Which One To Waste? That's The Question!

Which One To Waste? That's The Question!

by Laleh Kamalian

It was 5th of March 2018. I walked into my office in the University of Liverpool after 12 weeks sickness holiday, dropped my bag on my chair and went straight to my line manager’s office. “Come in!” he said. “Oh, hello Laleh, how are you feeling?” I said I was OK, and it was nice to see him too, etc…and went on “Can I go part-time from now on?”. “Are you not feeling well?”, he said, looking very surprised. “No, the plan is to become a full-time artist in two years!”. “Oh, wow, how??... are you sure?”, he managed. “Yes, I am absolutely sure” I said. And just like that, my 30 years career as a doctor and scientist started to come to an end.

Self Portrait (on the Hospital bed, 2018)

My first encounter with art was in October 2014. We were about to lose a council fund if our charity’s art class was cancelled for shortage of applicants, so I joined in just to make up the numbers. During the introduction I realised I was the only one who had never drew anything in her life. Then the teacher asked us to try to sketch him. A daunting task for me that resulted in a laughable outcome in my opinion! But me being the carefree me, did it anyway, finding it surprisingly enjoyable. To my absolute surprise the teacher was full of praise, encouraging me to carry on with the art class. To cut a long story short, by the end of the semester I had happily found something I was keen to do as a hobby. My evenings were not dull and boring anymore.

“I like being immersed in drawing and colouring, not feeling my surroundings, listening to music, a spiritual lecture or a story. I find my concentration is at its highest when I’m drawing. I can grasp all I hear.”

I started with colour pencils, but having an experimental mind, I had to try other media such as pastel, acrylics and oil too. I liked them all, but nothing satisfied me like colour pencils. Meanwhile, I carried on going to my boring job, hating every minute of it and being impatient to come home to my art every day.

In December 2017 I fell seriously ill and was hospitalised for three months to work out what was wrong with me. It turned out I had a chronic disease, something I count as a blessing, because it showed me what life was really about. I believe sometimes one needs a smack right in the face to wake up. Having some Polychromos pencils and a pad of papers I did a few portraits including a self-portrait while sitting on the hospital bed, just to pass the time. Then one of the nurses asked me would I do her portrait “please?” Well, I ended up doing six portraits, with lovely feedbacks. I kept thinking how enjoyable life would be if this was what I did for a living. And then I knew what I had to do….

“I still experiment with different paper, solvents and drawing techniques. It is a never-ending learning journey, and that makes it exciting.”

I eventually left the university and became a full-time artist in July 2020. I have finally chosen realism as my style and colour pencils as my medium. I like the achievable details and the ability to control the medium. I love the time-consuming nature of colour pencils. I like being immersed in drawing and colouring, not feeling my surroundings, listening to music, a spiritual lecture or a story. I find my concentration is at its highest when I’m drawing. I can grasp all I hear.

My Lady in Red (my daughter's portrait, 2020)

Colour pencil is a humble yet powerful medium. We still hear snobby quotes, like it is “only drawing” and not “proper painting”. However, with the tremendous efforts of many talented colour pencil artists and publishers such as Ann Kullberg, the medium is on its way to taking its rightful place in the world of art, with many colour pencil artists being awarded in international multi medium competitions in the last few years. I was lucky to win a “Special recognition” award in the Light Space Time Gallery’s “All Women” competition for my work “Say hello to Sunshine” this year.

My favourite subjects are human and animal portrait. I am fascinated by capturing the expressions of individual faces and the fact that a single line or a shadow can change it all. I like the eyes the most. They tell all the stories. I am in love with vibrant colours. I tend to exaggerate my colours. To me, what makes it look real is the tonal value, not the colour.

Say Hello to Sunshine (award winning, 2020)

I still experiment with different paper, solvents and drawing techniques. It is a never-ending learning journey, and that makes it exciting. I have recently incorporated pastels as an excellent co-medium for colour pencils, for a background or as an underpainting.

There are a lot of hurdles to overcome as a full-time artist. However, for me the greatest challenge has not been the art itself, but rather the business side of being a self-employed artist. I’ve had to learn many IT skills, video and photo editing, working with social media, building my own web page, etc., all in a short while. One might feel one’s efforts are not producing enough interest or income, ending up feeling not good enough or wanting to give up. But I think the key is to allow yourself a respite now and again, and then come back to it afresh, and to look at art as a career not a hobby regardless of the amount of money it is making. However, we need to be good and fair employers to ourselves.

Art and pencils were late discoveries for me. I had to decide between wasting what I had achieved in my life up to that point for art or wasting the rest of my life carry on doing what I didn’t like. I decided the former, I realised afterwards nothing in life was wasted anyway, and I’ve never looked back.


Laleh Kamalian is a British-Iranian self-taught colour pencil artist, living in Liverpool, UK. She discovered art at the age of 45, leading her to leave a 30-year science career behind to become a full-time artist in 2020. Laleh’s favourite subjects are human and animal portraits. She has exhibited in many local, national and online international exhibitions. She has recently gained a UKCPS signatory status and won a “Specially Recognition” award in Light Space Time online gallery.

See more at: https://www.lalehkamalianart.com

Comments (1)

Hello, my name is Deb and I am a massage therapist. I became a medical massage therapist at the age of 41 ( I am 56 now), and about 6 months after being state board certified I became a Massage Theory Instructor full time as well as a therapist. About two years ago I discovered my art skills. I started doing dog portraits in pastels for commission. Now, I have discovered colored pencil art and I am enjoying learning this medium.

Your story is very inspiring to me! My current employer at the medical clinic where I perform therapy has asked me why I don’t become an artist full time, I replied “Because I need a pay check.” Then I chuckled. But my dream is to become a full time artist. After reading your story I have a renewed confidence that this can be a dream that could come true.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Debora - Mar 07, 2021

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