I’ve talked before about people having complete career changes and following something that’s been in their heart a long time and have interviewed several people who’ve not only been able to make the plunge but have had the courage to do so as well.
Recent ‘plunger’ is Sydney-based Jessica Guthrie who decided to close the vintage clothing shop she ran for about nine years in order to pursue her love of art. Not only has she returned to studying but has also set herself the goal of creating a ‘sketch a day’ and blogging about it at The Colour of Whimsy. This sort of dedication and enforced ‘putting yourself out there’ is as inspiring to others as it is self-motivating.
I caught up with Jessica to find out more about her love of vintage clothing, her ‘life-change’ and practice of art …
Tell us about yourself – what’s your background, what have you studied, where have you worked and how have you ended up where you are today?
Originally from Melbourne, I studied clothing industry studies and fashion design. From there I worked in design and production of made-to-measure bridal and evening wear, then mainstream fashion design and offshore production.
I met my husband in high school (yes, tragic high school sweethearts) and nine years ago, we moved to Sydney for his job in banking. This was a pivotal moment for me as it was a chance to reinvent myself and start anew. I have always loved art and fashion, and over the years and throughout my overseas travels, I collected many vintage and antique clothing pieces for inspiration. When I moved to Sydney I decided to open a shop in Surry Hills – Coco Repose – selling vintage clothing and limited runs of my own designs using vintage fabrics, designs or trims.
Your career path is now taking a new turn. Can you tell us more about Coco Repose as well as your decision to turn to art?
Coco Repose was a vintage clothing boutique specialising in the earlier periods from 1900 – 1950s clothing and accessories. I had a story for them all! Where they came from, the era, the design details. The pieces I found, collected and sold were so inspiring to me and I found it hard to part with them at times. There was always a Cinderella for each piece, though, making it easier to sell them, and it was amazing to see these beautiful pieces find a new home. Simultaneously, I produced small runs of one-off pieces of my own designs, referencing the past eras and often using vintage fabrics and trims.
Whilst I loved my business, it was at a point of growth and during this time I had two sons, Marley (now almost 6) and Arlo (3 years). After Arlo turned two and facing the start of our primary school years with Marley, I decided that looking after staff took me away from being creative and free, as well as having precious time with my sons. I inevitably had a ‘light bulb’ moment that I could take time out (something I hadn’t done at all when both my sons were born), be in the moment and perhaps get back to studying art and being creative. So I did! I have always dabbled in art, and have always thought that eventually I would really love to immerse myself into it and see where it could lead. I decided why wait for that moment?
Tell us about your art – what you like to paint/draw, what materials you use, what inspires you?
It is still very much a journey and a work in progress for me. I am currently in my second year at the Julian Ashton Art School, having finished a Diploma at Northbridge art school last year. I am particularly enjoying oil painting and life drawing with the nude model. I love learning about the anatomy and muscles, and find it is great to be learning something new in a creative environment.
Pulling back from running a business took some getting used to, and so I’m not without a challenge. This year I gave myself a self-imposed challenge of ‘a sketch a day’. I created a blog called ‘The Colour of Whimsy’ to ensure I would commit to my challenge, with hopefully some lovely souls out there watching! So far I am up to day #144 and it has become part of my routine. As I found previously, life just gets in the way of self-indulgently sketching each day, but committing to my challenge has helped me in my art practice in so many ways. I’ve found I am getting quicker at starting, looser in style, trying various themes and mediums, and have a portfolio that is growing. I also find the blog is opening up challenges from the outside world with people contacting me with projects to work on, which is amazing! (you’ve got to love social media!).
The hardest part is being happy with ‘a sketch a day’. I like to labour over ideas and would like to develop them more, but to keep up with them daily, it literally has to be what you can manage on the day. It could be 10 minutes, or 3 hours, but I have to be happy with this. I almost look forward to next year when the challenge ends so that I can spend more time on developing themes and images, but this challenge is getting the ideas to flow, and is showing me the themes I enjoy and what others are responding to.
I think inherently my style and palette is quite feminine.With the close of Coco Repose, I have been lucky to hold on to some beautiful vintage costumes from the 20s and 30s such as embroidered silk capes and sequined cloches. I can’t for the New Year to use these as my subject matter in oil painting, so many possibilities await me!
How do you structure your day to get the most out of your time and creativity?
Gah! Hard one! Every single day is different. I quite literally grab any moment I can in between school drop-off and pick-ups. It could be while my youngest is sleeping, it could be pulling out my sketchbook at the park while the boys play. A lot of times, it is at night when they are in bed, or my set art classes, and just sometimes I have a day off where I can sit at a café over lunch and sketch at my leisure while kids are at school and daycare. But my sketch-a-day is always on my mind and sometimes it is hard to find the time, and other times it comes easily. Just grabbing the moment when I can!
How did you choose the name ‘Colour of Whimsy’?
I wish I had a great story for this. I just love the word ‘Whimsy’ it makes me smile! Odd, eccentric, quirky, quaint, all meanings of the word that, at times, represent me. And ‘Colour’, well because it begs creativity.
The best thing about living in Sydney is …
The opportunities, the outdoors lifestyle, the amazing wholefood cafes cropping up and the proximity to the beach and mountains.
My guilty pleasure is …
Sneaking off to a Sprout café in Narremburn to sketch, ordering my favourite kale fritters and quietly sitting through many cups of tea. Or today, when I snuck off to the art gallery in Mosman to view the exhibition of Hilda Rix by myself to wander in peace. Quietness is rare and bliss in my house!
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
So many! When I was five, I wrote a paragraph at school proclaiming that ‘one day I’d like to be a fashion designer, and an artist’ Who’d of thought they would both come true? Who’d have thought ’d be actively pursuing my art on a day to day basis, rather than a ‘maybe one day’ wish. Who’d have thought I’d be a mum of two boys.
And my next very self-indulgent and guilty pleasure is slipping off to Paris in July by myself for two weeks to wander the art galleries, flea markets and in the second week join an art study group. Literally my dream come true! Who’d have thought?
Thanks Jessica – am loving the sound of that Paris trip!
If you want to see more of Jessica’s work, you can find her here.