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News > Amazing Alumni: Arts > Tanya Russell (1986)

Tanya Russell (1986)

Tanya Russell tells us why she has the best job in the world and why art is magic.
Tanya Russell
Tanya Russell
I have what I think is the best job in the world!  I am an animal sculptor and I get to do what I enjoy all day, sculpting animals mainly in clay or wax for casting in either Foundry Bronze, or Bronze Resin.
As my parents were both sculptors I started at a very young age. I always had the proof before me that you could make a good career from an interest in Art which gave me a lot of confidence moving forward.
At the age of 17 I looked around the colleges of Fine Art and was rather disappointed in what they were teaching, or not teaching, and in the quality of a lot of the work produced.  So I chose to do an apprenticeship, studying sculpture under my parents.
During that time I became aware that many people were looking for an alternative to the university style of teaching.  I’d seen that a great many university run courses had huge budget and space restraints, which meant many chose not to teach the skills I valued.  
I wanted to set up an Art school that combined the creative, conceptual and intellectual ideas of the university courses I’d investigated with the technical understanding and skills I had seen at some independent colleges and had learnt from my parents.
I set up The Art Academy in London in 2000, as a place to give students the confidence to explore and share their own concepts, while developing a substantial foundation of skills to help them express them.
It was an incredible journey, and I learnt a mind blowing amount.  I made huge mistakes and grew from them. I met so many amazing people, including wonderful students who awed me, and truly remarkable tutors and staff.  So many people came to The Art Academy to give generously of their knowledge and experience and after 20 years the Academy had reached a size where it had grown up.
With the advent of a new university validated art degree, I realised I was no longer needed.  There were so many strong people there running it and so many new systems and structures to support it.  I felt I could finally refocus my efforts on my sculpture practice. So, I passed on the Principal title and made the dramatic move to a farm in mid Wales. I had the space to run my art practice, and a wonderful studio.  I am loving starting a new journey in a new phase of my life - focusing on sculpting, animals and animal welfare and looking forward to whatever else emerges.
To me art is magic - you can create whatever you like with it.  It lets you aim to do or say whatever you want.
Art can transform.  It reflects culture and shapes it.  When expressed honestly, it can be deeply emotive and touch people’s hearts.  It opens up the possibility of transformation, from lifting someone's mood, sharing a unique experience, or even influencing someone’s mindset.
Lastly, Art is a life journey.  It changes and develops through your life because it reflects your ever growing and changing feelings and understandings. It has allowed me to explore my passions.  It is awesome to me that I can connect with animals and animal welfare through my art. And I’m lucky that it is also giving me the opportunity to financially support the animal welfare causes and charities that I care about.
The wonderful thing about an artist’s life is you never know where it will take you.  I currently have pretty simple ambitions:
  • Continually learning and developing my artist’s practice. I want it to help me grow as a person, but also sustain me financially.  This is so that I can fund the environmental ambitions we have for the farm, like planting trees and creating wildlife habitats.
  • I want to keep pushing the work I create technically. I want to always be observing and experimenting.  I want to increase its integrity, depth and meaning.
  • Ensuring that the work I do is having an actual impact on animal welfare is key to me. This may be through contributing money or influencing how people think about animals.
I am hugely appreciative of my time at St James. I felt really cared for and supported.  I was not pushed into a box, but was allowed to be myself, for better or worse! This was very important starting me on my creative journey.  
I also think that that St James developed a certain rigour of thought and a self-discipline that has been totally invaluable to me as an artist and in my other projects, such as founding The Art Academy.
My fondest memory from school is of my friends. They are totally awesome and I am still in touch with many of them and think they are truly incredible and beautiful people.
Words of Encouragement for students looking to go into a similar field
You really can succeed if you are willing to take the steps you need to.  In my experience, first you have to evaluate what success means to you. If you have a love of making art, there are many ways that you can have it in your life.
You can decide that you want to keep it pure and free from monetary constraints, for example, by earning a living from another source, or you can make your art the entirety of your life. That can mean some compromises sometimes but as you’ll always learn by doing, it can also have a lot of benefits.
You can also choose something between the two.  Whatever you choose you need to:
  • Be committed
  • Be really intelligent in how you approach everything, and keep re-evaluating that
  • Seek the best teaching, advice and support you can
  • Work really, really hard always
  • Do what you say you will, when you say you will, and respond to every opportunity quickly and positively
I have never known a student do these and fail.

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