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Jo Allsopp is a self-taught artist who through learning, training, teaching and exhibiting has become a professional artist. All with the support of the SAA
I started my painting journey at a very early age, doodling whenever and wherever I could: on school books, the Yellow Pages and even the phone book (only people of a certain age will know about the latter two). I was fascinated by nature particularly flowers, birds and animals and would regularly rifle through hedges at bird’s nests, picking up feathers and then pretty stones and pottery which I would put in my secret box to regularly admire.
I didn’t enjoy school. I was bullied due to being very petite and skinny. No matter how much I ate, I stayed tiny, so my teeth looked bigger than they were. A nasty boy used to call me ‘rat face’ or ‘ratty’ which was upsetting so I tried to avoid him. I enjoyed arts and crafts plus sports and made a few friends in the gymnastics club, one of who is still my best friend today.
She was also tiny and was mocked by the horrible boy who said she looked like a hamster. Whilst we didn’t appreciate the names at the time, we have continued to affectionately call each other by these nicknames. Later, as an adult, I went into a car garage, and it turned out the ‘boy’ owned it. I didn’t a motor, but I doubt very much he would have picked on me anyhow; today, I’m a black belt in Tae kwon-do and have held many titles, including World Champion.
Until 20 years ago, I held many different jobs but nothing stuck. There was the secretarial work, promotional work, waitressing and then I sang professionally for many years. Then I met my now husband Geoff and had two daughters very close in age. I no longer wanted to travel all over the country singing in the evenings at smoky venues. It was time for a career change. I decided to try a home study course on Children’s Book Illustration with the London Art College which I completed with a distinction. After, I enrolled onto an evening teacher training course. Once qualified, I started to work with local schools and colleges, teaching adults how to draw and paint. I was elated to be working sociable hours which allowed me to do more activities at weekends with my toddlers whilst my passion for art was reignited.
Teaching had finally allowed me to do what I feel I was always destined to do plus I was getting paid for practising and improving my love of painting and drawing. I would regularly visit an annual local art exhibition in Ticknall (Dame Catherine Arts) and always admired all the fabulous work, dreaming of one day being part of it. Finally, with more practise through teaching – and a new found confidence – I decided to exhibit and was elated to sell my first painting to a stranger. I had the bug and so applied every year and sales increased year upon year until I was offered to be a featured artist. Commissions started coming in thick and fast.
Around the same time, I was also asked to illustrate a children’s book called, My Nana is an Alien by Diane Whitley. Sales go direct to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association, a charity close to my heart as it is a condition my Nan passed away from. The book won a special emphasis award and is available to buy on Amazon. I have also part illustrated the book The Hungry Dragon by Wanda Pierpoint-Jones which is also available to purchase through the same channels. One day, I thought at the time, maybe I’ll see my work in WHSmith.
After several years working in Adult Education for Leicestershire County Council, I took a leap of faith and opened my own studio space, Sable Studio Gallery, in the grounds of the Moira Furnace Museum and Country Park. I thought I could teach adult classes as well as offer cartoon clubs for kids along with some mosaic classes. From my gallery space I could hang all my own paintings and I also began selling merchandise with my designs on, too. It was a dream come true. I started getting invited to attend local art groups and began advertising locally. More and more groups were contacting me and loving my loose style. Soon, I was being invited all over the UK to demonstrate which led to referrals, repeat bookings and a much busier diary.
Having now had the studio space for 14 years, visitors come back again and again to purchase wares or attend my workshops and regular weekly classes. I also joined the SAA, primarily to take advantage of the insurance benefits. Then, I placed a couple of adverts in Paint as well as having my first feature in the magazine. I also began running successful painting breaks in the South of France, which I am just about to reintroduce.
A few years ago, I saw an advert for a new art programme for BBC1 called, Home is Where the Art is with Nick Knowles. I decided to apply. I was astounded to be shortlisted following a Zoom meeting. Being chosen to appear in the first series, from thousands of applicants, was such a massive deal for me. Although I was not chosen to produce the final art piece, the number of fans and commissions I gained due to the exposure was quite overwhelming and has kept me extra busy since.
It was the boost that convinced me that I must be good at this and prompted me to push more with my art career. This led to lots of work with the SAA: magazine tutorials, live streaming and Video on Demand which saw my popularity soar. Incredibly, this all led to a book contract with Search Press and it’s due to be published at the beginning of 2023! At last: my work will be in WHSmith. So far, this is the biggest achievement for me, and I do have the SAA to thank for promoting and pushing me. The book, plus my new signature paints due to be out soon, means I am super excited and now consider myself an accomplished, professional artist.