A bit about Sam Toft
I did not always want to be an artist.
My earliest ambition was to work in a post office. Or to join a circus that would accept clumsy acrobats, and had a nice elephant or two. I think now I would have liked to have been a dancer or a gardener or a dog trainer. But I like painting pictures just fine.
It is not a life that would suit everyone, I don't think. I spend a lot of time alone with my dogs, walking or thinking, planning and drawing, dreaming up scary schemes, motivating myself to do something new. I find I cannot concentrate when there is too much going on. I am one of those people who gets distracted easily. I have to factor in a lot of time for sitting and staring at the wall.
I am often asked how long it takes me to complete a picture. The truth is, I can work very quickly when everything is going my way. I can make a small picture in an hour or so. But then there are months when I do nothing at all, but rush around in circles, filling my paper bin with rubbish, feeling like a failure but trying to stay positive until that blissful Eureka moment hits. The best pictures take the least effort. But it's like that oh-so-casual 'no makeup' look, huh girls? It takes ABSOLUTELY AGES to pull off. And sometimes it doesn't work at all.
In the absence of a suitable circus to run away with, I amassed an impressive CV. I have been a Fire Extinguisher Sales Person, a Death Grants Advisor, a Wedgwood Rooms Worker, an Accountant's Assistant, a Silver Service Waitress, a Catering Manager, a Yoga Teacher. Plenty of experience as a bar maid, and cleaner. Never short of a job or three through school, but I could never decide what to study. I was reasonably good at a few subjects, not particularly talented in any but English. I guess I had been speaking it a while by then. My A levels were English, Maths, General Studies and French. My year off was spent disastrously au pairing in France. My degree, a proposed 4 year sandwich in International Business Studies, the 3rd year spent working for some super company in France maybe? After completing the first year, like a fish out of water, I transferred to the second year of a Social Sciences degree where I studied Economics, Politics, Industrial Relations, Sociology, Philosophy, and then joined the Civil Service. Strange that after all that studying, I still felt like a fish out of water.
I have had some lucky breaks in my life. But as someone wise once said, the harder you work, the luckier you get. And I have been a hard worker in my time.
I had never thought of Art as a career, or even something I was particularly very good at. I guess it was more that I had worked hard at a lot of different things, and really could not settle with any. Like I mentioned earlier, I am quite good at a few things, and not brilliant at any. So when I found myself inspired to make a living from drawing pictures, I approached it in the same way I approach most things. With enthusiasm and resilience. I can be single minded and methodical when working towards a goal. Obsessive some might say!
I moved from London up to live with my sister, and managed to enrol on a part-time BTEC in General Art and Design at Liverpool's City College, and found I could do that alongside some bar work. At 23 or whatever, I was a "mature" student!!! My 'portfolio' was a pitiful bunch of dog-eared sketches in a board backed envelope. But I am ever so glad that they took me on. I met some kind and dedicated teachers, and allowed myself to dream that I had found my vocation, and that this was something I could truly be good at. And if I am asked, as I often am, if I have any advice for people starting off in the art world, it's the same advice I would give to a new yoga student. Get good at falling over and picking yourself up again.
I have always believed that if you want something enough, you can get it. Especially where I live. I do not have to walk miles for water, catch my own food, or fight for my life every day. I don't think I would be any good at that. I think the hardest thing is to decide what you want. After that, getting it is the relatively easy part. I am a great visualiser and a good planner. I am both an eternal optimist and terribly prone to self doubt and depression, yet I have been blessed with this fertile imagination. And I think, if I can see it, I see no reason why I should not be able to do it. I guess if I wanted to run a marathon I would train every day. And as I wanted to be an artist, I sketched every day. And as I wanted to make a living from my pictures, I listened to what people wanted, I watched the people whose success I admired, I struggled hard to make my own niche.
Never a day goes by when I do not thank my lucky stars for what I do. I see myself as an incredibly fortunate person. I make my living from drawing a whole bunch of my imaginary friends. I have a lovely home, plenty of good (real!) friends, two gorgeous dogs, a healthy mind (!) and body, and I am a grateful person. In a way it has come full circle. My imagination was something that perhaps set me apart as a child. I found it hard to make friends, and spent so many years inventing them instead!
I have had some lucky breaks along the way, and now have the luxury of only working with people I like, trust and admire. I do not do commissions (I was never very good at them) and instead I just paint what I like and eventually it sells... I have been fortunate enough to work with some fantastic publishers so that my pictures are widely distributed as cards, posters, limited edition prints, mugs, calendars, stationery. It is always an absolute thrill for me to wander into a small shop in an unknown town and see one of my cards, or walk into a bed and breakfast and see a Mr Mustard poster on the wall. I never tire of that. I'm the one who tidies the card racks and has my photograph taken next to window displays, or in doctors’ waiting rooms, next to my work like a big kid. It's marvellous.
Who knows how long all this is going to last? I'm getting a bit old to be going back to waitressing, and I'm not too good at saving money, so I hope there's a few more years left in it. Otherwise I could retrain as a gardener, I guess, and get a bit more colour in my cheeks. Or become the female Dog Whisperer? I'd like that.