These days, everybody seems to have an online presence, but perhaps we don’t know these people quite as well as we think. I’ve learned this on a personal level in my art business, where I’ve created an online persona for my brand.
I’ve always been very open about the story of how I started drawing and how I created my art business from nothing. I’ve shared my experiences and struggles as an artist, as well as a woman, because these are integral parts of what shapes me as a human.
But there is a part of my story, of what made me who I am, that I haven’t spoken about yet… If you are looking for a pleasant and boring story, this won’t be for you.
The fact is that I came to this country with nothing. At one point, I was even sleeping rough.
The outcast who clearly wasn’t that good
There have been times in my life where I felt that I wasn’t good enough.
I didn’t get into the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk, Poland (where I’m from) two years in a row.
I was crushed. I’d spent years learning how to draw in preparation for these exams. I felt like the black sheep of the family as everyone but me had a higher education and great careers. My friends went on to university and I was just a misfit who wasted her time on something that “clearly she wasn’t that good at.”
Art made me leave my country
I abandoned my pursuit of art altogether and left Poland. I arrived in London 17 years ago with just a backpack and £300 in my pocket. I didn’t know anyone and my English was basic. This was my first time in the UK and on a plane.
I was meant to study English while working as an au pair, but it turned out to be a scam to exploit young women coming from abroad. I found myself in the hands of human traffickers. It was a very dangerous situation for a 20-year-old girl and a lot of bad things happened to me.
I managed to escape and ended up sleeping under the bridge in Wembley. Eventually, I moved on from sleeping in a garage to sofa surfing in a stranger’s house to renting the smallest box room and sleeping on the floor.
My first break
I cleaned people’s houses for a year and then moved on to a customer service role in Deutsche Bank. This was my first break. I didn’t have to clean toilets anymore, and I worked on the tenth floor of a beautiful skyscraper overlooking the City of London. My ambition began to grow.
While working full time, I studied interior design at the Regent Academy of Fine Arts. I dreamed of being an interior designer, so I took a customer service role in the designer furniture industry. I climbed the ladder and was given my first managerial role at the age of 24.
Stepping up to the next level
My next job as a manager was at Harrods. This was a pivotal moment in my life for many reasons. During my nine years there, I had the most amazing business training and experience. The company invested in me and my bosses saw my potential. They were kind but very demanding. I don’t think they know what a positive impact their mentorship had on my life.
I went on to study interior design at the prestigious Kensington & Chelsea School of Design while working at Harrods. While I enjoyed this new lifestyle, it was all consuming. I had focused on my career and abandoned the pursuit of art once again.
Starting my own business on a dining table
After having a baby (he’s 5 now), I left Harrods and London altogether. My husband and I sold our house near Cambridge and moved to Somerset in search of a quieter family life by the sea. I was a stay-at-home mum looking after our baby while slowly renovating our dream Victorian home on the coast.
I had to be thrifty. We didn’t have mortgage worries but we were living on one income. It was a very different lifestyle than what I was used to while working at Harrods.
While I could upcycle old furniture found in charity shops to decorate our new home, I couldn’t afford the art that I liked. And so, after over a decade of not picking up a pencil, I started drawing again. In the autumn of 2017, I rekindled my long-lost passion for art.
Now, I create vibrant, empowering art that portrays strong women and captures their stories.
If I can do well, so can you
I am a survivor of many things. I’ve dealt with trauma, ill health, bereavement and PTSD. I am stronger than this and the past cannot hurt me. Through my art, I want to bring joy and empowerment.
I know what it’s like to sleep under a bridge, to be cold, scared and hungry.
I started from nothing and I’ve made myself into a successful businesswoman, a multiple-property owner and a thriving artist.
Closing a circle
Feeling not good enough and abandoning my pursuit of art made me leave my country and set me up on my journey. Would I have left knowing what would happen to me all those years ago? Hell no! And yet all those experiences made me who I am and got me here—back to creating art.
If you’re a woman with big dreams who is really struggling right now, please know that you are not alone. If I can do well, be happy and thrive, so can you.