Catherine Ireton is a singer, a songwriter, an actress and a theatre maker produced by Farnham Maltings. She will be touring a new show What is it about the night? across the South-East region in the next few weeks. Here’s Catherine’s blog about her journey from working at the Arts Council to making a living from being a full-time artist.
For more information on the tour and booking tickets, click here.
This time last year I was working at Arts Council England, and two years before that I was working at the Scottish Arts Council. I used to spend my days reading applications of other peoples ideas, talking to artists, discussing their budgets. And, yes, secretly wishing I was an artist, but not ever really thinking that was possible. Well, in April this year I finally made the leap into the unknown. I’ve spent the past 8 months working on the other side of the professional fence, and I’ve had a few massive life lessons.
The first thing I figured out fairly quickly is that support is vital. Financial support naturally, but equally if not more important is having creative support. Someone who champions you, believes in you and loves your work. This year Farnham Maltings, took me on as one of their produced artists. What this means is that they act as my sounding board for my ideas, they advice me financially, they help me plan ahead. And also, when I’m having one of those What the hell am I doing? days it means I can phone them up and have a friend who understands me and my work on the other end of the phone. An absolute lifeline. I feel incredibly priviledged to be part of their family. Because the only way to make art that matters is to take risks. And the only way to take risks is to absolutely trust the people standing by to catch you if you fall.
The second life lesson was in figuring out my working practice. How do I work best? When I left the day job I was so delighted at the possibility and potential of ALL THAT TIME. Woo hoo! Time to sit and think. Time to go for a walk and think. Time to write, to sing, to play. The luxury!
But it didn’t take long to realise that sitting and thinking does not a good song make! With no distractions and a clock ticking I started kind of intimidating myself. My art had grown a capital A – the big Art. Y’know? – Serious stuff. Scary. Stopped me working and worse, too much thinking stopped me playing.
Took me a little while to realise that I work best when talking to people, seeing work, good and bad and discussing it. Just meeting and connecting with new people is inspiring. I get more ideas from taxi drivers and chatting with my 73 year-old neighbour than I ever could from staring at a blank piece of paper.
The third and possibly the biggest realisation is that being an artist means being a business. This time last year, if someone asked me “What do you do?” I would say “well, I’m a singer…. and I work part time at the arts council… and I teach singing… and I’m in an a capella girl harmony trio… and I write songs, and I act in plays sometime and I play piano and I do gigs….” But for some reason the idea of calling myself an artist felt a bit far-fetched. Definitely getting my first Arts Council grant this year altered my perception, but what has changed me even more is taking time to plan ahead. To make a business plan. To have a product to sell. To begin to really see the worth of what I do. This time last year I was already an artist I just couldn’t see it. Now I’m a business woman managing a company – and that company is me.
But not nearly as scary as art with a capital A.