My story starts like many artists, with learning the tools of my trade. When I was a toddler my young aunt came to live with us, she was still a teenager at the time and spent many hours drawing and painting with me at the kitchen table. I preferred making things to playing outside, even to TV. As I grew up, art was something I naturally gravitated towards at school, my favourite subjects were always art, music and drama.
I briefly attempted an academic university degree in Psychology but I quickly realised my heart really lay with painting and drawing. So aged just 19 I went to my parents to tell them I wanted to be an artist. I had expected resistance, but both of them were behind my decision 100%, they could see how much it meant to me.
I spent the following year working 3 jobs to earn the money to go to Art School and by that September I enrolled in Exeter College’s foundation art year. When I completed that year I moved to Art university in the same city. That year I met my future husband; Michael.
The summer before my final year of university Michael was offered a good job… in Amsterdam! Our money was running out, and the company that wanted him to work for them kept offering more, so eventually the decision was made for us to move to Holland.
I had a mad scramble to try to find a university in Holland that would let me complete my degree with them. I was lucky that my UK university had an exchange programme with an Art Academy in Rotterdam, and after my head of Fine Art sang my praises to the Dutch teachers I was allowed an interview with them. I was the first external student to ever be accepted into the final year of the Willem De Kooning Academie, and very glad I was of it too. I did not want to have a long distance relationship and probably would have left university to remain with Michael.
I completed my degree and set about starting a business making custom portraits of children and families. My passion had always been in painting the human form, and especially portraits. However, Art School does not prepare students on how to run a business, how to market themselves or how to prepare for approaching galleries. I had a few small failed exhibitions and my confidence was running low. I managed to do a handful of commissioned portraits, but a few months down the line I had a difficult experience with a client. He had hired me but once I produced the finished artwork for him it was clear he wanted a different style than the one I work in. It was a very painful experience to hear his harsh and unkind words. I ended up refunding him the full cost even though the painting had taken me weeks to complete. This experience put me off painting for a long time, every time I went near a canvas I could hear his unkind words.
5 years on Michael and I were married, we had a son and I was making a small amount of money from selling hand sewn mouse ornaments on Etsy. Then our family hit financial problems, Michael lost his job and tried to set up his own business. The stress and worry over where the next mortgage payment was coming from became unbearable, so I took up cleaning houses to pay for our food.
After a few months of scrubbing other peoples toilets I began to think about my art again. A friend posted a pencil portrait she had paid for of her husband and toddler, and I realised that was something I could do! I made a drawing of my friends daughter and shared it on my facebook profile. My friends went crazy over it! They shared it with their friends and before I knew it I had my first commission. Within a month I was able to quit my cleaning jobs and spend my time drawing custom portraits. I was left wondering why on earth I had ever stopped! But I still had that niggling voice when I thought about painting.
A few months later a friend shared with me a stunning photograph of her daughter, and I clearly heard the artist inside me say “I want to paint that!” I asked my friend and the photographer who had taken the photograph if I could create a painting from it. They both said yes and I got to work. I loved every moment of creating the painting, and the experience was a catharsis for my old injured confidence. I was finally able to move forward and create new paintings. The time I had taken away from my art had also allowed it to mature, making the final piece more technically advanced than my previous works.
Today I enjoy taking my art to art fairs and events, I love to talk about my work with anyone who has questions and I am finally about to help support my family with my skills. I hope one day that I will be able to support our family entirely so that Michael can live his dream try to run his own business again. For now he has retuned to an office job, while I work on growing my business to a point where it can support us all.
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