A Change of Art
Andy Knill of Andy Knill Art shares how a passion which started as a hobby saved him, and how he’s passing it on to others.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it means to you?
I have had mental health issues since my teens, although they didn’t come to the fore until I was teaching full time. I was a geography teacher for 30 years. Between 1999 and 2016, I suffered seven breakdowns, but just took antidepressants and kept going.
Over the last five years of my career, I have blogged and talked openly about my struggles with anxiety and depression. I have also supported friends and colleagues, and others through a local support group. I continue to talk openly about my mental health and how art helped me, and I run an activity at my shop called Art for Fun where people can see if the process of drawing helps them to relax. I don’t charge for it and have already had 200 participants aged from 2 to 80+.
I believe that mental health is a more open topic now, but there is still a long way to go to provide support and encouragement to sufferers to open up and feel safe to do so. The pandemic has not helped the levels of mental health issues in children, which was already on the rise while I was teaching.
I still get dip days, but I can recognise them as such and know things will improve. I keep in touch with friends, ex-colleagues and even ex-pupils about their own mental health and we support each other. My move from teaching to a self-employed solo trader has taught me many things and continues to do so, and it has really helped my mental health.I have had mental health issues since my teens, although they didn’t come to the fore until I was teaching full time. I was a geography teacher for 30 years. Between 1999 and 2016, I suffered seven breakdowns, but just took antidepressants and kept going.
What is your business?
I am an artist, and my business is called AndyKnillArt (now based in AndyKnillArt Studio). I draw using fineliner pens and marker pens. I work four days a week and I draw most days in the shop. I sell the my original art alongside printed postcards, greeting cards and giclee prints.
When I started the business in January 2017, I didn’t know if my art would sell. I now cover my shop’s rent of £3000 annually and the business is starting to pay for itself. I retired from teaching and have a pension, so the business does not earn my living.
Share your story so far.
In 2016, I moved my family to Purbeck, Dorset for a new job. Ten weeks later, a breakdown saw me leave teaching permanently with no plan B. I had started keeping sketchbooks in 2015 as a way to switch off from work, and this hobby saved me. I wasn’t ready to stop working, but I was in no state to keep teaching. I decided to see if my art would sell in our new location, as Purbeck has a lot of artists.
I set up my business in January 2017. I started with local craft markets and sold some designs for cards to the local tourist information office. I took part in the Purbeck Art Weeks with an Open Studio and in December that year I did my first of three Artisan on the Beach events based in a beach hut. In 2018 I joined Purbeck Artisan Yard so my work was on sale all year round.
In 2019, I was given the opportunity to share a shop unit in Swanage with another artist from the artisan yard, which increased my sales fivefold.
In 2021, I made the decision to move out of the shared shop, even though I had no new premises to go to at that point, as my mental health was declining, although I still managed to reduce my meds over the summer. I found new premises the same week and on 1st September I opened my new studio and shop, where I’m still based now.
This tax year I am 4.5 months ahead of last year’s earnings and I think that I am now much more established locally. I’ve reduced my medication to the level they were at eight years ago, and in 2022 I am even considering trying to come off meds for the first time in 20 years, with the support of my GP, if things are in the right place.
Next year I look forward to continuing to create more art, sharing Art for Fun with more people of all ages and maybe coming off anti-depressants for the first time this century.
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
My main challenge is to keep attracting customers and now repeat customers to come and buy some art from me. As long as I can cover the businesses costs then I am happy. I don’t see that I am going to run out of ideas for topics to draw or new products to develop but the key aspect will be that I enjoy my business and help others to enjoy art too.
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
I took a huge leap of faith in starting a business, based on my art and lack of sales experience. I believe networking is a vital tool, as well as having someone to let off steam to. Providing financial support and business advice could be helpful too.
Sharing the stories of different entrepreneurs shows what is possible.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
That I have built a business selling my own art from scratch and I have got to the point where I can financially afford my own premises and have the chance to keep passing on my love of art as a therapy tool (informally).
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
Don’t prejudge, get to know a person and what their life actually involves just to get by. There are so many labels attached to disabilities, gender, sexuality and race these days that it’s sometimes hard for onlookers to understand what they mean for the individuals concerned.
Who or what inspires you?
Friends who continue to teach, especially those who do it for 30 years and more.
People who run support groups for others: a local example is a friend who coordinates the local Depression Support group. People who share their experience freely with others, which is what I try to do. I believe in sharing the support I have received from other local businesses, and I am always willing to discuss ideas and pitfalls with starting something new.
Being open to new challenges and the truth that is lifelong learning. There is always something new to learn.