Professional artist born out of school lockdown project

Jo McCallion from Baldock

Jo McCallion from Baldock has found her calling for drawing in lockdown - Credit: Will McCallion

A Baldock woman has launched a new career as an artist, after being inspired by a school project assigned to Fearnhill's Year 7 students.

Jo McCallion, who works at the Letchworth school, has used her lockdown practising her drawing - getting so good that she has even created a business out of her newfound hobby.

Jo McCallion from Baldock

Jo McCallion has discovered her talent for drawing in lockdown, and now sells her work on Etsy - Credit: Will McCallion

She said: "Although I, like many people, have found so many elements of lockdown, home schooling, the restricted summer and all the COVID stuff really tough, I do happen to have an amazing positive come from it all, which is having learnt to draw and setting up my own art business.

"I was firmly in the "I cannot draw for toffee" camp before lockdown.  I disliked - or to be more honest, hated -  art at school, gave it up as soon as I could.

"Since then I dabbled in a few creative things - woodcarving, woodturning, cake decorating - but nothing really grabbed me.  Nor was I particularly good.  I haven't even tried to find my "thing" for years - just thought I was one of life's practical people, rather than a creative type."

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When the first lockdown hit, Jo took to the project art teacher Mrs Clifton had set for the Year 7 pupils, which was to draw 20 things. 

Jo's work

After being inspired by Fearnhill School's art project, Jo found she enjoyed and had a talent for drawing - Credit: Jo McCallion

"I loved seeing the student's results published on the school's Facebook page and I decided to borrow the idea for my Year 7 son who is at another school", she continued.

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"In fact our whole family took part. We started with the plan for everyone to draw one thing a day for 20 days. There was no pressure - it could be a 20 second sketch just before tea - when we shared our drawings - to something you had spent longer on."

The 49-year-old turned to YouTube videos for help on how to draw, and "got hooked". From then, she began drawing at any opportunity, practising sketching her dog - multiple times - a panda, owl, birds of prey and more. 

Jo's work

Jo's drawing of the Baldock townscape is one of the most popular on her Etsy store - Credit: Jo McCallion

She said: "About to head off on a fortnight's holiday in August, facing the prospect of lots of normal attractions being closed, I put a call out to friends and colleagues for them to email me photos of their pets.  And in between many walks in a gloriously sunny Wales I drew.  And drew.  And drew.

"Returning home I continued and tried more than dogs and animals - my granny's teapot, a pair of boots, some ballet shoes.  I then ventured away from just pencil drawing to charcoal and eventually pastels. I continued drawing friends and colleagues dogs and they were always brilliantly received.  

Teapot drawing

Jo's practise paid off, as she has now found a new passion for drawing, and has made a business from it - Credit: Jo McCallion

"Towards the end of the year my passion had not waned. My Christmas presents were art based. My birthday presents were art based. I had the bug."

Harry the Hare by Jo McCallion

The popularity of Harry the Hare marked the start of Jo selling her prints - Credit: Jo McCallion

In January this year, Jo drew a charcoal hare and asked a few friends if they would like a print of it, and was inundated with orders.

This inspired her to create a shop on Etsy, a Facebook page and Instagram account. A series of drawings of Baldock town centre were particularly successful, and Jo has plans to head over to Letchworth and Hitchin to get some inspiration for more townscapes when lockdown ends.  

Following a couple of posts on local Facebook pages, Jo is in four figures for turnover, has sold over 50 prints either privately or through Etsy and sold six originals/commissions.  

"I am overwhelmed and delighted," she said.  

"Fearnhill's art teacher Mrs Clifton, who is in reality how this all started, has been enormously encouraging to me on my artistic journey.  

"It is wonderful to be able to make a business out of a passion - even if it is one I came to late in life.  And it all came about because of lockdown giving me the time and the idea from Fearnhill School."

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