Bolton's Tracie Shaylor's art joy after beating illness

By Chris Long
BBC News

image captionMs Shaylor says graduating has meant her "confidence is sky high"

When a nervous breakdown caused Tracie Shaylor to leave her degree course in 1995, she thought that she would never go on to be an artist.

But, 16 years on, Ms Shaylor has graduated from the University of Bolton and won a grant to help pay for a Masters degree in fine art and a professional studio.

For the 44-year-old though, the most satisfying thing is that she has fulfilled her "childhood dreams".

That has been made even more important, after being told she would be "nothing more than a zombie by 40", during treatment for her illness.

Ms Shaylor said it had been a long journey to become the artist she had always wanted to be.

"For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be an artist," she said.

"From the age of seven, I was selling little pieces of art I had made to friends and family.

"All I've ever wanted was to be an accomplished and recognised artist."

'Spiralling depression'

As a result, she enrolled at the then Bolton Institute, to study fine art.

However, she quickly found herself struggling with mental illness.

"At the end of my first year, I had a full nervous breakdown, so I couldn't finish my degree," she said.

"A year later, I returned to study at Bury College.

"Unfortunately, I had another breakdown that led to a six-month section and electric shock treatment."

At this stage, she said she was told that she would never be able to become an artist.

"I began a spiralling state of deep depression because I thought my childhood dreams had been crushed," she said.

"I was admitted again a year later for attempted suicide - not only had I lost my art, but also my daughter was taken from me, as I was not well enough to look after her."

However, she says the situation led her to find a way back into art.

"In 1999, my mum (who was caring for Ms Shaylor's daughter) went to live in Ireland," she continued.

"A few months after, I followed, finding employment making pottery for a nun.

"It was a great experience; I had my daughter back and I was selling my art."

'Never give up'

Rediscovering her passion led Ms Shaylor to consider her uncompleted degree and, after returning to the UK, she re-enrolled at Bolton.

"I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to finish my degree as we were bought up to fight back and never give up."

She began a part-time degree in fine art in September 2006 and says she started out using her experiences as inspiration for her art.

image captionMs Shaylor's art investigates "feminism and sexuality"

In time though, that has been sidelined so she can tackle wider issues.

"Initially, my work was based on life experiences, a kind of therapy for myself.

"It wasn't until I wrote a paper on Tracey Emin that I realized that my work also related to feminist issues.

"My final three projects have all been directly aimed at feminism and sexuality."

That art work has led her to be awarded the grant from the National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies.

She says as happy as this makes her - she was "walking around with a massive grin and looked like a Cheshire cat" after receiving news of the grant - it is being called an artist which most delights her.

"I wanted to prove to myself I could do it," she said.

"When I first dropped out, I felt like such a failure, but I kept at it.

"The doctors told my mum I'd be nothing more than a zombie by 40 - well now, I'm 44 and my confidence is sky high."

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