Formative years
A little girl in blue dress clasping hands in joy at the blue parrot.

Born in Glasgow in 1972, from an early age I was delighted and excited by the colourful world I lived in. Nursery school was best when we got creative, with some of my earliest memories being the objects I created in those classes. I won my first little art competition aged four at my nursery school. I remember going to the Cambuslang Library and seeing the Christmas card I’d created sitting in a glass cabinet on a plinth above two other cards. My mum tells me that my card was chosen because my Christmas tree was silver rather than green, it was detailed, decorative and unusual.

Black and white photograph of young girl marching with placard which says 'girls are strong'This early experience taught me the joy that can be found in being creative and different. I’m fortunate that these qualities were nurtured by my parents. My dad inspired me with his off-the-cuff, action filled story telling and my mum, who has always been my biggest supporter gave me her loving encouragement. This combination allowed me to flourish and focus my energy on my fascination with visual art and the creative process.

My Mum and Dad met at an SNP meeting, back in the 60’s. They were both interested in politics and this was a deeply ingrained feature of my childhood.

I was given my first book on feminism aged 8 and in the same year went to a C.N.D rally. I don’t remember the book title, but I do remember the front cover had this compelling photograph of a dynamic young girl. I thought, this was the kind of girl I wanted to identify with and believed my Mum when she told me that my opportunities should never be limited because of my gender.

Politically I tended towards animal welfare and environmental issues. I stopped eating meat aged 14 and became active in questioning big companies on cosmetic testing. I did what I could to campaign to get Boots to stop animal testing. A few times I even went as far as standing outside the local Boots to righteously explain to exiting customers the problems with their purchases. I was a shy girl, but not about issues I cared about.

Cat Lawson aged 8

An education

Whilst I was in primary school there was a South East of England wide competition to create a new character for a range of educational posters that were designed to explain how to save energy. I scribbled away at my design and looked curiously at my competition’s work as it was handed in to the teacher. I concluded that there was no chance I’d win.  I’d obviously gone off tangent with a drawing that was unlike the rest of the class’ cute and cuddly drawings.

I drew a glow worm called Simon because I thought it made sense to connect the character with nature and I enjoyed drawing the glowing circles of his body against the dark blue background. To my great surprise Simon glow worm won the competition and I was presented with an ‘exciting’ £5 voucher for W.H. Smiths as a prize. I bought a geometric pattern colouring-in book with my winnings.

Cat Lawson aged 17Deciding my direction

Like a lot of teenagers, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after sitting my highers, so my Mum sent me to a careers advisor who didn’t agree with my grand plan to take a year out and “think about what I want to do”. Her advice was to stay in education and quickly got me last minute interviews with some Glasgow colleges. I was offered a place at the Central College of Commerce and started studying an HNC in exhibition design.

The careers advisor was right, the two years at college kept me focused on creativity and led me to apply to Art School. But, horror of horrors, I didn’t get a place the first time I applied! Undeterred I spent the next year at a portfolio building course and was offered a place at Glasgow School of Art and started my studies in 1992 which led to a BA (Hons) Fine Art Photography under Thomas Joshua Cooper. In 1996 I graduated with a 2:1 and a dissertation distinction.

Can I be an artist in the real world?

On leaving art school, I felt equipped to be an artist, but I didn’t know how to make art my living. Looking back I feel there was a lack of information and support to direct young artists into making art their business.

These circumstances led me in another direction and after a year working as a craft teacher at C.F Nash (which is now a good pizza place) I went to the University of Glasgow and studied an MSc I.T. Becoming an I.T student after four years at art school was an educational culture shock!

University of glasgow with autumn trees and rainbow

Coming from a creative art background meant I initially found the subject of I.T. very dry, technical and inexpressive. We were learning to program in Pascal and this left little room for visual creativity, except perhaps some ASCII art. One day we were given a half day course on HTML. Suddenly I was excited about the possibilities ahead. With, colour, design, typography and photography I could communicate in a more visual and meaningful way across this growing technology ‘the internet’.

Sharing amazing archives

I graduated in 1999, and again I achieved a dissertation distinction. My dissertation project was carried out with the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. The archives had invested in a high-end scanner for glass plate negatives but had no system or process for consistent scans and storage/retrieval afterwards.  My dissertation tackled these issues and delivered a successful system used by the archives for a number of years afterwards.

I found this to be a fascinating subject, perfectly aligned to my photography skills and new I.T. knowledge.  It was a privilege to see first hand photographs showing the history of Scottish ship building around the 1920’s. The glass plate negatives were stunning, precious and fragile documents. It was a thrill to be able to contribute to the creation of what became an online a resource to make these compelling and historically important images available globally.

Into the world of work

I struggled with the idea of working in I.T, but the internet offered the potential for a more exciting and creative career path. I could combine my I.T  and visual communication skills and so this is where I focused my energy. My first role after graduating was as Internet Marketing Manager for Oxford University Press Journals. In 1999 no one really knew much about internet marketing and so my work at O.U.P was largely a research role which included an in depth analysis of the global competition. I also carried out extensive research into the new technology of Content Management Systems and provided comparative analysis that was used to select the content management system that O.U.P continue to use today.

Code is power for a creative

During this time I started teaching myself HTML in depth. It seemed that the struggle I had with creating code was worth the effort and I started designing basic websites with a developer friend. This helped me build a small portfolio that allowed me to make a move away from marketing and into design which I was more passionate about. Coding did not come naturally to me and still doesn’t, but I believe it empowered me to get my career more closely aligned to my desire to positively create, teach, entertain and communicate.

New media

Illustrated image of tent entrance with midgie flying towards itAfter around a year in Oxford I wanted to come home to Glasgow and returned to begin my new role as the first dedicated web designer at BBC Scotland. My role as senior web designer was very diverse, as well as designing sites for T.V shows I would contribute photography, animations and games. I visited the set of Monarch of the Glen and photographed the amazing locations for the website as well as to create 360 degree tours of the sets. I used these to build a site that was visually rich and sold the beauty of Scotland in the same way as the show.

I also specialised in animated, interactive educational websites for 4 to 14 year olds and games for all ages. One of my favourites was the Armidgegeddon game (archived – uses Flash).

After five years at the BBC I wanted to try working for myself and started my photography and website design business electric-i-studios.

Two and a half years in to running my own business I was enjoying the independence but was feeling very isolated and so I decided to go back to working with other people and I contracted as an online art director at Prudential for 2.5 years before moving on to be webmaster for NHS Forth Valley. During this time myself and my ex partner decided to emigrate to Australia.

The land of sunshine

I was offered the role of senior web designer at Curtin University and emigrated to start my new role in a new country in January 2012. Australia is an amazing country and I learnt a tremendous amount from being there. I also contributed a great deal with the team at Curtin University, designing a robust framework for the University’s websites, which is still being used today.

After 2.5 years in the land of sunshine the desire to return to Scotland was too strong. I came back in 2014 with a renewed appreciation of my native home. People like to complain about the rain in Glasgow, but we wouldn’t live in such a lush and fertile land without the downpours. That’s what I keep telling everyone here, although I’m not sure they believe me!

Returning home to Scotland

A telephone interview secured me the position of Senior User Experience designer with ACCA and I got started with this role in July 2014. Whilst I got great experience, particularly around user testing in this role I found the working environment at ACCA outdated and the executive team very challenging to work with and left after ten months then moved on to Screenmedia. During this time I took a step back and considered my future career and have now found a good balance between my artwork and UX work.

In the here and now

All of the experience I’ve had has led me to once again return to my art being the main focus of my attention. What I do have now, that I didn’t when I left art school is a wide array business and digital skills as well as the confidence take an idea and bring it to market.