Monday 7 March 2011

Becoming an Artist


  Art Journal ~ 2005

I've been wanting to share my story of how I became an artist with you for a while now, and it seemed like a good time to do it today.

The story starts many years ago in an art class, in a college in Sheffield.  I was generally a good student but like alot of 18 year olds I also enjoyed chatting with my friends and helplessly giggling too.  One particular day my art tutor called me into her office - we were having one on one tutorials.  She was a rather robust woman with a no-nonsense attitude, floaty clothes and Mary Jane shoes.  I remember her asking me what I wanted to do in the future and I told her I wanted to be an artist.  She shuffled some papers together and frowned slightly - I will never forget what she said next; 'You will never make it as an artist, so I suggest you start thinking about an alternative career right now'.

My world crumbled and I felt hopelessly crushed and small.  At 18 in those days, you listened to your tutor, they told you the truth and you respected their opinion and didn't think to argue back.

I left her office, closed up the creative well in my soul and stuffed my paints into a drawer to be forgotten.  I was no good at it, my tutor had told me so - so what was the point?  I left college with three A-Levels and a heavy heart, and took a job in the Payroll Department of the NHS for almost six years.  A few years passed by and one day a chap in the Pensions office brought in a framed painting his daughter had done - he was proudly showing everyone and I felt a wild stirring of envy - I could do that - yet I didn't - not anymore.

From a Sketchbook - Over to Dungworth from Stannington, 2004

That night after work, I went up to my room and dug out my watercolour pad and paints.  I remember drawing the Island in Newquay surrounded by crashing waves from an old postcard and painting it slowly over the next few days.  When it was finished, my Mum asked if she could frame it and hung it in the living room.

From a sketchbook - The Merry Maidens, Cornwall, October 2004

It was a slow process though.  I still had no confidence when it came to my art, I didn't believe I could ever be a painter, hadn't my tutor told me so?  And so I resigned myself to believing that art was a hobby, and I dabbled with it here and there as the years rolled past.  Around this time I got very interested in Interior Design and enrolled on an evening course which led to me applying for university - I got accepted by the University of Plymouth and headed south in 1997.

University was fun, and the course was fabulous.  My tutors were great too, confidence levels soared thanks to their guidance and encouragement and at the end of my course they told me to write off to the big companies in London ~ Conran and Fitch etc for work placements.  By the end of my studies, I really knew I had to do something creative with my life - nothing else would do.

Fate is a funny thing though, and inbetween writing off to all the Big Interior Design Companies begging for employment, I took a 'stepping stone job' (to earn some quick money) as a signwriter!!  I really enjoyed learning the ropes and it was also how I met my current Other Half!  He became a mentor, encouraging me to paint more when and where I could and as a creative person himself we spent alot of time talking about art and visiting galleries together.  Funnily enough though, I still didn't believe I could ever call myself an artist and the self doubt remained.

From a sketchbook - inspiration page

It was around 2005, when we moved into our little house that I rediscovered Sark aka Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, an author and artist with the most outrageously amazing zest for life and living the creative dream.  I had stumbled upon one of her books in a shop in Totnes whilst studying back in 1998, and liked her colourful You Can Do Anything approach to life.

So, a few years later, I bought a couple of her books and joined her forum.  I tentatively posted photographs of some of my work on there, my new online friends wrote such kind, supportive and generous things that I remember having tears in my eyes as I read them - you see, complete strangers were telling me that they liked my work, and that to me was unbelieveable.  On several occasions, Sark wrote comments too - that totally rocked my world!!!

 From an art journal - 2005

I began an art journal with the encouragement of these new friends and discovered creative resources and books that were extremely helpful - that's how I found Julia Cameron and The Artist's Way which I worked through religiously.  

I remember one of my Sark friends getting in touch to ask if she could buy two paintings ~ I was dizzy with joy.  They went to Brisbane in Australia and I began to feel the spark of possibility inside...I could do this, I could artist.

Moon to Australia...
I began to take on less sign writing work, and spend more time painting at home.  In 2006 I made the leap to work full time on my art, which was a short lived affair as soon after doing so I discovered I was expecting my daughter!

However, a milestone had been achieved.  I had rediscovered my confidence as a creative person during those years, and I fnally felt comfortable calling myself an Artist, something that was impossible to imagine ever doing once upon a time.


As my wee girl grew, I found scoops of time to create more art, teach workshops, take part in exhibitions and to begin writing this blog, which I started a few years ago when my girl was a baby.  A friend suggested I do it to keep the grey matter ticking over, when I was sleep deprived and short of time with the demands of a little one to care for.  A blog seemed like a good thing to do, to find something creative to write about each week that could be done whilst the little person napped.

This blog has led to some wonderful things - I have got to know many lovely people, have been endlessly inspired and had the most unexpected opportunities come my way.  You have all been a part of my journey as I reconnected with my artist self during those blurry days as a new Mama, to now (Big Thank You's).


I wanted to write this story here because I know there are other people out there who are afraid they can't do something or have been told that they shouldn't, just like I was.  I am in the process of creating something to help encourage souls who want to get messy with paint, smudge coloured oil pastels onto paper, draw furiously or stitch wildly with rainbow threads...and I will post about this once it's all ready to go :)

Would you like to find your inner artist and let it out to play?  Then come and see me again soon and I will share my new project with you!

Thanks for reading and visiting, Ive enjoyed your company!

Sending love
Julia x


  1. What a wonderfully inspiring blog post - thanks so much for sharing. Laura x

  2. Fabulous inspirational post Julia... and it was so familiar. I am in my fifties and it is only in the past few years that I have felt confident enough to say "I am an artist". Just like you all my dreams of studying art after school came to an end by a couple of negative comments.

  3. I cried when I read the first bit of your post, I also had 'helpful comments' made by teachers and family that art was not a 'career' or a 'job' so I also shelved my creative urge. Only recently have I allowed it to resurface but still have no confidence about my art. Well done for rising above that negativity :)

  4. How inspiring Julia. Ive encountered more than my fair share of dream squashers along the way. One day.....

  5. Oh Julia what a wonderful story. It is unbelievable that your tutor crushed you like that. I also had my confidence shattered and never pursued Art as I should. Although for me it was bad tuition.
    But I am getting there slowly, I rediscovered creativity after giving up teaching three years ago.
    Thank you for your inspiring words.
    Jo x

  6. This was such a fascinating post, Julia. It always interests me to discover how people came to be their creative selves, everyone's story is different, and everyone's creative journey is, too. I was shocked at how discouraging your teacher was, very negative and obviously completely wrong as you have proved!! You were a born artist and it's wonderful that you can now allow yourself the full rein of your creativity - and wonderful that your other half is so supportive too. Thanks for sharing your experience, I'm sure it will encourage others. Have a lovely week. Helen x

  7. Thank you for sharing your story Julia. I know teachers are human but I know of so many people who were told the same thing and then gave up on their creativity. I seem to be a jack of all trades and can do lots of things but nothing that well that I could make a living from it. Or at least, I don't think so....... Your artwork is unique and a breathe of fresh air.

  8. Wow, that was a severe case of dejavu! I had the same experience as you when I was doing my Foundation course, except that my tutor did it in a class full of people. I too was crushed and left the course thinking that I had wasted my time, although I came away with a distinction.
    It wasn't until quite a few years later that I decided to give it another go and went to Uni. I then went onto train as a teacher and landed a job back at the college where i had been crushed. Thankfully the tutor no longer worked there but I discovered that she had done it to a lot of students.
    Thank goodness you gave it another try and that you have such a supportive hubby. I think you have now well and truly proved to your tutor that you are a success. I hope that they read your blog and feel guilty for making such remarks. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post.

  9. Lovely story Julez.

    I remember all of my teachers saying much the same thing...

    ...Just goes to show 'eh?

  10. it is really an inspirational story ..especially when it is hearing from a talented artist like you..
    i also had the same experience when i was a schoolgirl..and now after 30 years i slowly started painting.I have to go a long way to call myself an artist.But I feel that painting is my real passion.
    thank u once again Julia.:)

  11. lovely glad you are a artist!

  12. It makes me so mad hearing about teachers like that - they should encourage young people, not shatter their dreams!
    V inspiring post my darling!

  13. Such an inspiring story! And thank God you listened to your inner self - otherwise the world would be so much poorer without your lovely paintings!

  14. Fantastic post, Julia thank you for sharing your journey. I went to a super academic school where art seemed a very low priority and not encouraged at all unless you were unable to do well academically or were obviously destined for The Slade. So I buried my artistic side and got on with getting good grades in everything else.

    But over the years, with increasing urgency, the need to create has risen to the surface, and now I find myself growing and selling flowers and a silversmith student about to open a tiny online shop!! But I am still shy of calling myself an artist, it seems like I am putting myself in the same categories as the Greats if you know what I mean, I just lack the self-belief the label enshrines. So whatever you are up to on the 'encouraging the artist within' front, I am interested!

  15. Thanks for sharing your story, I often wonder about people's backgrounds and how they got to where they are now.

    So glad you found your way and now have the confidence to do what you love. The internet really is a wonderful place to re-discover yourself and learn to follow your dreams.

  16. What an inspiring story Julia ~ it just goes to show that you should follow your own heart and not to give up on your dreams. You are a wonderful artist and I love your work, especially the stuff inspired by the seaside ~ Thanks for sharing your story :O)xx

  17. Thank goodness you went back to your artistic calling, what a waste it would have been otherwise.
    Art teachers have a lot to answer for. My daughter had the same experience, her art teacher told her she would never get onto an art degree course at art college. Thankfully we would hear none of this and her father took her to the interview despite the teacher trying to put obstacles in her way. They took one look at her portfolio and offered her a place on the course straight away even before she got her 'A' level results.
    She graduated last summer with a first class degree in fashion and textile design. Even then her teacher said 'you've come a long way', still not admitting that she was good in the first place.
    Art teachers don't always know what they're talking about, as so many comments here have proved.
    Thanks for a great post Julia!
    Vivienne x

  18. Oh I wish I could draw/paint, I can't.
    Loved this post Julia, that tutor shouldn't have been allowed near any student/pupil, what an awful thing to say, to try to destroy someone's creativity and she nearly succeeded. I wonder how many more artists she stifled.
    Thank you for sharing your journey.
    Carol xx
    p.s. my late father-in-law was a signwriter and a frustrated artist.

  19. Lovely post and so glad that you got there in the end. People have no idea of the damage they do when they say these crass things do they? Dev x

  20. I'm surprised at your art beginnings. I'd never have thought you'd been discouraged like that! I can see from your early sketchbooks you had a talent there all along. These bad tutors ought to be struck off! What a wonderful story with a happy ending. Thanks Julia.:)xx

  21. Lovely to hear some background of how you got where you are today Julia. I would love to call myself an artist one day but fear I would just be laughed at. I have to do something creative every day. It is what keeps me sane. I look forward to seeing your new project.x

  22. YOU are amazing.

    A clinical instructor in college once told me I'd never be a nurse. And not only did I prove her wrong... I also educate nurses & doctors... respiratory therapists... paramedics... on neonatal resuscitation... as well as work in the ER, OB, and supervise the hospital on occasion.

    I found my gifts were in the center of my greatest fears... and when I battled with my fears... my gifts came out!

    Your story is INSPIRING!!!!

  23. I really enjoyed reading your post is not just art teacher's who do this. I always wanted to be a physiotherapist (from age 7) and when I got to A levels was told by a "careers advice" person, in no uncertain terms, that because I did not have A level physics, a) I would never get on the course, b)I would never be accepted by a London Hospital. I have always had the sort of spirit that wants to challenge that kind of negativity and here I am 30 years later having trained at Kings College London and still loving my job as a physio! (My creative side is my paid hooby and is a big part of my "other life"), every NHS worker needs one!! I'm glad you succeeded in your real vocation Julia...seize the day!
    Jane x

  24. Thanks, we all have our stories and I am not going to bore you with mine but I am on a journey and have recently realised that something someone said to me as a chld was a load of rubbish! tch adults, who would have them?!

  25. Hi Julia
    What a wonderfully encouraging post. I too have spent years in a very un-inspiring office job just because I didn't believe in myself and my abilities,or have the confidence in my dreams. BUT!!! this year, aged 40, I am opening my own wool shop!!! I owe lots of thanks to my fab husband who is making it financially possible, and all my lovely family and friends who are willing me on. I would say to anyone with a dream, keep it in the back of your mind all the time, you have to realistic, but you never know when an opportunity might come your way.

  26. I'm so happy to have found your blog. I love reading how other artists started and look forward to reading more. It's great to get get insite from others.

  27. Thank you so much for sharing. I wasn't even allowed to chose Art being told that it was for the students who couldn't do anything academic. I studied French and Spanish instead, but always wondered "what if"? Interestingly enough, the teacher with all the advice just happened to be Head of Modern Languages!! Today I work part-time for a bank and am a hands on mum. I create bits and pieces in different mediums as a way of keeping my dreams alive. Maybe one day I'll have enough courage to go further.

  28. Wonderful post Julia. It just goes to show that you should listen to your own little inner voice, it's usually right. I stopped being creative when My Mum told me I had to do a science 'o'level instead of arty stuff (genuinly wanted me to get a good job) But I listened to my inner voice and have opened the door to my creativity, and boy how exciting is that. Sometimes my brain feels like it's exploding with all the ideas buzzing around in it!! That's helped by all the interesting folk like yourself inspiring and encouraging us. I love your work Julia and d'you know what you ARE an artist!

  29. Such an inspiring post Julia, I'm so glad that you found your artistic side again, your work is wonderful, you are an amazing artist! It's such a shame that one negative or unthinking remark can change people's future, sometimes forever. I'm really glad you found the confidence and support to change your life and follow your dream.
    I myself was very lucky to have the full support of all my art tutors at school/uni, although there were a couple of other teachers who did make it clear they thought I should follow an academic career path instead. Didn't listen to them tho and I'm so glad I went with my heart - I can't imagine not being creative every day! Keep creating those gorgeous paintings, have a lovely rest of your week xxx

  30. Dear Julia! I'm thinking what to made me would be so important to get engouraging and support when we are young and don't trust for our selves and perhaps don't even know what talent we could have!
    I'm so happy you took your colours again because you are very good and wonderful artist and we love your works!
    I try to think that better later than never - but still I'm thinking what I could had done all those passed years...
    Thank you for sharing your story - it is important and engouraging and I'm sure you help many people (me) to believe them selves!
    There is so much more to say...but I wish you now sunny lovely week!
    xxx Teje

  31. This is a wonderful post and very encouraging.
    Anne xx

  32. Thanks for sharing your story and showing us your art journals - so inspiring and I can't wait to hear about your new project...I feel like I need a bit of a creative kick-start so hopefully it will do the trick :-)

  33. Thanks for sharing that!

    It should be compulsory reading for every teacher (I am I know what I'm talking about). So glad you found people to encourage you back into art.

  34. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, Julia! I am at the beginning of my creative path and still have these censors telling me I cannot do it. This post shows me once again it is possible. Looking forward to your project!

  35. Pati from London8 March 2011 at 10:17

    What a wonderful and inspiring post! I feel so happy for you that you are finally able to call yourself an Artist as I very much think that that is exactly what you are, with a capital "A". Thanks for sharing your story and for your encouraging words. Have a lovely sunny morning (at least is sunny here in London). x Pati

  36. aah i love this blog post Julia! ooh and my lovely piece of art arrived from you safetly, thanks very much is it is gorgeous :-) x

  37. What a beautiful and heart warming story, really touching, thanks for sharing xox

  38. This is such a heartening post Julia. What a journey you've been on - it's such a fascinating, inspiring read.

  39. This is my first time to your blog. I love your art! My heart was touched by your story, and I'm glad you have overcome the discouragement of your teacher.

  40. This post puts tears to my eyes. In a good way though, as I feel comforted by your story and encouraged to believe that nothing is impossible if you only believe in yourself. And the hardest part of all is to get rid of the doubt after being pushed down in early years. I am so inspired and touched by your story. Thanks for sharing.

  41. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I hope anyone who has ever been told that they "can't" do something reads this and tells the person that told them that to kiss off. Thanks for the inspiration and re-awakening my self confidence!

  42. Dear Julia

    I am so glad that you persevered...I am trying to do the same thing with my crochet and writing, which have been buried and are just slowly bubbling to the surface. We will all get there one day - and I absolutely adore 'Moon Fishing' and your crochet! You are an inspiration.


  43. What a wonderful post Julia... thank you so much for sharing your story. I always wanted to do something artistic & from the age of 8 I wanted to be an Interior Designer (thanks to a very artistic & positive primary teacher who told me there was such a thing!) At 18 I started my Interior Design course at Glasgow College of Building & Printing, met some great friends that I still have, learned a lot about architecture & art history/design but unfortunately as a young person away from home I also learned how to PARTY! It was fun at the time but what a waste when I should have concentrated more on mu studies. I left the course before I completed my degree, got into a terrible relationship though the one good result of this was that I had my oldest son. I saw sense & left my ex (while I still could!) when the baby was 6 weeks old & my itch to create was so great that I started a glass-painting business with the help of the Prince's Trust which meant I could work around my son. About a year later I wanted to buy the flat I was renting so had to get a 'proper' job to obtain a mortgage. Bye bye art, hello call centre, then building society, then Council finance dept... When my son was 2 I met my wonderful husband & have since married & had another 2 boys. But the downside is I have also suffered a couple of episodes of extreme depression which (I can see now) seems to have been because I wasn't following my heart's chosen path (sorry if that sounds a bit hippy!) Every moment spent in Finance left me feeling like I was shrivelling up! Throughout this time I have kept up my creating a wee bit by making presents for friends & learning to sew properly on a 1958 sewing machine I was given. With the help of lots of encouragement (the major source being Facebook!) I started my own business & it's been absolutely brilliant! I still have the 'proper job' for 2 days (it pays the mortgage...) but now see a day when I can do my own work full time! This never seemed possible, even less than a year ago. You are also one of the people who has encouraged me & kept me going with your positive outlook, there is such a wonderful creative community out there (that I knew nothing about!) & I feel so lucky to be part of it. I'm sorry I have rambled on so much but this has actually been quite cathartic! Maybe I should add this to my own blog since I never know what to write on it, lol!
    Any, this Therapy Session has been great Dr Julia... take care, love, Roslyn x
    (PS... thanks again for sharing your story, hope I haven't bored you too much with mine! x)

  44. Wonderful post Julia...I really enjoyed hearing some of your story and I like the sound of the new project!

    Jacky xox

  45. Your artwork is wonderful, you are so talented. Unfortunately, I think I am my own worst enemy. I would love to paint, but think I am not good enough. I suppose I should just go for it, even if nobody else ever sees it. Thanks for sharing your story, and its so good to see that your art is so successful.

  46. I am suffering from the career sidetrack. I went into art teaching because of my love of all things artistic, because I love teaching people what to do, and because I love the beautiful, open, creative minds of kids. Along the way I began climbing the responsibility ladder and found myself head of a school, teaching no art whatsoever.

    My daughters are now 1 and 3 and I am trying to rediscover the true essence of who I was all those years ago. Although I am trying to balance part-time work, part-time study, part-time creating and full-time mothering, I think I am a little closer now than where I was 4 years ago.

    Thank you for your honesty and inspiration.

  47. I love your art, it´s amazing good!

    Greetings Dieuwke (Holland) @

  48. ...You have no idea how much I needed this and your 2 most recent posts. I can't believe I found this. You know when you finally think you might actually be able to do something, and that belief that you've been fed is feeling the pressure? I've got that lump in my throat right now. There's so much standing in my way, but really mostly just myself.

  49. Thank you so much for all of your comments on this post - I am really moved that my story has touched so many of you, it's been eye widening and heart opening to discover how many people this kind of thing happens to...please don't give up on your dreams and ambitions, it's Never too late to start living the life that you want to live, dig deep, find the courage and take the little steps to making it real for yourself.

    BIG love
    Julia x

  50. Thank you so much for this blog post. :) An inspiration read, especially to know everyone is afraid!

  51. So inspiring...i spend most days at work thinking this isn't me and I'd love to get painting again- I think I might just do it!

  52. Hi Julia,
    Has taken ages to even have the confidence to leave this comment as it seems everyone else is involved in art already and it makes me feel like I have no right to be on here. I find your blog inspiring and it gives me the confidence to work hard at my painting( secretly of course ) til I feel brave enough to share it. Lost both parents 2 years ago and took a short course in watercolours when off work with depression, it really helped me get my head sorted out so I would encourage anyone else needing inner peace to try this. Thanks again and good luck in the future.

  53. thank you so much for sharing your story Julia, it is so inspiring to read about your journey as I try and figure out my own. Anna

  54. I came across this post and your blog when I was in need of some encouragement, you have no idea how happy it has made me to read this.

    I can write how much I love this and why but it still won't be enough to explain this giddy smile on my face or the dryness and tightness in my throat because reading this was amazing. Thank you.


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