From publishing to pencils

26th January 2024 Estimated reading time: 9 mins

Now, where do I begin? I suppose, as a young child, I was not often found without a pencil or a crayon in my hand. There was just something about trying to recreate what I was seeing in front of me that I really enjoyed. It mainly started with drawing cartoon characters I’d watched on TV. That then progressed into trying to recreate some ‘cassette’ album covers to make it look like I had a much more extensive ’80s music collection than I actually did.

My love for art continued throughout school, and I took Art at GCSE and loved it. Fast forward to college, and I pursued art to A-level, at which point I thought about the possibility of becoming an illustrator or graphic designer. Having successfully achieved my A-level, I then applied for an Art Foundation Course, but I was rejected – and subsequently, dejected.
It was at that point that art and I parted company. It seemed like the end of the road.

A rethink of direction

I then had to quickly rethink my direction, so I stayed on another year at college and undertook an administration course where I learnt all the necessary secretarial and admin skills I could possibly need. Shorthand was a definite eye-opener though – not quite what I was expecting. It felt more like trying to communicate in hieroglyphics or some kind of alien language. A short while after college, I secured a full-time job as an office junior in a Desktop Publishing department. It allowed me to use my secretarial skills within an arty environment – which seemed ideal. I worked there for 15 years (both full and part-time, after having my two children) and, with training, worked my way up to become a senior creative designer. Then came statutory redundancy (due to sudden company administration), so I quickly found a part-time job working in a local Post Office. Fewer hours meant that I had more spare time than before, so I started to paint after one of my friends gave me some pointers on what materials to use. I began with oils. I had never used them before, but I bought a handful of tubes, brushes and canvasses and took the plunge. I was amazed by how much I enjoyed it. It took a lot of layering to get in the details, and the oils took an age to dry, but I got a bit addicted. All just trial and error, but I started out painting landscapes, then some animals, and soon filled my dining room with a multitude of easels and huge canvasses.

'Watchful'. Great Spotted Woodpecker coloured pencil drawing.As time went on, I ended up working more hours, so I painted less but started getting more involved in social media. It was then that I stumbled across some amazing artists who were creating stunningly beautiful pieces simply using coloured pencils. I really wanted to be able to do that! Initially, I bought myself some basic coloured pencils and paper, but I soon got frustrated as my work looked grainy and the pencil didn’t layer well. I just had no idea about materials or papers, so I would see what the artists I admired online were using, and I would then go out and buy the same – and practice. I was impressed by the difference I achieved using these better-quality drawing materials.

A love for new tools

I just loved my new tools, so I challenged myself to draw all 12 incarnations of Doctor Who (as I was a bit of a fan). The coloured pencils, by this point, had me absolutely hooked. The range of colours I now had at my disposal made a big difference to the quality of my output, and my eyes opened up to a world of colour that I had never seen before. It was just a case of training my mind to look hard enough to be able to see them. Much as I enjoyed drawing people, I have always loved drawing animals. When I was young, my parents bought me a picture book of baby animals, which I absolutely adored. I remember working my way through it, trying hard to draw the beautiful animals inside. After offering to draw the odd pet portrait for free, I started taking on a few commissions every now and again. It gave me the chance to improve my drawing skills through practice. I drew my own pets, too – my two gorgeous lop-eared bunnies. I think they may have been the catalyst for me. They were pretty close to wildlife, and I loved them so much. They just had so much character, and that’s what I wanted to emulate in my work.

At one point, I was working in two, and for a while, three different Post Offices in three different towns concurrently. It gave me a chance to earn more, and I liked seeing and working with different people at each place while still doing art as my hobby. However, my health soon started to deteriorate. To add to my SVT heart condition, I also got diagnosed with B12 deficiency. That meant I was put on regular injections for life. Thankfully, I’m not scared of needles, but boy, does it hurt sometimes! I was hopeful after this ongoing treatment that my problems would be resolved and that I’d feel a lot better, but alas, this never happened. Some of my symptoms disappeared, but I still felt constantly unwell and in pain. Couple this with back problems, and I was really beginning to struggle with working. Quite frequently, I would put my back out, much resembling Quasimodo, as I waddled hunchbacked to the school gates to collect my children.

'The Three Grazers'. Oil on canvas (one of my first ever oil paintings).In the end, I gave up my jobs, one by one, until I was down to just one. This also came to an abrupt end in the spring of 2020 when Covid struck, and I had just put my back out again. I took the decision to leave my job as I physically couldn’t work, and I was worried about being around the public with all my other health issues when I already felt so ill. I’d hoped that this would just be a temporary thing – I could get myself sorted somehow and be fit enough to one day return to work. Three years down the line, and it’s just never happened. I am now no longer ever pain-free – it’s chronic. A lot of my muscles often spasm and contract, unable to relax for hours or days. I do get the odd better day, but it’s not often. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of it all, as although it seems that Fibromyalgia and disc degeneration are my main issues, there are still other things that haven’t been ruled out.

Taking the plunge

One of my packs of blank 7 x 5" wildlife cards.After giving up work, I decided to take the plunge and try and make an income from my art. It seemed like the obvious answer, as I could then work when I was well enough to. I declared the spare room my ‘art studio’ by putting a drawing desk in there and began pushing myself as a small business on social media. I started taking regular bookings for pet portraits but decided that my main work would be wildlife art as that was the direction I wanted to focus on. Drawing people’s beloved pets is daunting and stressful. They are, after all, people’s family members, so it’s a big thing to get right! After gradually building up a portfolio of wildlife drawings, I decided to create some greetings cards and prints from my work. Not everyone wanted or could afford a piece of original art to adorn their walls, but cards and prints were affordable options that gave me the chance to expand my customer base.

Further to the success of my cards and prints, I then decided to compile a wildlife calendar. I’d designed a calendar many years ago at work, so I thought I’d enjoy the challenge. I received a lot of pre-order interest and subsequently sold out. I was quite proud to see my work in print in this way. It looked professional and gave me a bit more confidence in my art and my business.

2. Watching & waiting by Lisa WellwoodLast December, I signed up for my first-ever market showcasing my wildlife art. Despite poor footfall on a freezing cold winter’s day, I sold quite a few prints and cards and received lots of lovely comments about how talented I was. Oh, if only they knew the amount of practice, turmoil and blood, sweat and tears that had got me to that point! Yes, don’t get me wrong, I have always had a love for drawing, but it’s taken a vast amount of dedication, steely determination and practice to reach my current skill level. I now get people Tweet or message me saying that I inspire them and that they want to be as good as me one day. That seems surreal, as that was basically me not that long ago. They also ask me for advice on which pencils and papers to use or any hints and tips, and I am more than happy to take the time to respond. The people I obviously idolised back then have now gone on to achieve an even higher level of skill, but that only makes me more determined to keep improving – I’m forever chasing their tails! I can only aspire to be as good as they are or at least to close the gap more. I do also want to experiment with some different mediums in the future, but it’s just a case of fi nding the time. Mind you, each medium is a whole new minefi eld of techniques – nothing’s ever easy!

The majority of my sales come directly from my social media pages, but I am now looking to expand my customer base elsewhere. I want to get a shop set up on my website and, ideally, exhibit some of my work. I have enough of a portfolio up together now, but it’s just a case of finding somewhere that will be happy to have me!

My work is posted on my social media when it’s available. Most people contact me directly by messages either through my website or via my social media pages.


Lisa Wellwood

Twitter: @studio22artz

Facebook: @studio22artylisa

Instagram: @lisa_studio22artz

Email: [email protected]

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