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Did you study art at school?

I have recently given a talk to my local high school about careers in the creative industries.  In preparation I sent out a questionnaire to people I know who work in the creative industries asking them about their day to day job, the qualifications required, what they wish they'd done at school and if they are happy in their jobs now.  The overwhelming outcome of this was to discover that many people change direction in their career lifetime, even within the arts. Architects become painters, painters become teachers, illustrators become graphic designers, sculptors become entrepreneurs, and in my case Economists become artists.  And that many people don't do art at school or maybe don't go to art college and still manage to become successful artists.

So how did I get where I am?  I have an unusual career path that has led me to being a freelance artist and the owner of a giftware company. Possibly not what you'd expect, especially if you are at school and parents/teachers are suggesting you should sort of know what you are wanting to do, and you really feel like you don't know what you want to do with your life.

Back when I was 14/15 and I was choosing subject for my O'levels (GCSE/national 5 equivaents) I really wanted to do Art as I loved it, but despite my art teacher saying I had flair for it, my parents were keen I pursued more academic subjects. So I did my traditional set of O'levels and A'levels and left school set on a career in the banking sector. 

I went to North Wales, to Bangor University to study for a degree in Banking, Insurance and Finance.  However, as I completed the degree I realised that banking wasn't the career for me but I had no idea what I really wanted to do. I was offered a job by a lecturer to do some research over the summer holidays so as I didn't know what else to do I stayed living the students life but getting paid.  This research led to an MPhil in Health Economics and gave me the opportunity to do research and teach. I loved the variety of work, and the opportunity to come up with ideas and being self motivated.  Consequently I ended up doing academic research and lecturing for 10 years, moving from Bangor to Stirling, to Aberdeen and finally to Edinburgh.

My research included a variety of medical areas where there was a choice of delviery methods and we looked at the costs and consequences.  This included a project with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service which lead to the introduction of Antenatal Anti-D being routinely administered across the UK which ultimately helped me when I had children. I published papers in academic journals and taught undergraduate health care professionals the importance of looking at the alternative ways of providing care. All a long way from doing what I am doing now.

Just before I turned 30 my Dad was diagnosed with terminal Pancreatic Cancer.  He left a letter apologising for being "married" to his job and not finding the time for his wife and family.  He told us to learn from his mistakes and to chase our dreams, do what we will have wished we'd always done.  Shortly after this I was away on holiday, and doing what many of us do on holiday - dreaming up what job I'd rather be going back to. I had always dreamed of going to art college but was convinced it really wasn't for me because I had no idea how to get there and if I was any good. I didn't really know what else I wanted to do but knew that the short term contracts within academia were no longer for me. 

My husband was also stuck in short term contracts in academia, and we realised that our subjects would mean we would never live in the same town. We started volunteering for Venture Scotland to explore other areas that might interest us.  It was a fantastic experience to meet young folk from very deprived backgrounds and take them and us out of our comfort zones.  It involved weekends away in the highlands participating in a range of activities from planting trees, trust building, creating and physical challenges. I joined the management committee and I gradually began to realise that I wanted to be more creative in my day to day job. 

During this time our university contracts came to an end and so we pursued our other dream of going traveling.  We went off traveling in Nepal and India for 5 months. We had a fantastic time and my journals were full of tiny sketches of what I was seeing. When I got back I started evening classes at Edinburgh College of Art. I discovered I could draw, so I did a few more courses at the continuing education daytime classes in between working as an office temp in Edinburgh.

I quickly realised that if I wanted to do this properly I needed to go to art college and signed up to Leith School of Art's foundation course to get together a portfolio of work to see if I was good enough to go to Art College. To my surprise, not only did I graduate with distinction from my foundation course but I was accepted on to the drawing and painting degree at Edinburgh College of Art. 

chimney snipe instllation, Edinburgh College of Art, 2008I found my undergraduate years difficult, I was a mature student and I really struggled with believing I could do it despite winning awards each year.  Even when I graduated and was offered a paid for scholarship to study on the Master degree I wasn't completely convinced I was any good.  I had my first son during my masters degree, and graduated with a Masters in Fine Art in 2008. 

Since then I've had a second son and spent my time working as a freelance artist whilst my children have been growing up. fishy outside play area display made with primary school children, Edinburgh.I've taught art to both children and adults and sold my paintings through art galleries. Spending time doing my own work and teaching others has given me the time and space to gradually found my artistic voice. 

So even though I didn't study art at school to exam level, doing art in the early years of senior school did expose me to something that deep down I had always wanted to do. I wonder if I had done it at school, then maybe I would have had more confidence at degree level but I'm very lucky to be able to pursue this career, and I'm sure now, if my Dad could see me he would be very proud that i was doing what I love during my life even if he did never want me to do art and saw it as something you did for a hobby only. My advice to anyone is to not listen to your self doubt and go for it.  It is never too late to pursue your dreams and remember that dreams change as you grown up. But doing what you love is always going to mean that work feels like play and I love that I don't have that Sunday evening/Monday morning dread of work.

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