Meet the woman who used art to help her mental health and now runs a £1m business helping others
She has since gone on to launch the Bonny Snowdon Academy, one of the biggest online teaching platforms for Britain’s budding coloured pencil artists, where she is teaching 2,500 members, mainly women aged 45 plus, how to create lifelike drawings. There are also members globally from as far afield as India, Iran, the US and Australia.
The Ripon-based award-winning artist also runs Bonny Snowdon Fine Art where she specialises in creating hyper-realistic pet portraits. With a team of three, her two businesses will turn over a combined £1 million in 2023, up from £450,000 last year, but more importantly for Bonny is that her life is now worlds apart from her difficult past. She says that creativity has also given the members of her Academy a new lease of life, with many of them changing careers and going on to work in art galleries, becoming professional artists in their own right, or launching art-related businesses.
“Creativity is a portal to another world,” says Bonny, who has more than 200,000 followers on social media. “It allows us to disappear from our everyday life - and if you don't lead a very nice life that is just the most amazing thing. It quietens the mind - busy hands, quiet mind is the saying and it's so true. Creativity in any form is in my opinion essential for healthy minds. I know myself how helpful it was, disappearing for hours with my colouring book.”
Bonny battled mental abuse during her 19-year marriage as her husband struggled with depression following the death of his father.
“He had always had a bit of anger issues and could be paranoid but nothing that really worried me,” she said. “Then his dad died, and he took the death really badly, he became depressed but wouldn't get help and things would swing from being okay to really awful. I lived on eggshells for years, not knowing when he was going to blow up. It got to the point where I was scared of talking about certain subjects, particularly money, and that's the main reason I got into debt, I was too frightened to talk to him about needing to pay off a phone bill, that I ended up taking out credit cards.” In time, the debt ballooned to more than £22,000. “In the end, he started talking about suicide which terrified me. I tried so hard to support him and get him to the doctors, I rang the doctors and made appointments for him and went with him but when he sat there, he just said he was fine. It was a really dreadful time.”
He eventually left the family home and moved in with a new partner, but within a couple of years and despite re-marrying, he took his own life during the 2020 lockdown.
“When he moved out, we discussed putting the family home up for sale, but I had nowhere to live and I had three teenage children and my three dogs,” says Bonny. “I remember being so worried about trying to find a rental property that would fit us all and take the dogs. I had just become a full-time artist and was not earning a huge amount of money then and had no real way of taking a mortgage on myself and paying him half the house. I can remember feeling sick all the time, trying to be okay for the children and run my then very new business.” Bonny, left school at 15 and loved art, but began her working life as a tea lady in an advertising agency before becoming a type setter and then business coach after receiving some mentoring herself. But it was when her daughter gave a her an adult colouring book and some coloured pencils nearly ten years ago that Bonny’s world changed. “My marriage had started to break down and I was away a lot with work – it was all very stressful. Then for Christmas my daughter bought me an adult colouring book and I started colouring and I became completely absorbed, the stress just disappeared.”
When a friend asked her to draw her dog and then put it on Facebook she was inundated with requests from people for her to draw their pets. As she became more in demand people would ask her for tips on how to improve their own drawing she agreed to hold a two day workshop. “It was amazing,” says Bonny. “It made me realise that I love being with people and helping them.” She launched a course on the online creative subscription site Patreon. “I thought there would be a few people and I’d make a few £100, by the end of the month I’d earned £2,000.” She quickly had 2,000 members and was earning £25,000 a month. She took on a social media expert and decided to set up her own on line academy. It meant when Covid hit Bonny could continue to support her members, which are far more than just art classes.
“There are ultimately two different kinds of people who join my membership, those who already have the skills and determination and just want an extra push in development, and those who are finding things a challenge, particularly around lack of self-belief and confidence. Being part of a community where everyone is cheering you on has a huge effect on self-esteem, having people who are feeling the same things, worrying about the same things, but are overcoming them and then sharing their stories really helps to show that it can be done. Everyone seems to think that they are the only ones who feel a certain way, but it's just not true.”
Through her work, she now supports York-based IDAS, the North of England’s biggest domestic abuse and sexual violence charity and is this year awarding free scholarships to her academy, as well as running a solo exhibition to raise funds for IDAS.
“Domestic abuse can happen to anyone at any time, mentally as well as physically. I wish with all my heart that these charities didn't have to exist, but sadly having experienced mental abuse first-hand, I know what a lifeline they are and I feel honoured to be able to support them.”