Tenacious creative Amy Campbell proves you can be both artistic and business savvy – and that owning a wonderful work of art is an option for everyone.
WORDS LAURA TUCK / PHOTOS KENRICK RHYS
There’s a misconception that some people are ‘born with it’, but I think creativity is something that requires commitment and practise,” says artist Amy Campbell. “Eventually, that will pay off.”
She was right. You can spot one of Amy’s bold, bright, beautiful contemporary-abstract designs a mile off, whether it’s on a wall or a pair of pants. In three short years, the Tauranga-based artist has set up a home studio, learned the ins and outs of digital marketing, and commissioned stunning pieces for well-known Kiwis – and now she’s planning her first solo exhibition. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that Amy, the girl “obsessed” with art who was sent to a private art school, didn’t pick up a paintbrush once between the ages of 12 and 37.
“The Beacon Arts School no longer exists, but it was beautiful,” says Amy. “We did guided meditations before class and were given total creative freedom. But when I reached fifth form, career advice started pouring in and sadly art isn’t encouraged as a lucrative or sustainable career choice.”
With the idea of a ‘stable’ career thrust upon her, Amy parked her love for art and studied anthropology at the University of Waikato before moving overseas to work for big corporates and get a “real-world education”. When she finally returned home, she started a family and a new business venture.
“I’d had enough of stifling office jobs and felt the itch to get into something creative,” she says. “I launched an art workshop called Craft Collective, then a week after we opened our doors on Twelfth Avenue, I found out I was pregnant again. I pushed on for a while, but with two kids under two, I knew my next move had to allow me to work from home. After enabling others to explore art, I decided to reconnect with it myself, so I started messing around with paint and made a few sales.”
One of these early sales was to local music promoter Pato Alvarez, who commissioned Amy to paint a piece for his family depicting his One Love festival. It proved to be a major turning point for her career and confidence. “Selling a piece of art is a massive validation,” she says.
Determined to turn her passion into a successful career, Amy started learning more about digital marketing and social media. She took online business courses and even flew to New York for a learning opportunity. “I’m a creative/analyst hybrid,” she says. “I’m interested in data but I also love splashing paint around a canvas. Painting is a state of flow, so it’s amazing for mental health. Sometimes I paint in time to music, which not only helps me to build on a design, but alsoto live in the moment. I love that art can be spontaneous.”
When working on commissioned pieces, however, Amy approaches things a little differently. “I send a questionnaire to the client to learn more about their vision, then we’ll have a face-to-face chat. It’s like being a detective – finding clues about what art they like, what colours are in the room they intend to display the artworkin and what type of lighting we have to work with.
“I like to hand-deliver and install the art myself,” she continues. “Progress photos don’t do paintings justice, so I love seeing the look on someone’s face when they see it for the first time. The relationship I have with my collectors is very important – it’s not just a transactional thing for me. To be chosen to create such an intimate possession is a real honour.”
Amy’s hell-bent on shaking the art world’s ‘elitist’ stigma, too. To ensure everyone, regardless of budget, is able to enjoy quality art, she offers a range of beautiful prints as well as handmade accessories, from makeup bags and cheeky briefs to funky leggings.
“I believe art is for everyone,” she says. “That’s why my pieces start at $23. I didn’t want to limit my business, so I reached out to other artists for advice about sharing my designs with the world. The response has been amazing.”
She’s had lots of support from local creatives, including her cousin, Tauranga artist (and former UNO cover star) Jamie Harkins. “I grew up with Jamie and spent many hours watching him work,” says Amy. “I used to think I could never do what he does, so sometimes I get a bit teary thinking about how far I’ve come. We’re programmed to doubt our abilities, but when we remove that self-doubt, we fly.”