My journey to becoming a professional artist by Claire Warner

How did I start painting?

I was fortunate to have both a mother and grandmother who loved to paint. My mother frequently got out her paints on a rainy day in our school holidays with magic painting books for my brother and myself until we were old enough to use poster paints. I clearly remember my mother’s tiny pans of watercolour in a Winsor & Newton black tin. A wonderful painting of the cats, flowers or a landscape would appear like magic on her paper. I was captivated. My grandmother’s gift was painting wildflowers, on pastel shiny autograph book paper. How did she do it? 

My father was a chartered quantity surveyor and qualified sailor and navigator, so I grew up with architectural drawings and navigational charts, and a father who insisted that foundations were sound, houses stood up straight, and boats drawn looked seaworthy.  We spent almost every weekend for 6 months of the year at a sailing club on the south coast.  One weekend age 7 I was eventually found in the lounge staring at a David Shepherd painting of charging elephants. I told my mother “That is what I am going to do when I grow up. I want to bring beautiful things to life in paint”. My mother knew I had found a deep-down passion that would never leave me. She called it “the fire in my belly”. 

By my early teens I was designing clothes as a hobby. I felt honoured to be allowed to paint these designs on my father’s “special white wardrobe”. Locked, and full of all the most important family papers, we were forbitten to tamper with this cupboard. So it was a privilege. Over 60 years later, that same white cupboard with my black paint designs sits in my mother’s garage. Worn, wobbly, but a special reminder of how my parents loved to see me being creative. Mother and I painted oils together right up until I got married. At this time, not wanting to ruin my own carpets, I stopped painting for a while. But my head was always full of ideas for colours and images that could be created. 

Studying Art

At the end of my school exams I was accepted at the Berkshire College of Art a year early, despite my art teacher telling my mother I had “absolutely no talent whatsoever”. Given dried flowers, charcoal (NO COLOUR!!!) and rice paper just didn’t inspire me in her class. Fortunately, my parents saw my enthusiasm and commitment and encouraged me to apply anyway. I didn’t take up the place. Fashion design was a “Mans’ World” and very competitive, so the thought of being broke and scared, put me off!! I studied business and administration instead, a training that secured a good career up until I was forced to stop. 

It was on my 40th birthday, desperately trying to recover from M.E. (post viral syndrome) that my precious friend gave me a box of watercolour paints and said, “I think you should start painting again”. It became the key to my recovery. The only thing I could concentrate on for 5 minutes. It gave me back my self-esteem when I felt I couldn’t do, or achieve anything worthwhile, and I felt so in tune with myself again at last. I am a great believer that we are all born with a creative side, which busy lives squeezes out. It is the feel-good part of us that gets lost through lack of use. So, this, and discovering that I loved to share my passion with others, is the reason I started teaching art. 

Significant events that helped me become a professional artist

When our son was about 9 a few of the mothers at his local primary school, discovering that I painted, asked if I would teach them. Horror, I never wanted to be a teacher. The art college told me I could “always become a teacher if all else failed!!” The mothers persisted and eventually asked if I could show them how I did it. “Oh of course” I replied, “I can do that”!!! 

There started my career as an art tutor.

Here I am 30 years on, and still enjoying teaching adults to find joy in painting. A special moment for me was when I won a prize from the SAA for my article entitled “Art for Therapy” in 2006. This launched me as a Professional Artist, and then my 12-minute painting of “Poppies” filmed by Gary was loaded onto my SAA website. Artists were able to see my style of painting, and this helped build my reputation as a watercolour painting tutor. 

 There have been so many highlights in my journey as a professional artist – the invitations to tutor art groups, Marlborough College Summer School, Painting holidays abroad, creating my own workshops, working with my husband (a constant source of assistance and excellent advice), our family supporting us to become successful, and the absolute joy of helping artists discover painting and reach a new level, is a constant delight.  More recently putting my teaching onto videos, available on-line, so that I can offer help when I am not physically with people has fulfilled a long-awaited dream.  And I have made so many very special friends with my students. 

 I have learnt that sharing is the key, both the joys and struggles of painting and the ups and downs of developing an art business. We ALL need support and encouragement, and to find like-minded people to do this with is so important. 

Our daughters frequently remind us: “Teamwork makes the dream work”. 

Being a member of the SAA is the best thing I have ever become part of in my artistic journey. The inspiration, provision of art supplies, opportunities offered, and support is unique. 

Thank you SAA team.