by Eileen Leahy | September 3, 2021
In these uncertain times, many have found creative pursuits a great form of escape. Joanna Harris, who runs an Art By The Yard workshop in Tunbridge Wells, reveals to Eileen Leahy how her business ultimately managed to thrive during the pandemic.
About two years ago, avid graphic designer and artist Joanna Harris opened a small studio in Town Court Farm – an arts hub in Bayham Road, Tunbridge Wells, with many painters, potters and sculptors renting out creative space.
Many regularly exhibit their work to the general public at events like South East Open Studios, while others hold classes and small workshops.
When Joanna, a mother of two, saw the space, she knew it was the right environment to immerse herself in her artistic endeavors.
“Working at my kitchen table was a great place to grow my graphic design and illustration business – and it definitely worked early on as I had two dependent children.
“However, I have personally found that not having the proper space or environment often inhibits the experiential side of my ‘hands-on’ creativity.
“I think everyone knows that feeling of having gathered the necessary art material, it’s almost time to put everything away again, so sometimes I’ve been like ‘why bother? But with a space reserved at Town Court Farm, I felt like I had finally come home, ”she says.
“I chose Town Court Farm as my base because, while I love living in Tunbridge Wells, I am a country girl at heart. If I can see green and be inspired by a walk down the alley, it will definitely help me in the creative process. I am often seen with my pruning shears taking plant samples from the hedges for my work!
Joanna studied weaving at Middlesex University before working as a graphic designer and also in the art department of a high school, so it’s clear that art runs deep in her veins.
She says she decided to start her art business Art By The Yard because she knew “how much joy it brings.”
“I like to discover and practice a new technique. There is this palpable magical moment as the ideas begin to take shape. It’s like discovering and finding some kind of childlike excitement and I wanted to bring that feeling to others. I have been very fortunate to have been in creative environments all my life, ”adds Joanna.
Having acquired these various artistic skills over the years and combined with her love of teaching, Joanna decided to launch Art By The Yard into the world.
“My timing was impeccable – I did it right as we entered the lockdown!” she laughs.
But without being discouraged, and when government directives permitted, she took her lessons outside.
“For print jobs I use a cyanotype, which is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print and actually exploits UV light, so what better medium should I use outdoors? “
Even so, the outdoor classes took off and Joanna started adding more to her Art By The Yard offering, including painting.
“My watercolor lessons were also held in the picturesque setting of Town Court Flower Farm. How wonderful to have the opportunity not only to paint a few flowers, but to be able to choose from a whole field of them? “
With the additional blockages onset, however, Joanna says she unfortunately had to close the doors to Art By The Yard for a while.
“I had to do this for many months until I was allowed to open children’s art workshops and after-school clubs.”
Yet despite the startup issues, Joanna says directing Art By The Yard means that she can facilitate creativity for all ages and abilities, and that she loves bringing people together.
“Often, we work around a large table, which gives participants – young and old – the opportunity to do something they might not do at home. I guess it’s about sparking ideas and processes that could lead to an ongoing hobby or even a career.
“Being with other like-minded people is such a benefit, not only learning from each other, but having the time to talk with like-minded people is just as important.
“I find that by giving people enough skills to work through a technique, children and adults can come home with something that they have created and are happy with.”
In addition to teaching various classes, Joanna also produces her own work.
“I have a collection of picture cards for sale in Zaven’s gift shop on Mount Ephraim. And I’ve done signature artwork of The Pantiles which can be found on limited edition prints, cards, and tea towels online.
Before having her children, Joanna worked for an advertising agency in Tunbridge Wells. She says she has always found her graphic design, illustration and fine art work to feed off each other.
“My creative approach makes me a better designer and my skills at a good layout help give my illustration a business edge. It’s great to be able to make a living using these different skills.
Joanna attended this year’s inaugural Fringe Festival, where she led cyanotype workshops at the Inside Café and the Zero Waste Café.
“It was very picturesque to have the Pantiles as a venue,” she says of the latter.
This fall, Joanna says she will be taking her creative workshops “on the go”.
“I will be starting my own after-school club at Art By The Yard and also running one at Wells Free School.
“I also have new Creative Workshops in town that will be confirmed soon, and over Christmas I’ll be taking reservations for wreath-making workshops in people’s kitchens.”
“You seem like a very busy lady,” I say, to which she responds, “Well, as Maya Angelou said,“ You can’t use creativity. The more you use, the more you have ”. So why stop here?
For more information on Joanna’s art classes for all ages and abilities visit: artbytheyard.co.uk