Being what one would consider a "professional artist," is a somewhat strange and unnerving journey. You are torn between wanting to sell your paintings and wanting the freedom to create anything you want to, which might not be sellable. Do you paint pretty landscapes and cute animals that people are happy to buy and put on their wall? Or do you follow your heart and paint strange, surreal or absurd pictures that express your inner soul? Normally a mixture is best.
The role of the typical starving artist has not really changed, but like out-of-work actors, they need another means of making money. Some people teach, have other jobs, or are married to someone who makes money. There are not many artists who make a whole living just by creating art, but it would be amazing to be so good and well established to make this dream possible.
Each artist's journey is unique, but I will tell you mine. I have a mental health diagnosis, and during a stay in a psychiatric hospital a kind vicar would volunteer her time and bring in art supplies. I began by painting little scenes, and as I grew more and more bored and claustrophobic I found myself being more and more drawn into art. Everyday I would beg to be allowed into the art room. If this was not possible and they were short staffed, I would draw or paint in my room. Any time I was allowed out, I would walk the route to the local WH Smith and load up with paints, pencils, brushes...anything I could find.
I am not a natural follower of rules. I was fed up and frustrated in hospital. It was normally because I had not been able to control my emotions, would do something dangerous and end up back. I hated being confined into a miserable building, so I found means of escape with my art. When discharged from hospital, I continued to do some art everyday. I would sometimes just copy other artists work, find photos, go outside....anything as long as I could put it to paper. My life was centred around my best friend Jon's visits and art.
Unfortunately, I would often make an unfortunate decision, and end up back in hospital. However, when I became pregnant with my first child, I changed my life completely. I was intent on giving my child a happy life, and I was determined never to enter hospital again. As yet, I have never returned as a psychiatric patient.
Heavily pregnant, I signed up for what I thought was a local class in St Albans. I must have chosen the wrong course, as I realised I had booked a class in Barnett, but nothing would stop me going. I enrolled, expecting to do a term before my daughter was born, then just see what happens.
Paul, the teacher and manager of the art school was insistent that I should not just disappear after that one term, and that I should send him a photo of the baby, which I did. He then told me I should come back as I was a very good painter. I was not sure I believed him, but I was trying to think more positively, so I came back after a year or so. A few of the nurses had bought some of my paintings, and when I mentioned this to Paul he had a thoughtful look on his face. He then told me about a Professional level four course which I was invited to join. I was at first suspicious, being only 25 at the time I was slightly concerned that everyone was older and had been painting for years and years, but I suddenly became quite excited and decided to join.
The level four course has become a distance memory, mainly due to the fact that I met someone and became quickly pregnant with my second child. In a matter of months I was moved in with him and my baby daughter and awaiting the birth of my son. I was mentally and physically exhausted and I probably did not make the most of this level four course. I only completed half, as I gave birth in the summer.
My at journey did not end there. It was just paused, as it was from this moment that my art journey truly began.
After my second child was approaching a year, I began to contemplate my next step within my artist's journey. I kept in contact with Paul, who suggested I join a Monday morning class where I could paint whatever I wished and would receive mentoring now and then. But after doing this a while, it did not seem quite enough. The previous students from the level four course had now formed a professional group known as 'NLAN.' As I had not finished the level 4 course, I was not completely clear about what NLAN was about. But on probing Paul, he told me I could join NLAN as a visitor for just one term and no more.
The first day attending this new group felt strange, yet it was nice to see some familiar faces. I did not know my purpose yet, and I knew my painting was not up to scratch and I was told to "up my game." I still had a one year old and a two year old, so I was exhausted. I heard everyone around me chatting about how they went every week to all these exhibitions in London. I was constantly encouraged, but I knew how difficult it was for me to get there. As my other half had such a demanding job, I did not get a lot of free time. I had the kids practically the entire time, and any attempt for me to go out without them was a major undertaking. It was like being a single mother. But I did not give up, I struggled on, very occasionally undertaking the mission to see an exhibition in London! (Now the kids are a bit older and my other half's work seems to have evened out, I can go a lot more often.)
I began to experiment with colour and painted landscapes with great vibrant skies. I added bold colours, constantly on the search to find my feet. However, my one free term was coming to an end. Paul was adamant that I would only stay one term, so I started considering other ideas. I even did a bit of research about other art schools or courses, just to choreograph some sort of plan. I dreaded asking Paul what would I do once my term was up, so looking at other places was making me feel better.
A few weeks before the end of that term, I approached the subject. I asked Paul what I would do when the term was up. He responded with, "ask me again next week." I asked him the following week, and he gave me the same answer. I was rather confused, but slightly hopeful. I think Paul had faith in me, I felt it. But I was not particularly good, and Paul knew it, but even so, there was that tiny bit of faith. On the very last week, I held my breath and asked him again. He stopped what he was doing, gave me a cheeky grin and said, "oh just stay one more term!" I gave a silent cheer, and stayed another term in which the whole process was repeated and I was eventually told once again to just stay one more term. Basically I had butted my way in! Funnily enough, a few months later NLAN dissolved and the group became Studio Friday in which I was very much a part of!
A mother of two children who has done an English degree and has a Masters of Professional Writing. Never having had any previous art education, apart from school, she had no art qualifications. During a particularly long hospital stay, she discovered an artist ability she never knew existed.....