The end of an era

Oct 02, 2022

At the end of last week I left my full time employment at the University of Leeds to become self-employed as a full-time artist. I've worked at the University for 28 years and in higher education for over 30 years but now it's time to give my other career some space for me to enjoy and let it grow.

I made the decision 3 years ago that this is what I wanted to do ie become a full time artist. I drew up a 5 year plan with the help of the Design Trust and set to work on growing my business whilst holding down a pretty full on and demanding job.

Despite the pandemic my business has grown to an extent that I've achieved what I needed to within 3 years to make that jump and give up the day job.

Scary? Not really. It's a big decision but it is a good decision.

Where it started

I've been self-employed as an artist for 15 years but on a part time basis. It wasn't until I really sat down 3 years ago and thought when am I going to make that leap to becoming full time and how am I going to do it?

Like many people I'd been hanging on to win the lottery (which I never play). I realised after discovering The Design Trust that I needed to sort this out for myself rather than waiting for something to come along and do it for me.

As a part time artist I'd been pretty successful up to that point with both invitations to exhibit with galleries as well as regularly attracting sales. I'd also recently started to run workshops which I soon realised there was a demand for and what's more I really enjoyed running them.

So what would it take to ramp things up and ensure I could afford to leave my full time employment?


Time to take things seriously

The Design Trust helped me focus on what I wanted to do and when. It helped me figure out some financials and focus on things that make a difference, those big juicy projects.

My 5 year plan by Paula Dunn Artist

It really pushed me out of my comfort zone and within the first year of my 5 year plan I'd secured a studio away from home - 2 years ahead of schedule. The second year my big project was to have my branding developed and my website overhauled. And this year, the third year of my five year plan, I set my limited company up and finally handed in my notice to go full time as an artist.

Studio away from home by Paula Dunn Artist

Thank you Patricia for all your wise words and your wonderful planner which I will continue to buy as it truly does give me that structure I need on a daily, monthly and quarterly basis. 


It's not the Oscars but...

There have been a lot of people who have helped me get to this point and I wanted to give them a shout out, just in case they didn't know how much their support has meant to me.

  • First up is my landlady (she'll love that!), April Chamberlain of the Crafthouse, Bingley, who basically created a studio space for me which has been a game changer. 
  • My customers - you continue to surprise me when you buy work from me directly or from my galleries. It is the best feeling ever. Thank you!
  • Galleries past and present who continue to promote my work and give me opportunities to create new and exciting work.
  • Artist friends who have been encouraging, hosting my work at various events, putting me in contact with potential new galleries, sharing ideas... you name it. Special thanks go out to the Burdalls for their continued friendship and support and suppliers of good food, alcohol and being great shoulders to cry / laugh on.
  • To my dad who was unbelievably supportive and proud of my decision to give it all up. Also for helping me install one of my most challenging exhibitions in the studio with relatively few grumbles.
  • My in-laws, Pat and Bryn, who tirelessly support me in many ways from turning up at exhibitions to offering support (and cake), delivering paintings, buying lots of my work and building things for displays. 
  • And Nick who has been my biggest champion. Dealing with all my ups and downs.... especially recently when I've had more than a few wobbles. For transporting my paintings and me up and down the country. Putting up with me working 7 days a weeks for the last 2-3 years and even on holidays (yeah I never stop!) And of course encouraging me to give up that safety net of full time employment to go with my dream. 

Thank you to each one of you.


And so the journey begins.... 

So what now?

First challenge is to get some structure to my working week. 

What I am looking forward to most is getting my work : life balance sorted out. On the Design Trust wheel of life I never did very well with that as I was juggling full time work and the art business, so I am really looking forward to having at least one day a week off and having some proper holiday / rest time, especially over Christmas.

I've a full schedule of workshops and exhibitions booked in until 2024 so I am really going to have to hit the ground running.  To help with that I am making a few changes to my studio so that I have more storage space for work and also moving my home office into the studio as well.

Creating more studio storage with Paula Dunn Artist


New office in the studio

There's going to be a lot of change over the next 3-6 months as I adjust to my new way of life and create a new daily and weekly structure for myself. 


The first 100 days

Last year I did the 100 day project and created my 100 days of light collection. That was a great way to create structure in my work during a difficult time. I'm going to revisit the 100 day project but this time as a visual diary in the hope that it will help to create the structure I will need.

100 days of light by Paula Dunn Artist

As a starter I am going to run a daily diary on my instagram stories and a weekly blog post of what I've been up to, what have been the challenges, the surprises, what I've learned / discovered etc.

It will coincide nicely with the creation of a new collection of work for my solo exhibition with Northern Lights gallery in Keswick so you'll also get a sneak peek of some of the work in progress.

Do come and join me.

If you are interested in building up your own creative business then I would highly recommend getting hold of next year's Design Trust planner to help you. It's the perfect time to order one ready for the start of next year. DO IT!


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