By Julia Niemczynowska

What would you do if you won the lottery? I’ve always dreamt of winning big and the things I would do if I had millions at my disposal. Only, I don’t play.

I’m a sculptor. It’s my full time job but it’s only recently that I’ve started admitting it, both to myself and anyone who will listen. When people ask me what I do, it sometimes takes every ounce of courage to voice it out loud. My admission often evokes a barrage of questions: How do I manage to live off my art? Why I do what I do? What is the meaning behind my pieces? I find the latter two are hard to answer. Like so many creatives, my experience and background shape my art, and by association my personality.

Pretty much as soon as I could scamper about I started making things. I would draw on the walls if paper wasn’t readily available. I would carve soap and squidge putty. I was very lucky that my instinctively-made brainchildren were recognised for what they were: a part of me. Forming ideas into physical shape is just something that happens. If I need a table, bed, scarf and I can’t find one that fits, I will hack something that looks like a precariously wobbly version of the real thing.

My work has inadvertently reflected my changing state of mind throughout my life. Much in the way that I went from being a shy weird kid to (relatively) comfortable in my own (weird) skin; my sculptures, once skeletal and inward looking have become fuller and more extroverted over time.

I went to school early, having been labelled as ‘gifted’ (though I have serious doubts about the accuracy of this diagnosis). I was enrolled in what was meant to be an aspiring Steiner-style alternative school, but was in truth a university style system for kids. I was utterly unprepared emotionally and it didn’t take long for me to withdraw. It didn’t help that I have an unusual last name half the alphabet long.

By the time I was in grade 4, my mom started getting phone calls from the school that went something along the lines of: “Julia hasn’t been in class for a month, not to worry, she aced her geometry exam.” No mention was made of the fact that I hid in the bathroom or the library to avoid hearing my name chanted with the assortment of cruel variations children are so good at, or that I became so small in class, teachers simply didn’t see my hand raised for roll-call. My mom just about managed to count to ten, before she exploded at the teacher for not notifying her sooner.

It wasn’t long before I was acting out and my grades plummeted. The principal openly told parents that I should be avoided and was a bad influence. As a creative kid, I was brilliant at getting out of homework and avoiding any participation in the institution.

I truly believe that if this had continued, I would have gone down a lonely and debauched path. I think I owe a good chunk of my sanity to having the space to make art as a form of expression. That, and to two very eclectic teachers to whom I will be forever grateful. They saw what most couldn’t: that I was bored, lonely, and that I wasn’t trying to cause trouble but trying to get out of it in a misguided way. Somehow things came together, my grades improved and my path smoothed out.

After university, I drifted, like so many others, into growing up. Until one sunny autumn day, aged 25, I packed up my life in Montreal and moved to the UK to try something new with nothing but a backpack. A lot of people have called that move brave. I call it what it was: escapism.

As an attempt at being practical, I spent a large amount of the last decade doing things that were not quite me. I somehow got ‘on the ladder’ working in TV and was lucky enough to be part of some pretty cool projects. Unfortunately the long hours and intense pace meant that for a time art was placed on hold. I prided myself on being unflappable, a dedicated employee who loved a challenge and repeatedly told myself that I was being creatively productive. Until I wasn’t. I suddenly found that between job creep and long hours, I was burning out. I finally felt that I had no choice but to hand in my notice. I had enough savings to last a few months; enough time to figure out my next step and recoup.

During this time, I ended up re-watching a TED talk by Larry Smith.

In his talk, Smith deconstructs the excuses that can keep people stuck in a safe but ultimately unfulfilling groove. Whether it’s the internal monologue compelling you to believe that it’s safer to stay put in the job you have, or that other day-to-day responsibilities are sufficient reasons not to take a risk with the thing you love.“ I would do this IfIf I had the money, time, etc. then I would be successful.

He reasons that the definition of success needs to shift, and that it is likely that most people are actually afraid or feel unworthy of pursuing their own dream profession.

I became aware of my own Ifs, and as if by brute force, the little voice I had been trying to hush became unignorably loud. It was time for a change.


Julia Niemczynowska is a Montreal-born, Bristol-based artist, who works primarily with clay. You can find more information on Julia’s art on her website and facebook page.

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