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INSPIRE: The Road Less Travelled...Leigh Shepherd
This week, we meet the talented lady behind Leigh Shepherd Designs, whose love of all things creative has taken her on a journey from a fine arts degree to animation work via a stint in teaching, before finding her niche as a jewellery designer.
Tell us about yourself
I am a full time designer maker and work from my home studio in Haworth, West Yorkshire. I create resin jewellery with an upcycled theme.
Give a brief description of your career path up to before you started your creative business
I get my creative side from my Dad – he loves to paint as a hobby. When I was young he would take me to galleries and expect me to have an opinion on everything we saw. My love of art and creative processes grew and I went on to do a Fine Art degree. On leaving university I worked freelance in animation which included productions for CITV and assisting on a 4mations short film. Whilst I enjoyed this, paint and trace animation gigs were becoming a rarity. I spent some time in the USA volunteering in an early education centre then when I returned to the UK I trained as a primary school teacher. After teaching in a reception class for a few years I took on the role of learning support manager which involved managing special educational needs and child protection / safeguarding.
What prompted you to pursue a creative career?
I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my job, I had taken on more management responsibility which meant I was working long hours and taking work home. I wasn't happy with the way this impacted on our family life. When I became pregnant with our second child my husband and I had a long talk about the kind of lifestyle we wanted and big decisions were made! Instead of taking maternity leave I resigned.
What was the most difficult thing about this decision? And what was the easiest?
It really didn't feel like a difficult decision at all - that might have been the pregnancy hormones though! Obviously we had a few worries about money and the mortgage, we had just moved to a bigger house to accommodate our growing family and we knew we both needed work spaces too. That said it was a good time to make this move, with a new baby and an 18 month old we weren't exactly out painting the town red every night!
How supportive of your decision were your family, friends and (former) colleagues?
My husband has been massively supportive, he is self employed and has been working from home for years – he is a real advocate for this lifestyle. I think my Mum was very worried and couldn't understand why I would walk away from a well paid career and 'proper job', she didn't say this at the time though. Now that my business is more established she is reassured and at busy periods come and helps me in the workshop and helps to keep control of my paperwork. When I see people that I work with they often say that they have seen my jewellery in shops and galleries but still ask if / when I'll return to teaching...
How has pursuing a creative career been compared with your previous career? What are the challenges and what are the highlights?
The two roles seem worlds apart. I've been self employed for six years now and I'm happier than I've ever been. Probably the most challenging part of running Leigh Shepherd Designs has been how to move things forward. After lots of dithering I decided to try to develop the wholesale / trade side of my business. I applied to exhibit at the British Craft Trade Fair, at the same time I was contacted out of the blue by a buyer from the British Museum she had seen my jewellery in a gallery in Harrogate. This was a great opportunity and definitely a highlight! The museum has been buying my work for 2 years now. I've exhibited at BCTF twice and have sold my jewellery to over 50 different shops / galleries.
Have you any regrets about choosing a creative career?
Nope! There have been lots of frustrating and scary times but I love what I do and I can't imagine going back to a 'proper job'.
What has been the best thing about your decision to persue a creative career?
I love working for myself and being able to make a living from things I have designed and created myself. I get a real kick when people like my designs. Whilst I am busy there is flexibility for me to structure my own day which allows me to spend a lot more time with my family.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering taking up a creative career, what would that be?
Be brave! There will never really be a 'right time' to make a big change in your life. Looking back it was a bit mad to resign from a well paid job at the same time as taking on a bigger mortgage and having a baby. If I hadn't made the move then though I think I would still be teaching and be too frightened to change things. I was very naïve about starting this and I think this really helped me to just get on with things and have a go!
What are your plans for the future?
I'd like do add another trade fair next year and overhaul my website (I've been avoiding this for too long, maybe if I have it on the record here I will sort it out!). I'm planning a new range to launch at BCTF in April.