Interview with body positivity artist, Grace Huckstep!
This week, we have the pleasure of speaking with body positivity artist, Grace Huckstep, about her increasingly diverse and inspiring array of work celebrating the female form. During our conversation, we touch on Grace’s initial motivations for picking up a paint brush, the ways her art is improving her own body confidence, how and why she’s teaching others through her recently-launched art workshops, and lots more!
Britain Uncovered: Hi Grace! Shortly after launching your Instagram page at the end of 2020, you painted your very first female form. It’s now the focal point for all of your art, but what first prompted you to give it a try – and what emotions were you hoping to convey with your initial efforts?
Grace: It’s crazy to think it’s only been eight months of painting, as it’s something I can’t imagine my life without now that I’ve found it. If only people could see my very first time picking up a paint brush since primary school! My amazing mum guided me through creating a drip painting as a way to pass the time last year. She’s an incredible artist and I’ve always envied her creative mind, and now it seems that it’s something I’ve inherited – and I’m so grateful for it.
Finding my female form style was a complete fluke to be honest. I hadn't set out to paint women, but the more I delved into the art world, the more incredible artists I found and then came the female form paintings. They flooded me with pride and I just had to give them a go. To be honest, my main efforts were mainly for my own body acceptance. I had no intention to sell my art until I started getting requests for prices, and that’s really when I knew my art was worthy of being seen.
Britain Uncovered: Thanks to the likes of Sophie Tea and other artists who are doing great things to help celebrate the female form, there’s now a huge amount of empowering nude art popping up along similar lines, which is amazing to see. Who would you consider to be some of your artistic inspirations, and when it comes to your own work, how do you go about creating original and unique art in such a crowded market?
Grace: The market does seem to have a huge amount of talented artists, and to start with, it was so intimidating. I felt like a true imposter amongst such skilled work. My big sister was the person who told me to focus on me, my art and my community of amazing people who appreciate and celebrate what I do. I’m lucky to have a strong independent group of women around me who always push me to be my own cheerleader.
I have a few artists I speak to regularly about content who create the most beautiful work. We speak about the business elements and now the all-important algorithms, but I’d proudly say my inspiration is my view of women and the safe space I want to build on my page.
The way to ensure my work is original is by turning my phone off, grabbing a cup of tea and just going for it. I use customer reference photos from time to time, but mainly my mind stores all the details and then I let my brush do the rest! I do get inspiration from colour combinations and poses from people like Yan - Abstract Interior Art (@yanphongart) and Luxe Art Studio (@luxeart.studio). Their work is mind-blowing, and I find myself scrolling for ages on their pages!
Britain Uncovered: In addition to empowering the ladies featured in your art, has becoming an artist of nudes had a positive impact on you and your own relationship with your body also? Does celebrating females of all shapes and sizes help you to feel more body confident, perhaps?
Grace: This is the big one for me. I’ve struggled for pretty much as long as I can remember with the way I look, and even when I’ve changed to what I wanted to look like, I still couldn’t find peace. I spent some time in my twenties at a recovery centre for my ED and body dysmorphia after becoming really quite ill. It’s something I normally hold very secretly close to my chest, and only my closest know this about me, but now is the perfect time to share my deepest sadness to hopefully empower women to see the greatness that can come from the other side and why exactly this page is so important to me.
I’ve spent years and years destroying my mind over excess fat, stretch marks, small breasts and hairy toes and I’ve just had enough of it. My body, like every other persons, is a body that functions and sometimes I like it and sometimes I struggle to accept it’s mine. I’m more about body neutrality than positivity right now, because no matter how many amazing variations of bodies I paint, I still don’t ‘love’ what I have – but I’m absolutely on the road to accepting what I have!
Britain Uncovered: The concept of body acceptance is such an important topic, and we’re so pleased to hear you’re in a happier place now! Do you feel that your art (and empowering nude art in general) can be influential in helping people to accept themselves and appreciate their bodies?
Grace: Helping other people to accept their bodies brings me to tears! Reading my messages after a commission has been received, I’m a mess! Sometimes it’s proud, strong women who just want to celebrate how incredible they are, and other times it’s new mums who need a little reminder.
There’s one though that will always stand out for me. They wanted something small, framed and a daily reminder to eat and be kind to themselves. We worked for a few months on what it meant to them and the importance of every single little stroke. There were stretch marks, scars from self-harm, and cellulite where their body is allowing itself to heal and grow into a fully functioning body, exactly as it was designed to be. They are now probably my biggest cheerleader on my page, and even though their commission is the smallest I’ve ever been asked to do, it’s my most important one to date. Sometimes I choose not to show works that are very sensitive to the client because it’s so personal, and not everybody wants the world to see – but I’m grateful that a lot do allow me to share their amazing bodies with the world!
Britain Uncovered: Looking back on your art over the past seven months or so, how would you say your work has evolved, and are there any pieces you’re particularly proud of or that you feel best represent the emotions you’re seeking to convey?
Grace: I organised my paintings last week for the first time since starting, and looking back at my very first few women was a real eye-opener!
How did I come so far? I’m so so proud of my style coming through now and finding the layered brushed strokes that I’m becoming known for. The funny thing is even the first nudes I painted had the same style, but it was just very simplistic rather than detailed like I enjoy painting now. I’ve kept some to frame, and I’m going to put them in my dressing room to remind me every day of where I’m heading.
The painting that really changed the game for me was Pamela. I painted her for an old work colleague and I felt so nervous because she’s huge and definitely was out of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I agreed to her! She’s bold, bright and absolutely beautiful! Since then, I’m particularly fond of my larger paintings because that way I can really get messy (you should see my kitchen floor!) But my all time favourite is my Stone Woman I painted for a friend. She’s now on my phone case and I must look at her 100 times a day – she’s my ultimate love.
Britain Uncovered: One of your more touching pieces was a nude painting you created for your friend Kerri, who suffers from diabetes and other related challenges – and your depiction of her (shown here) prominently features a scar that she has running down her stomach. How well was this received by Kerri, and how much satisfaction do you get from creating these types of pieces?
Grace: Oh Kerri! What an incredible woman! I’ve known Kerri since we were 11. She’s always had health struggles but over the last few years she’s had to become an absolute warrior with two transplants and going blind through her diabetes. Kerri thankfully is fighting fit and healthier than ever; her donor really has saved her life.
She asked me to create her scar for her – she’s super proud of it, as she should be, so we came up with a neutral theme with the scar as the main event. When I delivered it, we hadn’t seen each other in years and straight away we were chatting like old times; we laughed, cried and reminisced. That’s one thing I find an added bonus, I’ve reconnected with so many old friends!
Britain Uncovered: Is it important to celebrate all body types in this way in an effort to normalise all bodies, and do you think your art is proving to be a positive force for good and helping people to change their way of thinking in this regard?
Grace: Every single body is a body. I stand by that no matter what, so if yours looks slightly different to the person stood next to you, that’s okay, because their body looks different to the person stood next to them too. My little sister took part in my first online workshop and afterwards she sent me a photo of her face red with tears and a huge smile! Painting herself was a healing process and she deserves to feel absolutely gorgeous exactly as she is! So yes, normalising all bodies is key to what I create.
Britain Uncovered: A large number of your works are commission based, and you’ve spoken in the past at how appreciative you are that so many people have trusted you with their revealing images! Once the photos are received, how do you typically approach these commissions, and what are some of the key elements or themes you’re hoping to convey about each of the models you work with?
Grace: The main thing is that I’m very discreet, and I delete the photo as soon as I’ve finished with it and then keep all photos in a hidden folder that’s password protected. It’s not like I have people looking on my phone, but I know I’d want the same respect in return. These images are precious and priceless, so I need to keep them safe and secure.
Once I’ve analysed the shape I get straight to sketching out. I make sure the photo resembles the same body, and then the photo is put away until the details are drawn. Each layer builds the texture movement of the body. My style definitely looks messy to start with, but then comes together as an imperfect painting as the weeks go on. I guess that’s the message I’m trying to show to the world as well. So it can take a few months of revisiting before I’m finally happy to let her go.
I have a strong bond with all of my paintings, as they’re the women I’ve created and if I’m not fully in love, then they won’t leave my house until I’m feeling sad to see it go. My clients are so patient with me and we work closely with updates if they want them (although some don’t want to see anything and just want the surprise one day when it rocks up at their house). Also, I like to take my time after they’re complete. I hang each one in my living room so that I walk past and sit with it every day until all the little tweaks are completed and I’m proud of my creation.
Britain Uncovered: Over the past few months, you’ve also had the opportunity to host some of your own art therapy and body confidence art workshops, where you’ve guided women through painting themselves. How much have you enjoyed being involved in these sessions, and what type of responses have you had from those who have painted themselves (some for perhaps the very first time)? Do you see yourself hosting more of these classes in the future?
Grace: I had this idea one late night when my sister said that she would never have the ability to paint like I can – and the irony is that eight months ago, neither could I!
I was beyond nervous before my first workshop, worrying that I’d have nothing to talk about, or that nobody would be able to follow along, or that I’d end up wasting their time and money – and just all the imposter fears you can think of. The day came and I had to just go for it! We had technical difficulties and I made a few mistakes, but it was one of the best nights I’d had, so a few more were booked and I’ve now had 56 people paint with me! I’m planning on another one in August too.
Unfortunately, I had someone go on to use my style and poses to sell on her own without any credit, which broke my heart! I felt like I’d opened up my home and vulnerabilities and it just felt like I’d been a bit of a fool for trusting. After having a long conversation with my mum, she convinced me to plan another so I am! The dates and times will be out later this month, but I’m excited to welcome another 20 amazing people who identity as women onto my workshop for more of my terrible jokes and interruptions from Charlie Cat.
Britain Uncovered: How do you see your art progressing for the remainder of the year, and what are some of your long-term goals and aspirations?
Grace: I’d love to paint full-time. It feels a way off yet, but I’m putting it out into the universe and I will be a full-time, paid artist by this time next year! My next goal is to get my work shown in a gallery. I’m not sure at all where to start, but it’s something I’m looking into. Each painting gets better and better, so my confidence and pride is increasing all the time, so bring it on!
Britain Uncovered: Finally, what advice would you offer to somebody struggling with a lack of body confidence, and how do you personally go about staying positive and keeping an optimistic mindset in relation to this?
Grace: Be kind to the home you’re in, as it’s the only one you’ve got. What got me through my darkest times was speaking to my body the way I’d speak about someone’s home. It’s warm, it’s safe and it’s yours. Your home isn’t you, it’s just what visitors see. You are your mind, your soul and your heart. Start there, and remember you’re never ever alone with your thoughts – there’s thousands of us and we are all here to remind you when you forget how glorious you truly are!
Many thanks to Grace not only for a brilliant interview, but for ending us on such a warm and uplifting note – and it was fantastic getting to hear all about her creative process and the ways her journey is continuing to evolve!