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Career Realities podcast #1: the Painter/Teacher

The first Career Realities interview is with painter Edwina Bracken. A former full-time (and then part-time) art teacher, Edwina has recently completed an MA at Glasgow’s School of Art. She talks about the difference between her expectations and the realities of a teaching career, and how she came to (just about) earn a living as a fine artist. (Apologies for a few glitches in the recording – a few Skype dropout beeps!)

The Career Realities podcast series attempts to uncover the hidden realities of day-to-day work culture in various careers – the hours, the workload, the shift patterns – and questions the often-repeated assumption that paid work is our primary source of life fulfillment.

(For a more extensive introduction to the Career Realities interviews see here.)

Podcast excerpts:

On combining a teaching career with your own painting work

I thought with the time off that you get with teaching I could fit my other art career in around the paid teaching work. That was my idea. […] So I went and did the course, and I was really overwhelmed at the scope of the job, it was a much heavier, labour intensive job than I had imagined from the outside. It was horrendously difficult to train.

I said to her [my mentor], ‘when does this become easy?’, and she said, ‘oh, after about three years’. […] But before that it was just full-on all the way, and every holiday we used to get sick.

[My own painting work] was non-existent. I didn’t do any painting or any of my own work for about five years. The teaching job was so intensive that the holiday time would come around and you would just fit in the other things that you would do in your life, […] the things that you didn’t have time when you were teaching.

I couldn’t move forward with my own art practice if I remained working within that stricture that the teaching job dictates. You know where you’re going to be on the 1st of September, you can’t really deviate from the plan, irrespective of being part-time.

On the psychological barriers to overcome when you quit a career

I felt I’d become slightly institutionalised because I’d worked in teaching for ten years, and on the one hand knowing where you’re going to be on the 1st of September can be quite frustrating, but on the other hand its really reassuring because you know you’re going to have a fixed income. So I had to come round to the idea that that was going to be a liberating experience. [Q: And was it?] Yes, it was great!

On deciding what paid work to take

I find that a lot of jobs that I would like to do are full-time jobs, and I can’t do them, because clearly I would have no time to make my work, research it and then put it out there. It can be a really tough call.

On advising my younger self

Look for a mentor. Because I think mentors are so valuable. Even if it’s not in art, just to look at how somebody can work for themselves, the way to manage your time and a work ethic. I don’t think it matters what it is you want to do, but you need to find some practical way into that.

Networking is crucial. I think sometimes it gets a really bad press. Sometimes people think it’s an ‘I’ll scratch your back you scratch mine.’ But your network is just who you can ask questions to, and then from there who do they know. Also speaking to people about what you are doing in any situation leads to networks, saying who you are and what you are doing and what you are interested in, and you never know where that leads.

More information about Edwina’s work can be found at www.edwinabracken.com, and you can contact her on Twitter @EdwinaBracken.