Janine Burrows on how she beat imposter syndrome to emerge from lockdown a professional artist – ahead of her Northumberland-inspired exhibition at The Biscuit Factory
Born in Yorkshire but drawn to the North East… we catch up with painter and illustrator Janine Burrows
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Every year, usually in early springtime, the Brumwell family embark upon a pilgrimage.
They pack up their things and drive north from their home in Kirklees: first to Corbridge and then to Hexham.
‘My grandma and grandad grew up in Northumberland, before moving to Yorkshire in the 1940s,’ family matriarch, professional painter and illustrator Janine tells us. ‘Northumberland was always very much where their hearts stayed.’
So much so that the pair were laid to rest in Hexham, which is why the family venture up every year to pay their respects and recall treasured memories. The Brumwells always centred their journey north around this sole purpose, which meant that, while they curated a pretty good knowledge of these two Northumberland towns, everywhere else in the county remained something of a mystery to them. Until one year they happened to venture east… and stumbled upon our rather magnificent coastline.
‘That was it!’ Janine laughs. ‘I fell in love – hook, line and sinker. We had an impromptu visit to Alnmouth, Beadnell and drove all along the coast. I became so inspired by a strong sense of belonging, this connection with Northumberland that felt as though it went back through my heritage. That feeling is really where this body of work has developed from.’
The ‘body of work’ Janine (now a ‘Burrows’, following her marriage) is referring to is her largest to date – comprising more than 40 framed paintings, alongside sketches, drawings, painted plates and handmade ‘houses’. It’s also the one she’ll be exhibiting at The Biscuit Factory from 3rd September, fittingly titled A Sense Of Place.
It promises to mark quite the return to business for the Ouseburn gallery. Having been forced into closure during the height of the pandemic, as so many other galleries were, The Biscuit Factory has enjoyed something of a ‘soft opening’ these last few months. But Janine’s exhibition – which opens on Saturday with an extra special launch event – promises to see the cultural stalwarts get back to what they do best: bringing cutting-edge art to the people of the North East.
‘The creative scene here in the North East is so diverse,’ says Janine. ‘You’ve got everything. And you just have to walk through the doors of The Biscuit Factory to see it. The plethora and wealth of creativity here is amazing. It’s so engaging as well, it doesn’t feel like there’s any pomp or ceremony behind it. It’s very much about creating art for the people.’
That’s in every sense of the word too, because you can buy the pieces Janine is exhibiting here. After all, that’s where The Biscuit Factory excel. As the largest independent commercial art, craft and design gallery in the UK, they go above and beyond to make sure the art they display is accessible to each and every one of their visitors: both through the varying price points within their in-house shop, and by opting into art-based finance schemes, such as Own Art.
And it turns out that exhibiting in the striking gallery spaces of this former Victorian warehouse has long been a dream for Janine – a dream that, up until about 18 months, she never believed could become a reality.
‘It’s funny, isn’t it? Because you always hear people talking about these places and they become so aspirational,’ Janine tells us. ‘So to actually be exhibiting here… I don’t want to sound corny, but it’s like a dream come true.
‘My journey as an artist has been long and winding! I’ve always painted. Even as a child, I always had a paintbrush in my hand. I studied Surface Pattern and Printed Textiles at college, but I also had a child while I was there, so it was a bigger task than I was expecting! But it made me work even harder and become even more determined.
‘I worked at Hallmark for 15 years, in various roles. But I realised I was gradually becoming less creative, so I decided to return to freelance design, which was what I was doing for the seven years before 2020 hit. Suddenly, all my freelance projects stopped. I had no income, no way of making any money and, although I enjoyed design, I never found it as fulfilling as painting. So I thought: right, now’s the time. I need to address this.’
Remarkably, it wasn’t until lockdown set in and her back was up against the wall that Janine took the plunge and began thinking of herself as a ‘professional artist’. First, she signed up to the Artists Support Pledge – a saving grace for so many independent creatives during lockdown, where each associated artist pledges to buy £200 of work from other artist(s) as soon as they reach £1,000 of sales themselves. Then, she started on her journey of exhibiting and selling her work. The barrier to her doing this before? That old devil called imposter syndrome.
‘I’d never really convinced myself that I could make a career as an artist,’ Janine admits. ‘If you’d have said to me 18 months ago, “you’ll be leading this exhibition at The Biscuit Factory “, I’d have laughed. A lot of people talk about imposter syndrome and that’s definitely something I’ve suffered with. But creating and selling these pieces with the support of the Artists Support Pledge has boosted my confidence and helped me believe that, actually, maybe I could have a career as an artist.
‘For the last 18 months, I’ve been painting every day and I couldn’t be happier. So, as horrific as the pandemic has been, for me it also brought an opportunity to pursue what I’ve always wanted to be doing, not what I thought I should be doing. I’m usually the worst person to play their own trumpet, but I’m really proud of myself.’
And her advice to other women here in the North East who may also doubt their own brilliance?
‘Don’t listen to that inner critic,’ says Janine. ‘We all suffer with it, but try to embrace your creativity and enjoy it. It’s a tricky one and I don’t think there’s any one answer, but I think it comes down to working your way through it. The more work you do, the more confident you become.
‘Also, interact with people – show them your work, approach potential employers and make those connections. I used to work solo in my own studio, but then I moved into a studio with other creatives two years ago and it’s made such a difference. Having those conversations makes you feel like what you’re doing is worth something, that it’s working. And they remind you that you enjoy your work –which is what it’s all about. If you’re enjoying your craft, then you’re halfway there.’
Janine’s A Sense Of Place will be exhibited at The Biscuit Factory from 3rd September – 14th November
The Biscuit Factory is open weekly from Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm. Free entry, no booking required. Free parking.
The Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart Street, Newcastle NE2 1AN