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How I started painting was not the most straightforward route, although I would recommend it to anyone thinking of becoming a professional as, although I didn’t know it at the time, it was to prove a very secure grounding in the industry.
When I realised that throwing myself around on a stage wasn’t actually what I wanted to be doing in life, my parents invited me to become part of our family business – art materials, picture framing and gallery management. I worked for them and with them for fifteen years and during this time learnt about what it was to be self-employed. I also met hundreds of artists who were very willing to share their knowledge and I got to understand materials and how they work.
The actual painting part came after being surrounded by such delicious materials and wanting to play with them. I’d always been creative but did badly at art in school, so I was under the misapprehension that you had to have been hit with some magic art stick. As we know, that simply isn’t true, it’s a skill like any other that needs nurture and practice. I used the teaching qualifications I had from becoming a dance teacher to set up a few classes and went from there, learning alongside my students.
I had a dramatic change of personal circumstances in 2009 and had always promised myself that if I had the chance, I’d explore the idea of going to university as a mature student. I enrolled for a Foundation Course in Art & Design and surprised myself at the end by being accepted on to the Fine Art degree at Arts University Bournemouth. It was an extremely challenging course as it was based in very contemporary fine art where I specialised in printmaking, installation and curation but it certainly concentrated what I wanted to pursue when I graduated. It also gave me a passion for writing about art, a skill I did not realise I had, and I was very thankful to all the tutors for giving me the confidence in that area.
The year I graduated a whole wave of things happened to me that were to prove monumental in my career. I married my husband – that might not seem significant to my career, but any professional will tell you that you can’t be an artist on your own, you need an incredible support network behind you. He built my studio for me, and this gave me the security to concentrate on building a business. In the same year I was invited to demonstrate at a huge art materials show in London, run by The SAA.
During my demonstration at the show, I was watched by Richard Hope-Hawkins, former owner of the SAA. He invited me for a screen test at their headquarters – this proved to be a significant turning point for me as live streams, DVDs and television opportunities followed in quick succession.
My relationship with The SAA has been wonderful over the years. They have supported me, valued me and I have made good friends with the team.
During my professional career there have been many highlights, I have been very fortunate to have been offered some incredible ‘bucket list’ opportunities including writing my first book ‘A Beginners Guide to Watercolour with Mixed Media’. Working with the team at Search Press taught me so much about my job and pushed me to create work that I didn’t realise was in me plus, coupled with an amazing editor, it reignited my writing skills and I loved the whole process from start to finish.
In hindsight, the pandemic was very significant to my career as it highlighted my tenacious disposition. I wasn’t going to let our collective isolation stand in the way of my teaching and so I learnt more about technology, social media and distance learning in a few months than I think I would have learnt in a lifetime. In terms of timing, I had just finished a Post Graduate Certificate in Online Learning which proved to be very valuable. But it was more a case of testing out how to deliver my classes, demonstrations and portfolio to a global audience. I made loads of mistakes, fought against every internet loss, every software issue and even helped my husband re-wire our internet through the house very late one night to ensure that I had a stable connection the following day. I was determined to keep my career going in a time when, in the first 48 hours of lockdown, I lost 6 months’ worth of work.
There are so many things I have yet to achieve, my brain is a constant whirl of projects, paintings and ways to improve my business but here are the things I have learnt so far in my career:
You will need a veritable army of family, friends, colleagues, supporters and clients who will absolutely WANT to help. The tricky bit is asking them but when you overcome that reticence, you will open doors to exciting opportunities that you didn’t even know were possible.
Every day, week, month and year I learn something about my profession that surprises me. It might be a small thing or a huge opportunity but take time to bank whatever it is as it may not be useful to you now but prove invaluable in the future.
That might be on a project, with other artists, with business professionals or simply your next-door neighbour, but they will have a different perspective on what you do that opens you up to new ways of thinking.
People love to listen and to work with enthusiastic professionals – it’s infectious. Never apologise for loving what you do and wanting to tell everyone about it, you never know what creative opportunities there are out there to immerse yourself in.