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In conversation with... artist, Katie Hughes!

For our latest interview, Britain Uncovered made the trip up to Birmingham to meet with Welsh body positivity artist, Katie Hughes! A follow-up to our first interview from 2021, this time around we're discussing the success of Katie’s own art gallery, the unfortunate reasons she decided to close commissions, the direction she’s moving in with her art, her perspectives on body image and her own body confidence, and so much more!


Body positivity artist, Katie Hughes, posing with her art during an interview with Britain Uncovered

Britain Uncovered: Hi Katie! You’ve been incredibly busy with your art and beyond since we last spoke back in the summer of 2021, and we were pleased to see that you even opened your very own gallery in Wales not that long ago! To have your own four walls purely devoted to your art is a big win and a huge step forward, but how did it all come about, and what did you make of the experience?

 

Katie: I’m quite a dreamer, and I’ve always wanted a physical shop. For every hobby I’ve had, my attitude has been, “But imagine it in a physical shop”! And then with my art, obviously the goal was to have my own art gallery. I live in Wales so there aren’t many around, and the prices don’t reflect the lack of tourists or people coming around either – it’s still quite expensive.

 

My Mum happened to send me the Facebook listing of the venue when it became available to rent, and I took a leap of faith on it. I spoke to my Mum, and she was like, “Go for it”! She’s a go-getter. It just felt like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I thought I would bite the bullet and take a chance on myself. So I did it, and it was the best thing I did – I’m so glad I did it. I went in with the mentality of, “This is a cheap enough rent that it’s like a studio to paint in, and there’s not many around in North Wales, I can’t find a single studio to rent to paint in.” My bedroom at home is really small, so I thought that even if I didn’t sell anything, it would be just somewhere where I could paint. And then it snowballed from there.

 

It was quite a small space, but it had full-length windows and it was bright and had really tall ceilings, so I got to fit in loads of paintings – so it was perfect as a gallery. The building was only available for a few months, because the landlord has his own business and he wanted it over the summer, so I only had it from November to the following March. I think I could have had it over the summer in the end, because he was really supportive of me and my art, but the rent was going to be higher and it was a lot of hard work, because you can’t sell paintings if you’re not there.


Welsh artist, Katie Hughes, posing outside her art gallery in Caernarfon, Wales
Katie outside her gallery in Caernarfon, Wales

BU: How did it evolve over the five months you were there, and did you find that you were gaining momentum and witnessing an increase in footfall?

 

Katie: There were good and bad days, but I had it during Christmas as well, so it started to get really busy. I was there on Christmas Eve, because I wanted to be there for the build-up to Christmas, and I had quite a few people come in to buy paintings then too.

 

Because the bus stop was just around the corner and with it being on a one-way street, all the buses (and cars) came around past the gallery, so I think I got a lot of exposure and advertisement for my gallery that way. I received loads of supportive messages from people in the community, and I had people buying paintings from me that I went and delivered myself, which was nice. I got to go and have a chat with them as well, and I remember that a family had bought one of my paintings, and going in there and seeing that... I don’t know if it sounds weird, but it was a family with kids and it felt really nice knowing that my body positive art was going to be up in the home of a normal family. It felt really good.

 

BU: Because your paintings were so visible to people from the street, did you get any kickback from people who walked by who felt maybe nude art shouldn’t be shown so prominently?

 

Katie: Yes, but I only got one message like that! Which I’ll take as a win. It was in my first week, and I got a long message from this random woman saying, “Your art’s cool and everything, but all these kids can see it”. But they’re not sexual paintings, and when you think about it, nude art is not a new concept. It’s not something that’s just come out. If you look back on history, there are so many statues and paintings depicting nudity.

 

And then in my art, I don’t use skin tone colours and I don’t do realism; they’re quite colourful abstract pieces. That’s kind of my vibe. I never even answered the person who sent that complaint. I left it because I disagreed with them, and I thought, “Just don’t look at my gallery then.”


Body positivity artist, Katie Hughes, posing with her art during a photoshoot in Birmingham
Katie posing with 'Perspective' (left) and 'Shine Bright' (right) on the day of our interview

BU: Since your gallery closed its doors, you’ve been busy showcasing your latest creations on your various social media channels – but having received bans and having posts removed due to some of the platforms’ guidelines around nudity, it must be hard to get momentum going with such tough restrictions in place. Has this been somewhat demoralising, or put you off posting at all?

 

Katie: I actually had quite a bad incident on TikTok just before Christmas, and I think that knocked my confidence – which is why I’ve not been posting that much on any of my platforms, and I kind of took a break. It put me off a little bit.

 

TikTok’s actually a bit of a nightmare. I’ve had dodgy guys on TikTok, and this is another big topic – the messages and comments I’ve received on TikTok have been very bad. And I don’t want to block people, because you don’t know what their intentions are at first, but then it gets to a point where I feel I need to block certain accounts because it doesn’t always feel like a safe space.

 

BU: Would you feel comfortable sharing your experience?

 

Katie: Someone in America had ordered prints from my website. It was perfectly fine, and I sent them off and was then getting asked by the customer about commissions. I’ve seen other accounts like mine, where many artists only accept commissions from women, but – despite the fact I often say I’m all about ‘women supporting women’ – I want to be inclusive for everybody, so I did it and I was happy to do it. I received the deposit and was super excited, because I was allowed creative freedom on the piece, but then the whole focus turned to them sending photos of themselves and asking me what pose I thought would be better. And I had to say, “Hold up, please don’t send me photos until the paperwork’s all completed”, and I felt like I was being harassed.

 

I just felt really uncomfortable. And then it stopped for a little bit, so I started work on the painting; but as soon as I was updating them on my progress, it was just one thing after the other. They started ‘accidentally’ sending me extra photos of them in various states of undress, and then I realised, “Okay, well that’s not an accident.” I was being bombarded every day with random things and it put me in an awkward situation that has ultimately put me off commissions – and I’ve since had to close them because of it.


Artist, Katie Hughes, holding up a quick painting she created in 2023
A 'quick painting' Katie created in 2023

BU: We’d noticed you have closed them – we didn’t know why, but that’s a shame though, and we’re very sorry to hear you had such a negative experience in this regard.

 

Katie: I haven’t spoken out about it, because it’s not really something I’ve heard other body positive artists talking about. I just hear positives and I’ve actually had a few not-so-positive commission experiences. But I’ve not heard anybody speak out about it and that struggle.

 

Originally the commission started out as, “I love the look of your art, I love the message behind it, and I’d love to commission my own body.” And I thought, “Why would a male not want to have a body positive artwork”. Body struggles aren’t limited to just one gender, they impact everybody. So I kind of understood that. I thought about it for a little bit, and it started off looking alright, but then the intentions clearly were not true.

 

It got up to Christmas Eve and I was still receiving the messages, and I felt as though they were sexualising me. I was getting messages like, “Good morning, I just want to tell you you’re beautiful today”, and I just thought, “This isn’t the relationship. I’m an artist painting a piece you’ve commissioned, I will send you updates, and you can tell me to change stuff.” But the messages were becoming massively inappropriate. They flipped from being really nice to actually being threatening, almost. And I thought, “Oh my god, okay, I don’t know what I’m doing.”

 

It was really scary, I’m not going to lie. I’ve not really opened up about it at all. But I feel like it’s something that actually does need to be addressed. I feel embarrassed to even tell my friends about it. I was crying about it, and although I confided in my boyfriend, I didn’t tell my Mum and Stepdad about it at all. It started off fine, and I was happy with the look of the painting – and I thought I might end up really liking it! And then it all changed on the messages. I ended up feeling embarrassed and violated.


Body positivity artist, Katie Hughes, sitting alongside her painting named 'Chloe'
'Chloe', the first painting where Katie truly let go and found her own way of painting

BU: I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been through that, but judging by other artists we’ve spoken to, unfortunately you’re not the only one who has reported this type of experience (Giverny Annalisa also told us of how she received inappropriate and unsolicited messages during our interview in 2022). It must be incredibly frustrating, because in many ways your art is an effort to help reclaim the female form and to desexualise the body – so to then have to shut it down because men are sexualising it, and missing the entire point of the work – it must feel disheartening to say the least.

 

Katie: I shipped off the painting because he paid for it, and it was when I shipped it that I started getting really bad messages. I thought as soon as I shipped it everything would be fine and he would be happy, because he was really liking the painting, but it just went really badly. And then they had to be blocked, and I just went on hiatus for a bit. I didn’t post on anything. I kind of just dipped and I needed to take a minute. It’s annoying because it’s not everybody, and one bad experience doesn’t get rid of all the other positive ones, but it just knocked me back a little bit.

 

A good percentage of people who buy my art are male, but they’re often buying it for their girlfriend, rather than themselves. I experienced this fairly often when I had my own gallery. I had someone come in just before Christmas who said, “My girlfriend lives just up the road and she’s been seeing this painting, and we said we weren’t going to do presents, but she just really likes this one piece, and I really want to get it for her.” A lot of the people that came in were male and they were buying presents and stuff like that. I had a lot of chats and loads of good experiences with male customers, and when I had my gallery that wasn’t a problem at all – it just seems to be an online issue. But in person, the gallery experience was great with all customers if I’m honest.


Artist Katie Hughes posing topless alongside her art during a photoshoot in Birmingham
Body positivity will remain at the heart of Katie's work

BU: We were quite surprised to see on your Instagram stories that you’re having a massive re-think about what direction you want your art to go in, and whether or not you want to paint nudes anymore. What’s prompted this change of heart, and do you have plans in place going forwards?

 

Katie: I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever not paint nudes, because that’s the origin story of how I came back into art for the first time since I was a kid. I’m all about body positivity and women supporting women, and these themes will always be at the root of my art. But I don’t know if I want to do just nude art anymore. I feel like I’ve put myself in a box, and I don’t feel like an artist – I feel like a body positivity nude artist, which is really specific.

 

I’m looking at other artists and they’re doing all sorts and painting whatever they feel like, which is why I do abstract art and things like that as well. I feel like I’m more of a business or a brand that’s specifically about empowering women. That’s a really big passion of mine, so it will always be there. But I’m just looking at other artists that paint whatever they want, and I think, “Why can’t I do that”! But it doesn’t fit with what I do.

 

I haven’t announced anything yet, but I am working on something behind the scenes, which is going to be separate to Katie Hughes Art. I’m essentially starting another brand that’s focused on empowering women, and moving away from nude art specifically with my Katie Hughes Art work. I’m joining up with a friend from university who’s a writer, and we’ve come together in a way in which I can channel everything I’ve done with Katie Hughes Art there instead. And then my art page is just going to be me as an artist, where I can do whatever I want.

 

I don’t want to get rid of the ‘empowering women’ and body positivity’ messages though, because that is my main passion. I just want a separate space for that so I can explore other ideas in my own art. I want to do art that goes with my life, and what I’m going through at that time. I think it will still always include nude art, because the struggle with my own body is always going to be there. I just feel like I wanted a fresh blank canvas – something new.


Artist, Katie Hughes, posing topless alongside her body positivity artwork during a photoshoot in 2024
Katie explains how being topless and surrounded by her art made her feel "like one of the girls"!

BU: As we were taking some of the photographs today, you alluded to the fact that you’ve had a few body hang-ups or issues with your body image here and there. You do a great job promoting body positivity via your art – and we love your reels where you encourage people to embrace their flaws and love their bodies exactly as they are – but can it still be difficult when it comes to accepting yourself and your body at times?

 

Katie: I’m trying to be really body positive and I’ve been doing this for years, but the relationship I have with my body is a work in progress, and it takes a while. There are always going to be things I’m not going to love about myself, and I think body neutrality is something I’ve been reading up on recently. This says, ‘You don’t have to love your body, but you need to accept it and appreciate it’ and stuff like that – so I’m working on that. I have good and bad days, but the one thing I feel the most insecure about is my nose. My nose is the number one thing – out of everything, if I had to choose something, that would be it. But I’m still working on it.

 

BU: What techniques or tools do you use to help in that regard? Does positive reinforcement via self-affirmations help, for example, or do you look in the mirror and spend time trying to feel comfortable with your reflection, perhaps?

 

Katie: I try not to obsessively look in the mirror, because that’s a really bad habit of mine, and nobody else notices my nose. When I walked in today you probably didn’t notice that my nose is really crooked. When I’m doing my make-up I try just to ignore it and just get on with it. Before going on a night out I try to not look at it too much, because it will snowball and then just gets really bad.

 

I try to just think, “It is what it is” now. I try and just accept that it’s me, and that’s what I look like. And I just try to forget about it, because when I’m out with my friends they still love me, and it doesn’t make a difference. I try and just give myself a bit of tough love to be honest!


Body positivity artist, Katie Hughes, surrounded by her portfolio of empowering nude art
Katie with her impressive portfolio of art

BU: In our recent interview with Miranda Charlotte, she was discussing the concept of mirror checking – and how looking at ourselves to convince ourselves that certain things don’t look as bad as we think they do, but in our minds they still do, so it ends up having a negative effect because it’s reinforcing that same issue. And you can end up just going around in a big circle.

 

Katie: Body checking in the mirror is something that consumes my life. Again, I have good and bad days, and good and bad months, but I posted something on Threads because I got to the point one day where I was just tired. I’m tired of the fact that every time I walk past a mirror, a window, a car, anything – I’m there checking my body. I just get exhausted and I swear I’ve been doing it since I was 10 or 11 years old. Every reflection, I’m breathing in or I’m checking my face, checking my stomach, checking my arms. I go on a night out and I see my friends doing it all the time. Seeing someone else doing it makes me think, “Oh, is that what I look like? Is that what I’m doing”?

 

BU: You can then see how damaging it is?

 

Katie: Yes. When you’re in the bathroom in a club, there will often be no one in there, so I’ll quickly check myself in the mirror. But as soon as someone comes in, I act like it’s illegal and that I wasn’t doing it. But everybody does it, and checking yourself in the mirror – you know it’s bad. That’s why you’re embarrassed when someone walks in and they’re seeing you looking at yourself wondering, “Oh, is my stomach like that”?

 

I’ll only touch up my make-up, brush my hair, check out my outfit or check out my body if no one’s in there, or if I’m really drunk and I don’t care. Otherwise I just feel like it’s something I’m ashamed of doing – but I think it’s more that I’m ashamed I’m doing it. I don’t think anybody else would even care.

 

But body checking in the mirror is a really big problem of mine. That is definitely something I’ve struggled with, and from such a young age as well. It actually makes me sad thinking about it.


A close-up of body positivity artist Katie Hughes and her 'Be Kind' tattoo
An image Katie shared on World Kindness Day

BU: Did you also feel a little unconfident when sharing some of the body-oriented reels you created? You often focus in on body parts or areas of yourself you aren’t so confident about, which can be really helpful for people to see – but is it difficult sharing these types of insecurities and creating this kind of content?

 

Katie: Yeah, it took a lot. It was an idea I had that I wanted to do for a long time, but it took a year for me to make them. And I wanted to do it because it helps the message of my art – but then I felt like I’m an artist, so I don’t know.

 

It was an idea I had for ages, because I have a tattoo that says ‘Be kind’, and I got it on my hips because I’ve got some stretch marks and some really deep hip dips, and I got that tattoo so that every time I look at myself, it’s a reminder to just be kind to myself. Because before, every time I looked I would think, “Oh, that’s ugly.” But then I see the tattoo and think, “Well actually, I probably shouldn’t be mean”!

 

So I got the tattoo and I thought I wanted to do something with that content-wise, and I wanted to share that. I actually just had a bit of a ‘Fuck it’ moment and decided to post it. I got loads of messages about it actually, and weirdly from friends from high school who I haven’t spoken to in ages. And they were saying, “Thank you for posting that”, and they were just really appreciative. And I just thought, “Why would my little account make a difference”? But at least it helps at least someone.

 

BU: It shows that you are making a difference! The fact that you’re putting yourself out there and being brave enough to share these insecurities with others is clearly very inspiring and reassuring for people to see – and hopefully makes others feel less critical of their own bodies in the process. How has having tattoos helped with your body confidence, and what do they mean to you? They’re clearly a big part of your life.

 

Katie: Yes, they’ve definitely helped I think. It’s kind of like taking a part of your body that you don’t like that much and putting someone else’s beautiful art on it. So how could you then hate it?

 

Some have been done by a local artist, who has done two for me. And I love her art, and now it’s on my arm, so I don’t hate that part of my body anymore. Some of the tattoos have little reminders too. It’s making me like my body more. I specifically like that part now, because it’s got a really cool piece of art on it. Within my first year of having them I think I got about ten, because they really helped.


Body positivity artist, Katie Hughes, sitting alongside her artwork named 'Perspective'
The concept of 'Perspective' was about changing the perspective on the way you view your body

BU: How did you find the photoshoot portion of our collaboration today?

 

Katie: It’s scary! But being sat there with my paintings with my top off felt quite empowering and it made me feel weirdly confident. I’m not a very confident person when it comes to body image, but I’m trying, and I wear colourful clothes and things I love to try to feel confident. But it was weird how even taking clothes off I still felt confident. It was quite empowering.

 

It also felt quite powerful to be semi-naked with my nude art. I’m one of the girls! It felt really good. I was really nervous to do it to begin with, because I’ve not really done anything like this before. I did take a few topless photos when I made some of my videos, but I don’t want to give off the wrong vibe, so it has always been a question of ‘Do I, or do I not’. I think I did take a photo once years ago with a painting that was in a nude pose and I did it as if it were my body, but then I was a little unsure, so I never posted it. But I think I like the idea with Britain Uncovered’s work is that it’s not just about the art, it’s the body positive part of it – I think that’s really cool. Sitting on the sofa with my paintings felt very natural and freeing.


Sketches created by artist, Katie Hughes, during a life drawing class in Wales
Sketches from Katie's first life drawing class

BU: Do you feel as though experiences such as these – along with life drawing classes and other events involving social nudity – can help or be beneficial with regards to body confidence?

 

Katie: I think so. I have thought about doing life drawing and modelling before. My friend and I went to loads of life drawing classes at the beginning of 2023, because there was a company near us that hosts them, and it was really cool to go and for there to just be naked people.


The one I went to had more than one person posing, and it was all about exploring the relationship between two people, and it was really cool to see people embracing each other – and it was really empowering that people were just naked there and everyone was just having a drink and painting without it seeming like a big deal or anything.

 

I took my Mum to one of them as well. Although she didn’t say anything, I could tell that at first she was thinking, “Oh my god, these people are naked, where do I look.” But then you’re just concentrating on the drawings. The vibe was so cool and it was a really calm environment, and I could tell that she properly got into it. And I think by the end, she realised it was no big deal. I think it’s helped her as well.

 

To see more of Katie’s work, head to the self-taught artist’s official website at www.katiehughes-art.com. You can also find Katie on Instagram, @katie.hughes.art, Facebook and TikTok. Katie’s forthcoming project, The Universal Woman which is all about celebrating what it means to be a woman was unveiled shortly after our interview took place and can be found via @t.universal_woman on Instagram.


Our interview with Katie took place in Birmingham city centre in February 2024. To read our previous interview, which was published back in the summer of 2021, please click here.

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