You don’t have to choose between your passions.
An Aberdeen designer with a passion for swimming is making a splash in the art world.Claire Bruce competed for Scotland at championships across Europe as a youngster but it was her love of illustration and design which led her down a career path in the art sector.
The 35-year-old, who studied visual communication at Gray’s School of Art said: “I was a very sporty kid and by 10 I was swimming competitively. It was a huge part of my childhood and I have great memories of travelling all over the country so I could take part in competitions. I loved the buzz of being part of a team sport and learned a lot about discipline and drive at a fairly young age.
“But around this time another passion was competing for my time in the pool. I fell in love with illustrated books and would spend hours in my bedroom trying to copy the drawings in them. As a teenager I was really encouraged by my art teachers at Hazlehead Academy and inspired later by tutors I met at Gray’s School of Art.
“I was fortunate enough to meet iconic designer Milton Glaser during a trip to New York – this was a defining moment for me which sealed my decision to pursue a career in visual art and design.”
Leaving her student years behind her, Claire undertook a number of freelance roles to gain experience and get her foot in the door of this competitive sector. She ‘struck lucky’ and joined Grampian Hospital’s Art Trust as an administrative assistant where she got her first real taste of working in the art world. It was during these formative years Claire made a network of contacts who were to be key to her future success.
She said: “It was an amazing launch pad for my career as it opened up a whole new world to me where I was organising exhibitions, curating and honing my design skills. I attended art openings at every opportunity where I met new people and made new connections.”
It was during these years of serial networking that Claire met fellow artist, Sally Reaper, who had not long launched independent art agency SMART. She started supporting Sally’s young business on a part-time basis but three years later joined her as Sally’s business partner.
Claire said: “Sally and I met at an exhibition opening at the Foyer Gallery and I began at SMART in 2007 – three years later I was full time. My role as visual communications and co-producer at SMART has grown over the last decade and although we remain a small team we work on large scale projects ranging from exhibitions, craft and design events, festivals, as well as commissioning new artwork from Aberdeen to London.
“My responsibilities expanded further when I became festival design and programme co-ordinator for Look Again, three years ago. The visual art and design festival, which we launched in partnership with Robert Gordon University, is one of my proudest projects – although it’s not always easy work.
“One of the most challenging activities was creating a memorable brand for the festival – one which was engaging and drew in the audience. I focused on communicating the energy of Look Again through the use of colour, pattern and typography. What we’ve achieved in a relatively short space of time is hugely satisfying. We’re proud to have created a vibrant festival which allows people to see Aberdeen through fresh eyes, while supporting local artists and encouraging international artists and designers to the city.”
“My job is wide ranging and every day is different, that’s what I love,” continued Claire, who had an exhibition of her own illustrations titled Cut & Paste in the Granite City last year.
“One morning I might be meeting an artist about a new piece of work, painting the walls of a gallery or building an exhibition space and the next I’ll be designing an advert for the side of a bus or working on our social media campaign. There is plenty of time juggling, problem solving and wearing lots of different hats often at the same time.
“But seeing things you’ve worked hard on come to fruition makes it all worthwhile. The way the general public has engaged with Look Again – a festival I have had direct input to since day one – is fantastic. I love the fact I’m able to make a difference to the culture of this city and that I get to meet incredible artists from different backgrounds and see the spaces they create in. We worked closely with Turner Prize winners Assemble at Look Again 2016 – a huge highlight of my career so far.”
“The art industry is not easy to enter but it is so rewarding. I believe the determination and drive from my competitive swimming has helped me get to where I am – with plenty of luck thrown in. My tips to creatives are to get on to mailing lists, get involved in every opportunity, attend art exhibitions to meet people and make yourself known and keep learning new skills.”
And as for the swimming, Claire is still keeping abreast of this passion.
“My love of swimming never really subsided and now I’ve gone full circle by joining my local masters team, the Silver City Blues,” Claire added.
“Sometimes you don’t have to choose between two life passions – you can enjoy them both!”