.”

See Hazel Dooney’s Self Vs Self blog for more of her writing and art. I have also previously mentioned her Porno exhibition and Free artist prints to download.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Donald Frazell says:

    Great! Let me know when you start the series.

    Art collegia delenda est

  2. I really liked reading the journal entries and want to thank Hazel and you for sharing them. I relates to some of the feelings, especially the results of not feeling happy about my art.

    I had to stop using enamel spray paints for a while because I got very sick and found I had poisoned myself. Even with wearing a mask with filters and ventilation. ARg, it is a devil to love materials that are toxic.

  3. Yeah Im not sure what I would do if I had to stop using oil paints Corrine. I have tried others and just dont get the same pleasure from them. There’s not much in a studio that isnt toxic to some extant I guess.


  4. I found a post on Craigslist for someone to pose for an artist. It was a non-paying gig, but that didn’t matter. It was something I’d never done, and it was a chance for me to interact with another artist. It was good art karma. It was worth the sore muscles and I was even able to help her work with suggestions on the accuracy of her poses. Great experience! I also have just started getting into automotive paint, and know that I should be doing it somewhere with at least a little ventilation, but I’m at that point of being driven where I have to get it done or I’ll be stagnant. It’s worth the risk.

  5. I’ve read her words and viewed her work before, I followed it a year back or so. I throroughly enjoyed this entry.

    Though I have to say I reacted to what she wrote about those e-mails she got. “Then it clicked. There’s nothing in their emails that is actually about art, theirs or mine, and they imply that my focus is more on marketing and sales than creativity and plain old hard work.”

    That’s just her own interpretation. It doesn’t really imply or say anything about her art at all. If anything it says something about the artist e-mailing her having that approach him or herself.

    I find it very ausing to read about her overhearing those girls speaking about her work! I keep dreaming of experiencing the same type of situation. Though all I’ve had so far is two little old ladies describing me as a promising little girl. Not quite as much fun, but perhaps I’ll get there to have them finding something controversial.

  6. overhead people say I must be depressed, or have weird ideas or whatever. Talk about being so off base lol!

  7. Donald Frazell says:

    And those two would be correct. Already was right when I stated she must be on pschodrugs. She admits it in her blog, and she never ever talks about anything besides herself, her feelings, her life, her desires, her problems, her…….

    I also will guess she was molested as a child, a problem far greater than most realize. Most of the women i have dated were succesful, educated black women. And at least a third were molested, as in broken family black America most families have a boyfriend, step father, uncle, cousins who are not blood, and that raises the problem. And pretty girls are their prey, with the economic issues putting eevn more pressure for silence, and denial. Boys usually bait for Catholics.

    Now, most of white America has this too, a high divorce rate also, but her in the OC, hotbed of Reaganomic’s, the highest incest in the land. This woman is weak, and can only talk about herself. She is a decent illustrator of her issues, but for those of us who are healthy, or have different problems, she is irrelevant.

    Most of the women I dated were strong, and dealt with their pain. They wanted to contribute, had kids, worked hard, learned skills, wanted the world to be a better place. Does this woman talk about ANY of those things?


    art collegia delenda est.

  8. man you are harsh donald.

  9. Donald Frazell says:

    We live in harsh times, they are only going to get worse. There are many forms of art, her’s is fine as illustration and therapy, but its not creative art. Would rather look at a wall of colored pussies anytime. Guess thats my “issue’.

    And I will make a bet I am right, just gotta read her site, she is brutally honest, even if self obsessed. But I already read enough. Pointless.

    I did earlier applaud her illustration skills, sometimes. Others, they are far too immature.

  10. I guess you have spent more time reading her blog than me, so I can’t really comment beyond the excepts on here.

  11. Hope you don’t mind, see,

  12. Blah… meant to throw in that I’m going to start doing that each Friday with a few blogs. I will probably add more as I go so if you have any suggestions, shoot em’.

  13. Yeah, I agree Corrine, Donald is Harsh.

    I like her blog as it talks about being an artist, which is what she is; a full time working artist (which takes a lot of courage and hard work to achieve.. most of us cling to the safety of a job, which doesn’t take much courage at all)

    The reason I dont read many artist blogs is because they talk about everything but art. Hazel talks about herself as an artist, dealing with the ups and downs of being an artist in this day and age.

    I wish more successful artists would start talking about their experiences as an artist. I don’t care what their art looks like, I just enjoy reading how others deal with the challenges and joys of being an artist. I would LOVE some whales like Hirst, Koons, Kiefer and a few others to start a blog!

    Also, most of my favourite artists dealt with their personal issues at the easle. Most of your favorite artists probably did too Donald. It’s just what artists do. Those that havent struggled usually have boring art as they havent got anything to work through.

    I think of personal issues as fuel to paint, rather than a self obsession. I struggle as I have to keep creating my own fuel as I have used up all the fuel that I inherited from my

  14. I think that is the part I related to in her diary entries, some of those struggles. It is a reminder to me to not be so hard on myself when I face similar struggles.

    I don’t particularly like Hazels work, but I do think it takes strength and courage to put yourself out there in this harsh world. Especially when the work is such that it evokes some very negative visceral responses. Being true to self is much more valuable than other people’s opinion or approval.

  15. Donald Frazell says:

    Thing is, she LIKES the negative attention, for as logn as she is getting some, she will be happy, Being ignored is her only fear. Neediness is not a virtue, nor neccessarily a sin either, jsut irrlevant to art.

    And the days of whales are over, the art world has changed and so must our attitudes towards it, as life will be harder in the future, And people need to think about how our actions affect others, not internal dialoges, which are for ones journal or diary, not public consumption.

    I realy dont care about any artists trials and tribulations, art is a privilege, whining about it futile and annoying. Going for it is not strength, people been doing that for centuries, and horrbile movies like Rent capturing the self absorbed decadence of willful ignorance. Brats.

    I dont care about vangoghs conditin, Gauguins fleeing, though I relate to him more than any of the others. Worked as a broker for over a decade before he even got into art. And the white world got on his last nerve. That Cezanne was nuts. That Rousseau was a cool old guy who was a sunday painter til he got old and retired. One of the best, and most overlooked, American artists was Romaire Bearden. He worked as a social worker in Harlem as did his wife, til he got older and did his paintings, as good as any in the New York School, til he found himself through photo collages. The structure he found and ability to layer meaning in simplified formsled to incredible prints and paintings, often of classical themes, but using african motifs and colors.

    He gets FAR more respect, he helped others and fed his family, worked to find somethng that related to the life he knew, both around him, and of the world and its history. THATS a hero, not some kid who complains and is an exhibitionists, THATS decadence. Tired of this art as therapy crap, we are so over that. Look around, the world can no long afford to tolerate immaturity, it took over a government, many governments and we are paying the consequences.

    Art DOES have power, for both good and bad, habits as much as the stereotyped good vs evil myths. It influences how we see ourselves and act, our desires, our attitudes. We must stop being adolescents adn grow up.
    and art is the place to start.

    I seem to actually like this crazy girls art better than jb does, thats the point. Our personal issues can be made public by finding the commonality with all humanity, and bringing out emotions in the viewer, not the dirt and mundane vicxes and issues of the individual. THATS art. The blog is entertainment.

  16. “This crazy girl’s art…?” Donald, you clearly have no idea about Hazel Dooney. Crazy she isn’t – and your constant harping on this verges on defamatory. She is impeccably professional, articulate, and breathtakingly smart. I know this because I represent her art in China and have worked with her for over 18 months. Your extended, rambling, self-inflating comments reveal an ego and a need for attention well beyond anything hinted at in Hazel Dooney’s blog. One wonders, really, what axe you’re really trying to grind.

  17. Donald Frazell says:

    sigh. Some just refuse to get it. Especialy those with true self interst, cant hurt those sales now can we James?

    I have said before, I rather like SOME of her work. When she sticks to being the illustrator she is, fine. Even the cartoon silly Girls in Dangerous Professions, art it sure as hell aint, and filled with stereotypes, just as much as the ones she supposedly is trying to break.

    But her blog is just another instance of the complete and total victory of materialism. It is all about HER. not one single word about anyone or anything, except in how it pertained to HER. This started on TV with Phil Donahue, grew through Oprah, an now celebrity books. Countless Hollywood types trying to resusitate dead careers through”I had a coke problem, I was a sex addict, I ate babies” confessionals. This used to be strictly the realm of the Star, and your boy Dion, Rupert Murdoch. The Media barons have succeeded in entertainment taking over the world, truth adn sacrifice unknown quantities, as self involved diatribes divert the masses, and arts.

    I am going to have to write an article about what art is, creative arts vs illustration, entertainment, therapy, to add on to what i already wrote in Imperial Clothing. The non applied arts, having to do with Man, that have now completely become about man, the singular, insular, happiness seeking, unfulfilled beast he has become. And a second about why the market and country is the way it is, already begun in my previous article, and event have proven me correct. Unfortunately.

    sigh, Art collegia delenda est

  18. After going to Hazel’s blog, I completely agree with her on this, and I rather abhor Donald’s views. Who the hell is he to judge anyway.

  19. Donald Frazell says:

    The same as you baby, the same as you.

    And I stand by what i said about her past, i was correct about the psycho drugs all here got wound up about, and am about this also. Explains all that came, damn shoulda made money and been a psychiatrist. But just weird, not crazy. Sadly, seen it far too many times, with those who dealt with their issues, and those like her who avoid them and so expose their lifes hoping for salvation.

    But thats a personal issue, and should remain so. This is a bandaid on a gashing wound. What i write is for her own good, and those who have similar problems. Those who identify with her. Self done therapy, and you know what they say about doctors who become their own patients. She isnt a bad person, just not a creative artist and should not be held up as one, that the way to complete and total self involvement, and unhealthy for all involved.

    Art collegia delenda est

  20. Donald Frazell says:

    Plus, I never have any problems coming up with ideas and motivation, life is all around me. There is so much to do, so little time. When one live with the world, creativity is simple.

    And so art schools should be destroyed, for putting so much garbage in our heads that we miss life, the one we are all a part of. I kinda like the infantile rantings of the Stuckists, it may be a fresh beginning. But like so many other possibilities, it may be stillborn. We need life to return to art, desperately, NOW.

  21. Let’s try to focus on the art.

    Debate is good. Name calling and personal attacks not so good.

    If we were all in the same room right now I would force you all to group hug!

    Be nice people. I dont mind deleting spam comments, but I dont like deleting comments that are expressing an opinion (even if I don’t agree with it).


  22. Donald Frazell says:

    Crazy girl was actually a term of endearment, she admitttedly has problems as she comments on her frazzeled state(like how that fits my name?)when she misses her meds. Most of us got some issues, our biochemical functions seldom at a point of complete ballance, whatever that is. I can take care of myself, so dont worry about me, and will try to keep it impersonal, and do, its Politcal Correctness that has destroyed arts ability to make comments on life, observations, not judgements. I dont control her future, how can I be making a judgement?

    Giving an opnion, that art no longer allows, and so is soft and weak. Art I will judge constantly and angrily, when forsaken and distorted. OK, thas an opinion, but thats a given, thats all anyone can do. Too thin skinned, look at what is, dont take things personal. I dont.

  23. I don’t see an issue of thin skin but one of being rude and insulting. I am also in agreement with Hazel and find the anger and rhetoric over the top.

  24. Donald Frazell says:

    I am not angry at all, if you feel something, its because of your feelings, not mine. Beleive me, I train my big guns on the big dinosaurs, not the small fish. Why would I get mad at poor Hazel? Thats not my issue, but how you read what you see.

    My anger is at the state of art, and rightfuly so. Events are, unfortunately, proving my case. Our attitude towards life sucks, and that is arts fault, as that IS arts purpose. Showing what is true, and letting others make up their minds by getting to their feelings, their passion.

    The truer a work is, the more it succeeds, in the long run. Lies always more successful in the short term, poltics, fashion, desires, selfishness, all are short term solutions to life. That dont work, and lead to distruction, of the self and humanity.

    I wish everyone the best as long as their desires ARE for everyone,and not consumed in inner turmoil, obsessions, or hate. I wish everyone inner peace, this is not the path. And her blogs confirm that.


  25. Frazell’s comments would have more weight if he wrote half as well and with the same precision as Hazel.

  26. Donald Frazell says:

    If you love the pronouns I and Me, and hate Us and We, then Hazels your girl. Easy to flow when you have nothing to say. Rap flows with much more force and more meaning, but not much.

    But far more important things than art going on at this very moment,. put aside selfish thoughts, and think as a man or woman, one that may have kids and the worlds future is at stake. For it is. Today.

  27. Donald, I tried to mail you, but it said your email is full. You should be able to find my email on my blogger profile or on my myartspace profile, Write me.

  28. I think it’s pretty normal and practical for an artist to have a part time job as well as make art.

    I like to eat and art doesn’t always fund that so I would never think it was bad for someone to work as well as make.

    I had a look at Hazel’s art and enjoyed the site. Hmm artist’s diaries, isn’t a sketchbook a similar thing without so many words? It’s a good way to log how your ideas progress though and helps if someone asks what your artwork is about.

    The post Hazel had about her artwork on a promotional tin for condoms made me laugh though. Maybe Hirst could have some made with those dots on.

  29. Donald Frazell says:

    Yes, its a diary. And fine as such, but a sketchbook is about studying life outside of oneself, you know, art. But publishing this is exhibitionism, hate performance crap anyway, personal thing i guess, have no idea what it is supposed to be about besides the artists weirdness, and just always badly done. Whats the difference here?

    This is not that big a deal, but symptomatic of what ails society today, the Enquirer culture of getting into other peoples business. Have some pride, damnit. Work your issues out, not post them, as then they get validation and so taken as strengths, when at any other time in the history of man, they would be weaknesses to be overcome.

    She, and anyone who takes this approach, will never grow up if they want to remain an adolescent forever, for theses are teenager problems. I have raised many, believe me, I know. And the point is for them to become adults. Responsible. Ballanced, Focused.

    A contributer to society, and to create a family. None of that would happen with this attitude. And in males, nothing is more dangerous than a teenager in a mans body. In a woman, well, you can see for yourself. Grow up already. Arent there enough coming of age movies out there already? Sheeesh.

  30. A real critic, uses in-depth knowledge about the arts to respectfully examine the work of an artist and discuss it’s features, meanings and perhaps it’s technical execution if the critic is qualified.

    A bully masquerading as a critic uses the title to vent their pent-up frustrations about themselves and their position in the world at the people they are most envious of. They see the successful, hard-working, creative, artist as something they are incapable of being. They want the end result and position but just can’t put in the work to get there.

    In any event, the bully’s “writing” may have a thin veneer of jargon or use million dollar words but these are just flimsy, desperate, vehicles for the bully to attack the artist personally. They lash out at anything and anyone that makes them feel like an inadequate failure. The bully tries to set himself up as a “judge” that exists above the artist (and society). The more successful the artist, the more threatening the work (or legislation, or social movement, etc) the more extreme the bully’s reaction will be. And of course, none of it succeeds in making the bully feel better about themselves. They just create even more hatred and bitterness that sits inside them and eats their soul away.

    Hazel Dooney has worked incredibly hard to get where she is today. So do all the other professional artists, writers and musicians who work without a trust fund, insurance, or other safety net. It takes an amazing amount of hard work, a near obsessive devotion to your craft, good marketing/business techniques, and the gutsy persistence to keep going until things fall into place for you, to make it as a creative professional. Professional, full-time artists work nearly constantly on their craft; they live, eat, and sleep thinking about it. It’s a very real dedication and anyone who has known one of these people can testify to it’s legitimacy. It’s no wonder that such extreme and unusual dedication to a profession eats at some people (the Olympic games must be torture for them).

    Writing that Hazel Dooney, is medicated, crazy, and good at marketing (apparently a bad thing), is just classic bully behavior. The attacks on Australia, what might have happened to her as a child, and the contents of her journal are disgusting. The extensive rants about art as a privilege, the overused jargon, undercurrent of patriarchal sexism, and childish judgments directed randomly at your surrounding world just screams and cries with the bitter emasculated jealousy of a total failure.

    Does posting this garbage all day long really make you feel better?

    Why not go out and try to make something positive of yourself?

  31. Donald Frazell misogynist supreme, apparently says:

    Feel better now darlin? Good, now go take a nap. I got work to do. Thanks for the laugh, its been a grim day watching the dems and republicans not facing up to reality. THATS where my frustration lies, no some silly girl down under. Damn, artistes take themsevles seriouosly. Now take a nap.

  32. Dave said: “The extensive rants about art as a privilege, the overused jargon, undercurrent of patriarchal sexism, and childish judgments directed randomly at your surrounding world just screams and cries with the bitter emasculated jealousy of a total failure.”



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