Moving to France has certainly opened doors for mechanic-turned-metal artist Darren Ind, who, together with his wife Kate and their two children, is enjoying a new flexible lifestyle in Vienne, says Gillian Harvey
Read how mechanic Darren Ind developed a career as a metal artist completely by chance
The beauty of France has been a source of inspiration to artists throughout the ages; whether the sun-drenched fields and vineyards captured by Van Gogh, or the bustling Parisian idyll painted by Renoir, France has a lot to offer in terms of inspiration. However, for mechanic Darren Ind, 34, who moved here with wife Kate, 30, and their children Noah (six) and Abi (three) in 2015, discovering Darren’s artistic side came as a surprise to all the family.
Having settled in the hamlet of Le Vigeant in Vienne with the intention of running his car repair business, Darren now teams his more ordinary car repairs with a blossoming metal-art enterprise.
“I wouldn’t have classed myself as artistic in the past,” he admits. “I can’t draw at all!” Nevertheless, when he found an old weathervane in one of the outbuildings that came with their property, shortly after moving to France, Darren thought he’d use his welding skills to repair it. “The weathervane was badly broken, so instead, I made one,” he says. “When Kate posted a picture of the finished piece on Facebook, lots of people expressed an interest and I found myself making a few more for friends.”
Inspired by the popularity of his work and the natural flair he seemed to have for melting metal into beautiful shapes, Darren began to experiment, drawing inspiration from his surroundings and the space and time afforded by his new existence. “I used the extra time I had out here to play around with making things out of metal,” he explains. “After making weathervanes, I realised that lots of the pieces I’d cut out resembled birds’ feathers. I studied some pictures of owls and thought I’d try making one.”
Wife Kate noticed how much Darren seemed to enjoy creating his sculptures and encouraged him to continue. “I already knew Darren was talented – he’d built his own rally car from the ground up in the past. The sculptures were something completely new, but when he started working on them he had a real spark about him,” she says. “It was lovely to see him so animated.”
Surprisingly, two years ago, the thought of moving to France would have been an alien concept to the couple. “My parents had decided to retire to France; and my dad passed the family business in Berkshire to me,” explains Darren. “Kate, who had given up work to look after our young children, came to France during this time to help my parents with the search. She joked that we should find something nearby and join them on their adventure.
Then, after a bit of thought, we figured – why not? It was quite an impulsive move.”
One of the reasons for their decision to try la vie en France was their belief that it would offer their young children a more organic start to life. “My parents, Brian and Teresa, were attracted to the area we’re in because of the countryside and the space,” Darren explains. “There were lots of bridleways for my mum – a big horse lover – to ride along. She’s owned horses since her teens, so it was a real priority for her. Talking about the space and fresh air, Kate and I began to imagine Noah and Abi running in the garden and living an outdoor life, and it seemed to make so much sense.”
“Since moving, we’ve had so much more family time, which has been wonderful,” adds Kate.
Charmed, too, by the lovely village school, the family chose to purchase adjoining houses with nine acres to house both horses and children with ample room. “You might think living so close to each other would be difficult,” says Darren. “But we don’t actually see each other as often as you’d think. We live independent lives, but it’s lovely to be so close, and it’s great for the kids.”
While charming, the properties, together with their collection of ramshackle barns and the piggery that has become Darren’s workshop, have become a constant project for the families. “The main thing we had to get sorted was the heating,” explains Darren. “Once there were no leaks and we’d sorted out the woodburners, we knew we could take our time with the rest – it’s not perfect, but we have a lovely home and there’s no rush.”
EARNING A LIVING
The second priority was, of course, sorting out a source of income. With 17 years of experience, Darren was able to register as a mechanic after attending a five-day course. “It’s a requirement of registering as a micro-enterprise that you attend a week-long course, which is all in French,” he says. “As my French was still very basic, it was quite challenging. There’s also an outlay of about €250 to get yourself registered and set yourself up with a registration number (SIRET).
Thankfully, once registered, Darren found that his skills were in demand. “Most of my customers are British,” he admits. “Even when your French is quite good, people often find it much easier to explain mechanical problems in their native language.” As his metal-work business began to attract more attention, Darren and Kate also began to look for outlets for his sculpture. “We found a café-restaurant in nearby Confolens called Arthé – a play on the words ‘art’ and ‘ thé’ (tea) which displays original works,” he says. “I got in contact through email and the manager said he’d take a look. We went over for dinner, took some pieces and it went from there. It was really thrilling to have my work on show. It’s early days, but I’m getting my name out there and increasing my footfall.”
Darren is also building up interest in his work through his Facebook page Perioux Metal Art, and has begun to explore the possibility of local art and craft fairs. “We tried a Christmas market last December,” he says. “As well as making some sales, lots of people came over to have a look and chat about my pieces, which was great.
“In terms of sales, the bread and butter stuff is the weathervanes, as they’re affordable and I can customise them for individual customers,” he says. “The bigger sculptures are mainly for people who want something in their courtyard; hanging baskets, signs, or a conversation piece.”
While conversing in French is still a bit of a challenge for Darren, who took French lessons in England before moving, the children have picked up French with ease. “It’s amazing to hear Noah chat away in French,” he says. “And even Abi’s now
“Our life is much more flexible and our time is our own; that’s one of the reasons why coming here was the right move”
singing songs from school – I haven’t got a clue what they’re about.
“Kate’s language is better than mine, but I can get by,” he continues. “But it’s something I’m really going to keep working on, especially as I’m hoping to eventually open a shop and sell my art on a larger scale.”
WORK THE LAND
Alongside the art and his work as a mechanic, Darren is also working on building the kind of idyllic old-fashioned life he’d hoped for his family. “Now Abi’s at school, we’ve got time to cultivate the land,” he says. “Kate’s working hard on the garden, and we’re hoping to grow all our own vegetables next year, which is really exciting. She might even open a nursery and farm shop eventually.”
“We’re also hoping to get chickens soon, and I’m booked on a bee-keeping course in the new year.” says Kate. “It’s a world away from the office work I’ve done in the past and I can’t wait.”
As for their wider family, while Kate’s parents and siblings still live in the UK, they’ve already been to visit several times, and the couple have also made the trip back to the UK to visit Darren’s elderly grandfather. “We have lots of reasons to visit the UK, but no desire to stay,” says Darren.
The couple are still getting used to some of the quirky aspects of life in France: “We’re still not used to the opening hours and the two-hour lunch breaks,” laughs Darren, “And it took a while to convince Abi that the fact that she’s told to go to bed after lunch at school doesn’t mean she’s in trouble!” But there’s no doubt that all generations of the family are thriving in their new location. “My mum and dad love having the kids so close by,” says Darren. “We’re also going to be running a gîte, so although they’re retired, there’s no chance of them getting bored.”
“We’ve opened up so many doors already since moving here,” adds Kate. “Our life is so much more flexible and our time is our own. That’s one of the reasons I know that coming to France was the right move.”
Top left: Darren and Kate Ind with their two children, Noah and Abi Above: Darren discovered a new passion for creating art pieces from metal when he moved to France
Above: Darren and Kate moved to Vienne, a calm, rural part of France; Top right: Noah and Abi go to school in France Below: One of Darren’s metal art pieces