On the difficulties of trying to make money from drawing pictures…

I started off my artistic career drawing airports on cereal boxes, filling old phone books with animated sword fights, and making birthday cards illustrated with dragon-sharks. My first significant art win was at age nine. A class competition to do the best picture of Paddington Bear snagged me the unfathomable prize of a book on skateboarding. My skating never really took off, my mothers snapshot of me standing on my brothers board with a cushion belted to my arse attests to that. But the recognition for something which came so easily to me shifted my world. Two years later a classmate offered to buy my life-size painting of a Star Wars character from me. A liberal arts career was forecast.

Unfortunately I encountered an arts teacher soon after, who was to divert my creative career options. Mrs Manthell managed to put me off arts training for life. Freedom of subjectwas an alien idea for her, and her attempts to force students down narrow channels frustrated me. The top art prize that year went to a representation of a crisp packet. Andy Warhol’s influence on the Newlands College art curriculum forced me to conclude that I would have to teach myself. And without any significant honours in art subjects, I had little choice. Within three years art became a side project to my hormonal urges, and I seemed destined to produce intermittent album covers, band posters and tattoo designs.

As I moved beyond university, and particularly as I began to travel, I became more interested in what was happening in the wider world. My ideas on how I might use my paintings changed dramatically. While I was still focussed on creating attractive images, stories of climate change, and a resurgence in Somalian led pirate attacks were what fired imagination. I spent three years attempting to promote my political ideologies through my artwork. I had the best of intentions, I wanted to inform and educate through my detailed, symbolic paintings. But I lost my audience. I found that though a picture might tell a thousand words, the words were different for every viewer. And somehow without a recognition of the underlying stories, my paintings didn’t work. And didn’t sell.

Turbine lightened

At this stage of my life I had yet to make any significant money from my arty farty endeavours. I’d taken on whatever job kept me fed and liquored, from catering weddings in Cambridge’s finest cafe (yay Michaelhouse!) to assisting with chainsaw sculpting in the North of England. My artwork was always to be my escape from mundane career options, and a crushing end to a potential career as a concept artist saw me facing a crisis of faith. A lifetime grafted to an office desk loomed. But my girlfriend at the time offered me fresh perspective, she (bless her) had enough belief in my creative goals to offer me redemption through another medium. She pointed out that my writing was my stronger voice, and that when I wasn’t waffling or ranting, it was a more effective way to deliver complex messages. An epiphany by proxy. Within hours I found a course on freelance writing with the London School of Journalism, dropped most of my savings on the first terms fees, and grinned as any hopes of a sensible lifestyle quickly receded.

I love meeting new people around the world, and learning from the stories they tell of their lives. I want to use these experiences to create imaginative and engaging fables. I’m not sure how this will earn me enough money to survive, but long ago I realised the importance of living with passion. I think that when we find something that fuels our enthusiasm for life, we owe it to our ourselves to engage with it. Even when it’s not the most stable or sensible option. A drinking companion once told me that the saddest three words in the English language are “I used to…”, accompanied by backwards glance at what might have been.


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