In my quest to discover how people nurture their talent, in January I asked another brilliant artist, Tereza Barnard, about her creativity – where it stems from and how she uses it in her work.
I began by asking Tereza about her artistic beginnings, I’d heard that she was told as a child she was no good at art.
“It’s true! I come from a family that wasn’t arty at all, except for a distant great grandfather and a cousin: my mother couldn’t even draw a stick figure! In the Czech Republic, where I grew up, you tend to take the academic route or not, and coming from a family of doctors and lawyers, it was assumed that I would follow that path.
“But I really loved drawing and painting as a child, I felt like it pulled me in. Whilst visiting relatives in Australia for three months when I was 11, a supportive art teacher there said that I showed some promise. When I returned to the Czech Republic, my mother showed my portfolio to an art teacher and he thought it wasn’t very good – and that ended my dreams of an art education. ”
There’s so much luck involved in how life pans out and it’s so easy to get pigeon-holed into one thing or another. Our education system seems to put you down as an arty person or an academic person, as if you can’t be both.
“Yes, and it took me years to realise that it’s not about natural talent, many successful artists weren’t even that good at school but they enjoyed it and decided to develop their skills, they trained and found the teachers to help them. I really enjoyed my studies but felt there was another path I wanted to take.”
It’s amazing how life turns in a different direction to what you thought but that if something draws you in, it will come back to feature somewhere in your life!
“So I studied hard and got a Masters in Psychology, but had an urge to do something more creative. I came across a British-owned new hotel/hostel in the Czech Republic and offered to help with the interiors. I had no experience but I loved antiques so they gave me the chance to design three rooms. I’m so grateful for being given that opportunity to build up a portfolio and make my name.”
I asked Tereza how she managed to change direction back to the painting that she does so beautifully now.
“I was inspired by my husband, who also took a huge career shift from oil-field construction to jewellery making! We were living in Vancouver at the time with our three-month-old baby and I had a jewellery table made for his birthday. He took a stone setting course and managed to get an amazing job doing what he loved.
“My husband encouraged me to paint because he knew that’s what I love to do. I checked out other artists on Instagram and experimented with watercolours. I’m a self-taught portrait painter and I love creating the realistic detail of an eye rather than painting buildings (although I do paint buildings sometimes).
“I found a style that suited me – figurative realism. The theory is simple but it’s taken time to develop the skills. For instance, I zone in on skin tone, you might think a face is a beige colour but looking really closely, I see shades of violet, green and red which help bring my portraits to life.”
I’m mesmerised by the work in progress around Tereza’s Oxford studio, just as I am fascinated by the stages of work that she shares on Instagram. Finally, I asked Tereza about her studio space and how it helps her creativity.
“We lived in a rented house before we bought this and I had no dedicated art space. My stuff was everywhere! It was only when I got a studio that I realised how much art equipment I have. It’s such a treat to have your own studio, it makes my career choice legitimate.
“Of course, I’d love it to be bigger but the light is good and I’ve got it set up just right so it’s easy to start and finish my work. I think that’s really important – if you have to spend ages setting up it can put you off.
I’m so impressed that Tereza has come back to her first love and that she is making a living from her art.
“I work on a combination of commissions and exhibitions. I’m not an artist that wants to tell her own story, I like to tell the story of who I’m painting. I love to show the person through their face.
Like Tereza and me, lots of people find themselves doing something different to what they planned but we both show that what you start off doing doesn’t need to be what you will always do. You can allow things to change and have success in a different area, you don’t have to be young to try something new.