Realising the dream of becoming an artist

By Jo Boddy, Foundation Diploma in Art and Design alumna 2021

I achieved a first for my undergraduate degree in Maritime Leisure Management at Southampton Solent University. After a stint in Scotland managing a marina for a 5 star hotel on Loch Lomond, I returned to the South East with my now husband in tow and settled into a lecturing job in further education. I loved the teaching but after several years, wanted more of an academic challenge so applied to study for a masters degree in sustainability with a mind to move into higher education teaching. The arrival of our first child postponed this plan but I promised myself I would go back to it. By the time the second child arrived I was in the position common to so many women: desperate to do something for myself but struggling to tear myself away from child-centred responsibilities. I picked up my sketchbook, and started attending a weekly drawing and painting class, simply to get myself some space. After a year I decided to take the leap; I turned the promised masters into a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design (FDAD) at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation and realised the dream I’d once had of being an artist.   

I hadn’t been brave enough to continue art beyond A level; I couldn’t see how to make a living with it and I’ve always regretted this. With hindsight I realise there are many, many paths open to those who want to pursue an artistic career, I’d just failed to discover any of them and been heavily steered down the maths/science route at school (my degree subject was the result of my finally deciding to study something else I love, sailing). 

The FDAD involves 10 short courses over two years so was completely flexible around my young family and busy husband. I discovered printmaking, signed up to weekly sessions at a local arts centre alongside my FDAD and am now pursuing this as a career. I work mainly in linocut and collagraph and have begun experimenting with combining the two and making collages with prints.   

I set up a website in 2020 and work hard at promoting my work via social media, what I didn’t initially realise was that I’d have to become a writer, photographer, saleswoman and web expert as well as an artist! I sell work via craft fairs and enter work into exhibitions and competitions. Often I’m not accepted, but in 2021 I was thrilled to exhibit and sell work at the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair and to win the Lucie Green Printmakers Prize at the Southbank Printmakers mini print competition. I am already planning work to enter for both of these exhibitions in 2022 and might even be brave enough to consider entering the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy. I have nine craft fairs booked and will shortly be preparing for exhibitions with the Print at the Park group I was invited to join at South Hill Park.             

I work from our home using a mixture of my bedroom and the utility room for storage and the kitchen table to actually print on. When I need a specialist press I go to open access sessions at South Hill Park in Bracknell. I have high hopes that within the next couple of years we may move somewhere that will allow me a small studio space and I have already picked out my dream press and am saving up for it. I cannot describe how wonderful it is to be able to do something I enjoy so much. I walk our dog every day in the Swinley Forest, pausing with my sketchbook to make tree shaped messes in ink or graphite or whatever takes my fancy that day. Sometimes I pause and just listen, soaking up the forest. The fact that I can call that ‘work’ still amazes me. I find I put a lot of pressure on myself to create work worthy of entering for exhibitions. I do suffer from that need to justify doing something that I enjoy so much, so I must keep driving myself forward, learning new skills, looking in new ways and constantly asking ‘what happens if….’  

The fact I can do all this and still drop and collect my children to and from school (apart from when I’ve run away for another course at West Dean!) is wonderful. I’m sure I would have been fulfilled and happy teaching in a university but I would never have answered that niggling question ‘what if…?’