What I learnt in 2023 and how I'm applying those lessons in 2024

What I learnt in 2023 and how I'm applying those lessons in 2024

March 11, 2024

2023 Reflections and lessons

‘On the other side of fear is freedom’

If we trust ourselves to see that within our fear of doing something new we will always find growth, no matter what the outcome.

On the other side of fear is freedom - leading a dance at my Queenstown workshop in the Gibbston Valley

  At the Queenstown Abstract Watercolour workshop leading my guests in an intuitive dance. I felt so vibrant and confident.


Sophie Melville demonstrating at her Wanaka Abstract Watercolour workshop

 Demonstrating how I paint in watercolours at my first Wanaka workshop was so enjoyable and I learnt what makes a great educator - slow and clear communication.


So proud holding my new art notebooks in my studio that were part of my first ever Christmas collection.


2023 was my year for change

and gosh did things change in my personal life and business. Not by chance either, I was very intentional about actioning this change.  I decided on the word ‘Fearlessness’ to be my guide for the year so it would challenge me to try new things in my business. All of it worked. Yes, all of it, even the stuff that didn’t work. It was what I learnt from the process that has enabled me to see it all as a success and how I can continue to grow this year. So every month I planned to do something different, whether it was being a guest artist at a show I didn’t know about (the Edge of the World exhibition in the Catlins) or planning and hosting my first ever abstract watercolour workshop and then going on to hosting more later in the year to releasing small collections of different styled artwork because I simply felt called to create them. I left behind the worries of ‘what if it doesn’t work?’ and just got on with taking action towards achieving my goals despite it all.


So my biggest successes of 2023 were:


  • Hosting 3 watercolour workshops between Wanaka and Queenstown. It simply started with picking a date and finding a location for my first workshop in Wanaka and then from there the fear subsided and I got stuck into planning, details and action and gosh I loved it!
  • Releasing a collection of heartfelt watercolours and drawings along with a poem that resonated with many. (The Flawed collection and the Midnight poem - that was created late one night when my mind was anything but still so the words flowed out of me just like watercolours do)
  • Deciding to go to my first market in 7 years and having it be a hugely financially successful experience as well as thoroughly enjoying meeting so many customers that had followed my art for years.
  • Creating my first ever Christmas ornaments - that sold out! ( I then set myself the goal of creating 100 ornaments for 2024)
  • Planning and marketing a campaign for my Christmas collection and enjoying seeing the success of my efforts. It was my first time implementing a longer style marketing plan than I usually do and I found I really enjoyed the process of consistently marketing it every day for 2 weeks. It all paid off.
  • Starting to be vulnerable in public and share my story of overcoming self doubt with others - at my workshops and at the ‘Edge of the world’ dinner and then more and more on social media
  • At my workshops feeling the same kind of elation I get from painting when teaching and helping others to have breakthroughs with their watercolours (but secretly guiding them to have trust within themselves)

The ceramic Christmas ornaments: part of my first ever Christmas collection that sold out!


At the Gather Market at the Venue in Wanaka. Such a fun and financially rewarding day, I will definitely be back this year!

Discovering my love for teaching and that it feels as elating as painting was something I didn't expect so I'm cultivating more of it in 2024.

So my word for 2024 is to E V O L V E.

I want to build on Fearlessness and carry on expanding and diversifying my art offering and strategy. This year I want to develop the momentum I created into something even greater. I am going to evolve.

Realising a long overdue dream of hiking at sunrise and how lessons learnt while hiking directly parallel life lessons was a pivotal moment last year.

This is my celebration place, by the lake looking out at Roy's Peak. If I've released a collection, I come here. If I've completed a project, I come here. It's where I feel at home celebrating my small wins. 

Chai tea ~ if you've ever come to visit my studio you know I will always have tea on offer, or if I'm painting, there is always tea close by.  If you haven't visited before or would like to then I'll make sure I put the kettle on for you, just let me know when to expect you!

But first I’m going to share my reflections with you on the deeper stuff that happened in 2023 within my little studio.

So what felt hard about last year?
  • Marketing my workshops in a whole new way and not understanding what was or wasn’t working. 
  • Not allowing enough time for projects and deadlines and rushing last minute.
  • At the start of the year being fearful about starting my largest commission ever on canvas.
  • Not selling any art during the Wanaka Arts Labour weekend exhibition. Yes, not a single piece (but then selling the largest work I had on display there a couple of weeks later to someone who had seen it at the exhibition, so that really was a win in the end!)
  • Creating an absolutely beautiful, large watercolour artwork that I was thrilled with from an incredible flow state but it then not being accepted into the Aspiring Art prize in Wanaka for January.  A show that I enter every year and always sell my artwork at - oh and the one that I came runner up in a few years ago! (read the blog here) So instead of despairing I chose to sit with the uncomfortableness and accept that it just wasn’t meant to be and that I would then have the opportunity to sell it myself instead in 2024.

Attending the opening of the Cleveland Art awards in Dunedin and seeing 'What dreams are made of'

Deliberately working away on 'Where the gold lies' brought me so much joy from the slow yet steady progress

Golden leaves on a black footpath

The inspiration for 'Where the gold lies' surprised me as instead of finding it in the sky like I usually do in clouds, I found it at my feet when I had intentionally set out on a different walk to usual.


During the challenging times was I happy with how I showed up?
Yes, 2023 was the year that I didn’t get upset or overwhelmed with failures and mistakes, I just viewed them as part of the process and felt neutral about them.  I surprised myself, I truly did. I was actually quite astonished at my ability to not feel overwhelmed. I wasn’t a mess of anguish and frustration, I was able to respond to the situations calmly and either release the building emotion through anyone one of my emotional release tools or I could automatically be reflective on what the lesson was in it.


At the 'Edge of the World' show as the guest artist proudly having my boys with me on opening night. I then went on the following night to give a speech at the exhibition dinner about my art journey.  Sharing my story filled me with so much confidence at how I am more capable than I think I am.  I then went on to share it again and again at my workshops.  


What made me feel the most fulfilled?
Creating art that I was passionate about and teaching people to share in the magic of watercolours.
Completing projects and releasing them on time.

What was I most proud of in 2023?
My willingness for change and doing things differently and being fearless in facing challenges.

My 2023 note card set, I create new sets each year and send them to my new email subscribers. So if you're on my mailing list you should have received a set of note cards at some point, if you haven't please send me your address and I'll send you this set!


The 3 biggest lessons I learned:
  • Planning well ahead is key - with some projects I didn’t allow enough time in advance for them and would feel too rushed towards the end
  • Tenacity is everything - not giving up, just keeping on going and within being consistent comes an immense feeling of pride when that goal is reached.
  • Challenging myself well outside of my comfort zone leads to the greatest feeling of achievement
The things that nourished me on a soul level the most in 2023 was:
  • Slowly and deliberately creating art over time (and allowing generous timeframes for completion so the pressure was off). The gentle sense of accomplishment from making slow progress was immensely satisfying. Some things are to be savoured and some things need solid action don’t they?
  • Creating different styled art by challenging myself outside of my creative comfort zone. Also by creating art that felt intuitive, instead of what I thought I should conform to creating. 

The Flawed collection - a series of small watercolour drawings created from a heartfelt place

Part of the Flawed collection - a series of small watercolour drawings created from a heartfelt place and a yearning to not always conform to what I thought I should be releasing to my audience. But rather I learnt to authentically create what resonates most deeply with me and that it most likely will visually and conceptually connect with others.


I grew in 2023…
By realising that I am so much stronger and more confident than I ever have been. That I have built an underlying desire to be brave and push on, even when it feels scary and I don’t want to do it. Fear may still be present some times but it’s no longer crippling. It’s a motivator. I can even tell myself now that when I am afraid I know that it is EXACTLY the thing I need to do.  I know it will take me to a new level of confidence.  All I want to do is keep growing and sharing my bravery with others to inspire them in their own journey.  This has become so very clear to me now.  This was then validated for me when my daughter and I attended a 5 day guest adventure at JH Aotearoa where we were immersed in extreme physical activities, reflection, spirituality and talks on life and parenting.  Watch the highlight reel on Instagram of what I learnt about myself.

Sophie and her daughter Zoe feeling elated at the end of the JH Aotearoa adventure in Rotorua

My daughter and I feeling elated at the end of the JH Aotearoa adventure in Rotorua at the start of this year.


So I intend to apply all of this to my business this year.  Yes, it might be March and almost at the end of the first quarter but I know myself so very well that I don’t really start to blossom and feel the most clarity (as well as creativity) until Autumn so thats why this post is appearing now. I have spent ALL of February fine tuning my master plan for the year.

So here’s what I have planned for 2024 ( I have never so boldly shared ALL of my big goals before)….

  • Host double the number of workshops in 2023 - 6-7 around New Zealand > Auckland, Mt Maunganui, Christchurch, Wanaka, Queenstown, Dunedin and a remote location in Southland!  All at retreat locations.  I have also upgraded the name of them to ‘Watercolour wellness workshops’ to invoke a sense of nourishment and tranquility to the creative experience.
  • Become a surface pattern designer and get my art licensed on fabric for clothing and homewares as well as on stationery.  I discovered last year that within my family history in London 100 years ago they had a successful wallpaper manufacturing business. So that was the call to action that I needed to make it happen in 2024 as I’ve wanted to achieve this goal for some years now.
  • To collaborate with some big companies to either create large artworks for their corporate spaces or utilise my art onto their products. Once again another lofty goal that I am determined to achieve this year.

So my big dreamy goals are already in action and by action I mean daily!  I am showing up consistently to make my goals a reality by the end of 2024. I won’t need luck, I am already driven and committed.

At the start of my first ever Abstract Watercolour workshop feeling empowered and excited


And finally to achieve all of these big goals I have the 4 ‘C’s’ reminder:


Please share with me if my outrageous goals have sparked even a hint of inspiration within you. And if you’d like to come to my one of my glorious one day workshops then sign up to my email list (below) to find out when I am coming to your city or town or close by! Locations and dates will be released on Thursday 28th March.

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