Making my Mark
Which moments, opportunities and experiences have defined you as a person? Every now and then we face choices and events that will affect the rest of our lives. Looking back on my career, I can see some key moments or watersheds that really shaped my experience and set me on the path I’m on now. I’d like to share a little of that journey with you:
Creativity has always been a part of my life and, as a child, I would always be cutting and sticking, drawing and writing. My parents firmly believed this was a good thing (so long as I cleared up after myself!) I was not a ‘normal’ teenager, being more interested in sewing, knitting and craft projects than hanging out with my friends!
As I had academic ability at school there was some consternation among the teachers when I opted to do art at A Level. My maths teacher said disparagingly “You’re not going to do that Mickey Mouse subject, are you?” to which I replied firmly that I was!
A dream come true
I had a dream, a goal, to go to the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, the art department of Oxford University. Somehow I knew that this would be just right for me and I pursued this objective with single-minded determination. The first step was to get good A Level results, the next step was to do an art foundation course and put together a great portfolio. With great trepidation I applied, attended interviews and exams and was accepted. I think this one success has done more to shape my confidence in my own abilities than anything else. But it was just the beginning of the journey…
I enjoyed my time at Oxford immensely and went on to do a Master of Fine Art at Newcastle University. This time, it wasn’t my first choice but it still shaped my life profoundly and I made my home in the city. I still live a stone’s throw from the student accommodation where I first stayed.
Life on the job
I became self-employed on graduating and, in the way of many artists, I cobbled together a living teaching adult courses, working as an art technician and a visiting lecturer. Throughout this time I pursued my own practice as a printmaker using the facilities of my local open access printmaking workshop Northern Print. This place was really important to me as a stepping stone after University, a way of meeting other artists and taking part in group exhibitions as well as providing the essential means of producing my work.
I was very poor at this time but untroubled by it as I had no dependents. In 1999 I married David and four years later we had our first child. Now the financial situation had changed. Like all new parents, we had to make decisions about who was going back to work, who was to look after the children, whether to use child care. Looking back, these pressures were crucial to my creative development as I started to see that earning a decent living from what I loved doing and was trained for was something really, really important to me and I was going to find a way to continue…
A room of one's own
Every now and then an opportunity comes along in one’s life that’s going to make all the difference. You either seize it or let it pass, never realising where it could have led. This happened to me when I saw an advert for artists’ studios in a new arts centre called The Hearth in a village in Northumberland not too far away from the city. I had a vision for running courses there but as a new Mum I couldn’t see how I was going to have the time by myself. I contacted my then student Carol Nunan and together we rented a large studio and wrote a business plan. We applied for Arts Council funding and were successful in getting a grant to buy an etching press and fit out the studio. This was another significant milestone – those in positions of authority had faith in our ability to run a business and our confidence received a big boost.
Courses and exhibition success
For several years we ran printmaking courses together for adults. We met some fantastic creative people some of whom returned many times. We strongly believed that everyone has the ability to be creative and can develop their talents with the right kind of encouragement. We had a lot of fun and laughter on our courses.
Alongside the courses we developed our own work with the firm intention of exhibiting and selling it. We took part in many open studio events as well as exhibitions. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of running courses, we approached The Biscuit Factory (commercial art gallery in Newcastle) to host an exhibition of our students’ and tutors’ work. This was an astounding success: it looked fantastic, the students were delighted and we sold loads. We were invited back for four more years. These exhibitions have a very special place in my heart as they really crowned everything we had worked for, brought so much joy to all concerned and were of the highest quality and presentation.
The Country Living effect
After Carol moved on to fresh fields, I continued the course program by myself, working with a number of guest tutors and branching out into collage, book art and mixed media. Then another big land mark: my work was featured in Country Living magazine over 5 pages. Suddenly everything went crazy: sales flooded in from all over the world and my husband and I worked round the clock to pack up prints and cards and get them dispatched. Having only been known in the North East, the magazine brought my work to the attention of a much bigger audience and I had the dawning awareness that people everywhere really liked the colourful landscape work I had been doing in recent years.
I was now faced with a difficult decision: to give up teaching and concentrate on my own work or try to keep both going but possibly not fulfill my potential as an artist. I loved my printmaking students and didn’t want to let them down or the tutors that worked for me. But in my heart I knew that my real desire was to develop creatively and bring my work to a wider audience. So the course program came gently to an end and a new phase of development began.
Art, life, joy That’s less than 2 years ago now and the decision has been the right one. I’m loving making more art and getting it seen and sold through art galleries, my studio and online. It gives me great satisfaction to connect with people and know that I am bringing colour, beauty and joy into people’s homes.
I realise I haven’t told the story here of how I came to develop the subjects, style and media I’ve become known for but I’ll save that for another article…