“I take a lot of inspiration from my strong female friends and sisters who have remained sort of funny, strong, intelligent, who can face adversity. And this really inspires me and gives me strength, particularly knowing that one is not alone in whatever journey that you feel that you’re on, because we’re all on a journey, and sometimes it’s easy to think you’re the only one going through something.”
Home page thumbnail: Original Art by Amelia Critchlow
Toni Reece: Thank you so much, Amelia, for agreeing to be part of the Project today, and before we begin, can you please introduce yourself?
Amelia Critchlow: Yes, thank you. Hi. My name is Amelia Critchlow. I’m a practicing artist and an art tutor, and you can see my artwork over at AmeliaCritchlow.co.uk and my blog, which is part of that, is called 101 Birdtales. My website showcases my artwork, and the blog that I write is basically about my journey with art and creativity and being a parent. One of my children has Asperger’s syndrome, which is part of the autistic spectrum disorders. I’m currently working on pieces for a big art show coming up in March, and I’m also working on the launch of my online art e-course, which is scheduled for April this year.
Toni: Well congratulations to all of that.
Amelia: Thank you.
Toni: So Amelia, when you think about the word inspiration, who do you inspire and how do you do that?
Amelia: My hope and intention is that I inspire others to journey creatively with what makes their heart sing, their passion, something that they really enjoy doing. For me, it’s been doing art and by studying it and practicing it and, because it’s given me such a lot, I chose to train as an art tutor and lead workshops, particularly for adults, even though I do work doing art classes with children, too. I want to give, and I so want to share what I’ve learned about art with others, as I found it a brilliant way of expressing myself creatively and found it very therapeutic and documenting my experiences and feelings. It has been really, really healing.
I’m particularly interested in working with inspiring other women and maybe mothers who have similar experiences to me being a single parent, looking after a child who has special needs. I think it’s really important to have something for yourself as an individual as well as just being a parent. I’ve always found that children find it much easier to pick up art materials and create, whereas adults tend to find it a bit harder. And I particularly enjoy working with people and encouraging them to sort of get past that fear and use art as a sort of helpful platform and be creative, basically.
Toni: Oh go ahead, go ahead, sorry.
Amelia: No, no. Sure, sure, go ahead.
Toni: Well so Amelia, with this work that you do with training other people and being an art tutor and as passionate as you are about your creative outlet and your artwork, how do you think working with art and being this creative … how do you think that helps other people to explore their potential?
Amelia: I think that art is something when you start operating on the other side of your brain, the sort of … the left side/right side balance with quite … and sort of logical a lot of thinking and a lot of talking and I know I do that myself. And art is a space where you’re engaging with your hands and your mind and sometimes things come up that you might not necessarily have thought about.
And I feel that it’s a really, really great way for people to sort of get past things that often their own mind can create and start operating in a different way. It’s sort of people go into a trance. You know how people say “Oh, I spend hours doing this. I didn’t realize how quickly time had passed.” And I just think, you know, things come up and it’s very therapeutic; and by running workshops and inviting people to come along and give it a go, you know, they have an opportunity to see and try something they might not normally try.
Toni: And if they would be willing to do this and to take a chance to do this with you, who knows what other chances that they may take as well.
Amelia: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, I live by the philosophy that you have to dare to do, because once you start doing something, you really don’t know what other doors will start opening up, and I can only say this for myself. And a lot of people have said that I inspire them because I’ve done what I’ve done, I’ve chosen to go back and study art, I’ve chosen to teach, you know, sometimes in the face of adversity.
I’ve been a single parent very early on in my twenties, and things weren’t easy at all, and yet art has given me so much, and to be able to sort of share that with other people has been really nice. There isn’t anything creative that people enjoy doing, and so I think it helps people.
Toni: It sounds incredibly wonderful. So let me ask you about you. What is it … what do you need to be inspired?
Amelia: Oh, what do I need to be inspired? I … the things that really inspire me are sisterhood, creativity, art, particularly inspiring women who are following their passions on a creative journey. I really take a lot of inspiration from women that have been through a lot and share their stories honestly, and it’s their strengths that make me feel I’m not alone or, if that person has been through it and they can manage that, then I can manage to go through whatever I feel is really, really hard.
I enjoy artists like Wangechi Mutu who speaks in her art about female experiences and hardships particularly as an African woman. I also like Louise Bourgeois, as her art speaks about a difficult childhood that she had, her father’s affair, her own experiences as a mother. And I take a lot of inspiration from my strong female friends and sisters who have remained sort of funny, strong, intelligent, who can face adversity. And this really inspires me and gives me strength, particularly knowing that one is not alone in whatever journey that you feel that you’re on, because we’re all on a journey, and sometimes it’s easy to think you’re the only one going through something.
Toni: Right, right.
Amelia: And that’s not always the case.
Toni: So Amelia, are there tools or things that you tend to reach for when you might be at a place going “You know, I could use a little inspiration right about now?” Whether it’s for your art or just life in general.
Amelia: Oh, definitely. I will pick up one of my favorite magazines. I will go and dip into some of my favorite books, which incidentally I have listed on the side of my blog so people can go and see them. I definitely like to go to an art exhibition and see what’s going on; it’s very different than seeing pictures. And talking to other people, connecting with other people, as well, is really important to me. I get a lot of inspiration from this.
I know a lot of other mothers who are parenting children with autism at varying levels of severity, and just talking to these other women and knowing that we can share our stories and share ideas about how to cope is really inspiring as well.
Toni: Now for your … with your art and as creative as you are and having that passion to go back to school and to do as you said, you set an example and you inspired other people who knew you by going in that direction and knowing what you wanted, there seems to be a theme that’s running through the Get Inspired! Project interviews with people that know what their passion is and know what their purpose is and they do … they do move forward. Did you always know? Was it something you’ve always known?
Amelia: Funny enough, I’m not a very envious person, but the one thing that always did make me feel a little bit envious is when I heard people speak about, you know, doing art, practicing art. And when I was in my early twenties and feeling quite depressed at being a single parent not knowing what I was doing, I had a really powerful dream, and in the dream I was encouraged to go and study art, and I was quite confused. I was thinking “You know, I know I like it, but you know I’ve already got one degree or I’m getting a degree, and it took me five years to act on that dream.”
The evening before I started my foundation degree in art, I had another dream, and I knew absolutely that I was doing the right thing, and that was about … probably about 10 years ago now, and I really feel it being the most wonderful journey. And I’m so glad I returned to art; and I did have people say to me “Oh, are you sure it’s the right time? Are you sure you’re not being a bit selfish? You’ve got children, you need to work.” I absolutely would encourage anyone who has an inkling to do it. It’s been brilliant, and I know that I’m on the right path now.
Toni: So it really … that’s such an interesting way to put that, that it almost … you did have a dream. You knew there was something you were drawn to about it but it was … I liked the word that you used, the “inkling” and it was staying with that, really being aware of what that was.
Amelia: Absolutely, and although it took five years, it never left me, that sort of “Ooh, you know, I haven’t acted on it. I need to do this.” And then when I did it, it absolutely fell into place.
Toni: That’s fantastic. So what do you do now to continue to explore your own potential?
Amelia: I guess what gets me to explore my own potential is often the situations I find myself in. If I’m finding things difficult, which I certainly have done over the years being a young mom and not feeling like I’ve had enough money at times, is to look at the situation and think “How can I turn this on its head? How can I make this different?”
Particularly by documenting my process and my journey through art has been one way to explore my potential, but also I often find myself thinking “What do I need?” I feel like I need more money or I need more time or I need something, and recently I thought “Well how can I turn that around? How can I think about what I could give back instead of thinking about what I need?” And then I try to turn things right around, trying to turn a concept or an idea right around to its opposite.
Recently I’ve come up with something called Gift Grants which stems from knowing how I felt many years ago. I was much younger, and I wanted to do art and feeling I didn’t have enough money and, you know, basically I really want to help other people if they feel that they haven’t got something they need through giving this grant and getting people to apply for it. I have got that on my website, but I’m learning there are a couple of issues possibly about people receiving from an individual, and I’m going to look at how I can move this forward.
I’ve also worked with … in a nursing home for a year as an art tutor and running other projects, and that really got me to look at my life and maybe what we all need to do, and I felt very strongly I need to look after myself. I need to eat well, exercise well, sleep well, and do something I love because life is very … is short, and it was a really wonderful experience working with people who are at the end of their lives and engaging together, communicating, and that really got me to look at things about myself, too.
Toni: You have come across, from my perspective – people will have their own that are reading the transcript and listening to your interview – but to me you have come across as a very special person who has had some trials and challenges, but you’ve also stayed the course. And the fact that you’ve not only stayed the course, you’re doing what you love, you’re establishing a grant to give to other women so they have the opportunity to pursue what they’re doing even though you’re still struggling yourself at times, as you said. I think that’s pretty amazing. That’s really …
Amelia: Well thank you.
Toni: That is very, very cool. That’s why this Project is so cool, because we get to meet people like you.
Amelia: Oh, well thank you very much for saying that, because I do definitely make decisions and do things and probably like many people wonder what I’m doing. But also I think if I don’t try it I will never know, and it’s a brilliant way to connect with people. I’ve really enjoyed working with people and connecting with people and hearing their stories, too, and that’s very much why I am launching this e-course because it takes me back to a time when I often wanted to go and do art courses myself, and I couldn’t afford the child care or I couldn’t find the child care.
The internet has opened up so many opportunities, and I’ve come across e-courses recently and just thought what a brilliant idea for people to be able to study or learn and share from the comfort of their own home and connect with others and still have access to things, particularly if they are a parent. Again, that’s something that hopefully will be accessible to people and because, again, I know how much it’s meant to me, and I guess that’s a strong place to come from is sort of your own experiences, really.
Toni: To give back. It’s very, very powerful and, you know, from your place of experience, I think that’s amazing. Amelia, thank you so very much for agreeing to be part of the Project and, as stated, people can read your blog and get to your website. We will post those links at the bottom of the interview, and we thank you so very much for everything that you’ve given us today.
Amelia: Oh, thank you, too. I feel very honored, it’s been great.
Toni: Well take care of yourself, Amelia. It was a pleasure.
Amelia: And you. Thank you.