SHREWD ARTIST SHOWS SHE ALSO HAS FLAIR FOR PROP­ERTY IN­VEST­MENT

Jes­sica Wat­son-Thorp tells David Dunn she and her hus­band se­cured a 100% home loan – when they were still avail­able. It was a smart move, since their Lon­don flat has quadru­pled in value

The National - News - - MONEY & MARKETS / BUSINESS -

Jes­sica Wat­son-Thorp is a fine artist in Dubai. Hail­ing from a small farm­ing com­mu­nity in south Aus­tralia, she has worked on vine­yards and flower farms, as a ce­ram­ics tu­tor, school­teacher for chil­dren with spe­cial needs and as an ar­chae­ol­o­gist. Her stu­dio and home is in Al Wasl where she lives with her hus­band, daugh­ters aged 12 and 15, and eight-year-old twin sons. The 42-year-old ex­hibits lo­cally and be­yond, as well as ful­fill­ing be­spoke or­ders.

Q

How did your up­bring­ing shape your at­ti­tude to­wards money? A

I come from a very com­fort­able mid­dle-class back­ground. As we were in a very con­ser­va­tive coun­try en­vi­ron­ment, it was frowned upon to talk about money. I feel that know­ing more and talk­ing openly about money would have helped my fi­nan­cial ed­u­ca­tion. My dad was a coun­try vet; he and my mother ran the busi­ness to­gether. We cer­tainly didn’t have lux­u­ries, but had ev­ery­thing we needed and were able to af­ford an­nual hol­i­days, which sparked my pas­sion for travel.

What prompted you to be­come a full-time artist?

I be­came a full(ish) time artist with the birth of my first child. I’d been work­ing for oth­ers un­til that point. It seemed like a good time for a change of life­style, to work hours I could man­age around be­ing a mother. Luck­ily I had sav­ings and as a fam­ily we had enough to live on with­out a steady in­come from me. It is a big leap, but my pas­sion for what I do far out­weighed the risk; there was no way I could carry on with­out ex­plor­ing this.

How did your sales fare at first?

We had just moved to Bahrain and I started sell­ing paint­ings to new friends. There was a huge de­mand for orig­i­nal art at that time as artists were thin on the ground and there were only two for­mal gal­leries. I used to empty our villa twice a year and turn it into a gallery for a long week­end. These shows were al­most all sell­outs. Over time my lit­tle base of col­lec­tors slowly moved to other global des­ti­na­tions. They started com­ing back to me, or­der­ing be­spoke pieces. How much were you paid in your first job? My first job was serv­ing cus­tomers in a road­house restau­rant, tak­ing or­ders, chat­ting to truck­ers and other trav­ellers who passed through our lit­tle town. I got paid the equiv­a­lent of about Dh17 per hour.

How did you end up in the UAE?

I orig­i­nally came to the Mid­dle East fol­low­ing my hus­band’s job. This took us around the Gulf re­gion and, five years ago, to Dubai. I ended up hav­ing twins in 2008, on top of al­ready hav­ing two chil­dren, which meant I had to take a few years out of the cre­ative scene. I kept paint­ing, only for ex­ist­ing col­lec­tors based else­where. I re-en­tered just over two years ago with a fresh start and an en­hanced per­spec­tive on life.

Are you a saver or a spender? I am a saver, although I’m will­ing to take risks with money, es­pe­cially in terms of in­vest­ments. Be­com­ing a mother added an­other level of re­spon­si­bil­ity. I en­sure that my paid work comes be­fore any re­quests from oth­ers to do char­i­ta­ble work. Although I take on one or two char­i­ta­ble projects per year, they must be strictly in line with my own CSR, and only done on top of what I need to earn.

Where do you save?

Most of my sav­ings are in prop­erty in­vest­ments abroad. I set these up when I had a more reg­u­lar salary, as a buf­fer, be­fore I took cre­ativ­ity on as a ca­reer. I like to keep some money as cash; in the cre­ative world some­times op­por­tu­ni­ties come up that need a lit­tle cash. I was in­vited to ex­hibit in New York ear­lier this year and my work had to be shipped; this needed some cap­i­tal in­vest­ment.

What is your phi­los­o­phy to­wards money?

Money is just an­other form of en­ergy. It gives you a cer­tain level of free­dom but shouldn’t rule you. I don’t be­lieve in wor­ship­ping money. I pre­fer to live and ex­plore op­por­tu­ni­ties. If you keep your en­ergy chan­nels open op­por­tu­ni­ties will come to you, and so will money.

What is your most cher­ished pur­chase?

Gifts or items that have fam­ily sen­ti­men­tal value rather than

some­thing I have pur­chased. In terms of pur­chases it would have to be my plane tick­ets. As an artist I love colour and cul­ture. I started trav­el­ling when I was 17, in Africa. My mi­nor at univer­sity was in the study of cul­ture and, more specif­i­cally, ar­chae­ol­ogy. It’s ex­pe­ri­ences rather than items that I cher­ish.

Do you pre­fer pay­ing in cash or by credit card?

As much as pos­si­ble I pay by credit card to ac­cu­mu­late fre­quent flyer points, although this pol­icy ex­ists strictly with the knowl­edge that I pay the card off in full each month to avoid charges. I don’t be­lieve in us­ing credit for day-to-day pur­chases. The only things I will go into debt for are prop­erty pur­chases where there is real po­ten­tial for long term re­turn.

What has been your best in­vest­ment?

The first flat my hus­band and I bought in cen­tral Lon­don, 2001. At that time we didn’t have enough sav­ings for the stamp duty and had to bor­row from a good friend. But as we were both pro­fes­sion­als, we were able to take out a 100 per cent mort­gage – be­fore the fi­nan­cial cri­sis when banks used to do that. This flat has quadru­pled in value and al­lowed us to make fur­ther in­vest­ments in prop­erty.

What prompted you to leave reg­u­lar em­ploy­ment?

The prompt was def­i­nitely hav­ing my first child. It was some­thing I had al­ways wanted to do, but I had been cling­ing to the se­cu­rity of a reg­u­lar salary. Now I jug­gle my days and nights around work and fam­ily com­mit­ments. It al­lows me flex­i­bil­ity to make it to sports matches and pre­sen­ta­tion nights, while pur­su­ing my pro­fes­sional am­bi­tions.

What do you re­gret spend­ing money on?

We made one prop­erty pur­chase abroad to bail out a fam­ily mem­ber who had made an un­re­al­is­tic com­mit­ment. After also at­tempt­ing to give that fam­ily mem­ber the job of ren­o­vat­ing the prop­erty as em­ploy­ment it went pear-shaped and the place got trashed. Luck­ily, due to a buoy­ant mar­ket, we were able to even­tu­ally sell and break even. How­ever, my les­son was learned: try­ing to help oth­ers by pro­tect­ing them from the con­se­quences of their fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions doesn’t help.

Do you plan for the fu­ture?

I’ll never go back to work­ing for some­one else. Now I sell paint­ings, I run work­shops for women from my stu­dio, and cor­po­rate well­ness and team build­ing. I also work at the odd event, ex­hibit­ing work and set­ting up a unique popup art ex­pe­ri­ence for guests. If I had time I would spend every wak­ing hour paint­ing or on cre­ative projects. I’m two years in on my sec­ond round and achiev­ing far more than break­ing even. I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing this grow into some­thing more prof­itable.

What would you raid your sav­ings for?

To at­tend some of the big, rel­a­tively new art fairs spring­ing up in Africa. Like with other in­dus­tries, in art Africa is an emerg­ing mar­ket. I’m in­trigued by this con­ti­nent and fas­ci­nated by the pol­i­tics of south­ern Africa. I’ve seen a lot of change over the years on my trav­els there.

Ms Wat­sonThorp, who lives in Dubai, be­came an artist after the birth of her first child

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