I took this time to reflect on the past 10 years, and I started writing about it privately, and thought what the hell, share it with the world! So here are the last 10 year in almost Tolkein-esque like detail (minus the elves) Enjoy!
I was 21. This was the year I graduated with a BA Honours in Fine Art. A course that has incredibly little to do with what I do now, but probably valuable in terms of the theoretical side of art, which I excelled at for the essays. Ironically, studio time and physically creating the art was not my forte on this course.
I completed the final half of my final year at University, a 10 000 word dissertation on how the studio environment affects the outcome of the art. I also struggled with crippling anxiety, panic attacks almost on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, and the impending dread of post-university life.
Once graduated I got a job back in my hometown, and would get the train on weekends to visit friends. I had the backwards body clock from working night shifts in a warehouse, so I would often get to a friends house and immediately fall asleep…
I decided to take a leap, but not in the direction I originally wanted. I had been saving up at the current job to go travelling, something a lot of people I knew had done with the ease of family money. I pulled everything I could together but during my frequent visits back to my previous place of study I felt compelled to experience the freedom and independence that I had for 3 years at uni. I used that money in February to rent a room in a house share with a group of girls, one of which is still one of my closest friends. I got a job at a little independent coffee shop which was a cocktail bar at night, and worked here for the rest of the year.
Towards the end of the year my social life was much happier, I had made friends for life, and entered a relationship that would go horribly wrong and shape the rest of my decade.
I had also started painting. I had bought a few canvases and did some charcoal and watercolour work on them. I exhibited these at a local cafe with a talented illustrator (@lionbird) and a few of them sold. This set a goal for the coming year.
I decided to leave my job at the coffee shop and took on a job at a very upmarket restaurant. I worked incredibly hard, at the same time moved in with my boyfriend of the time. After 1 month on a zero hour contract, payday rolled around and the pay slip was very slim… When I confronted the manager she said they could not afford to pay normal wages (made sense why most of the staff were 16…) and that was all they would give me. This equated to £2.80 an hour. I was 23, desperate for money and unable to understand that this was highly illegal. In a bid to be able to make ends meet I had to see out a bit longer at the restaurant until another (more law abiding) restaurant took me on. A very warm and lovely place where my friend had got me an interview. At the same time, my partner and I got a puppy, and I was happily painting.
I had contacted a local art fair at the beginning of this year, and they accepted me to have a stall. I did 2 of these. With the help of my then partner I worked on as many canvases as I could, and manned the stall each day. I could not believe that people wanted to buy my work.
I started this very blog. I had leaflets made which we posted through hundreds of letterboxes on a cold, rainy evening. I set things in motion to make a business of selling my work. It was a very slow start, I had managed to get a number of sales and commissions, and just as I was getting into the flow…
That partner broke up with me. I had to leave the house, I had to leave our dog never to see her again. My heart was broken for a million reasons, but I had very little time to grieve, as I had to move forward with no money. A few weeks on my friends sofa, in her house where I rented a room, which was now empty, were some of the darkest. With little money to feed myself, I had to work, and try to navigate finding another room to rent alongside a crushing heartbreak that went beyond far that. It was grief, for a family that had become mine, a dog that I had known from a puppy, and a partner who dropped my boxes off in the middle of the street and drove off never to be seen again. I was at my most vulnerable in every way.
I found a house close by, managed to wriggle out of putting a deposit down to rent the room, and moved straight in. The house was a professional house share of people I did not know, and over time people would move out and others would move in. There were some kind characters, and some questionable ones at first, but they were good people really, all doing the same as me, just trying to navigate life. The first month of living there was hard. I was in a strange place where I felt unsafe, meanwhile I was a broken shell of a person. I had gone from being what felt like someone who was valued, to discarded immediately. I had to contend with my grief, while trying to adjust to a new life that felt like 10 steps backwards. I went to work at the restaurant, and came home to nothingness.
Around a month into this nothingness, it was November and I felt a pull do something different with my hair. I guess I wanted to feel nice. It was a Saturday morning, and I wasn’t going to be working until 7pm that evening. I sat in bed with my laptop looking for a blog about hair styles. All that kept coming up for some strange reason was a business blog (Marie Forleo) which I clicked away from, only for it to come back up again on my search. Something made me look at her website properly. I found myself down a rabbit hole of videos. It was then a realisation hit that I was the one in charge of my life. Not the managers who illegally under paid me. Not the ex partner. Nobody else had anything to do with how my life played out but me. I was going to start a business, I was going to get myself financially steady, I was going to turn my life around once and for all.
This began Katy Jade Dobson Art.
It would be a great montage for a film, when the protagonist gets themselves together and starts working. Throw some upbeat music over it and it would be perfect for a rom com. I started working hard with the only resources I had. A room to sleep in (and paint in) an internet connection, a laptop and phone, armed with research on business and marketing and a fire in my belly. I took on commissions, I filmed time lapse videos, I hustled so hard on social media. The reality is that peppered through this time of pulling myself together was still an agonising heartache and grief that at times would consume me. At the same time, hours dried up at the restaurant and I was left with no choice but to really push my art.
I managed to get a place at the Sam Scorer gallery, the amount to rent it equalled the amount I had saved in tips from bar work, it was fate. This exhibition was a room of just my work, created, curated and managed by me, and a lovely friend who helped me install it all. It wasn’t hugely successful. I had a newspaper interview for it, as well as an article in the Journal. But it taught me a lot about what I was doing and for this it was worth it.
This year was incredibly successful for me, it was hard, at times felt impossible, but I managed to make good sales, doing what I loved, and things felt somewhat together by the end of the year. I still lived in the house share with strangers, and I still felt overwhelming sadness, but I was making positive changes where I could. I had adopted a positive outlook, and the life-changing knowledge that I was the only one who could make a change in my life, this had stopped me waiting around or being the victim of each situation. This level of personal growth was the beautiful sapling that had sprouted from the rock bottom.
We had a new resident at the house. He wasn’t the last with this issue either. A poor soul had entered the house share sober, and had relapsed on his first night in. We were burgled at this time too. This began a turbulent time. For me it started off fearful for myself, and angry that just as I was finding peace, here I was again with my life upturned. This man would smash up the house in one trip to the bathroom. I had to clean blood and urine regularly. He would stagger into me in haze that would leave me hiding behind furniture. After some awful seizures and potentially life threatening bumps he had, the numerous ambulance calls I made, and chats with paramedics led me to understand that this was not a situation for me to feel fear, but instead compassion. I learnt a lot about addiction in this time. I learnt that this guy was highly intelligent, but only aimed to live a normal life. He wasn’t a monster, a mess who couldn’t get himself straight, he was someone with a disease. I worked really hard to get help for him, I put all work on hold, and rarely slept during this time.
Once he had moved out and hopefully received help, once things had calmed down, this happened again. Another elderly woman had moved in, she loved to cook and enjoyed red wine in the evening. Only it took a number of nights to learn that I had to turn off all the hobs as she drank herself into a deep sleep, stained in red wine while the food burnt out. She was aggressive. Each night as as the red wine flowed she would get angrier, and more vicious. At this point, on realising there was an issue with the letting agents, I contacted the landlord about this issue, who gave us an eviction notice of immediate effect.
Somehow, with a lot of positive thoughts I landed on my feet in a lovely flat. This was where I finally felt safe and calm after a few years of upheaval. I saw out the rest of the year in this flat, which was somewhat empty as I had no furniture to fill it. The rest of the year was a calm journey of working really hard on painting. When it came the end of the year, I got in touch with a publishers who signed me and my work immediately. I produced my first proper collection (The Spectrum Collection) and finally furnished my flat. Life was both calm, and exciting. Exactly what I had been working towards all this time.
After numerous exhibitions, and a hell of a LOT of painting, I moved to an even bigger flat. Great lighting and space to paint in, and just as I had dreamed over the years. This started some of the best few years I had ever experienced. This year was a time of working, with a much needed holiday in Turkey, which kickstarted a friendship with my tribe, who have now traveled and experienced so much together.
A great year. I finally looked into some mental health problems that I had both failed to recognise as issues, and also lived with quietly with fear of seeming crazy. With the gentle guidance of my friend Jack I went to my GP. I saw out a course of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which was unsuccessful for me, but I also tried out medication that actually was very successful. It worked to control the imbalances associated with anxiety disorder and made it more manageable. This made me feel free for the first time in a while.
I went to Amsterdam, Prague (almost Barcelona but the flight was cancelled…) and was a bridesmaid at my sisters wedding. Later that year I went to Cuba, a dream come true. 2 nights in the beautiful, lovely and soulful Havana. Then 7 in the peaceful paradise of Varadero. I would never have imagined in the years prior that I would be able to take a holiday like this one.
I also released one of my biggest collections, (The 21 Grams Collection) a body of work that I felt immensely proud of seeing through.
After a wonderful trip to Athens, I then learnt that I was pregnant. The flat was accessed by stairs only and I was so sad to say goodbye to it, but happily moving into a quiet village with my partner to set up for Reuben, who was about to enter the world in a whirlwind and change up everything! I still worked hard throughout my pregnancy, keeping up work and moving house was difficult for a woman carrying a wriggly human around! On my 8th month of pregnancy I attended an exhibition from my bird related work, featuring live hawks, owls and more. Holding a huge Hawk on my arm, at an exhibition of my paintings, at 8 months pregnant may be one of my peak life experiences…
Reuben joined us Earth side early in November, pretty overdue and without much desire to sleep. The next year or so was a wonderful, sleepy, sometimes impossibly difficult, but always heart wrenchingly gorgeous time.
Trying to balance working and being a breast feeding mother was harddddd. Amazing! but hard. I did the best I could keeping my commissions finished in good time, and working on mini collections. My main focus was enjoying Reuben, and paying my bills, and everything else fell by the wayside. The first half of the year was peaceful, but then a last minute house move took place! Once settled, in the new house I was ready to concentrate on work more. Reuben enjoyed some nursery days, and I got back to working as hard as I could.
At the end of the year, I landed the commission of a life time. To dress the walls at Adam Handling Chelsea with nature and wildlife art specific to the history of the building. I gave it my all for the following months, everything I had. And couldn’t be more happy with the final results. Again, looking back to 2013 I could never have imagined my work would find its way to such an establishment.
Raring to go, I started the year with a new collection. It was the biggest I had done since having Reuben, and somewhat more abstract and different to what I would usually work on. I also released a book (more info on that soon) which was a culmination of my work over the years, with excerpts from me. I went to numerous exhibitions with this work and was so proud of how far I had come.
I then finally made it to Barcelona with a gorgeous tribe of funny, clever, kind, adventurous ladies, this trip had been long awaited for all of us. A flurry of tapas, sangria, giggles, vertigo and flamenco dancing.
Something began to shift later in the year. It was hard to place but something didn’t feel right in my work life. It took a few events and a lot of reflection to realise that maybe it was time to start a new chapter. All those years ago I had learnt that this feeling wasn’t on anyone else, it was only me who could do something about my life. I had chosen this year to reflect back to the word ‘accountability’ and I knew almost instantly that making a change was the way forwards. I made the tough decision to leave my management of 5 years to work independently from 2020 onwards. This was a hard decision to come to, they had dramatically changed my life for the better and had become family over the years. But as a new decade was approaching, I felt the need to take my hard earned lesson over the years that I am accountable for how my life plays out.
I have goals that are bigger than what my brain can envisage, but like my beautiful flat, the commission of a lifetime, and my amazing boy Reuben have taught me, is that the most incredible and unexpected things are still to come!
This is not the whole story, there are things that I have not shared but would some day like to, but to condense a decade in a blog post means savagely choosing between events and lessons, and these are the ones I both felt comfortable to share, and would potentially be valuable so someone out there!
2020 starts tomorrow, it was cathartic to write out this breakdown of my decade and reflect on lessons and events that have made me grow in the most unforeseen ways, in the most unusual of circumstances. I am completely charged and ready to go for the next decade, and open to knowing that all bets are off, anything and more can happen!
I hope for less moving, and finding somewhere to build up as our own, as well as create the ultimate studio space. I want to work with charities and use my paintings to be of service and create a better world. I also want to push my own capabilities and shine a light on what I can really do when I strip away self doubt. I want to continue as I recently have of creating from a soulful place, to use my art to sit with any discomfort rather than use it as an escape. I want to live in my learned experience that growth is on the other side of fear. Lets see what happens in 2020!
Happy new year! I hope you have the most amazing start to the new decade.