Meet Liverpool artist Rebecca Christian
- Credit: Rebecca Christian
Rebecca Christian, after 20 years of working for other people, finally stepped into her own light and called herself an artist
We do love a label, a ticket that describes what we do is a way of identifying ourselves not only to others, but in our own minds. When we are not sure how we identify ourself, it impinges upon how we see ourself fitting into the wider world. For Rebecca Christian, from Liverpool, identifying herself as an artist has been a huge step, and one that has been a long time coming.
‘It has taken a while,’ she laughs, ‘but at last I truly feel I can call myself an artist, and it sits well.’
Rebecca trained in scientific illustration, completing her degree in Blackpool as part of Edge Hill University, learning to create intricate and scientifically accurate illustrations of wildlife, inside and out.
‘It was really interesting, but the degree sadly no longer exists. And it didn’t lead to any employment in that field, either. It was the same story everywhere I applied – you needed to have experience, though how I was supposed to gain any to get on the path nobody could say. It’s something I have become quite passionate about; art and design graduates need work experience and help to get them on the path. My parents are both self-employed, and I wish someone had suggested back then that I could go that route too, but it wasn’t something I really every considered. But, saying that, I think perhaps I have needed all of my experience to date to help me achieve what I have now.
‘One thing I did learn during my degree was how to use a computer, which was a really new thing back in those days, so effectively I graduated in 1996 as an unemployed graphic designer.’
This may not have been her plan, but it did lead to a role with Liverpool University, in the very new field of website design.
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‘I was there for seven years, and learned to code websites in HTML from scratch – there was no such thing as Wordpress in those days. It was really the start of the internet boom and there was lots of funding for businesses wanting to get online. We would build websites for local businesses, given just two days to complete each one – it was pretty fast paced and my illustration skills were useful. I then moved to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, working on long-distance interactive learning with undergraduates in Ethiopia. It was really fascinating and creating the coursework really made use of all my coding and illustration skills. Unfortunately, the doctor I was working for has his funding cut so I had to move on.’
Rebecca next moved into designing online interactive education games for schools, but after yet another redundancy, decided it was time to take control of her working life into her own hands and start working for herself.
‘My children were still very young, so I decided to go self-employed so I could work around them,’ Rebecca explains. ‘My biggest challenge was deciding what I should do. I thought I would set up as a freelance web designer, and attended many networking events where the room was just full of web designers, which didn’t give me much confidence.
‘I joined a Liverpool Chamber of Commerce programme, called Spark Up, where they helped you look at yourself and your skills and focus on what you could do. It was a 20-week programme and Jenny Stewart, who was the Chief Executive at the time, telling us that by the end of the course some of the businesses would not be the same. It was a real pinnacle for me; I was 40 years old, and finally gave myself permission to call myself an artist, despite having used my illustration skills in every job I had held. It was my art skills that had given me my career to date, but I had never had the confidence to really acknowledge that. Now, I was finally going back to my original passion – and that’s when the hard work really started.’
‘I was all excited, realising what I actually was. It’s a talent, something different from the room of web designers. Working for myself, it’s very different, everything starts and ends with me. From the initial idea, through actually painting the designs, to deciding what products to create to digitalising my artwork to getting the products made, onto my website and then despatch, it’s all down to me, but then of course, that’s what gives me the control I was missing before.’
When Rebecca first established herself she decided to sell her products through Etsy, the perfect starting point for any designer-maker testing the market to see what sells and what doesn’t. She now has her own website as well, where customers can commission artworks to their own brief.
‘It’s a big investment, in time, money and emotion, getting up and running with a business and then with every new collection I create. I decided to see if I could crowdfund and set up on Kickstarter. It’s an all-or-nothing service – if you don’t raise the full amount you’re seeking, you get none of what has been pledged. Those who pledge can choose which of the collection they receive for their money, and they get it first, before it goes on the website. It’s really worked for me. It’s great to see what designs appeal to people (though I haven’t had one fail, yet, so far they’ve all appealed) and what products people are most keen on. The interesting part has been how far around the world my products go. Once all my Kickstarter commitments are fulfilled, I can sell the rest of the stock online, which is where I make my living.
‘My first Kickstarter project was my Liverpool liver birds design, which has proven eternally popular, an ongoing bestseller. I have the design on cards, scarfs, necklaces and cufflinks. These are bought by people all over the world, as well as the UK – Liverpool has sent a lot of people out across the globe, it seems.’
Rebecca’s most recent project has been her UK Heritage Collection, taking the national flowers of Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland and creating a series of products using her designs, from wallpaper to silk scarves.
‘I’m releasing one at a time, over Kickstarter, starting with the Welsh daffodil. It’s done really well and, like the liver birds, I’m sending them all over the world. I don’t know if it’s the Welsh connection, or if people just like daffodils.’
It's a glorious design, especially in repeat, which Rebecca maximises with a fabulous scarf and even more glorious wallpaper.
‘I’ll be releasing the Rose collection next,’ she says. ‘I have loved working on these. At heart I am a wildlife artist, I think, so love to paint flowers, birds and furry animals.’
Birds feature heavily on Rebecca’s collection of greetings cards, which, much to Rebecca’s amusement, have garnered quite the fan base in Germany and America, where national differences can be seen.
‘The Americans seem to really like the cute ones, where the animals have been anthropomorphised, such as the squirrel wedding couple. I send a lot of the more quirky ones to Germany, such as cat in Edwardian style dress and “Frisky at 50”. It’s wonderful to think that my ideas are going from my paintbrush to homes all over the world, and most of all, that they are my ideas and my realisation of those ideas, not someone else’s.
‘Being a self-employed artist might be hard work, but I love it.’