Meet the Ripon artist who has turned her life around to achieve a £1m turnover
Last updated May 12, 2023
Pet portrait artist Bonny Snowdon

An artist from Ripon who left an abusive marriage with thousands of pounds of debt has created a business with a turnover of £1 million.

Bonny Snowdon, 52, became a professional animal portrait artist in her mid-40s after her daughter bought her a colouring book and pencils seven years ago.

Despite not having drawn since she was a child, Bonny made it her full-time job within a couple of years, and now has a waiting list of 1,500 people hoping to commission one of her “hyper-realistic” pet portraits.

As well as Bonny Snowdon Fine Art, she has founded the Bonny Snowdon Academy and teaches 2,500 members how to create life-like drawings of their favourite animals. Most of the students are UK women aged 45 and over, thought she does have some from around the globe including India, Iran, the US and Australia.

The academy has inspired many of them to move into the art world in their professional lives and given them a new lease of life. Bonny said:

“Creativity is a portal to another world. 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.”

Pet portrait artist Bonny Snowdon

The reason Bonny wanted to disappear into her artwork was a difficult home life.

She was subjected to mental abuse by her former husband, particularly after his father died. She said:

“He had always had a bit of anger issues and could be paranoid but nothing that really worried me. There were times where he’d put his fist through the wall but they were very few and far between.

“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: money was the main one, I could never talk about it 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 and over time, the debt ballooned to over £22,000.

“In the end, he started talking about suicide and even told me he had located a place to do it, 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.”

Eventually, her husband moved out of the home they shared with their three children. He went on to marry someone else, but took his own life during the covid lockdown less than two years later.

Though she was no longer in the abusive relationship, Bonny’s home life was still financially difficult. She said:

“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. 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 was looking at rental properties which were going to cost more than the mortgage, and they didn’t take dogs.

“I can remember feeling sick all the time, trying to be okay for the children and run my then very new business.”

Bonny’s determination to make a success of her business has paid off.

She is on track to turn over £1 million this year, up from £450,000 in 2022, with a team of three now involved.

Pet portrait artist Bonny Snowdon

But knowing how difficult her life was during her marriage, Bonny is using her work to support IDAS, the north of England’s biggest domestic abuse and sexual violence charity. She is awarding free scholarships to her academy, including a year’s free membership and art materials, to five women it supports.

She said:

“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.

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.”

As well as her art work and academy, Bonny offers some free tutorials, guides and events on her website, as well as a podcast. It’s a Bonny Old Life aims to increase people’s confidence by sharing inspiring personal stories, championing success, and supporting people to realise their dreams.

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