Today I am attending the first day of a three-day induction at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital in Exeter. ‘Why would you be doing such a thing?’ I hear you cry! Well, changes are afoot. Many of you will know that when I left school I first trained and worked as a Registered Nurse. In January I will be starting a refresher course with my local teaching hospital to return to nursing. There are a few reasons why I’m doing this and I wanted to explain them here for any of you who are interested, or have been kindly following my journey. It’s a long one so grab a cuppa.
I think the first thing to say is that from starting Art College as an eager and earnest art student, my view of art and illustration, and in particular, making a living as an illustrator, has changed inordinately. It was interesting and strangely reassuring for me to return to the art college where I studied, to take some tutorials with students there the week before last. I found Art College a real roller coaster and I still find it difficult to articulate what I found so tricky about it. Visiting for the afternoon, it was as difficult a place as ever to be. It is something to do with the almost tangible mismatch between the hopes and dreams of bright young people, and the cynicism and arrogance of the market place that is a current UK Higher Education institution. It’s sort of like watching toddlers being fed into a mincer.
I recognise now that I was naïve about a couple of important things when I graduated from Art College. The truth is that, over five years down the line, I know very few people who are earning a living exclusively illustrating. The phrase that is often bandied around is Portfolio Career, and it turns out you have to be as creative about your career as you do about the work itself. People I know are working as designers, communications officers, SEO specialists, web designers, writers, teachers, workshop facilitators, technicians, speakers, baristas, shelf-stackers, and much, much more, along side their illustrating. The other thing I was naive about was the ‘Hustle’. The ‘Hustle’ involves selling yourself as an illustrator, getting your work under the noses of those with the power to commission you, and the horrors of contract and pricing negotiations. It is best compared to having your eye drilled out very, very slowly. For anyone with a vaguely sensitive disposition (oh, you know, like illustrators and artists), it’s tantamount to water torture.
So, back at the beginning of the year I ended up having a ‘moment’. The ‘moment’ involved me acknowledging that there would probably never be this magical point where I would ‘make-it’ and earn a living consistently from illustration, so I needed to supplement my illustration work with other things. However, I knew I didn’t want to do the things that I could see other illustrators doing as part of their portfolio careers (a good teacher is worth their weight in gold, and I am not one of them). I could also see that the ‘hustle’ was killing my mental health. All this coincided with the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) conference in Glasgow. Some of you will remember that conference. I had worked on their Cranial Cocktail project, looking at the chemicals in your brain, and went up for the launch conference at Glasgow Science Centre. I sat in that conference room with doctors, nurses, teachers, probation officers, counselors, mediators, family workers, and youth workers, and I remembered how much I care about what happens to people when they are having a tough time. And when I say that, I mean, I care a lot about it.
I don’t want to get all high-faluting. Nursing is a mucky old business and it’s the hardest work I have ever done in my life. I don’t suppose I made a lot of difference in my time as a nurse and often it was absolutely hideous. The bureaucratic structure of the NHS sometimes seemed as if it were expressly designed to thwart any attempts by its staff to actually help any of its users. Nevertheless, I sat there and thought, there’s still a nurse inside of me. The end result was that I have been slowly working my way through the grueling process of getting on a refresher course.
Of course, into the mix of all this has been the Kelpies Prize. Talk about a curve ball. I hope that I can find a good balance between the physical and emotional demands of nursing, and the creative demands of writing and illustrating. At the moment I feel as though I would gladly never pick up a pencil again but I think that might be part of the process, and I hope I will find my way back to illustrating again. I’m certainly very excited about the writing. As to this blog, it’s probably going to evolve a bit. I hope I don’t lose too many of you as it does. I can foresee that there will be fewer drawings, more day-in-the-life stories as I work this nursing thing out, and hopefully, more writing. Do stick with me. At the very least, it should be entertaining!