The Camberwell Society

Society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell

How to turn passion into a career


Around 1,000 new students begin their studies at the Camberwell branch of University of the Arts London every year. But what lies beyond graduation, and can they forge a future from their passion? Cornelia Falknäs talks to local artists about their experiences.

Vanguard Court is one of Camberwell’s best-known artist collectives, the entrance to the old bus factory just across the road from the Arts college. Gill Rocca is one of the artists who has a studio here, making a living from her intriguing paintings of dark, misty landscapes.

But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1990s she had to work three jobs – at a record shop, a gallery and a cinema – to live and pursue her real love: “My jobs were all things around my practice that I knew would feed it,” Gill tells CQ. “My practice was the most important thing, always in that time, but it wasn't the thing that I spent most of my time doing.”

Working closely with galleries, her paintings sold slowly at first but eventually she began selling enough to quit her other jobs and support herself through painting. Gill still sells mainly through galleries, and although she enjoys participating when Vanguard Court participates in Camberwell’s annual Open Studios, it’s not really a selling opportunity for her.

“For other people who work here, I guess it's when they get to sell their work direct to the public, and that's not that for me. I just like to be here and talk to people and have them see the work.”

Someone else who regularly opens up her studio is Lynette Hemmant, who paints from a light-filled studio in her flourishing garden in the heart of Camberwell Grove. Lynette got her start soon after graduating from Saint Martin’s School of Art in 1958 when she was taken on by an agency.

“That doesn’t mean I was any good,” Lynette laughs. “I'd merely got something - it was going to Saint Martin’s, and they got me enough badly paid illustration work.”

She started illustrating books and magazines while sometimes working extra as a cook. In the 1970s Lynette found a new focus - vivid paintings centered around nature and architecture. She has never looked back, not only continuing to paint and sell new works but earning an income from copyrighted earlier images.

She has advice for aspiring young artists: “If you've sold a piece of work then you still have copyright. Join Design and Artists Copyright Society, and you will be rewarded by little dribble bits of money every year there has been use of that image.”

Around the corner from Lynette’s Garden is the coffee shop is Lumberjack where Natasha Godfrey not only works behind the counter, but also sells her own illustrations printed on tea towels, posters, cards and notebooks. She had always drawn in her free time, and when she got furloughed during the Covid pandemic, she turned the hobby into a business.

“I created a portfolio, built a website, started an Instagram and drew a lot of stuff locally,” she says. Natasha’s illustrations of shopfronts around South East London are now available as prints, coasters and tea towels. Although business is going well, she has no plans quitting Lumberjack.

“If I just drew, I'd find it a bit lonely maybe, and I really enjoy it, but I don't know if I'd want to do it full time.”

Moreover, Natasha volunteers for Camberwell Arts, and helps them organize their markets: “It's really nice, having a place in Camberwell where artists can come and sell their things, that’s kind of a bridge between people who live here and people who make and sell stuff here.”

David Caldwell is another Camberwell artist who transitioned from full-time work to full-time artist, giving up his employment as a graphic designer to start his own business.

“I carried on doing graphic design, but self-employed. I wanted to work more on my photography, printmaking, and art.”

David’s dreamy photographs and prints of dramatic landscapes have now been showcased in many galleries and art fairs. “I found that it was good to collaborate,” he says. “I collaborated with a fellow photographer a few years ago. We exhibited at the Menier Gallery as a team because we just wanted to do it and enjoy the journey but through that we got noticed.”

Teaming up with others meant that they could take on joint spaces at fairs for more affordable prices and sell work on-site. David also gets opportunities through submitting work to open calls.

“Collaboration is key, networking is key, and do take a risk to send work off to a selection committee,” he concludes.

Tayo Fatunla, award-winning cartoonist and illustrator, also underlines the importance of working with others. “I always tell people that it's good to have a mentor,” he says. “You must be inspired by someone. I had Jerry Robinson, the creator of The Joker, as my mentor.”

Tayo studied cartooning at the Kubert School in New Jersey, and then went back to his home country Nigeria to do cartoons for newspapers and magazines, before relocating to London in 1989. Since then, he has worked for organisations such as The Guardian and BBC and travelled the world exhibiting cartoons and doing workshops.

Tayo has deep ties to Camberwell. Before going freelance he worked ten years for West Africa Magazine at Coldharbour Lane, and he’s still engaged in the local community. At Camberwell library you’ll find both Tayo’s work and the artist himself if you’re lucky. His work is often educational, and he uses cartoons to inspire children who come to the library: “I give them the library experience, of why it's important to use the library. In the process of doing that, I also teach them how to draw cartoons.”

A short stroll from the library, Sani Sani, also known as InxSanixTy, has his studio. It’s filled with Sani’s colourful paintings, paper sculptures and even sneakers created in collaboration with Nike. Sani has always been creating art, but he studied aeronautical engineering, and aspired to become an Air Force pilot.

“I never really considered myself an artist,” he reflects. “I created stuff that I could use and even though it fell within art, I was so far away from what I considered an artist. There were just not options, no one around me that was an artist.”

When he thought his chances of becoming a pilot were slim, Sani started to reevaluate, asking himself what he would do if money didn’t exist.

“The fact that I'm wanting to do so many things led me to art,” he says. Sani now works full time with art, and while his main source of income is selling his paintings, he wears many hats in the art world.

“As an artist sometimes, your practice doesn't rely on just your creation of art. Sometimes you’re called in to advise, sometimes you're called in to create programs. But you're making whatever money you're making, precisely because you're an artist. It's a different way to attack the system and creating opportunities for yourself.” For example, he has made public art and workshops at the Southampton Way basketball court.

A few minutes from Sani’s studio you find another public artwork - a mural on Wyndham Road painted by Joel Gray. Apart from creating public art, Joel works for Kapoor Studios as a stone carver. He graduated from Camberwell College of Arts in 1998, and thinking back on his own education makes him reflect on the future of art:

“I think it's this problem with our education system kind of siloing ‘you’re creative, so you're going to be an artist, you’re mathematical, so you're going to be an engineer’. What you have is a kind of gap, and no shared language. We need to be linking across these things. I feel that practical skills within the arts contexts and creative skills within the science context are going to be of much more use to us.”

Fortunately, Camberwell College of Arts is trying to fill the gap Joel describes. The MA Global Collaborative Design Practice, a partnership between University of The Arts London and Kyoto Institute of Technology, graduated its first cohort this year.

“From UAL’s perspective, we're approaching with quite a creative way of working,” says course leader Niki Wallace. “From KIT’s perspective, the course is looking at design from a different viewpoint. So, the engineering perspective in terms of design is very much about solvable problems, and very particular kinds of approaches to reaching those solutions.”

She continues: “The partnership is trying to blend these two different ways of approaching design. What we’re asking the students to do is to take these two different ways of working, one that's quite complex, that can be quite messy and creative, and one that's quite defined and structured, and think about how they blend these two approaches together.”

Some graduates of the course have rejoined it as teaching assistants, whereas others have gone on to incubate their projects, find work in their home countries, or establish their own practices.

“Everyone's kind of doing something different,” Niki says. “They're either finding jobs that align with the expertise they have, or they're further incubating and developing the projects that they're working on.”

Seemingly, art graduates have many routes to take in turning passion into a paid career and avoid the cliched “starving artist”.

Four tips for UAL graduates from Rupert Maas of the Maas Gallery

1. Use your final show at art college well. Dealers and collectors visit, so spend time on displaying your work. Light it and label it with a short sentence, and price it to sell. Every sold picture is an ambassador for your work.

2.Don’t begrudge a dealer half of a sale, cultivate a mutually profitable relationship.

3. Don’t set your heart on a West End show. Approach galleries in towns out of London, many of them are successful and sell well.

4. Don’t forget the outside world and end up a hermit in a studio. Artists need to promote their work and develop a following. A strong social media presence and a personal relationship with a gallery can help

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The Camberwell Society was formed in 1970 and is the recognised amenity society for those living, working or interested in Camberwell.

The Society’s objectives, as defined by our constitution, are: to stimulate public interest in Camberwell, to promote high standards of planning and architecture in Camberwell, and to secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic or public interest in Camberwell.

We are a charity and raise money for local charities. In the past we have raised money for Southside Rehabilitation Association, St Giles Trust, Cambridge House, the CamberwellCommunity Choir, the HollingtonYouth Centre and the Camberwell Arts Festival