an illustration of an art school diploma, congratulations Chloe

It’s never too late for art school…

I only have one major regret in life; I wish I had gone to art school. 

When I left school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had been working towards being a vet, only to fall at the last hurdle and just miss my place at uni. I was a bit lost and thought I’d take a year off to explore my creative side – after all, whenever I wasn’t studying I was drawing or making things. My boyfriend at the time was going to graphic design school and said all I needed to do was to work on a portfolio and take it to some schools and if it didn’t work out I could try something else. I liked this plan.

This new scheme of mine however, came out of left field as far as my parents were concerned and I wasn’t brave enough at the time to take the leap without their support. They worried – as parents do – that I would never make any money as an artist and that I should instead work towards a proper career. Get yourself a good degree, a good job and you can draw in your own time. So that’s what I did. After all, I knew no working artists, only people who painted as a hobby and what did I know about art anyway?

Fast forward 20 years and I’m still dreaming of art school. I’ve pivoted several times during my work life, from city slicker, to wine industry expert, to mother, to tennis coach, to community worker, and now small business owner. I’ve learnt a lot about myself: my strengths and weakness; my hopes and dreams and my biggest fears. I’ve also learnt that I have a compulsive need to make things. I’ve realised that despite what my school art teacher told me, you can make art without it needing to be perfect and yes, I’ve realised I can draw despite, always thinking the opposite. I can always find the time and energy to be creative, even when I am operating on a few hours sleep, my tired head fizzing with ideas.

What I have failed to do up until this point is to give myself the ‘permission’ to pursue my creativity with the same dedication and energy of a day job. I’ve always felt guilty for spending too much time on a painting, a piece of sewing or doodling in my journal, I should be doing something productive not enjoying myself. It’s a hobby, not a job after all. So this is why I still dream of art school. I wish I could be a student again and have the time to fully commit to exploring my creativity, without guilt. 

In 2020, the world got turned upside down thanks to COVID, with multiple lockdowns, home schooling and personal challenges on every front. It was a year for reflection and for gratitude amongst all the madness.  I started to commit to my creative goals and to realise that I deserved to pursue a career that would fulfil and challenge me everyday. I realised that the only person who could make this happen was me. I didn’t need to spend a fortune going to an official school in order to announce to the world that I wanted to be an artist. I could just do it myself, at home and on my own terms. 

So, to use an idea from Elizabeth Gilbert’s creative bible, ‘Big Magic’, I am writing myself a ‘permission slip’ to  start art school and to pursue my studies as though my life depends on it. In many ways it does. No more waiting around until I feel worthy, or believe that I am sufficiently qualified. Fear after all is just a feeling we get when we challenge ourselves to do something that is outside of our comfort zone, whether it’s jumping out of an aeroplane, singing in front of a crowd (I survived both of these and even enjoyed them) or embarking on a path that means everything to you. Fear is the proof that it matters, that it means something. I’ve spent too much time worrying about what if I fail? What if I’m no good? Now I find it’s far more useful to tell myself, you will fail, your work will not be perfect, this will take time. Some days you will wake up and dream of an office job and question what you are doing, but each time this happens you will learn something new and one day you will wake up and you will know that you are where you need to be. So, time to get busy. School starts now!