Pen and Gwyn is excitingly snowballing these days, slowly but surely! With that in mind I thought it wouldn’t go amiss to introduce myself properly, as Nicky this time.
I’m 26 years old, born in York but spent the best chunk of childhood growing up on a farm in the Scottish Borders. In hindsight I should have made more use of the farm and played outside but I was often found in the playroom playing with my Sylvanian Families, watching TV, or most poignantly; painting.
I had every craft/ art kit available to kids in the 90’s and I utilised all that I could from those kits to make and create things I’d seen on Blue Peter, Art Attack and that one with Fearne Cotton and Steve Mulhern which I can’t for the life of me remember what the name was!
Fast forward a few years and I was doing Art for GCSE and A Level. I remember once sneaking a peak in the teachers register, because you know, kids. Right beside my name was an asterisk and at the bottom of that page it said *gifted. That is the one and only time I think a teacher genuinely thought I was good at something. I was not book smart, I was definitely NOT sporty (my legs were too long and skinny, it was like watching bambi on ice when I ran) and at the best of times I was a bit of a pushover so never took the lead in anything. But Art, Art I did.
Art was the only thing I felt I was truly good at, and genuinely enjoyed. So when it came time to find a uni I chose Falmouth University to do Contemporary Crafts. However when results day came, I remember walking into school, opening my results, seeing that I got in and just feeling numb. My friends were whooping and hugging around me and I just walked off to my PSHE teachers room, asked to use her phone, rang Falmouth and pulled out. Amongst other factors I had a real fear of doing what I loved as a job. I was worried it would suck the life out of it. I also had an inner monologue of all the advice both teachers and family were giving me saying that being an artist isn’t a realistic or profitable job. I had lost my mojo.
After a years break where I worked as a waitress and made cushions in my spare time, I ended up returning to York to go to York St John University and study English Literature and Media. It was still a creative degree and I felt I had chosen a smart compromise. I LOVED my degree, apart from one Science Fiction module I was forced to do which is another story for another day. I worked hard and came out with a 2:1 which was a frustrating 0.02% off a First. Yes I appealed it, no they did not budge. I can’t bare to think about it for too long because I get really, really, royally miffed. So moving on…
I met my lovely boyfriend at Uni! He’s called Sam and he is the best thing to ever happen to me. I could gush on and on and on but I’ll save you the cringing. We survived uni and both ended up doing a CELTA teaching certificate after we graduated so that we could travel the world and teach English.
Our first job took us to Ulsan in South Korea which is a country that completely stole our hearts. Whenever South Korea crops up in conversations I get a warm fuzzy feeling and ache in my chest; I miss the country and the people so much. If I could sum South Korea up in three words it would be kind, generous and welcoming.
It was around Christmas time when the head teacher of the school we worked at called a meeting and said we need to come up with a fun yet simple Christmas Card design that we could do with our classes. My homeroom were all around 4 years old, so I picked the simplest idea; brown fingerprints with a red circle sticker on, add some antlers and eyes with a pen and boom- Rudolph! Funnily enough the designs were so cute and charming that I started to make my own for my friends, family back home and colleagues. They were quite popular and for some ludicrous reason I felt it was appropriate to apply to the foreigners market in the city. So for 7 days I was hand cutting card, folding my own envelopes and finger printing like a a criminal.
The day of the market was both exciting and terrifying, I’d never done anything like that before, let alone in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. But I did it, and I sold out! After the Christmas Market I did a Valentines one too which also went down really well.
After finishing our contract in South Korea, Sam and I travelled for a bit, spent all our savings and came home with heavy suitcases, tanned faces and a lot more confidence in ourselves. Almost immediately I started making my cards again and put them in a few shops. I think this is when the seed was planted, the little germinating seed that would eventually fill my head so full I couldn’t think of anything else other than working for myself. But the seed was only small at this point so I could put it to the back of my mind.
This enabled Sam and I to get our second job in the South of Spain in a city called Almería; the tapas capital! Alongside teaching English I also had the opportunity to teach Art which was wonderful. It lit a fire under my butt and encouraged me to explore my creativity more. It got to a point where I was attacking any plain object in our apartment with sharpies or paints. Eventually I stopped graffitiing our household items and bought some canvasses, clay and paints. This satiated me for a while, but it quickly became insufficient. I started doodling on Procreate on my iPad and watching Skillshare videos on pattern making, sketchbook practise and finding your style. I came up with some awesome designs and it was Sam and our friends from Almería that encouraged me to get an Instagram account to share my work with others. This is where that little seed in my head was now a strong shoot that had a few curled up leaves ready to sprout open.
I knew I was heading down a slippy slope, but I kinda wanted to let it happen. I refer to it as a slippy slope because this is where I started to realise that all the effort and hard work that I had put into building a teaching career suddenly started to take a back seat. I loved teaching, I loved the school I worked at and the team I was surrounded by, I loved (most) of my students and I had bonded with their families too; but I wasn’t passionate about it. I started to wake up at 6-7 in the morning, sit down and paint for hours on end. I’d forget to eat breakfast, I’d even forget to shower until it got the time where Sam would have to bring me back to reality and say “Nicky it’s time to get ready for work”. Those words used to depress me. It wasn’t because I hated my job, I didn’t. It just made me realise that teaching was my job and not drawing. It made me realise that teaching was what earned me money and not Art. It was then that I decided it needed to change.
I put my patterns on some print on demand websites, where I would upload my work onto a range of products from mugs, tea towels, canvasses and phone cases which customers could order. It was just invigorating to see my work on real things! My designs sold well but not anywhere near enough to encourage me to leave my job as a teacher. I also was a little restless because despite loving my designs I didn’t identify with them and I didn’t think I had found my true style yet. So I kept painting any spare moment I could find, I became embarrassingly anti-social and just locked myself in on weekends incessantly painting.
My Instagram grew more and more engagement and I became more involved in the artist/ illustrator world. I would see them doing craft markets, receiving their orders of prints, encountering their work in retail shops and I was JEALOUS. I was such a green eyed monster I think I even unfollowed a few because I couldn’t bare to see their success (I have since re-followed them because I’m not longer a grinch). I grew quite fundamentally unhappy, I felt like a fish in a bowl. I could see the world out there, the life I wanted to live, but I felt trapped in the life I’d built in Almería.
Whilst there Sam and I had adopted our gorgeous little dog called Pingu, he was only a foster, who we actually fostered to help cheer me up and bring out of my funk. But we fell head over heels for little Pingu and told the adoption agency to take him off the list, he was ours. We had also built a true family out there too. I consider the friends I made in Almería friends for life. They were just all good people, the kind of people that if you cut them open, skittles and marshmallows would come pouring out. The life we lived in Almería was idyllic really, but I still felt like I was putting my shoes on the wrong feet everyday.
At this point that little seed that was planted in my mind had grown into a massive, untameable plant that filled every thought, action or decision I had. It came to blows and I had a bit of a breakdown one day before work, I say breakdown but it was more like a childish strop that kids pull when they don’t want to go out for a walk with the family and instead want to stay inside and play Mario cart on the Wii. I just cried and said to Sam “I don’t want too, I don’t want to anymore”. In hindsight I was in a pretty low place, but at the time I thought I was just hormonal or home sick or some other reason or explanation for crying before work. It was that evening after work that I just said to Sam “why don’t we move home at Christmas?”. We were waiting till we’d finished the academic year which would be this September 2019 before we decided if we were to move home or not. But alongside me wanting to pursue my dream, Sam had dreams of his own that he was desperate to manifest. We didn’t know why we were waiting, and really who we were waiting for. The school we worked for was always getting applicants for jobs, they never struggled to fill positions, so why were we hanging around?
On the 23rd of December we said a heartbreakingly sad goodbye to Almería and our family there, we packed up our apartment, got Pingu his passport and travelled home for good.
Since then it was been a massive learning curve for the both of us. We are now living in East Yorkshire, Sams chasing his dream, I’m chasing mine and Pingu is chasing Rupert the pug, Sams sisters dog. And despite the fact that our lives are probably now the most unstable they’ve ever been, we are truly, cheek achingly happy. I’m now one of those accounts on social media that I couldn’t bare to look at last year. I’ve found my style, selling my work, building a following and enjoying every moment of it. It doesn’t come without its bad days, I get rejected by publishers or a retail shop I love tells me “I’m not quite what they’re looking for”, but I’m doing it; and in reality I’ve only been officially doing it since receiving my first batch of products three months ago in March, so I can’t get ahead of myself.
It been a long, drawn out, painful journey to get here. I’ve spend the best part of my adult life procrastinating against following my heart and it’s left me unhappy. I’ve spent six months following it and I’m on cloud nine. I’m excited, nervous and clueless about what the next six months will bring; I might fail, I might succeed, I might just scrape by. But as Sam says, you only fail when you stop trying, so here’s to giving it a go!