Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 61 - Vanessa Raw - FOCUS BRINGS CLARITY

So, I went to LaFree University to study fine art. But LaFree University is primarily known for its sports and it tends to be a sports uni, but it’s very good for its art as well. So, I kind of picked that triathlon for a bit of fun in their tri club to keep fit, really because I used to swim when I was younger.

“So, I went to LaFree University to study fine art. But LaFree University is primarily known for its sports and it tends to be a sports uni, but it’s very good for its art as well. So, I kind of picked that triathlon for a bit of fun in their tri club to keep fit, really because I used to swim when I was younger.

So, pick up swimming again, hadn’t swum for six years. And then I– Yeah, so I just got fit very quick, I suppose because I had a big engine from swimming. And before I knew it, I was doing time trials to get on to the world-class performance program or the potential performance program they called it back then.”

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JESSE: Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is a former pro-triathlete who raced ITU with the British triathlon team. She’s also an artist. If you are not on the YouTube version of the show, if you’re on iTunes, Spotify, anywhere that’s just audio, for this one in particular, you definitely have to go to YouTube, That’s S-O-L-P-R-I and join us and you can see all of her very awesome work behind her. Welcome to the show, Vanessa Raw.

VANESSA: Hi. Thank you for having me.

JESSE: Thanks for coming on. And it’s one of those things where we’re both working in different time zones. I do this from time to time where it’s like, you’re probably going to be going off to dinner and I’ve just got done with my swim in the morning, I probably still got a little bit of the raccoon eyes from my goggles going on. So, it’s always nice to be able to figure out a time when we can get together even though we’re in very different places of our days.

So, we were talking before we got going, you couldn’t quite remember when you had started triathlon. Obviously, you’re retired now. But, tell me about getting into it. If you can remember like, why did you get into it? How did that all kind of get started?

VANESSA: So, I went to LaFree University to study fine art. But LaFree University is primarily known for its sports and it tends to be a sports uni, but it’s very good for its art as well. So, I kind of picked that triathlon for a bit of fun in their tri club to keep fit, really because I used to swim when I was younger. So, pick up swimming again, hadn’t swum for six years. And then I– Yeah, so I just got fit very quick, I suppose because I had a big engine from swimming.

And before I knew it, I was doing time trials to get on to the world-class performance program or the potential performance program they called it back then. And yeah, kind of got on. And then it just went from there. And it all got very serious very quick. I was allowed to do my degree over six years, which was useful and probably kept me sane, actually, as well [??? 03:59] somewhere I could actually paint whilst I was… And yeah, I retired in 2015, 2016. That one’s a bit hazy, I’m not sure. Yes. So, I started in 2005 basically.

JESSE: Yeah. So, it’s kind of funny like when you stop, did you continue racing or training afterwards or was it just like all together stop like just letting it go, not worried about it anymore?

VANESSA: Actually it was– Yeah, I think I got– I’m trying to remember. I got something that– I think it was the flu. Something that stopped me completely for three months [??? 04:45] an injury, like a bad injury; stress fracture or something.

And so I went to total zero and I think that’s quite good. That kind of like reset what the norm is and then when I was [??? 04:59] to do just 45 minutes of exercise a day felt completely normal and completely acceptable. And I kind of realized, actually, that I trained like a maniac to be good at triathlon, even though I think a lot of people probably thought I was training that hard for other reasons.

And probably, [??? 05:23] to say, oh, you’d never be able to stop exercising like the way you do. And I was like, “Well, I do it to be good at triathlon.” And now I just put the energy and that determination that I have into my art. So, I guess most people don’t have that other thing that they’re as passionate or more passionate about. Like for me, triathlon was always second.

My art was always first. And triathlon kind of, I guess, got in the way for a while, actually. I mean, it was good, but it was hard. It was hard definitely. [??? 06:00] back on it with mixed feelings still.

JESSE: So, was it a matter of like you just found yourself being so good at it so quickly that it’s like let’s see where this goes?

VANESSA: It was kind of like that feeling where you feel like you should be doing it because you’ve obviously got talent for it. And so you think I can’t waste that, I have to be doing it, I should be fulfilling my potential.

And then I’ve been told I have like crazy high VO2 Max and all this potential that I need to fulfill but I keep getting injured because my body can’t keep up with the rate and my engine. [??? 06:44] will be quite difficult for swimmers is ex-swimmers. And so just on this constant cycle of– The first two years were amazing because there was no expectation and I did well really quick.

And then after that, since I got injured, and at that point, I had sponsors and managers and certain people to keep happy [??? 07:05] getting injured it was just like this constant cycle of– felt like a constant cycle of disappointment.

It was [??? 07:13] ever did the race after the first two years, where there wasn’t something wrong when I [??? 07:19] on that start line, [??? 07:22] my best year was 2006. I’ve only been training a year. And it’s crazy. And after that, I was starting the start line defeated because I knew A, I was injured, or unwell, or unfit. So, yeah.

JESSE: So, 2006 to– I mean, you’re basically almost 10 years, nine, 10 years after that point, you continue racing and you know that there’s always something going wrong or you’re always battling injuries. I think that’s more common than we’d like to talk about and you probably spoke with the girls and maybe got more of an insight than I would certainly. But what keeps driving you to come back to the start line if you know it’s just a constant struggle of, okay, this isn’t quite right today or that’s not– How do you keep going or why do you keep going?

VANESSA: You’re cutting out a bit there, but I think I got what you said, what keeps me wanting to get onto the start line if it’s a constant… Yeah. I guess the reason why I kept going to the start line was pressure from sponsors and coaches that I had to get onto the start line. And the reason why I kept training every day that was more like with this hope that I would get everything– I had this injury that went on for seven years, [??? 08:56] and I’d wake up every day trying to find out the answer for it. It was stupid.

It was just like this twisted pelvis but I went from being super strong and the bake, I was going to be Domestique in the Olympics and I felt like there was a point where I [??? 09:16] there I just felt really like the best I ever felt on bike. This is like 2009 sort of time, 2010. And then I had a crashed and it was a really, really small.

I barely recognized it as a crash, but I knocked something out of place. And then from then on I sat twisted on the bike and felt like I was only riding with one leg, and that went on for the rest of my triathlon career. I never got it sorted and I’ve still got issues with it now.

And ultimately, that’s what made me stop because things like stress fractures you know it’s only going to be six weeks, eight weeks and you come back from it. But things like this, it was affecting my power. It felt like half the amount of power because it felt like I was riding with one leg and it was so uncomfortable and I couldn’t run on it without pain in my back and my back cramping and God knows what.

And every day I’ll get into the gym and just try and look at it afresh like a new problem. What is going wrong? What’s happening? Because no physios, no one had the answer, no one could tell me what’s wrong. And in the end [??? 10:27] thinks that it’s all in your head, that I was going mad and [??? 10:30] would just say it was in your head.

Even though someone knew, I remember Helen Jenkins, Mark Jenkins [??? 10:42] Helen Jenkins. And he had looked at me on the bike and he was like, “Why are you sitting off the side?” I was like, “I know. I know.” Yeah, thank you for acknowledging it. Thanks, someone for acknowledging this. I don’t know and no one can tell me why, and no one can tell me why that is continuing to be twisted and there’s nothing apparently that can be done.

Yeah, so I don’t know, I just suppose I’ve just determination that I’d find the answer that day [??? 11:13] was happening or that, and then everything would be so much better. I suppose it’s just that hope isn’t it, that optimism. I am actually an optimistic person. I guess I’ve gotta be, but it certainly tests you, that’s for sure.

JESSE: Yeah. Well, it’s almost not surprising to me that you said, a lot of people said, it’s in your head. Like, it’s not actually. Because there’s like such this culture of like, just push harder, it’ll be fine. All performance and then… But the thing that gets me is that when you talk to a coach or somebody or an athlete that’s been through it, it’s like, how can you doubt somebody like in your case that knows their body so well, you push it all the time, like you’re intimately familiar with how your body feels.

And if you say it’s off, believe that person. Even if you can’t figure it out, we can’t experience what you experience. Only you experience your own body. So, it’s like, who might say– It boggles my mind that there’s not better awareness that you would know better that there’s something wrong with you, even if we can’t identify it.

VANESSA: I know. And there is– I hope things have changed and I think they have changed a lot. I used to think that the way that people coached, it was like a one size fits all. They just assumed that all athletes needed pushing in the same way. I was certainly an athlete that needed holding back. I was probably an athlete who would just keep going, going, going, going until [??? 13:02] collapsed and died.

I needed someone to say look, no, something’s wrong, you’ve got to stop. And I think my last coach recognized that right at the end, but at that point, I decided to quit. And he realized that actually yeah, I was not an athlete needed to be tested and push and push and push. Like some of us needed to.

Yes, I had like, as well as all these injuries had ongoing health problems with my thyroid and stuff and [??? 13:36] disease. Again with that, they just presumed, “Oh, well she’s still going, she’s still pushing hard. There’s obviously nothing wrong with her.” And I’m not gonna keep chanting, chanting please help me, someone help me. I’m just going to try and keep going and just do my best.

But you end up feeling screaming for help at some point. And you actually realize no one’s gonna help you. The only person who’s gonna help you is yourself. And that’s [??? 14:12]. And that changed my life actually.

JESSE: Yeah. So, just hearing all that, I wish– So, my guess last week, I was telling you before we kind of got going was Scott Johnston and author of the Uphill Athlete. But we were talking about people like you and the other pros, especially if I had to put money on it, more of them are going to be like you and don’t need to be pushed than need to be pushed.

You’re already this hyper type A, you’re going to push yourself to the limit. And he always– What he mentioned, especially in his Olympic athletes is if he noticed that they were peaking too soon or they’d become at risk of injury; he would have to say, no, we’re not training, we’re going back to base we’re doing, like breaking, because this is gonna be an issue. And like recognizing that stuff early on. So, obviously you can’t go back. I wish somebody like Scott had been in your corner to recognize that.

VANESSA: I definitely didn’t have that coach ever my whole sporting career.

JESSE: Yeah. I think, and maybe it’s a matter of like– I don’t know how many coaches or former athletes, there are some. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Barbara Lindquist, but– So, she would have retired, she raced in the 2004 Olympics, so she would have retired soon– around the time you were starting your pro career. So, she’s a former pro and she does coach now, and she’s pretty laid back.

But I must think maybe I would be curious to see the number of coaches that didn’t have a pro career. And maybe it’s their internal drive of wanting to see their athletes succeed because they didn’t if that affects that pushing mentality.

VANESSA: Yeah, probably.

JESSE: So, I think you mentioned studying functional medicine after or something?

VANESSA: Yes. So, when I went– So, after LaFree, I moved to London. I actually got a random call from Elton John’s manager saying, I’d like to look at your art. And at this point, I was like, before this happened, the day before this happened, I’d actually said right, the next opportunity that comes along, I’m saying yes to. I can’t do triathlon anymore. This was like 2011. And anyway, he rang and he says, [??? 16:56] come down for Elton John’s party and we’ll discuss it. I’m like, okay.

So, I went down to London and he persuaded me to keep going with triathlon, that he’ll get me a coach, he’ll get me sponsors, he’ll get me somewhere to say, I should move down to London, he’ll help me with art. And let’s try and go to the 2012 Olympics. I’m like, I haven’t ran for nine months, I’m not sure about 2012 Olympics but I’ll give it a go. And yeah, so I mean it was really good. How could I say no to that opportunity?

So, I went down to London and I got all those things, you know, the coach, some sponsors and I was doing my art in this– I got a big kind of flat and I was doing my art in the open plan living room. So, it was like the dream life for me being able to manage everything together.

But I guess because I’ve not much time and I was already not great with my thyroid and adrenals were pretty screwed as well and I pushed it way too hard too quick because I was in a rush to try and qualify and getting, I guess you don’t call it adrenal fatigue, do you, but adrenal insufficiency [??? 18:19] the bottom of my ass and you meant to produce some– it’s like you’re meant to produce AcCH in response to that to show me what sort of adrenal output you have.

And [??? 18:32] at zero…like, oh like yeah, I’m doing the highest still actually moving right now. And I was barely, not barely moving. I was dragging my feet. I’d just been trying to get points for the Olympics and finishing the race and just collapsing straight away. Somehow you get through the race and then I’ve just drained all my energy and I couldn’t actually walk after the race.

And this has happened like actually just thinking of it now I know why. You know, back then that’s like how could I do race and now I can’t walk? And I think that’s what a lot of people thought of me, “Oh, she’s just faking it”, you know, that sort of thing. I presume people just thought I was just making all this up. But actually, it was genuinely fucked, sorry.

JESSE: No, you’re fine.

VANESSA: [??? 19:24] And yeah, so I did all that and yeah so then I changed coach. I got a new coach, Tom Bennett. He really helped me for the first time be able to run pain-free and the first time since I was a child by breaking down my run form and starting again and it was absolutely amazing. So, getting injured less, my run started improving. And at the same time met Thompson Lewis. She’s a functional medicine doctor basically and she’s an ex-long-distance athlete, pro-long-distance athlete.

She did pro for a bit but she’s a really good functional medicine doctor. And so she kind of helped me with my health. She could see I was struggling with different things and was getting weird symptoms and like dizziness which now I’m thinking that was obviously to do with the adrenals.

And as I started studying everything and I got on and off antidepressants. I mean I was a complete mess like the long-short of it. I hit rock bottom and mostly come back from that. But I had to really, I stopped with the management company and just was do long distance at this time, so I’ve missed that. But I was doing long-distance stuff and that helps a bit and I was definitely better at long distance, but still, I had this ongoing issue with my pelvis and I couldn’t run off…because my back was so screwed.

And so I was performing a training but I just couldn’t run off a half Ironman bike or [??? 21:13] Ironman bike. It was just too painful, nerve wise, and stuff. So, it was all very frustrating. And I tried and tried for a while until then I quit in 2016.

But yes, I quit triathlon thinking that would sort out my health issues and the thyroid autoimmunity as well, but it didn’t, not immediately. Obviously, I’m asking less of my body but I was quite surprised that oh, I’ve still got issues and I guess as well when you’re really fit and you have like this huge amount of mitochondria and fitness it kind of disguises a lot of issues I think.

And then when you suddenly stop and I didn’t train for three months because of [??? 22:09], illness or injury, also had my ankles done, so I couldn’t train for six months when I had those reconstructed. Then you suddenly realize it kind of highlights all the kind of problems that you do have. And yeah, so I don’t know how much detail you want me to go into functional medicine sometimes it’s really boring to people.

But yeah, months ago, I’m talking about thyroid issues that suppose like with T3, actually T3 three only, I don’t know, this can be an issue for a lot of people. A lot of people go on to normal thyroxine, they give them levothyroxine, they’re told that they’re– Oh yeah, your results were all fine now. [??? 22:52] and the way I felt was I still feel just as interactive as I ever did. And they’re like, well, no your results are saying you’re fine. No, I feel awful.

And then you kind of learn that actually what’s kind of pumping around in the blood…thyroxine doesn’t necessarily, it’s not necessarily a reflection of what’s getting in the cell, and especially if you’re adrenal fatigued, or insufficient [??? 23:22] cortisol to take the thyroid into the cell.

I ended up finding out about T3 only therapy and it changed my life. I mean, my brain switched on, I could sleep for the first time in 15 years, and I wasn’t depressed anymore. And so that’s where I am now. But although having said that, I didn’t even know if I was gonna be able to do the podcast today because I, in the last month, got really underactive.

I haven’t been stable for two years [??? 23:59] the test result a few days ago and so underactive that [??? 24:07] who took my blood didn’t even believe the result was like there’s… I can’t believe it, we have to do this, again, I don’t believe it. It turns out what we’re assuming is their medication that I– my last batch of medication contains no medication.

JESSE: How does that happen?

VANESSA: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m trying a new brand now. So, something weird… Well, that’s what we’re hoping either that or there’s something even more complicated going on. We’re hoping it’s just the medication. So, yeah. That was really boring, you can edit that out.

JESSE: No, you’re fine. Well, I mean, everybody’s got their story. It’s just like the thing that I kind of wanted to teach you about, but– You mentioned being an optimist and it’s like, it’s evident in your story. Like, there’s so many things you’ve gone through.

But just I want to teach you about both triathlon and being an artist, both are, at least in my opinion, like notoriously hard ways to make a living. And then on top of that all the issues, there’s just like, I wonder sometimes if people like yourself, if there’s just something– is there something genetic?

Like, what is it that makes you continue to just to get up every day and just keep trudging forward? Even if everything’s shit, and you’re not sure where the light at the end of the tunnel is. You’re just like, all right, keep going and you don’t– Obviously it’s hard to sum up 15 years of experience in one conversation. I’m sure there were times when you probably felt crushed, but somehow you continued going forward.

So, on a personal level, I just always wonder that is, is that just the human spirit? What is it that keeps people like you moving forward despite all the issues, I guess?

VANESSA: Well, I suppose I always have had that internal drive. I was described as [??? 26:24] described, or what do they say like at the time was, I was a functional depressive. Well, great. Thanks for that. I want to do that. And then they just put me on more medication. So, I’d get up with this mission, that I felt like I had to do and I suppose that’s what kept me driving.

But right now, I mean, I can say I’m like, I am a totally different person. I’m super happy because I feel like I’m on the right path and doing what I’m meant to be doing. And I suppose that optimism, you know that you are on the right path.

Whereas yeah, I guess I didn’t have that before. I felt like I was but I was waiting for it. I was like, just get this out the way. I’m just gonna perform quickly and get it out of the way, finish it, put it to bed. And the longer that performance didn’t happen, I was like another year, another year, just one more year, one more year. But yeah, so much better now.

And I suppose I do also, not to get kind of a corny I think, but I do believe in something else. And I think that has really helped me like some sort of spiritual element. I don’t know, believing that there is– I read a lot of self-help books over the years and I suppose what you say more kind of I don’t know [??? 28:01] like reading his books, things like that. I mean, that’s really really helped.

JESSE: Yeah. So, at Solpri, we make skincare, body care products for athletes. And I try to make all the products evidence-based. But then on a personal level like I still kind of have feelings like you do at times where it’s like I don’t go to church, I’m not particularly religious. But sometimes there just feels like there’s a gravity to what’s happening in your life where you’re being pushed or pulled in a certain direction. And it’s like you have the opportunity to continue to fight against it, or you can just go with the flow and allow that gravity to take you in that direction.

Instead of saying I think, although you are on a much higher level, kind of in a similar case, I was trying to be a pro triathlete for a long time. And I crashed and broke my collarbone, had to have surgery. And so the gravity kind of took me away from that back towards doing the things that maybe I should be doing, the businesses and I’ve recently started composing music, you know, back to like that kind of stuff. And it’s still training but I feel like you said, where you are now feel happier. And you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you know?

VANESSA: Yeah. Yeah.

JESSE: So, I can certainly identify with that, that idea that maybe there’s something. And I always kind of think of it, in this case, as like, even if there isn’t anything, if that’s how you feel you’re not hurting anybody. And it makes you happy, then what does it matter? You know?

VANESSA: Yeah, exactly. I think as well that like when you find that absolute true joy in the moment, that is being in the flow, isn’t it? And the more time you [??? 30:07] in the day the happier you are. And like I can genuinely feel like there’s at least once a day I can get into that complete euphoria moment, in the flow either painting or I tend to run to the studio and back.

That’s my way of [??? 30:24] here. And it’s only three or 4K. But it’s enough to get that kind of flow feeling if I’m not too unfit [??? 30:33] at all. Sometimes I run the long way here which is like 8K if I’m trying to get fit. Yeah, and I think it’s like just really relishing in those moments of complete flow state, which is so common for anyone who is creative or does sport.

JESSE: I kind of have a goal nowadays where I will say I’m a little bit back and forth at times where I get real, I’ll say manic. I don’t mean that in a clinical sense, but real manic about like, I’ve got to work harder and make the business go faster. And like just that same A type sport personality where you’re like, just push, push, push. But I recently stepped back after speaking with Ezra Firestone several episodes ago, he’s a big business guy, does martial arts.

And I’ve kind of made it a goal of like, every single day, I have to do something that I think is fun, or that brings joy to my life. It doesn’t matter whether it’s five minutes or two hours, just I have to do something. And that, at least for the last few weeks, has kept me grounded to like chill out. It’s gonna be okay.

VANESSA: Yeah, that’s good. And it’s funny you say that as well though, because those euphoric moments for me are often the moments where I’m like, full speed. It’s like and I suppose probably really high dopamine. Probably either had too much coffee or I didn’t know.

It’s really hard to differentiate [??? 32:23] between being totally in the moment, and with really high dopamine, which is probably a bit– it’s probably– actually probably overly stimulated, but it feels good. And so maybe that is the athlete in me happy, but actually, I don’t know. Yeah, I [??? 32:46] Over there, is psychedelics illegal over there?

JESSE: No. Well, I think Colorado is getting ready to legalize if they haven’t. Marijuana is legal in a number of states but not federally. It’s kind of a mixed bag at the moment.

VANESSA: Yeah, psychedelics is not legal over here…careful what I say. But I have even some [??? 33:17] mushrooms from…Park. And they are amazing for A, depression, B for connecting like making new neural pathways in the brain. After reading A Mind of Your Own, it’s a book by Michael Pollan, I think.

JESSE: Okay. I’ve read some of his other stuff.

VANESSA: Yeah, and Ben Greenfield, yeah, he’s big into psychedelics, and he takes a little bit every three days or– [crosstalk]

JESSE: Microdosing.

VANESSA: Yeah. Although probably a good trip is probably life-changing, but I’m just [??? 34:09] it has changed my brain this year. And I actually think that’s probably what’s made me not know that I was so underactive because my brain was so changed in the positive way. But usually, I would have picked up being so underactive through my mood dropping.

And I think even though I obviously have less energy, I just thought, “Oh, well, I need [??? 34:38] anyway, I don’t need energy I just need my art, I don’t need… Also had COVID for the beginning of March, so I thought it was related to that. But I actually think that because my brain is actually working better, despite being so underactive, yeah, I just– I didn’t notice it.

But I’m also happier, I think quicker, I start to put things together that I wouldn’t usually put together and start to work out problems I wouldn’t have been able to work out before. And creativity wise, it’s great, although I don’t [??? 35:16] very well a moment, probably because I am so underactive… But yeah, I don’t…to that conversation. But I think that…the way forward for mental health.

JESSE: Yeah, I mean, you’re talking to me, so what you don’t know but I get down rabbit holes very easily. So, thinking about, I mean, now like internally, you felt the difference between kind of where you are and then where you were.

Can you think of how would you– Is there a way to communicate the after-state to the person you were before? Do you know what I mean? Like, is there a way– So, say you had to go back in time and convince yourself that this is a good idea that your brain is gonna change and that you’re gonna feel better. Is there a way to talk to yourself and say you need to realize this isn’t normal?

VANESSA: Yeah. Yeah, I think I knew at the time it definitely wasn’t normal. But I didn’t know there was a way out of it.

JESSE: Okay.

VANESSA: Yeah, I didn’t know I felt like yeah, at the time– I suppose I was saying this to my partner actually the other day that it’s like, even just within space of this week, when I found out I was so underactive, and I was like, “Oh, gosh. That explains it.” And then I was given, I just took some old T4 medication which I usually don’t tolerate very well. And I think it was partly due– and that partly caused the depression.

And I took some of that and I was a bit nervous about taking some, so I just took a little bit, and I automatically felt so much better. And that I think is just purely because I had some thyroid in the brain whereas before I just didn’t have anything going on. So, I had some at least. And so that day, and that’s like, well, I slept better the night before.

And so I felt like oh, yeah, who needs those tests are obviously wrong. Ideally I feel amazing. Life’s amazing. And then that night, I was so hyper that night I didn’t even sleep. I woke up in the morning absolutely screwed. I felt like oh, no. I’m feeling everything I had before with all– This medication is just bringing everything back. What am I going to do? I haven’t got anything else.

The world’s gonna end. And I have to keep reminding myself to remember what you were like yesterday, but I’m so kind of reactionary. And so like [??? 38:06] now, it’s very hard. It’s hard to kind of foresee how you’re going to be when you are, even when I’m feeling really good, I can just feel like I’m going to be like that forever. And I completely forget about where you feel. Yeah.

JESSE: That’s gotta be tough where it’s like almost that feeling of being in the moment is trapping in a way. You forget that oh, I felt different or I might feel different later.

VANESSA: Yeah, I’ve got so much to say about that.

JESSE: So, before we get too deep down this rabbit hole, I don’t want to run out of time. Tell me about the art. When I was looking at your website, it seems like you mostly work on large canvas. Like you’re not going to sit down with like an eight by 10– Well, I guess that’s in inches I don’t know where it is in centimeters. You’re not going to sit down with a paper sized piece of canvas. It seems like you’re almost all large stuff.

VANESSA: [??? 39:08] really big. I mean, if I can move this easily.

JESSE: Yeah, we can try to do a walk around if you’re up for it.

VANESSA: I’ve got it like that. I don’t know what that is, seven-foot something by four foot, I think. And then this is the self-portrait. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to repaint this bloody thing for a competition, otherwise, I wouldn’t be painting myself. But this was basic– I should do the video of the different faces. It’s so big, a massive kind of– I left this up just painted every day, depending on how I felt about myself and my moods.

So, it had about 30 different faces underneath that. And it’s crazy how different every single one is. So, I actually think part of the art that I think I might hand in the video. Because it’s [??? 40:11] like a self-portrait competition… And then this is another one.

So, I probably should have taken the phone off the stand so you… But yeah, this is also six foot. And then rest the [??? 40:28]. And then I also have about 30 big ones, or 30 in total and about 20 big ones stacked up. And then I have put loads of tiny little things on the wall with an aim to paint on them but I still haven’t painted on them.

JESSE: Is there any reason that you have to go big? Is it…

VANESSA: I suppose I kind of feel– it’s really hard to put the energy you’re feeling into a small painting. It’s really hard to put on the music aloud, and swing your arms around with the rhythm of the music onto a tiny little piece of paper or piece of board or– But you can do it really easily with a six-foot canvas.

JESSE: Yeah. So, what are you listening to when you’re painting?

VANESSA: Oh, all sorts. I go through phases, depending on my mood and depend– Yeah, lately, I’ve had to just take music with no voice because it’s easier to get into the flow with. But sometimes [??? 41:54] really high energy and nothing can faze me. I like to put on this like 90s dance music or something and dance whilst I’m painting, but all sorts. I mean I love anything really apart from, like heavy metal stuff.

JESSE: Yeah, yeah. So, this is the thing that always fascinates me about people that end up like really pursuing art is I mean you went to school for art, and it’s just, this is– Maybe I’m a party pooper because I get– So, I’ll give you my history and my kind of biases. I started college as a music composition major, and I switched majors. I’d been doing music theory for several years. I switched majors, my second year, like halfway through my second year of college, because I was like, there’s no way I could make a living doing this. I just got too practical and it moved away from it.

And like I told you, I’m now finally writing stuff and bought a keyboard and software and all that kind of things I can do that with. So, maybe it’s my practical mind that goes how do you decide I’m going to do this and like I’m gonna actually make a go of it without– How do you get through those doubts, I guess?

VANESSA: Yeah. Well, after I finished triathlon, I mean, I did do loads of things. I started studying fashion and different short courses. And then obviously, I study functional medicine. I did two courses in that thinking I would be a health coach. And then I started writing health program…businesses called [??? 43:42], did that for two years.

And this was all because I doubted that I could make a living completely with my art. And at the same time, I was doing my art through the whole thing. And so again, I was like I’ve put myself in exactly the same situation that I’ve been doing my whole life instead of focusing on one thing, I’ve hedged my bets, I’ve done other things and I’m spreading my focus.

And I guess I’ve got– you probably got that type of mind too that you’re always looking for new things and you get enjoyment out of it. You want to keep learning new things and you get [??? 44:21] into those and I love studying. Like, I’d love to go back to university studying something else. But then I just had to this year [??? 44:33] halfway through last year because if you want to be an artist, the only way to really be successful as an artist is to completely 100% focus on it.

And if you want to study something, study arts, just learn as much as you can with art, just yeah. And I’m just gonna– it’s tempting for me. I am looking at other things all the time. But now I can start to feel like the benefits of focusing and how much I’m moving from [??? 45:13] now.

JESSE: So, give me a little bit more insight into how does making a living work. I know one of my art teachers from high school, he is a clay artist. And he started getting, after he retired from teaching and he could just focus full time on his stuff, he started getting national exhibits and all these kinds of things. But he had such a tough time because he’s got 3D works, people can’t put them on the walls, they don’t know where to put them.

So, it was very tough for him to sell pieces especially with the amount of time it takes for his like, very masterful pieces. I’ll see if I have a link. I’ll send it to you afterwards. So, how does that work for you? Do you do kind of the traditional route where you get into galleries and the gallery sell pieces? Or how does that work for you?

VANESSA: Well, so far I’ve been selling like, through the internet, and that’s kind of what I was doing. But in this last half-year, I’ve been really trying more experiments and get work together, like a body of work together that I can then go to a gallery with, or put my own exhibition on where– But yeah, it is really tough. And it’s going to be even worse now through COVID. Like people are not going to have the money to spend on the art.

So, we just have to make sure– I’m in a really good group here in the studio with– there’s a group of four or five of us or more really, but four or five of us who are really determined. And we’re discussing how we’re going to do group shows and do something special, I suppose. I mean, every artist thinks that I guess but when I need to be thinking what’s like, something different that’s gonna catch the attention of people and the imagination, and just do what’s genuine to us as well at the same time, obviously that’s massive. But yeah, I mean, what else can we do? We just have to keep going. And then yeah, just hope.

JESSE: That’s fair. I think there’s times when you, this is a metaphor about stepping off a cliff and not being sure if you can fly. Sometimes it feels like that. I do want to ask you about what you think about this– So, there’s this kind of notorious, and I think, I’ll be upfront, terrible idea.

But there’s this notorious idea about like if you get to the point that you’re commercially successful, you make a living from selling your art, that somehow you become a sellout, you’re no longer genuine. Have you dealt with that? Do you experience anybody kind of giving you that kind of grief or am I off base?

VANESSA: What, have I experienced the sellout?

JESSE: Well, have you experienced people– Because you’ve sold pieces, right?


JESSE: So, have you had anybody like people that maybe are not doing as well be like, “Oh, well she doesn’t make real art anymore.”

VANESSA: Oh, I see. Yeah, I mean, yes, I have had that before. I went down the line of doing kind of celebrities for a bit partly because I was managed by Elton John’s company. And I was like, what contacts do you have and who can I paint? And it was fun and I met loads of people and most of them I didn’t keep. So, Ben Kingsley bought his and so that was good.

He loved it. And there’s a few that did. And I did manage to sell some and some got painted over. But I remember at the time, and it’s certainly paid the rent and it paid for triathlon and paid for lots of things.

But I remember, at the time, my cousin who was a video artist and was like, pure art in his head, he said, oh, you know, he just made very demeaning comments, basically, how are you going to get out of it? I was like, what? Like, it was some awful chore that I was painting famous people and getting money for it. Because he just didn’t consider it art, I suppose.

But I still think that as long as you’re being genuine whilst you’re painting and you’ll be in the flow. If you’re in the flow, I feel like the flow state is without ego. And if you’re without ego, then that’s the genuine state. That’s genuine authentic work, so it’s still the same. But I mean, I definitely feel like I’m pushing my work, I wouldn’t do that again. And I definitely feel like I’m pushing my work to a much better level now because I’m not painting famous people and stuff. But I think it was the time and a place for it, I think.

JESSE: Well, that’s the thing I think about when it’s like, people will say, oh, you’re a sellout or this or that. It’s like you said it if you’re still being genuine to yourself– I don’t know, I guess you could say you’re a sellout if you’re just like, doing reproductions and selling them on the street or something.

But again, if that’s something you want to do, there’s such a broad definition. I just feel like you almost get that accusation if the things that make you unique as an artist become recognized and people identify with those things, things like, the people that haven’t got that yet, then it’s like jealousy basically.

VANESSA: [??? 51:11] most of the time. I mean…coming from a good place if people say that.

JESSE: Yeah. I wonder if it’s a limitation or a cultural issue where people don’t believe that like, do you know what I mean if I say it’s not a zero-sum game.

VANESSA: It’s not a zero second game?


VANESSA: Oh, zero-sum game? No, not really.

JESSE: So, I’m talking about game theory. But basically, the idea of a zero-sum game is if it’s like triathlon is a zero-sum game, one person can win if that person wins, everybody else loses. I don’t believe especially in the creative space, that it’s a zero-sum game. If you win that doesn’t mean that everybody else loses. It actually could make it easier because you’re bringing like notoriety to 2D artists or a painting style or a group of people like…

VANESSA: [??? 52:05] it’s very very different and that’s why I love art in comparison to sports. It’s so different and there’s not that competitive feeling here at all. Everyone’s supportive and encouraging people too, apart from my cousin, of course.

But encouraging people to create amazing work and we help– we talk about art all day and we help feed each other with ideas, we help each other, we look at each other’s art. It’s such a different feeling. And I suppose that probably does happen in some sporting environments, but as you say, there’s only one winner at the end of the day, isn’t it?

JESSE: Yeah. Yeah. Because you have– I mean, I don’t know how to describe your style because I’m just not versed enough in art to say it’s like this or that, but I love it. I’m wondering, do you have a method for becoming inspired for pieces? Or is it just, this is what I’m gonna paint today?

VANESSA: So, I wouldn’t even know how to describe my style. So, yeah, don’t even worry about that. I guess there’s a purgative element to it. But yeah, the way I’m pushing myself at the moment is basically to be as intuitive as possible. And so being in that kind of flow state for me is really important, to not be overthinking, and to not be negatively judging it whilst I’m painting. But usually, what ends up happening is it’s very difficult to hold that flow state for a long time.

And I end up kind of like coming in and out of like painting intuitively and then coming back, standing back from it, and then my ego and judgment [??? 53:58] looking at it and go, “Oh my God, what’s that?” And then I’m trying to redo things and I get the little tiny paint brushes out and try and like correct stuff. And then actually what all that does is it just starts to look not as good.

It looks so much better when I have the big paintbrushes and I’m just going for it. But often in these latest paintings, I’ve got this kind of quite interesting push and pull. It’s almost like different human psyches, trying to take control. And then you’ve got the painting where the paints are almost more in control. It’s quite interesting.

JESSE: So, as we’re starting to run low on time, we’ll jump back over to sport. So, I’m asking everybody this year, I think it might be particularly interesting from your perspective. I want to know what everybody thinks the purpose of sport is.

VANESSA: To push ourselves, to see what we’re capable of. Me personally or on a human level?

JESSE: Either.

VANESSA: To see what we’re capable of. I mean, that’s for me personally, but I’m pretty sure that could be the case for… You know, just to push the boundaries and get into that euphoria moment. Yeah.

JESSE: No, that’s good. This is one of those, it’s not a trick question, there’s no wrong answer. It’s so different for everybody. It’s a question that fascinates me especially because it relates to motivation like why are we out there doing these things that it doesn’t really matter and that kind of thing.

VANESSA: I think inspiration, sorry, just to add to that [??? 55:57]

JESSE: No, no.

VANESSA: I did use to question it the whole time as an athlete, why am I doing this? It’s so selfish. And try and find almost like a reason that I thought, why is it not selfish? And I was like, well, it does inspire people. When someone does something amazing you’re inspired by it.

And there’s so many top athletes out there that we all love to watch and we feel like a huge connection with, don’t we? It’s like everyone comes together, everyone’s inspired, everyone’s uplifted and we need that in our life. So, from that point of view, I think that’s why we need to do sport at that level.

JESSE: Sounds good. Vanessa, if people want to see your art, aside from our video, see what you’re up to, follow you; where can they find you?

VANESSA: Probably Instagram’s the best at the moment because I need to update my website. It’s pretty poor at the moment, but Instagram at VKRaw.

JESSE: Can you spell that?


JESSE: Okay. Just ‘cause our audio is like freezing and stopping and so I just want to make sure that was correct. All right. Thanks for hanging out with me today, Vanessa. I really appreciate it.

VANESSA: Thank you. Really nice. Thank you.

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