From police officer to paper artist
Two years ago, Chelsie Sharp never dreamed she’d be a full-time profit-making artist, let alone a working artist – or even, simply, an artist.
“I’ve always liked having nice things around my house and, growing up on a farm, I liked making things out of wood, but I was mainly a sporty kid and I definitely can’t draw to save myself,” she says.
Sharp spent 14 years with Victoria Police before taking time off in 2006 to have the first of her two sons. While pregnant, Sharp tried to come up with a new career for herself. “I did some brainstorming but I couldn’t come up with anything,” says the 34-year-old.
So how is it that she now runs a small paper craft business from her home in Echuca, making, marketing and shipping out 3D artworks for retail boutiques and online buyers?
“By accident!” she says. “I’d made Japanese butterfly and dragonfly artworks for myself and had them nicely framed and displayed on a shelf in my house. I soon started getting comments from visitors saying, ‘You should be selling those’. So I decided to try. I took my paper artworks to a local store – Plains Designs in Deniliquin Echuca – and they took off from there. Whenever we went on holidays I took samples with me and soon enough I was getting great responses from small retailers wanting to stock my designs. They gave me the confidence to keep going, as did a woman named Bambi Gordon from Woo Small Business Marketing, who gave me professional business advice early on and was probably my best investment.”
Sharp now makes around 30 customised and framed designs a week. While she’s still employed by Victoria Police, she hasn’t worked for them since she had kids.
“To work as a police officer again I’d have to retrain, but Victoria Police is great in that you can apply to stay employed until your youngest child goes to school, so I’m officially still a Leading Senior Constable, even though I’m not stationed anywhere.”
Sharp joined Victoria Police at age 19 after completing one year of a William Angliss hospitality degree. She’d just received a $1000 student award and was working casually at Williamstown’s Steam Packet Hotel, where the local police often had knock-off drinks.
“One of the sergeants suggested I apply,” she says. “I already had a fair idea of what was expected because I’d spent a week in year 12 doing work experience at St Kilda Road headquarters.”
Sharp was recruited just three weeks after applying to Victoria Police. She started her 20-week training period as one of the youngest recruits at the time and went on to work at six different stations Victoria-wide. She ended up at Echuca five years ago, spending six months on light duties while pregnant.
“Being a police officer definitely helped me relate to all sorts of people, which has carried over to my work now. I no longer have to be in the van, sort out arguments and other people’s problems, or do shift work,” she says. “On the flipside, I didn’t realise how time-consuming running my own business would be. Still, the flexibility is great, I don’t have a boss to answer to, it’s creative and I can choose my hours.”
As a Lleading Ssenior Cconstable
Salary: “Around $70K when I left in 2006.”
Hours: “40 per week.”
Work-life balance: “I always lived close to work and I didn’t have kids. I worked rotating shifts, including every second weekend and was often on-call, so it was hard to plan things. Still, we got good holidays, I made it to long-service leave and received two lots of paid maternity leave.”
As a paper artist
Salary: “Between $300 to $2500 per week, depending on orders and if I do a market.”
Hours: “Around 40 flexible hours per week.”
Work-life balance: “The business is still in its infancy so I’m spending more hours than I imagined on it. I enjoy working from home and being available for the kids.”
Miss: “Colleagues, people looking to you for help, and being able to change things.”
Challenges: “Keeping up with orders, working while raising kids, and accessing art supplies from a country town.”