Cambridge Open Studios artists who gave up their jobs to follow their dreams

Cambridge Open Studios artists who gave up their jobs to follow their dreams

Have you ever thought about giving up your day job and following your dream career? These artists, who are taking part in Cambridge Open Studios this July, did exactly that.

Cambridge Open Studios is a month-long art event taking place on the first four weekends in July. Artists open their workshops to the public so visitors can see how and where their work is created and have a chance to speak with the artists themselves.
The artists interviewed here are all taking part and are inviting everyone interested to come and meet them in their studios. But they have an extra message for anyone who wishes they could swap jobs and become an artist too. That message is to follow your dreams because it is never too late.
In some cases the artists we spoke to have dreamt about giving up the nine-to-five grind all their working lives, but were set on the wrong track by family expectations that they should get a ‘proper’ job. Their stories are proof that you can find your way back into a creative life at any age.
Cambridge Open Studios will feature an exciting range of exhibitions by 350 artists at 221 locations in the city and surrounding areas. Among the huge range of specialisms will be: fine art, photography, pottery, glass making, sculpture, illustration, textiles, jewellery and furniture making, and more besides.
The weekends are: July 1/2, 8/9, 15/16 and 22/23. However, as not all artists will exhibit every weekend it is important to check the website, or refer to the famous yellow guide. These guides will be widely available in local outlets including libraries, tourist information sites, galleries and selected shops. To find out more, visit

Christine Lafon, former secretary

My family made me get a ‘proper’ job
When I was 16 I loved art and knew that all I wanted was to be an artist. I won a place at the prestigious Camberwell College of Art but my parents refused to let me go, saying I had to go to secretarial college instead. They did it from a place of love, wanting to provide me with a secure means of supporting myself, but I was heartbroken.
I spent most of my life working as a secretary all over London, including City firms and The Mirror newspaper. It may have suited some people but I was just bored. If I wasn’t busy I would sketch people from my desk to help pass the time. But I didn’t carry on with art as a hobby – I felt I lacked the technical ability that art school would have provided. So I gave up on art for a long time until a friend got me interested in going to lessons locally. After a few false starts as life got in the way I eventually decided a couple of years ago that it was now or never. I gave up certain other commitments and dedicate the bulk of my time to painting. I’m so happy that I made that decision and feel like I have got the real me back. This year I will be exhibiting as part of Cambridge Open Studios, No13 in the guide.  I work in mixed-media, enjoy painting portraits and still life, and my style fluctuates between figurative and semi-abstract.  It’s an adventure of discovery!
Now I know you shouldn’t wait to become who you want to be, but I do understand that if you have caring responsibilities or a mortgage to pay it may not be the right decision to give up the day job at the moment. If you have to wait until you’re older, like me, just know that it was worth the wait.

Allison Henderson, former facilities and risk manager

I was waiting to win the Lottery so I could be an artist
Allison Henderson made the leap to become an artist after 20 years working in building services engineering as a Facilities Management Consultant specialising in risk management, working on mobile phone networks, hospitals and banks. She had originally thought that the idea of becoming a full time artist was an unrealistic dream. She says: “On the first ever Lottery draw in England, I was working away from home and the inevitable question was asked: ‘What would you do if you won the Lottery?’
“My answer was: ‘Give up work and go to art school’. So I always had this idea in the back of my mind but it kept growing until after a successful 20 year career in Building Services Engineering. I realised waiting to win the lottery was taking too long, so I decided to go for it and apply for a college course in art.
“My role at work involved a lot of travel and out of hours working, and leave was often cancelled. So I approached my employer to take a few hours off each week to pursue a part time Foundation course in art.
“Lots of work and planning later, I applied to Camberwell and Chelsea for their degree courses.  I had interviews at both but preferred Camberwell, and I had a fantastic three years there, absorbed in painting, drawing and ceramics.  In 2005 I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art Painting.   I then went on to do a PGCE in Art and Design (Secondary Education) at Goldsmiths, graduating in 2006.
“Motherhood and cancer then took up most of my time, but I have been well enough to finally open my studio a few years ago and have been active organising community art events, such as The Big Draw, Fulbourn, The Fulbourn Art Fair and the art days at the local school.
“I take commissions and teach children in an after school art club.  I exhibit regularly and will be Opening my Studio again this year, number 156 in the guide.
“I am a single parent, so my art practice is not a hobby as some people assume, it is my job and every customer is hugely important. They really make a difference to my motivation to keep going, and to the quality of life for my small family.”

Claire Howieson, former lawyer

I gave up commercial law to make jewellery
“After I had my first child I went back to my incredibly demanding job in commercial law. Returning to work after the second baby felt much harder, even when I went down to four days a week. I had taken up silversmithing as a hobby but was finding it more and more rewarding as a creative outlet. So when I found myself starting to make money from my small jewellery-making business, I decided to take the plunge and switch careers.
“I really enjoyed my job as a lawyer but it did not work for our family with two small children. Now I can work at home in my own time and be available for my children when they need me. I have also discovered a creative side to me that I love. I now design and hand craft contemporary and individual pieces of jewellery in silver and gold incorporating freshwater pearls, precious and semi-precious stones.
“Last year I was inspired to set up Histon Handmade, which is an art event I run twice a year where a group of local artists exhibit and sell their work at a venue in Histon. I have hand selected the people involved and have made fantastic new friends through this venture. I’m exhibiting at a shared studio for Cambridge Open Studios, number 167b in the guide.
“I would encourage anyone to develop their interest in art but if you are planning on giving up your day job you need to be well-established first. It takes a long time to get your name known and build up regular clients.”

Naomi Davies, genealogy researcher and artist

I started drawing in cafes
“I studied History at Cambridge many years ago and then spent years doing jobs that didn’t use my skills, but through which I learnt new ones. By turns I was a librarian, design studio administrator, webmaster for a university department and then a conference organiser. I finally started my own business ( doing my hobby, genealogy, as a living, in 2008 just before I turned 40. I loved this work, and felt I had finally found ‘my thing’ in life. My research skills were in high demand, and everything seemed set for me.
“I had always drawn to relax, but as the genealogy work was very demanding of my brain – I would often lie awake at night trying to solve the puzzles I encountered in the research, I began to draw and paint more and more, in order to wind down. And working from home, alone, I felt starved of adult company, so started going to local coffee shops to draw there. People would look over my shoulder, and compliment me on my work, so I started showing it on Facebook to my friends. I was thrilled that they started sharing it with their friends, and it wasn’t long until I started to get approached by people wanting to buy my work.
“That was in early 2015. Now the art has really taken off, and is now a huge part in my life, and I have had to put a lot of the genealogy on hold, although I never want to give it up fully. I’m exhibiting in Cambridge Open Studios and am number 65 in the guidebook. I do finally feel happy and fulfilled – I figure I’ve got my right and left brain both sorted now.”

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