MAMA CAREER Q&A: Liz West, Acclaimed Artist

Juggling work and family life is incredibly hard, especially when you’re a mama. One thing we love here at the Lifestyle is Calling, is that there’s so many of you out there smashing your high flying careers and building business empires, alongside being a mama and juggling life.

It’s not always easy, but with the right direction, encouragement, and support the world really can be your oyster!

This is our first interview with someone who has realized her childhood dream of becoming an acclaimed artist. An old classmate of Charlotte, we find Liz’s story so incredibly impressive. Read on to hear more.

Meet Liz West- MUMMY of 1 and Acclaimed Artist

Your career is very unique and different. It’s worlds apart from a traditional 9-5. Tell us about your typical days, how you manage your time, what similarities and what differences are there with a traditional job?

Every single day is different. Some days I might be in the studio, others I will be attending site visits or meetings. I travel a lot for my work giving talks, making exhibitions and transporting work. Sometimes I decide to work from my home office and sometimes I prefer to go into my Salford based studio. The most typical of days for me would be a day in the studio. Luckily my husband is based in the same building so we will travel in together and go our separate ways arriving around 9am. We reconvene for a lunch together around 1pm and head home around 5/6pm depending on work load. Since having the little one I haven’t been into the studio at all as I am still on maternity leave. Instead I am doing bits from home as and when I can. I currently have a studio manager taking care of my affairs so I don’t have to worry about them. My studio is very minimal but my store room (next door) is rammed full of crated and stacked works of art, product samples, tools and other bits. My studio has my past exhibition posters on the wall, a comfortable sofa for meetings and a huge table in the middle to work at.

Tell us about your employment “status”. Are you self-employed? Have you considered establishing a business?

At the moment I am self-employed as a solo trader and am registered for VAT due to the large scale commissions and exhibitions I am making. I bring people on board to work alongside me project by project on a freelance basis. Establishing my own business might be something I soon have to look into if my work continues to grow as it currently is doing. For the first time this year I decided to work with an accountant who looks after my books, before this I have been looking after this myself and I found it way too time consuming.

Did you always want to be an artist? What experiences have shaped your journey, both personally and professionally?

Both my parents are artists and so I grew up in a house full of art making. Through my life and education I was always encouraged to follow what I enjoyed most and what I was good at, which was of course Art. I naturally progressed to art school, studying at Glasgow School of Art between 2004-2007. I never thought about becoming anything else (perhaps a set designer, but this is in a similar vein). After Art school I took a non Art related job for three years to earn some money and gather some life experiences. I was eager to get back to being creative so register as a self employed artist in 2010. I showed my old degree show work to begin with and took on a lot of self-driven projects in order to build up my CV and managed to get the ball rolling. Good advice from my parents and tutors has really helped shape my practice, however, following my passion and instincts has been the most important in making decisions both personally and professionally.

What was your biggest learning experience during your career?

Simply to do things and make work because you want to, not because someone else has told you to. I think you can get into dangerous territory creatively if you follow trends or get pushed down a route your not comfortable with.

What has been your proudest moment so far?

Every time I open an exhibition or commissioned work I feel a great sense of pride because of the huge amount of work and energy that goes into my projects. I feel very proud that I have had some amazing opportunities through my work, particularly in the past few years, to travel the world. Having Francis gives me a very different sense of pride and perhaps the most satisfying. I was so afraid of stopping or slowing down to have a baby and also of the birth that I am proud for getting through it and making things work (so far).

We can see your breathtaking exhibitions and works on your website. Where do you get your creative inspiration from?

I get my inspiration from everywhere. I spend a lot of time looking closely at the world around me, taking photographs and stopping to admire design, architecture, art and life unravelling around me. I go to exhibitions and attend talks to see and hear what other artists are doing and to be inspired.

How do you give the focus you need to give to your art, as well as being a mummy to gorgeous baby? This must be quite a juggling act.

As Francis doesn’t sleep much in the day I am finding it hard to quickly do my work at his nap time. I prioritise other things (like feeding myself) in the precious short time. My husband and I juggle childcare so I can focus on work for blocks of time, but it’s still early days (nearly six months). We don’t have family or friends nearby so we are doing everything ourselves, we are a great little team! My studio manager is a godsend and is making sure things are getting done for me from a work point of view. During my pregnancy I tried to organise exhibitions and work on upcoming commissions for after Francis was born, this way my work wouldn’t stand still.

Tell us how motherhood has changed you? What aspect of motherhood has taken you by surprise?

I didn’t have any concrete ideas about what motherhood would be like, I came into it without any expectations. I try not to read too much and to only research and tackle any concerns as and when they arise. I never through I was very maternal, so I am surprised how much I am able to give to this little fella happily and willingly. Motherhood as so far taught me to slow down a little. Any past anxieties about day to day crap have been obliterated as I now have to prioritise others things and use my energy elsewhere.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in the arts? Is pursuing a career in the arts something you can do later in life?

You can turn to a career in the arts at any age and with any amount of experience. You don’t need a degree in art to become an artist. If your passionate and professional about what you make and how you conduct yourself I believe you can achieve anything. Recently an older lady won a major art prize in Liverpool and since her career has taken off, so it shows it is possible.

What creative advice could you offer to an amateur artist? e.g. Someone who wants to get involved with art as a hobby? Are their any programmes you would recommend? What about art ideas/ programmes for babies/ toddlers and younger children?

My advice to anyone wanting to pursue a career or hobby in art would be to keep going! Make because you love it and not for anyone else. You can either indulge your passion at home (I often set myself up for the day on my kitchen table) or join a craft/art group. I found that joining a studio group was beneficial as it gave me lots of social interactions. In each of the UK’s towns and cites there are baby and toddler programmes being set up. For example, the first Friday of each month at Manchester Art Gallery there is Baby Art Club which is run by artists and aims to create sensory play for 0-12 month old’s, the best bit is that its free to attend.

Tell us about your favourite exhibitions UK/ local/ Internationally for 2018? Which female artists should we be watching?

I will be watching out for what Scottish based artist Rachel MacLean does in 2018. Using film and photography, she creates outlandish characters and fantasy worlds which she uses to delve into politics, society and identity. Her work is amazingly crafted and very current. I am looking forward to the Hayward Gallery in London reopening in 2018 and their new exhibitions programme featuring renown German photographer Andreas Gursky.

Interesting days out with an art focus?

Growing up in Barnsley, just around the corner from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was a major influence on me. I also worked there as a Saturday girl as a student to earn some extra pennies. As a family we used to visit often. Whenever I visit my mum’s, I still go the the park for a walk and a inspiration boost. The Hepworth Gallery is up the road from YSP and is a great place to visit whilst in the area. Sometimes I head to one city and spend the day looking around all the art related spaces that city has to offer as well as having a nice lunch on the go.

Tell us what to expect from Liz West in 2018

At the beginning of 2018 I am hoping to be unveiling my biggest permenant artwork in central London. (I have all my fingers and toes crossed that planning permission doesn’t hold any thing up!). I want to take some time to reflect on my practice pre-baby and begin a period of research and development whereby I make a brand new body of work that could be shown in gallery’s and museums as well as being suitable for inclusion in group exhibitions. Watch this space.

What is always in your work space?

Green tea in my white porcelain Muji mug.
My iPhone and Macbook.
My sketchbook and a black fiber tip pen to make little drawings, lists and notes.
My purse.

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