Drawing a bright career
TAMSIN Ainslie rode a pony to school, which is pretty much the gold standard of childhood fantasy.
But it didn't end there. She was nourished creatively by a family who believed in living a "fairytale".
"We would go down to the woods on the pony with the dogs, and Mum would tell me about all the elves and fairies in the woods living in the trees," Tamsin recalls.
"My grandfather wrote letters to me from the fairies - teeny-tiny envelopes with teeny-tiny letters inside, and sometimes a tiny packet of teeny-tiny hand-made fairy fudge."
It's little surprise then that the UK-born artist never considered anything other than a creative career and ended up a children's illustrator.
"I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to paint and draw," she says from her Murwillumbah studio.
"I was just told that I could do it. I believed I could be a professional illustrator, so I was."
Over the last eight years, Tamsin has illustrated more than 45 books in more than six languages for major publishers, including Little Hare, Harper Collins, Hardie Grant, ABC, Scholastic, Allen & Unwin, UQP, Working Title Press and Walker Books.
You may have also seen her work on greeting cards for Simson Publishers, and on children's toys and products for Tiger Tribe, such as paper-doll kits and magnet books.
"I like to draw the things around me," Tamsin said, "making illustrated journals of my travels and everyday life, the people, objects and moments that surround me. These often find their way into my books."
The 41-year-old based herself in Murwillumbah in 2007 with her husband John. The couple now have two daughters, Matilda and Olympia.
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing to get to this stage.
"Like any small business or self-employed person, it is difficult financially at first," she said.
"I've often been asked over the years when am I going to get a real job.
"It took me 10 years to get to the stage I'm at now, to have consistent work.
"I have to constantly promote myself, do all my paperwork.
"I need to keep in touch with publishers, my agent (Margaret Connolly) and constantly refine my own drawing skills.
"I have to meet tight deadlines, and this sometimes means I don't get weekends off, and have to work late.
"But it's very rewarding.
"It's great walking into a bookshop and seeing my book on the shelves."
Tamsin is drawing on her creative upbringing and professional experience to host children's drawing classes.
Twice a week, kids fill up her studio to learn basic drawing skills with art materials and mediums many typically don't have access to in school.
But it is her relaxed and open approach, she said, that harnesses the creativity of her pupils.
"Children are the most natural artists in the world," she said.
"And I think they should be nurtured and given more of an opportunity to express themselves.
"I teach them to 'look and see' rather than how to draw.
"They create the most wonderful work, without the silly critical voices we as adults have."
Like many creatives Tamsin credits her family for her success in teaching and in her illustrating career.
"My husband is very encouraging and supportive," she said.
"It really helps that I have a wonderful supportive family to help me focus on my career.
"My wonderful husband built me my own space. I am very lucky that I have an architectural designer and builder as a husband to support my career."
Now that her space is complete, Tamsin is planning a new book, her inspiration coming from her childhood when she learnt to ride the family cow, YoYo.
Asked for advice on a creative career, she said whether penning that all-important memoir or writing a children's book based on your childhood adventure, it's possible to make an income if you put in the work.
"It's difficult when I don't get paid on time; it's difficult when I am running late with deadlines.
"But, like anything, if you work hard at something you love, you can be successful and it is so rewarding and very worth it."
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