How I Became a Travelling Artist
This is a rather long account (by internet standards), so you might want to make yourself comfortable...
So many people I speak to say they were always an artist, or they always had this urge to draw. My story isn't quite like that - I'm a pretty late bloomer - though I have always wanted to create. I just didn't realise that all this searching would lead me right back full circle to the act of drawing!
For as long as I can remember, I've always loved to try new things. I've had a go at soap-making, spoon carving, truffle-making, macramé, wire jewellery, and even lacemaking with a kit I'd requested for Christmas when I was 9 (I never could work out those instructions...).
My childhood was a difficult one and although both my parents were arty, I grew up with my grandparents from the age of 11 whose main concern was for me to get a good education followed by a "proper job" with security. In their defence, they had me involved in all sort of creative activities, such as dancing and music, but art was never something to be taken seriously. Academia was where it was at.
Thus, I entered the corporate world with ambitious goals that didn't amount to much more than just "having money". But I didn't make a lot of money and creating art took even more of a backseat, so much so that once I left school, I didn't draw again until my mid 30s.
This art-free period feels very strange now - like a massive void where I remember very little in terms of events. Depression, body dysmorphia and identity issues that had first manifested in my teenage years became increasingly problematic.Putting on a "sane face" not only caused me to lose myself entirely, but also meant that many of the people closest to me had no idea how I felt.
Starting in my 20s, I learned to hide from it. I medicated myself with altering the way I looked, indulging in popular culture, drinking, spending wildly and getting into debt, making a lot of bad decisions. My moods swung wildly from feeling empty, pointless and numb, to hypersenstive, erratic and volatile.
Over the years, I tried to take action, reaching out to doctors, being put on pills, having therapy...but I wasn't getting anywhere, to the point that I stopped bothering to try. I felt cursed by bad genes on both sides so was getting better even possible? The lows became more pronounced and I started neglecting myself in every way. I had no children and I wasn't religious and although very few people would have known from the outside, I felt entirely without purpose and regularly questioned why I go on.
So what made me go on and decide to pick up a pencil again?
There was no real "aha!" moment, but rather a series of small changes.
In 2010, I met my partner, and in the following years, we took a number of long-term trips abroad - something I'd wanted to do for over a decade. I had some incredible times and felt very fortunate for the experience, but soon the usual feelings started to creep back in – maybe I was returning to my baseline dopamine level.
But things were different. I had started to live a bit more, question my "9-5" existence and think deeply about what I valued in life. I started buying less, realising that happiness and contentment didn't come in the way of "things", and paying more attention to my relationship with the natural environment.
In 2016, while learning about permaculture, I stumbled across videos of tiny homes on You Tube - now there was an interesting idea...but could we do it? Despite nagging internal doubts, we began converting a van into our tiny home on wheels and one year later, we quit our jobs and set off travelling. Thank goodness for my partner as I still can't drive - I've never even had a lesson.
Left: The first night in our new home!
Then almost immediately, we met Mouse - a poorly 7-week old stray kitten that I saw darting back and forth across a busy road in Bosnia. We took him in and after realising there was absolutely no chance of finding him a home, we embarked on the slightly insane adventure of a roadtrip with Mouse as my muse for the next 8 months.
Right: Life before Mouse, pleased as punch with my new home
I had read about the benefits of drawing for mental health so I bought a copy of Danny Gregory’s “The Creative License”. I began to draw almost daily sketches of my travels, giving me a feeling of happiness and a beautiful way to remember our journey - an interesting tree stump, Mouse napping, the soup I’d made one afternoon - it all went in.
Now I'd begun to draw again, I felt a surge of enthusiasm - a purpose, a reignited passion. It was something I could entirely lose myself in and I wanted to create more! I was 37 but I'd never really been bothered by my age or what I "should" have be doing by life's various milestones, so why let it become a barrier now?
When we returned to the UK, I got a final push to remind myself to keep going: the sight of row upon row of unread art books that my mum had bought for herself while I was away, along with boxes of art and craft supplies in pristine condition.
She had always wanted to be a textile designer but hadn't pursued her dream. Even now with lots of ideas and excitement about projects she wants to start, poems she wants to write, drawings she wants to create, she’s paralysed by a need for perfectionism, and gives in to the little voice that says she can't do it... So the books remain unread, and the art supplies unused.
This was a bit of a wake-up call. I knew that I didn't want to accept that it was too late for me to start, and then find myself in the exact same position 10 years from now, looking back and wishing I had kept up my drawing at 37. The time was now!
Left: Lost in drawing, Spain
Of course, not everyone needs to go to the lengths of moving into a van to jolt them into action. I personally needed that experience to get the headspace to create again, disconnect from all the digital noise and connect with my natural surroundings. Nature continues to be an amazing teacher - not just with art - with lessons for life in general.
As for my depression, I contemplated for a long time whether to share with you my mental health struggles...
But I realised by hiding what has been a pivotal part of my journey to getting here, I’m reinforcing the idea that it is something dark and shadowy, to be swept under the carpet. Using up energy to conceal the more difficult aspects of my existence is exhausting when it’s energy that I could be putting into new work.
I also hope that by sharing, this may help someone facing any similar issues in their own life, creative or otherwise. Mental health awareness has fortunately come a long way, but there is still a stigma and an uneasiness to discuss openly.
I'm not over my mood disturbances and may never be, but they contain an energy that can be harnessed when understood! Art is a fantastic outlet for this, and provides me with a focus, a passion, and a way to nurture a quality of the greatest importance: curiosity. Each new day brings with it new opportunities and it’s not too late to start again.
I'll finish the story with a a flick through of one of the journals from my European trip. Looking back now, I never would have imagined that this little book would mark this exciting new journey, that I’d find a supportive online artist community, and that within less than two years, I'd be sharing my work with you right here!
I hope you enjoyed learning more about me and thank you for reading :)
If you want to follow where this journey leads next, sign up to my newsletter in the footer (and you’ll also get my free illustrated mushroom ebook too!)