IWD2018 Unsung Heroines | Bon Collins

To mark International Women’s Day, LEAD is running a special feature showcasing women who go above and beyond the call of duty – those who deserve a little recognition and thanks. We were delighted to be inundated with nominations and after much inspiring reading present your LEAD Unsung Heroines.

Bon Collins, Artist,
Distressed Artist

Unsung heroines come in many forms; Bon, our next Unsung Heroine, has an inspirational story, overcoming many twists and turns until she found her current passion and talent for art. Not “just” an artist, Bon strives to make a difference to people through art; promoting the importance of seeing mental health as important as physical health, both in adults as well as children. She is artist in residence at Suffolk Mind,  sales from her art support the charity C.A.L.M and she is a foster parent.

Described by her nominator as “an amazingly inspiring person”, we caught up with Bon to find out more about her various projects and how she came to be the person she is today.

“I feel very strongly about how we tackle mental health and that it is as important as physical health so I try and get this message across as much as I can through my work.”

“In short I am an artist. But I knew that I didn’t ‘just’ want to be an artist. I wanted to be able to make a difference.  I work with people to help them process how they feel whilst achieving amazing things in art. I think we also need to look carefully at how we teach children to process feelings and emotions and so I work a lot to boost confidence and increase their ability to communicate effectively how they feel.

I had a very abusive and somewhat abnormal childhood. I didn’t realise this until I was almost 19 and spent the next five years falling apart. At 21, I almost successfully took my own life. I am only here today because I collapsed in a public place and was rushed to hospital. At 25, I got married and thought in should just get on with life. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with PTSD last year that I realised just how it had affected me long term.

In 2009 I suffered burns to my face, neck and airways after an industrial steamer malfunctioned. The trauma caused my immune system to go into overdrive and it attacked my bones and muscle. The long term prognosis was uncertain but the way things were progressing it was said I would struggle to walk again as more and more treatments failed.

I hated the thought of a lifetime in a wheelchair – I had too many things I planned to do, so I set myself the goal to walk again.

It was very hard and I did suffer setbacks but 5 months after walking I ran my first 10k. This was no mean feat as even once I started walking I was told I would be lucky to walk 5k let alone run it. My body is still recovering but I am so grateful to be where I am today. I had major spinal surgery 18 months ago and completed Tough Mudder Half just 12 weeks later – I’m a bit of a determined one!

Because I was told my life would be different to what it has become, I don’t like to waste time! I also like to challenge myself. Since walking again in 2015 I have completed 5 10k races, 2 5 mile cross countries, the Tough Mudder Half, Insane Terrain and a 5k leg of an Ekiden race. Each one is still a physical battle but I hope to complete more as I get stronger! Ultimately I want to run a marathon but that will take time. I’d take on any challenge thrown at me now! My trainer Luke is hugely supportive and helps me to stay focussed!

Being an artist isn’t all painting and people randomly buying your work though. It is 90% marketing and administration and pushing yourself and 10% creation.

I am one of those horridly organised people so I do tend to roughly plan my weeks, but if I had to write about a typical day it begins with getting our foster child ready for school and then I head down the garden to the studio, catch up on emails and then market myself, then think about new designs and look for inspiration.  There may be people in and out of the studio during the day and I often have classes for children or adults which is fun. At the moment I am have a residency at a local cafe and am about to start my residency with Suffolk Mind so I am looking forward to getting out of the studio for that too!

Because of my somewhat interesting childhood, I ended up doing several different jobs before I found what fits me well.  I ended up working for many years as a Health Care Assistant, then as a Support Worker for young people, as a P.A and also did a stint in MacDonalds!  I went on to work as a Copy and Print Specialist for a big stationery company before getting in to advocacy after an accident left me wheelchair bound and I defied the odds to walk again.  My experience of the system left me sure that the voice of someone with lived experience was important.

One of the biggest challenges I think is my own perception of myself.  I need to maintain a healthy mind, and working on not letting self doubt creep in can be hard sometimes.

When you’ve experienced childhood trauma, you often feel that you are not good enough and so battling this can be a challenge in itself. Essentially as an artist you need to believe in yourself or you won’t be very good at marketing yourself!  I also deal with people’s perceptions around my willingness to share my story. I guess a lot of people still feel that we shouldn’t talk openly about these things. To me, if even just one person is inspired not to give up, then telling my story will have been worth it.  

I was always creative as a child.  We didn’t have a television and my grandmother and aunt were both very creative and so I learned from them.  I adored art at school but was discouraged from pursuing art and told that I should focus on academic subjects in my education and so sadly once I had done my A Levels, I didn’t go to university.  I did go on to study a diploma in developmental psychology and am constantly adding new certificates that are relevant. Now that I understand myself, I know that I want to do my degree in Social Psychology and follow that with a Masters and PhD as it fascinates me.

To others looking to start a similar career, I say don’t be afraid.

You may have an Art degree, you may just have a natural talent that you enjoy.  Either way if you are good enough, then you are good enough. Social media is fantastic for building an audience, but it takes time and patience to do so.  Be sure of what it is that you want from your career and what extra talents you can add to it. Take that and go with it. People like an artist who is consistent.  Reinvention smacks of a lack of self confidence in your own belief as an artist and this is off putting. Mostly enjoy it! Don’t forget as an artist you are still a business and need to think like one!

Getting people to achieve their potential is all about building them up and helping them to realise just how much potential they have.  They may not want to disclose everything to you and that is fine, but just a little understanding goes a long way and can change a life.  I encourage businesses to have a work environment in which creativity is part of team building. Doing something creative frees the mind and over time also inhibition meaning that you can build deeper relationships and understand your workforce.  Make talking about mental and physical health the norm – make it something that is important and you will find that you have a healthier workforce who know how to take care of themselves.