Artist Frances Cannon talks hating the work you make, the vulnerability of sharing new work online, and keeping the fire burning when your passion is also your job.
If you’re on Instagram, there’s little doubt you’re familiar with Frances Cannon.
In fact, you’re probably among the young artist’s 150k followers, making Cannon the epitome of someone requiring no introduction. (Here’s an introduction anyway.)
Barely in her mid-20s, Cannon is leading a body positive revolution she sparked through her a before even finishing university. Born in country Victoria, Cannon moved to Thailand as a baby—her parents still live there—leaving only to take up her fine art studies at RMIT, which she just completed at the end of 2016.
Cannon’s work is much like the artist herself: understated and unfussy, yet powerful and unapologetic. Often expressed through imagery of the female form, she explores themes like body image, mental health, self-acceptance and self-empowerment. Much of it is autobiographical, too: Cannon doesn’t shy away from sharing her battles with mental health and self-acceptance with her adoring audience.
It’s those battles that led Cannon to create Self Love Club, a body positive movement she inadvertently generated after having the words tattooed on her own body. That simple act of acknowledging her self-worth has since inspired scores of Cannon’s online followers to get inked, and is arguably one of the things she’s best known for.
But to dismiss Cannon an Instagram sensation would be to significantly underestimate the artist’s IRL clout. Having exhibited her work widely throughout Melbourne and beyond, Cannon’s held no less than eight (!) solo shows to date. She’s also collaborated with local favs like Third Drawer Down and Abbey Rich, has branched out into poetry—she self-published a book of poems just this year—and has had her work featured in publications like Peppermint and Yen (RIP).
Radiating authenticity and self-confidence, Cannon unquestionably walks the talk—without a hint of posturing. We were lucky enough to have recently sat down with her over coffee down the road from her new northside studio.
Hi Frances! Can you tell us a bit about how you got to where you are now?
I’ve always drawn my whole life. I’ve always loved art, and expressed my emotions and processed life experiences through art ever since I was a little kid. So art was always something I really wanted to do.
I studied a Bachelor of Fine Arts at RMIT, and there I developed the style I’m now known for. I started posting it online and it started getting traction. And I guess I saw that happening and saw the attention I was getting and was like, ‘Hmm’. So I took that opportunity and opened an online store.
It just went from there. I got lucky with a few good interviews, and the Self Love Club—the tattoo movement—went a bit viral, so that really helped with my spread.
It’s just been growing since then. I’ve been trying to make better and better products, and continue to interact with my audience. I’m trying to get better and better to keep up the momentum.
So did you always think you would become an artist?
I don’t think I ever thought I was going to be an artist. Art teaching was in the back of my mind, which I would still gladly do. How things happened, so that I could be an artist full-time, is just amazing. I’m quite proud of myself!
Do you experience procrastination when it comes to your art practice? What strategies do you use to overcome it?
Yes! One of my goals for this year is to have more structured work days and play days. As I’m self-employed, I work out my own schedule and sometimes I’ll be like, ‘Oh, ok—I guess I’ll do some work now’, but then I’ll end up watching a tv show.
On the flip side, I could be having a day off but then I’m checking my emails. So it ends up being really muddled, and I end up overworking and not really having proper rest time. Always in the back of my mind I’m like, ‘I should be working’, even if I’m trying to rest. So I want to cut that out.
I think there’s a difference between procrastinating and being burned out. Keeping that in mind, I think if you’re burned out then totally take a break, I think that’s really important.
But if I’m procrastinating, even just making sure I have my sketchbook on me all the time so I can be sketching ideas really helps, or I have my iPad which I draw on, too. That tends to start the creative juices flowing. I try to do something creative every day. But I’m still working on my procrastinating problem!
This year I’ve actually hired my first ever assistant to help me out; I’m really excited to work with her. She’s got lots of business experience and she’s very organised, so she’s going to crack the whip and get me into shape. I think this year, once it gets into the swing, is going to be massive.
What about self-doubt—do you experience it in relation to your art? How do you get past it?
Yeah, definitely. I think that’s part of being a creative person; you always have moments of self-doubt. You look at a painting you’ve made or a song you’ve written or whatever and you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s terrible!’
But if I’m doing a series of drawings and I do one I hate, I’ll put it aside. And often if I come back to it in a few weeks or a month, it actually has some qualities I wouldn’t have seen at the time. It actually has something, and then I can rework it.
I think the mistakes are really important to the creative process. So if you’re having them, don’t stress—it’ll be fine!
Do you ever worry about originality in your work, or compare your work to others?
Yeah. I’ve always been a person who compares a fair bit, whether it’s my body or my personality—like, ‘They’re cooler than me’ kind of stuff. That’s the kind of person I am and I’ve had to train myself out of that because it’s not a healthy mindset to be in.
But I think because I’ve been drawing in this quite particular style for a few years now, I’ve gotten really happy and comfortable in it, which is good and bad. I’m in this place where I’m really happy with where my style is, so I think that’s boosted my confidence. It’s made me less stressed when looking at others’ work.
But in saying that, I don’t want to get stuck there either. So I’m always trying new things to make sure I’m still being creative and not doing the same old.
Have you ever struggled to share your work?
At the beginning I really struggled with sharing drawings, but I’m really comfortable with that now. But I recently released a poetry book, and that was terrifying to share because I don’t think of myself as a poet; I’m not a writer. It was just a project I was really passionate about and I wanted to make it. That was scary. It wasn’t something I was super confident in, whereas I know what I’m doing with my drawings.
The first time I posted an image of one of my poems on Instagram I was like, ‘Ahh!’ But it got lots of lovely comments, and it gets easier the more you do it.
Does Melbourne influence your career or your work?
I think as a city not so much. But the people in Melbourne influence me a lot. I’ve got so many amazing connections with especially women artists in Melbourne that I’ve become such good friends with, and I think having this creative community around me helps so much.
We can bounce ideas off each other, go to each others’ shows, do collaborations and stuff like that. That’s the most amazing thing about Melbourne.
Is there anything you wish you’d done differently in your career?
I do wish I’d had a chance to take a business course or something like that while I was at uni. I did all arts subjects, but I think if I did maybe a semester or two in business stuff, that would have really helped. In terms of taxes and keeping everything legal and all that stuff, I’ve had to learn that all myself from scratch, and that’s quite stressful.
But I haven’t made any massive mistakes yet. We’ll see! That will come, I’m sure.
How do you keep the fire burning when your passion is also your full-time job?
Something that helps me is that if I’m wanting to focus more on painting for myself, then in my business I’ll have more prints available so I don’t have to keep creating. That means the bills still get paid but I get to focus on what I want to do for me.
I have to swap back and forth. I don’t like to get super caught up in only focusing on one part of my business—only doing commissions for people or only doing tattoo designs. I have to make sure I make time for everything. It’s a juggling act.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
Short term, I really want to make bigger and better products—books and t-shirts and tote bags. And because I have an assistant now, I can make more things!
Long term, I’d love to do more shows. I’d really love to do a show overseas—I don’t really care where at the moment!
I have so many ideas. I’m building a Frances Cannon empire. I really want my business to be a viable business that lasts, so I’m trying to set it up so that it can be. I’m trying to make decisions so that I don’t get burned out and so that I can keep up with what’s selling but also keep doing what I’m passionate about.
I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life; I don’t want to have to fall back on plan B or anything. This is the dream so I want to make sure it lasts.
Virtual pep talk
Having an online presence is important—have a website, Instagram, blog, anything.
Doing collaborations is such a good way to get your name out there, and it’s also really fun working with other people.
And even if you have a day job—which is totally fine and normal—make time to do your creative stuff, as well. If you want to make it into your career but you don’t have time for it, it’s not going to grow or get better or improve. So make a bit of time for creating every day if you can.