Why did you become self-employed?
I’ve had many creative full-time jobs back in Slovakia. When you are employed by a company or a media, you must follow their ideas, their framework; obey, do the job, go home, repeat. I moved to the UK as a 25-year-old girl, with one backpack and a banjo. I had a big dream of running my own artistic career – perhaps as some kind of a designer or a photographer like my Dad was. I was still searching for myself. After three years of work as a full-time teaching assistant at a secondary school, I was on maternity leave and had to make a decision to go back to work. My first-born child was still only 9 months old (and really struggling with separation anxiety), so I decided to take the leap of faith and started working from home – decorating cakes. I must say, I never looked back, I always thought of myself not as a baker, but as an artist. Becoming self-employed made me feel like am getting one step closer to my dreams. I made sugar sculptures for a further 8 years, during which I met with incredible cake artists from all over the world, a truly cosmopolitan dimension of the art industry is one of the best aspects of it. I love to meet people from different cultural backgrounds, listening to their stories, watching them grow and succeed. There’s happiness, and soul freedom, in that genuine supporting climate. You get the sense of “we’re all in the same shoes” which is really lovely. They say self-employed people must work twice as many hours… maybe, but it’s all worth it because of the passion, enthusiasm and healthy creativity.
What main challenges have you faced whilst being self-employed?
In the beginning, you may have too many people giving you too much advice, and it can be confusing. Tackling the procrastinating monkey when it comes to doing the paperwork is another “fun”! You must keep going no matter how tired you are, we don’t get sick pay or paid holidays… and it can be very tough financially. I recently reassessed my areas of work and moved from edible food art to non-edible forms. I returned to pencil and charcoal drawings, oil paintings, and my most beloved photography, which I’ve done with my Dad in our dark room since the age of 5. It takes people time to let that change “sink in” and associate me with portraits, rather than cakes, which was my temporary job really, while my children were very small and I was very housebound. Having said that, I love sculpting, I don’t think I’ll ever stop producing 3d works.
Then, when you’re a little worn out, balancing parenting and professional life, you may start to think of yourself as not good enough (mother’s guilt – do I spend enough quality time with my kids?). It is so important to tell others who are in similar shoes as you simple “hey, you’re doing ok”. It’s great to then look back at your achievements, and see “oh heck, I’ve done well”. We’re all doing our best, and if we all appreciate each other, life doesn’t feel so bad. I am very lucky to have found really great friends in the art industry here in South Molton, lately mainly through “Arts Destination Project” meetings. Being part of a great, strong team helps you face any challenges and protects your “mojo”!
How do you make it work? (Are you full-time self-employed, or part-time?)
It’s not easy – definitely a lot of self-discipline, and persistence is needed. Staying focused on whatever goals you set for yourself (120 hours to sculpt Fantastic Beasts sculpture for the London show, or 2 weeks of non-stop work on the wedding cake shaped to resemble a huge birch tree or 150 hours on a new unique photo exhibition designed to evoke time travel experience “Then and now” created using museum’s archives photographs). I am a total perfectionist when it comes to any creative work… I put myself under too much pressure, probably aware of the fact the competition is huge, and it is constantly growing, evolving, (watching you! lol) and you must be innovating. Embracing it, being inspired by all the aspects of arts, that’s what makes my visions constantly evolve. Be true to yourself! Working intuitively from a heart really does show in your work.
Do you have one piece of advice you would like to share about being self-employed?
Finding a good role model helps. A well-rounded strong positive personality, who is a few (or many) steps ahead of you in business, and willing to “mentor” you in your progress. A successful artist, a well-established photographer, a highly respected team leader who genuinely wants to see you succeed… And just LISTEN to them for a while! For me, that person is artist Dave Crocker (thank you).
Left: Fantastic Beasts movie inspired sculpture won GOLD at Decorative Exhibit category at Cake International at ExCeL, London April 2019.
Top middle: Double portrait of Spaniel dogs, for a lovely young farming family in Devon.
Bottom middle: Exhibition “Then and Now” used photographs from South Molton Museum, digitally merged with photographs taken this May and June, open during this year’s Olde English Fayre, theme “Celebrations”.
Right: Enigma (Emotion) won GOLD and placed 1st in Pushing the Boundaries category at international sugar art competition Cake International at NEC Birmingham, March 2017.
Karolina is a part of this years Art Trek. Location: The George, South Molton. 13th-29th September 2019.