How to become an artist (and start a podcast in the meantime), with Teresa Arega

Teresa Arega is a Portuguese freelance artist and creator of the "Varicela" podcast.

Teresa Arega is a Portuguese freelance artist and creator of the Varicela podcast, in which she invites her fellow artists, to discuss creativity and other topics.

Se quiseres ler esta entrevista em Português, clica aqui.


The first question is obvious: why painting?

I used to draw like a normal kid and picking Arts in high school wasn’t a very serious moment, I liked almost all subjects and ended-up in that area. The teachers were excellent during high school, and that’s when I started to understand that I could work in arts. Sometimes is about watching people doing it so you understand that it’s possible. Doing an Arts degree in Porto was a natural choice, it made sense as the logical next step.

And how was it after university?

I left university in July 2019, so since then, it has been nice. Even though I wasn’t expecting it to be so. Actually, I expected some kind of crisis, like I saw my boyfriend go through while he was looking for a job. I didn’t have that, but I had other things, like spending a lot of time by myself because that’s the experience as a freelancer. University was worth it, because of people and conversations, so it was difficult when that ended.

How did you become a freelancer?

At high school and university, I did some freelance work, so it wasn’t that hard. Immediately after university, I worked as an art director for a book-album of a friend of mine, and that took lasted several months. In the meantime, other jobs followed and when I realized it, I was working as a freelance. Unfortunately, in university, they didn’t teach us about marketing, sales and finances. It’s something we have to figure out by ourselves.

For me, the freelancing world is almost mystical.

It is. I was talking with a friend of mine about this, we live in a limbo freelancing world. But fortunately, I’m in a privileged position, because in this initial phase I’m at my parents’ house while I figure things out. Luckily I have friends that have years of experience in freelancing.


What is creativity for you and why is this concept so important on your podcast?

Creativity is inherent to everyone, and if you’re not creative it’s because you don’t know yet that you are. It’s important because I want to demystify certain stigmas and prejudices surrounding the world of arts. I always fought against it… The blame is not so much on the students but on the artists who create communication blocks – everything becomes hermetic. I never felt that there was any communication internally or externally with universities and museums. I would go to an exhibition and the visitors there were always the same. This made me think “Who do I want to show my work to?”. And it wasn’t just those people. The podcast was created as a mean to fight against this and give a platform to the creatives that don’t have it.

In other words, to run down the elitism of the arts and show that everyone can be part of this world.

I have this theory of the “Emperor has no clothes”… I believe people have a say and if they knew that, maybe the artists being exhibited wouldn’t always be the same ones.

The podcast is about demystifying myths, like for example “do what you love and you’ll never work another day” or the suffering artist myth.

How was the process from brainstorming to execution?

In the last year of university, I remember talking to my boyfriend about creating a digital platform in which I could curate the content. It annoyed me seeing the same people… In the beginning, I thought about creating a magazine, five editions with five artists that would show their works, with illustrations and questions… But I wanted to pay these artists, and that’s when I understood how hard that would be. So, I gave up on that idea. Yet, last summer, I thought “I’m just going to do a podcast”. So, I picked up a microphone and recorded the pilot episode the following day. There was no big moment or anything like that! Next, I made a list of all the friends I wanted to interview because the idea with this podcast is for it to be an informal conversation about general subjects that affect us as artists.


I realized in these years abroad that I’ve acquired a kind of resentment towards my country due to the lack of good opportunities. Do you share the same feeling?

I know Denmark. I know the culture…

And the three gap years Danes do before going to university…

Hmm, hmm…! I understand that it might be frustrating to see how easy things are in other countries, but it feels good to achieve them here. I think that we should give opportunities to Portuguese people, who share a cultural identity with you, and show them your work. Most of the time this happens where your work is already known abroad, so unfortunately, it’s hard to break this cycle of resentment.

One of my mottos comes from a book by Adam J. Kurtz, which is “Things are what you make of them” and in Portugal, you can only live out of this mantra, unless you have money for more.

You can only take what you have and do something; it isn’t easy, but it’s possible. In Denmark, if you want to bake bread forever* they’ll tell you “go ahead!”. Everyone grows up knowing that if you work you can make it, whilst here the possibility of failing is constant, which is demoralizing, and makes it even harder.

What piece of advice would you give someone that wants to work as an artist?

If I had to give a piece of advice to my past-self, it would be “Don’t complain, don’t make excuses. Don’t use what isn’t working to not do what you were supposed to be doing”. Sometimes, during winter, I had to work with gloves and a scarf, and that affected me. It’s easy to hide behind this kind of things, it’s difficult not to go mad with a lack of conditions.

So, my advice is: just do it and think to yourself, “If I can do incredible things in these conditions, imagine when these get better!”.

Another thing that helped was reading fiction or fantasy books, which cultivates my imagination. Reading is good to visualize. I also read interviews with artists, oral or written ones, to know more about their creative processes.

And what would you say to young people that have been conditioning into thinking that pursuing arts doesn’t allow them to have a good job in the future?

I’ve tried to tackle that issue and hope to bring someone one day to the podcast to talk about it with more experience. It’s a terrible burden when parents and family don’t support you. But with other people, my advice is don’t take it personally, have a sense of humor and persist.

How do you approach your creative work? Where do your ideas come from?

For me, it’s about documenting.

Photos, making videos, writing… I take note of everything, I observe. Usually, it starts out of a notebook, where I can check things I wrote a year before and that after end-up becoming interesting to me.

I repeat it a million times, I write it on my laptop with different fonts. Eventually, I connect the dots and the idea starts from there. In a nutshell, it all starts with some kind of fixed image that triggers something in me. It’s like a story – you start with a sentence, an event and then you create episode after episode, until the story is complete.

And how do you know you’ve come to an end?

This depends a lot on your intuition, and I try to have a sharp one. My intuition tells me when it’s done. And you develop it while painting. This can be a rudimental explanation, but intuition is already inherent to us when we’re born – as soon as we grow up, our rational part tries to overlap and dominate our intuition. Of course, that is useful, or else today you’d say the same foolish things you’d say with thirteen years old. But it’s important to never let the intuitive part disappear.

Furthermore, one thing is not to allow your mind to be tormented by yourself during the process. The end result may be nice, but it’s the process and intention that make a project real. If any failure happened it’s because it was meant to happen, it’s part of the process which couldn’t have happened without it.

“It was meant to happen” – I always hated that quote, but I think I get it now. It had to be this way because it didn’t happen any other way and you can’t go back in time. But continuing… What are the habits that keep you creative?

Routines, it’s the most useful thing. You don’t have to wake up at 6.30 to do journaling for an hour… You can write for ten minutes while having coffee. It’s about keeping small promises to yourself.

Have you always been like that?

Knowingly yes, but it was always trial and error. In high school, I also believed in inspiration and that served me as an excuse to turn everything into a mystery. Now I believe in discipline, observing and taking notes. That’s what works for me.

What’s the hardest part of being an artist?

The hardest part was, and still is, to befriend my ego. In the creative area in particular, the ego is involved in 100% of our work, so it’s easy to get hurt, to take everything personally. It’s very important to have a sense of humor, honesty and understanding.

*note: this was not an exaggeration, as my university’s newspaper can show you:

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