fiona-clarke.com

My Story So Far

Here goes, I am trying to do things that scare me and talking about myself is one of those things. I don’t have a huge amount of personal presence on my website or Facebook and I figured it was about time to shared how this all came to be! Please remember that I am an artist not a writer so please bear with me through the occasional spelling errors and grammar problems.

As many of you already know, I am a full time mum of two and part time (every spare minute) artist. The journey so far has been chaotic, exhausting, stressful and nothing short of amazing. I wouldn’t change a second. I have learned so much and find myself growing more and more everyday as an artist and a mum. Time and perspective really does help in planning and anticipating the future.

I thought I would shares some of my adventure so far for any of you looking to start a business and be a stay at home mum. I am not going to begin by saying it’s easy or even that it gets better with time. It is an amazing roller coaster, but not for the faint hearted.

From the beginning

I may as well start by giving you a little bit of insight to my younger years…. As a child, born and raised in Zimbabwe, I always dreamed of being a ‘real’ artist. I’m not sure exactly what that entailed in my child mind, but I did have a few amazing role models to inspire me along the way. I was also very lucky in the sense that my parents supported me from day one. They have been nothing but encouraging and supportive. A fond memory of mine as a 6-year old girl was receiving a prize for the best piece of art in my year. In all honesty it didn’t look that different to all the other artwork presented and my mum had asked why it had been chosen over the others. Turns out, it was because I had the best proportions across my drawing, even if I did leave out one of my siblings from the family portrait. Sorry Graham! I might also add that our primary school auctioned them off to raise funds and my poor dad had to empty his pockets to pay for it when his friend decided it would be funny to drive up the price (all for a good cause of course). Even today, it is still one of the most expensive art works I have ever sold! Thanks dad...!

Here is a picture of it in case your curious… (sadly the yellow and pink has faded)

In my older years of primary school, I had the most amazing art teacher who was also the father of one of my class mates. I may as well give him a plug as he pretty much sparked my love for everything art. Craig Bone, he is a fantastic artist and took a lot of time and care in teaching us new techniques. Mr Bone always made art so fascinating and enjoyable. He would often organise a bus so we could go on outings and draw from real world scenes.

Art class was pretty much the only reason I loved going to school. I remember saving every cent of pocket money so that when we travelled to South Africa next I could visit the art shop. It was like a candy store.

I spent nearly every night before bed doing doodles and trying to better my skills, I loved charcoal and detailed sketches at the time. I also remember trying watercolour and thinking it was pretty cool but not quite for me. If only I knew what was to come…

My passion for art that began in primary school continued in to high school years until an unfortunate turn of events that ended in the loss of our precious farm (I’m sure you are all aware of the farm problem in Zimbabwe). Anyway, this led to my whole family packing up and moving to New Zealand to start a new life.

I found the shift to be overwhelming and frustrating at an already tough age (14). However, the move created a new artistic spark for me when I opened my eyes to all of the resources and inspiration New Zealand had to offer. This was something I had never really been exposed to in Africa. Suddenly I could visit an art store whenever I wanted and a lot of my obstacles were lifted. I think in a way I had too many options. I have always found that limitations make us more creative; However, these new opportunities were pretty exciting.

I found the transition to New Zealand education challenging, mostly because the kids were so poorly behaved which made it seem that very little teaching happened during class. On my first day I was horrified when a 14-year-old boy offered me weed and vodka from a Sprite bottle…. Let’s just say you would not have survived long in Africa if you even tried to attempted something like that in school.

When I finally settled in I found myself loving all the art classes on offer. I found that they were the only classes that kids actually listened and got on with their work. Each year I took on more and more art classes until in the final year I had to apply for special consideration to take ALL of the practical art subjects (plus maths). I was approved due to my grades being high every other year. My final year classes included graphics & design, painting, digital design, design and visual, photography and maths. Let’s just say I lived and breathed art that year.

I finished High School at 17 and set my sights on a design degree majoring in spatial design at AUT in Auckland. I have to be completely honest about this degree as I feel others deserve to know. It was sold to me as so much more than it actually was. I was promised this and that, and in the end I wished I had chosen something else.  Everything just seemed to be messy and we were conformed to a specific way of thinking. We were all churning out similar meaningless works, over and over again. I kept asking myself, why are they not teaching us to think for ourselves, instead we are forced to all think like each other and essentially be sheep!! I definitely learnt a lot of non-art related skills at Uni and ended up with high marks. But my creativity was dulled to a point that I no longer wanted to pursue art as a career.

I applied half heartily for some art/design jobs when I finished my degree but I never perused any of them. I decided that it was time for a complete break, at least for a while. It was time to earn a little bit of money and figure out my path after studying for half of my life. I briefly worked at a car rental agency, not my finest moment. Then as a bank teller for a year. During that year I got married to the love of my life and fell pregnant. Did I forget to mention that one of my childhood goals was to be a young mum? Well, that happened!

The bank was a great break from everything. I found the boredom and repetitiveness of working there brought me back to my raw self and raw state of creativity. The spark was finally coming back but it was a slow start up.

Life after kids

I went on maternity leave four weeks before my son was due to arrive in to the world. To fill in the time, I started doing some canvas pieces. I wanted to do some fun and colourful kids pieces as I obviously had baby on the brain. I did a little Invader Zim piece and a Winnie the Pooh and some game character pieces (at the request of my husband) to get me back in the groove. They were a lot of fun. My husband then suggested I should paint the cupboards in our unborn-son’s nursery. I lay on the floor, VERY pregnant, and did this with love. Just as well I did, to my surprise my son came 2 weeks early so there wasn’t much time to do anything else.

Liam’s first few weeks were a big adjustment and not long after we had a home intruder which threw our whole life into a spin. As the over protective mother that I am, we moved out that day in fear for our child’s safety. We ended up finding the first house available and moving in, small but very comfortable.

In hind sight, everything happens for a reason, this move was one of the best thing that could have happened. I met some great people and realised what a beautiful and creative area I was living in! Te Atatu Peninsula, Auckland for those wondering. My son was now 6 months old and full of bubbles.

My husband was an active gamer at the time and asked me to do a detailed gaming painting. I jumped at the opportunity. From there I think I did gaming paintings for most of his friends and a few other pieces for my friends and family. It was an intense lifestyle made more difficult by the fact that my son refused to sleep. Which was the only time I allowed myself to paint so that it did not interfere with his care. Painting was and is my way of escaping the world and clearing my mind, I think it is so important to retain something special that you can keep for yourself when you’re a mum. My other mummy friends choose to read, exercise or have a long hot bath but my choice of therapy is painting!

Within weeks, I was painting for a few hours 7 days a week.  My son started sleeping for 2 hours every day and instead of using the time to sleep myself like a normal human being (my son still woke several times a night) I got straight to painting. Liam would go to sleep at 7pm and again I would quickly eat dinner and then paint all the way through until 10pm, every day. I have this vivid memory of a particular day where my son refused to sleep anywhere but in my arms and I had so many ideas bouncing around my head that I couldn’t bear the thought of just sitting there while he slept. I grabbed a pencil, some paper and a book to lean on, perched myself on the couch and got to work with some sketching while my son lay sleeping in my other arm. Crazy you say?... yes, I know. All this was on less than 5 hours sleep each night.

At this point I was not producing an awful lot as I was mostly doing very detailed large acrylic paintings. I would still be putting in a minimum of 30 hours a week. I was only charging just enough to cover the materials of that paining with a small amount left over to buy some more supplies for the next. Time? Forget time, that didn’t even come into the equation when I was charging for a piece because I genuinely LOVE creating art and money has never been a priority for me. It was a very active hobby and like most hobbies it consumed all of my spare time.

You might be wondering what my husband was doing through all of this, well I can tell you he is my biggest fan and my rock. He never fails to amaze me, he is there through thick and thin and is always encouraging.

One day we were chatting and we thought a website would be a cool way to archive my paintings for me to draw inspiration from and to see how my techniques are changing and developing. It would be a place for me to self-assess essentially. Well my husband took that and ran with it, one of his hobbies is programing so he was happy to have a project and whipped up a basic version for me to get started.

I went on doing acrylic pieces and experimenting with styles and techniques and learnt a lot along the way. As my son got older he dropped his day sleep so things slowed down a bit and I had a baby girl on the way too! During my second pregnancy I was diagnosed with a stress related autoimmune disease called Graves’ Disease. Its sounds a lot worse than it is but basically its caused by extreme stress. I don’t regret any of the hours I stayed up painting prior to this or the total lack of sleep but maybe I need to admit that it did contribute to the development of my symptoms. I have always had an ‘I will sleep when I die’ attitude so it was hard for me to slow down a bit and get better.

I tried to paint occasionally and I still seemed to be getting semi regular orders so that was a really nice form of motivation for me. After my daughter Zoë was born there were a few complications due to surgeon error with my Caesarean and I ended up spending 3 weeks in hospital having corrective surgeries etc. Because I was breastfeeding a new born baby and dealing with the excruciating pain of the surgical error and the corrective surgeries in between I barely slept in those 3 weeks.  Sadly, the extreme stress and lack of sleep cause me to have a thyroid storm which is quite a serious backlash of Graves’ Disease. Things finally settled, and it was time to REST! Not that I know how… especially with two kids to look after…

When Zoë was 3 months old I just couldn’t take it anymore, I picked up a brush again. I had been going through some of my old paintings from when I was about 12 years old, they were a combination of acrylic and watercolour on paper, my husband looked at them and said “those will sell”… I didn’t believe him of course but sure enough after one week on TradeMe they were gone. In a way I kind of regret selling them because they were so special to me but at the time I didn’t realise that. Although, on the plus side, selling these was the moment when I realised I could make a real attempt at fulfilling my child-hood dream to be an actual, professional artist.

The turning point

I decided to start painting again, but with a new approach, using paper instead of canvas. For me this meant that I could explore new styles and techniques and work outside my comfort zone. Needless to say I loved it and developed a new love for watercolour, ink and really bright colours!

It was still a hobby but I was getting a bit of interest and my husband developed my website more and more each day and slowly things began to take shape. I made a lot of mistakes at this time but each one made me think of new approaches and ways to make my dream of one day becoming a ‘real’ artist come to life.

When Liam started kindy I worked my way back up to painting about 30 hours a week. My little Zoë was an angel with sleeping and eating and generally made the whole thing a lot easier this time around. On the days my son was at home I found him sitting up at the table with me doing his own masterpieces. It’s moments like these I treasure the most.

My husband and I decided it was time to start planning towards making me a proper little home business. We set the date for when my daughter also started kindy, and made it happen! With both of our children at kindy I had a whole 20 hours a week of uninterrupted time I could paint... Sounds good right? Well it was amazing until I used it all up and needed more… back to doing evening work after the kids go to bed. My goal as a mum was always to put my kids first, I never wanted to disrupt their time so I always tried/try to paint when they are at school/kindy or when they sleep. It’s a hard thing to balance and I’m still struggling to work it all out.

Now and in to the future

These days I work about 20 hours a week during work hours and about 18 hours during the evenings all 7 days of the week. Things seem to chug along at a nice even pace now but I never stop searching for new ways to develop and grow as an artist. Over the last year I have learned about social media platforms I never even knew existed. I have met some fabulous people along the way and have some truly amazing and loyal customers who I can’t thank enough!

My husband and I have worked on getting lots of content onto my YouTube channel. We have opened a Society6 shop and even invested in a high quality printer to do offer limited edition hand signed prints on my website.

I have so many goals for the future, I want to open new paths and try things that scare me. I have been part of some really exciting opportunities over this part year and I can’t wait until I can share them all. I hope I can write again soon with the next chapter of this adventure.

To sum this up, I would say that nothing is ever easy when you’re working for yourself but it helps to be in love with what you do. I would never have lasted so long without my heart being invested. I have also found a new appreciation for mess, in fact I have learnt to embrace it, what else can we do? In the morning the house is tidy and by bed it’s a tip, there are only so many hours in the day and it is just a matter of prioritising. I still don’t make a huge amount in monetary terms but who cares? I am enjoying every second of what I do and what more could a person ask for? I’m so excited to see what the future holds.

Thanks for stopping by!



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