A life-changing decision for mum-of-two Ciara Gilmore led her to turning her hobby into a flourishing career
Life is busy for Ciara Gilmore as she is a single mother with two children and a menagerie of rescue animals. But that didn’t stop her from chasing her dream as while she had a secure job as an occupational therapist, decided that the stress involved wasn’t worth it and threw caution to the wind by turning her favourite pastime into a career.
“I started work as an occupational therapist in 1993 and worked in the burns unit in the RVH for some time,” she says.
“I also worked in the community and as a lecturer in the University of Ulster. When I got married, I moved to Cork for a few years and worked as an OT there but stopped after my children were born as I became burnt-out prior to my first pregnancy and struggled with stress and low mood.
“Working as an OT had the potential to be really fulfilling as my passion was to help people in difficult circumstances to be more independent and have a better quality of life no matter what disability or illness they were facing.
“But unfortunately, it was not as easy to do in practice as red tape, waiting lists and limited budgets made my work difficult — so it was frustrating and draining and I had become disillusioned with my profession.
“But throughout it all I painted and was always taking workshops and classes to keep up my love of art and creativity.
“So when I was on maternity leave with my first child, I dove right into creating art.
“It was a great way to alleviate the stress of being a new mum and once I started, I knew I had to keep going.”
Ciara, who now lives in Dundonald with her children, aged 12 and 14, had been painting landscapes and animals when she lived in rural Cork and began selling some of her work to local galleries.
This, she says, made her realise how much she enjoyed painting and how life as an artist, might just be viable.
“After returning to Belfast when my second child was born, I took a new direction in my creativity and with heaps of outgrown baby clothes to hand I started to recycle them to make textile pictures for children’s bedrooms and my first business SMUDGE was born,” she says.
“I gave up OT to be a stay-at-home mum, so I was able to allocate some time to create each week.
“My pieces became popular quickly and for a few years I sold my work at St George’s Market. I suppose I dipped my toe into the creative life at this stage, but it was more of a hobby than a thriving art business.
“I also had a husband in the background who made sure bills were paid, so it wasn’t until I was a single parent that the big leap of faith really happened.
“At that stage I was well and truly on my own and I had to really make it work. I always trusted in my gut, and it was pulling me really strongly back to painting, so I just kept following that instinct which led me to abstract, to painting big pieces and creating online courses. Now it is pulling me to help artists create successful businesses.”
The 50-year-old now has an art studio in her garden where she paints expressionist abstract paintings and says the medium is really liberating and allows her to really convey what she is feeling.
“Currently, I paint large scale contemporary atmospheric abstract art and semi abstract art,” she says.
“I paint intuitively so leave a large part of me on the canvas. I am inspired by the elements, so there are suggestions of sea, sky and earth in my paintings but what I really love to try and express is the energy of love, joy and hope.
“It’s hard to describe, but as soon as I started to paint without the constraints of making a painting ‘look like something’ I felt unbelievably free.
“I was, for the first time tapping into my intuition and each painting session became more of a mindfulness session, leading to a wonderful sense of joy, peace and fulfilment. And without realising this, my paintings started to reflect exactly how I was feeling.
“So I took more courses, mostly online, and in both painting and in business skills, because I believe we can’t improve in isolation and investing in myself was part of the reason that I now have a successful art business.
“And, after about a year of practising and honing my new abstract style, I began to sell my work consistently through social media, my website and Canvas Galleries in Stranmillis, Belfast. My work is colourful and atmospheric and works really well in contemporary interiors.”
After her marriage ended, Ciara found it quite challenging to be the main breadwinner, but says she continued to pursue a career in art as not only did she believe she could make a living from it, but also it was beneficial to her mental health.
“I went through some tough times, and it definitely wasn’t easy,” she says.
“But my art was always a great source of escape and comfort to me — it was my lifebuoy when I felt I was sinking, and I knew it was going to lead to better things if I just believed in myself and didn’t give up.
“I was a single parent to my children with my little rescue dogs in the background and was always being pulled in every direction as everyone vied for my attention.
“But working at my art from home allowed me the flexibility to do everything I needed to do — I could drop the kids to school and collect them, and with one of my children having special needs it was even more important that I be the best and most present mum I could be,” Ciara adds.
“It took a while, but finally I created the perfect formula for a life of happiness and contentment.
“Painting gives me a wonderful sense of positive well-being and calmness — it is like a built-in mood enhancer and has been like a best friend in times of crisis, holding my hand, allowing me time to pause, adjust, accept and heal. No wonder there’s a whole therapy dedicated to art — it is like a magical ointment which soothes heartache and alleviates fear.”
So content is she with her career change and how art has improved her life, the Belfast woman has now begun offering online classes to others who may want to unleash their creative side.
“In February 2020 I launched my first signature online art course entitled Abstract Art Evolution, which is an eight-week course for artists who want to create abstract art which is good enough to sell,” she says.
“It has been a great success and since it began, I have welcomed over 70 students from all over the world.
“Being able to teach online is amazing as it means you can reach so many more people and aren’t constrained by venues and numbers.
“In fact, the arrival of the pandemic in March 2020 really demonstrated how important being able to learn online is.
“After the success of my first course I started to receive requests for a beginner programme and so I created a new course called Abstract Art Apprentice which launched in October and was about painting for the sheer joy of it — throwing the rule book out the window and just expressing yourself through colour and marks.
“It was a chance to connect with your inner creativity and allow time to recharge and experience peace and fulfilment through abstract art.
“I really wanted this course to introduce the amazing healing qualities of painting freely without the pressure of creating a masterpiece at the end.
“It was about letting go, tuning into your creative flow and allowing the process of painting to unleash its magic — so it was for anyone and everyone.”
Ciara says the career change from OT to art was the best decision she ever made and would encourage others to take a leap of faith and follow their dreams.
“Having my passion become my income generator means that my work doesn’t feel like work, and I enjoy every second of it,” she says.
“I went into occupational therapy as I always wanted to be useful and helpful to people, but now I help people to become better artists and it gives me an amazing sense of fulfilment.
“Also, I get to connect to people so much so that they want to hang my creations in their homes — you can’t get better than that.
“So, I embrace every day with gratitude that I am actually able to do this for a living.
“I feel really blessed and when I look back at my old self, I can’t believe how far I have come as the old Ciara was riddled with self-doubt and fear and had zero confidence.
“So I just want to emphasise to anyone thinking of turning their passion into a career that taking that leap of faith just isn’t as scary as you will have imagined it inside your mind.
“It might be new to you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it or that you won’t love doing it.
“It’s time to start believing in yourself and just go do it.”
For more information on Ciara’s art, see www.ciaragilmore.com