Updated: Nov 2, 2020
Art was always my thing. That kid in class who could draw things. The odd one out who saw the world a bit differently from everyone else. It gave me a sense of purpose and a safety net when things didn't go well. I always knew I would end up doing something creative, I didn't have much of a choice, its how my brain is wired.
Growing up, I dreamt of being an animator for Pixar or whoever would let me draw things all day. I wanted to tell stories, bring characters to life, make movies. In my pop-punk influenced teenage years, I could pretty much draw every character from The Simpsons. Classmates would have me draw them as a caricature in that style and pay me a couple of quid for the doodle I did when I was supposed to be learning French or working out the angle of a triangle in math class.
It was in my later teen years that things took a turn for me and the way I used art. With things taking a turn for the worse at home, depression and anxiety became the norm for me. I lost focus and direction and flunked my A-levels. My dream of going to university to study animation became an impossibility and things began to spiral out of my control. Art was my safety net. When I couldn't explain what I was feeling, I drew it. When the frustration became too much to process, I painted it, trapping those emotions in an acrylic prison on canvas.
This self-inflicted spiral lasted years as I bounced from one job to another. Whether I was pouring coffee for people or putting sale stickers on CD's, my wages were spent on creative ways to distract my mind. Music was a massive part of my life at this point and I played in a couple of crappy punk bands, jamming on a bass guitar like my hero Mark Hoppus. I always had a thirst for learning new things, and without university being an option, I would watch youtube videos on how to learn photoshop, how to start a clothing company, etc. It was a huge new resource to learn how to be creative and actually do something with the new skills I was picking up.
I became an entrepreneur and taught myself business and art in my own way. If I couldn't bring myself to study the traditional way, I would do it in my own way. Trial and error, outside the box ideas and being stubborn. I set up a clothing company on Myspace, printing up t-shirts with the wages I made from making cappuccino's and learning how to improve my photoshop skills, code up HTML banners for my profile and marketing it to people who might want one. I needed an audience to promote the clothing too and where better than at a local gig but why just go to a show when I could organise the whole thing myself? Venture number two got, and I learned how to book bands, organise venues, sell tickets and manage the shows. It was like a double life, stock boy by day, student and entrepreneur by night.
I needed to find new ways to learn more. There's only so much youtube can teach you, and I wanted a different kind of platform to learn through. After being fired as a barista for giving away too many free hot chocolates to pretty girls, I moved from one job to another. It was at one of these temporary positions, working in a stock room somewhere that a co-worker asked me if I had heard of The Princes Trust. I went home that evening and went online to learn more about the charity that would go on to change my life. The next day, I emailed the Trust, and within a few days, I had a meeting lined up. I was applying to be part of the business programme they ran. I put my business plan together, built my first spreadsheet, ironed my finest flannel shirt and had my first meeting. I explained my circumstances, my ideas, my goals and to my amazement, I was awarded a start up business loan, a mentor and places on various courses that would help me learn from professionals and experts in their fields.
As well as I thought things were going with my university alternative, things were still affecting me at home. My parents had divorced by this point, and I was living with my Dad and the crazy woman who had cast her wicked spell on him. I had gone from being depressed about my family splitting up and the shit storm that ensued with that, to a new breed of drama and angst. My Dad was always supportive of me forging my own path in life, learning in my own way and helping me when I needed to build a spreadsheet. This new person in his life seemed to hate this support he showed me, and I was regularly used as a catalyst for grief and arguments. Over a couple of torturous years, being kicked out, stolen from and verbally abused had become the new norm. A number of different doctors and therapists were now saying I bared all the hallmarks of Aspergers Syndrome and I developed eating disorders and agoraphobia. I was a big cocktail of fucked up, and I was once again turning to art as a release instead of using it for professional reasons. I was locked in my room, bass amp pushed up against the door so no one could get in, drawing, painting and writing to have an escape from it.
I put my paintings, doodles, and ramblings on a personal myspace page and got chatting to a girl in America about it. She asked me what the art was about and I openly said I painted to deal with the stresses I was going through. "Art helps me stay alive" was the gist of the conversation. After a week of not hearing from her, a message popped up in my chat box. She never told me in previous conversations that she was suicidal, attempting to take her life several times prior to speaking with me. After hearing about my art and how it helped me, she was inspired to give it a shot too. With nothing left to lose, she put pencil to paper, paint to canvas and found a release for the pain that required a paintbrush instead of a razor blade. She thanked me for saving her life and giving her a cure.
This experience woke something up in me. I was going down a spiral I didn't realise I had the cure for too. After doing some research, soul searching and sharing the story of the girl in America to several friends and family, I realised I was practicing a form of art therapy. Art was my cure too. It always had been, it just took hearing it from a different perspective to understand what I was naturally doing.
On my 22nd birthday, free of the drama at home, my Dad told me that it was time for a new chapter. I set up a new myspace page and I called it Art Is The Cure. I shared my story, I urged others to use creativity in the same way and encouraged others to reach out to me if they had similar experiences. I felt my purpose return, I had a new direction and meaning to my life. I took everything I had learned from The Princes Trust, setting up a clothing company and booking punk rock gigs and dedicated my life to trying to inspire others to use art in this life-changing, therapeutic way.
Soon after setting up Art Is The Cure, I wrote to The Princes Trust to thank them for inspiring me to pursue this new dream and giving me the tools and experiences to make a go of it. They responded with an invitation to become an ambassador for their charity. Still shy, socially anxious and underprepared to take on such a role, the Trust offered to support me further with courses on public speaking, confidence and leadership training. After a few months of going on courses and exercises, I was asked to speak at a fundraising event for the charity. To offer something in return for helping me further, I offered to do a painting that could be auctioned off on the night. My turn came to speak, I walked on stage in front of a pre arranged easel with a canvas on it, and I grabbed the microphone with my shaking sweaty hand and jumped in at the deep end. I told my story to 500 people in an auditorium of my experiences in life, with the trust and how it had inspired me to use my art to make a difference in other peoples lives. I finished by picking up a stencil I had cut of HRH Prince Charles and spray painted it onto the canvas. I left the stage, shaking more than before I went on to applause that I still reme