When Vicki Palmer was pregnant with her son she gave up a successful career as an estate agent to pursue her passion for art. Four years on, she’s studying for a fine art degree and has a six week waiting list for her work. We find out how she did it.
How long have you wanted to be an artist?
Forever! I remember being three or four and telling people I was going to be an artist. But it wasn’t until I had my son that I finally did anything about it. At that time, I was an estate agent. The money was good – it helped my husband and I buy our house – but my heart wasn’t in it. And when I was trying for my son, I decided that I didn’t want my child to grow up thinking that their mum talked about being an artist but didn’t do anything about it. If I want my son to follow his dreams in life, I have to do it myself.
So what did you do?
I quit my job and spent a year working on putting together a portfiolio of work I could use to apply to university with. I looked around at possible degree courses, but with a husband and child, applying for a full time university place across the other side of the country wasn’t an option. I investigated Open University courses, but I need to be around people and was worried I’d feel too lonely studying at home on my own, so I decided to apply for a university close to my home.
Were you ever nervous it wouldn’t work out?
It did feel a bit like I was putting all my eggs in one basket. And if I hadn’t got accepted I would have been devastated, as I would have had little choice but to return to a career I didn’t really have any passion for. I could have earned incredible money as an estate agent, but I would have been living a lie. So when my course leader called to tell me I’d been accepted I was really emotional!
How have you found the past year as a full time student and mother?
I feel like I work harder now than ever before, but doesn’t feel like work. I don’t have time for TV any more – in the evenings I’m either bathing or feeding my son, reading Thomas the Tank engine or drawing. I don’t see it as a negative though. I love structure and I like that fact that I’m busy doing something I love. I feel like my art IS my time for myself – the fact that I’m making a career out of it is unbelievably amazing. The last year of my life really has been the best yet.
You also sell your artwork. How did that come about?
It sort of happened by accident. I tentatively started putting my art up online, hoping someone might want it on their wall, and it turned out that they didn’t just like my work, but they were happy to pay for it! So I set up a pricelist on my Facebook page, and within a few days I had six week waiting list.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received. I do have a website, but I my Facebook page is where I get most of my business. It’s like an interactive blog that I update daily.
What inspires your drawings?
My current work all stemmed from my first year degree show. I had created a symbolic drawing of mine and my son’s converse trainers. I was interested in the discourse between people who aren’t mothers and those who are. There are so many different opinions on motherhood – whether children should become your life, or whether you should pursue something for yourself too. I don’t agree when people say you have to choose one or the other. I want both.
My drawing of our trainers is full of meaning for me, and is a very emotional piece – it represents our relationship and the fact that he is my world, but so is my art. When I see the piece I see a portrait of my son and me. Though when my mother first saw what she was expecting to be a portrait of her grandson, she was disappointed and burst out: ‘Where is he? That’s just a couple of pairs of shoes!’
How is your business going?
It turns out lots of people want family portraits of their shoes! They send me photos and I chat to them about what they mean. Some people get the idea straight away. One lady and her husband are in the army, and they sent me a photo of their boots shined and perfectly lined up, with their son’s tiny shoes messily piled on top of each other next to them.
Another lady has three messy grown up boys, and sent me a photo of their shoes thrown into a pile! Others simply like their family’s shoes lined up neatly. I just draw whatever I see.
I’m really lucky that my husband is incredibly supportive of my work. He’s incredible and sometimes I forget how invaluable that support is.
What do you do with the money you earn?
All profits from my business go towards my master’s degree, except 10% which I donate to the British Heart Foundation each month. My dad had a stroke (which he has fully recovered from) and in May, when I started by business, he had a triple heart bypass, so the British Heart Foundation is a very important charity for my family.
What do you want to do next?
I want to do master’s degree when I graduate, but can’t get student finance. Tuitions fees and living expenses will set me back £16,000 and I’m hoping to earn that through my business to pay for it. Already this summer just working part time I’ve earned over £2,000.
My ultimate ambition is to work for myself as an artist and build on what I’ve started with more commissions, and eventually larger commissions from companies. I don’t want to be famous or even to earn a huge amount of money – I just want to be happy.
You can view Vicki’s work and commission a piece of your own on her Facebook page.