Laura Murphy runs Like A Magpie, a furniture upcycling business based at The West End Studios, Chatham. We caught up with her to find out more about her creative way of life and her advice for anyone interested in following in her footsteps.
What do you do?
I don’t really count it as a job but just what I ‘do’ is furniture upcycling and face painting.
Yes – I paint chairs and faces! I also run some art workshops with kids at different locations which I really enjoy. I run ‘Like A Magpie – Furniture makeovers’ and ‘Like A Magpie Face Painting’. I prefer to just call myself a ‘creative’ as that covers so much of what I do. It’s not a job. It’s a way of life.
What does an average day look like for you?
I don’t really have an average day or an average week really. My life is pretty ad hoc and I like it that way! Some months I’m very busy, others I’m not. I have health issues which fluctuate so I work round those. I have a studio in Chatham which I used to work at a lot but I now tend to work from home a lot now that I have my own place. I collect furniture from people’s houses and work on it at home, I go to boot fairs and charity shops looking for lovely things. I go to different, random events as a face painter. One night I can be doing UV face painting in a nightclub and then next be painting butterflies at a 5 year olds birthday party.
How long have you been doing this? How did you get there?
I went to UCA (then KIAD, Rochester) in 1999 to do a BTEC NDD in Three Dimensional Design and then went to University to complete my BA (Hons) in Three Dimensional Design (kinda hands on crafts based stuff). I suffered from periods of depression and never had the confidence to go and get a ‘design job’ after I finished Uni so fell into temping for a while. I still tickled away with creative endeavours for a while when I was still temping. It was only when my dad said “You’ll only ever be happy when you’re your own boss” that I started to consider being self-employed. I went on a few women only business courses via Business Link and started a small business making small textile wall hangings. Looking back they weren’t great but I’m still glad I did it.
I started to paint furniture for fun and got compliments on it and the friends started to put in orders…it kind of evolved quite naturally. The same with face painting – my friend said ‘you’re arty – can you do some for my little girls birthday party?’ and I thought ‘Why not?’ and it went from there.
It’s taken a long time, don’t get me wrong but it’s finally getting there!
Did you always want to go into this way of life?
I don’t really see that I have a ‘career’. I think a lot of creative don’t think that way about it. It’s just my way of life. I like the variety and the randomness of it all. I wish I knew when I was younger that this way of life would be juuuuust fine.
I spent years terrified that I would be in an office 9-5, trapped, even if it was doing creative work. Finally I figured out that doing it my way was just fine. There’s LOADS of weird and wonderful jobs out there- ad hoc, part time etc if you don’t want a 9-5 role. You can make it work for YOU.
What’s been the most memorable moment of your creative life?
I can’t think of one pivotal moment. I just enjoy it every time someone compliments my work (or better – decides to buy it!). As a creative, that’s a nice feeling.
What are your future plans?
Honestly? I’m still deciding! (I’m 37 years old – I should be far more organised by now!) I want to continue doing the face painting and the upcycling. I’d like to start teaching young children about sustainability so that’s something I will be looking into this year.
Who’s been the most influential person to you?
Natasha Boardman-Steer (AKA Creatabot https://creatabot.co.uk/). She just gets stuff done. She sees a problem/opportunity and gets on it, contacts people and just gets it done. I love that spirit.
Be. More. Natasha.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s ever given you?
That for many people it’s not so much of a ‘career ladder’ as a ‘career grid’ – you move sideways, up, down and sometimes jump off and start again! I’m just doing what I enjoy doing, trying to earn enough money to tick along and travel a bit. I have no grand aspirations. I want a simple life, with little stress and getting to be my own boss. And that’s OK. In life there’s a lot of pressure to always make things bigger and grow it – but you know – there’s a lot to be said for doing what feels right and works for you.
Not everyone leaves uni, finds a job and works their way up the ladder. Some do and that works for them and that’s great but….sometimes life gets in the way. As someone that’s had health issues that’s made me stop and start life a number of times I will say don’t feel bad if that’s the case for you too. It’s OK. You can find a way to make it work.
Also don’t be afraid to fail. If something goes wrong, own it, be honest, fix it and move on. It’s all experience!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to go into a similar career to you?
I don’t think there’s such a thing as a career for some creatives – a ‘portfolio career’ is far more interesting. I’m glad I did office work and the mundane work as I learnt lots of skills. I wish I had had the confidence to have done something earlier in life but I’m happier with the way things turn out. Start doing work for friends and family to iron out kinks and get your confidence up. Hunt out free business workshops as they are invaluable for information and feedback.
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