This time last year I wrote a couple of pieces about a fashion illustration competition I entered and received a top ten finalist place in (‘Facing the Fashionistas’ and ‘Losing In Style’). This time two weeks ago, I got a phone call I didn’t expect.  I had entered the same competition this year – Harper’s Bazaar Arabia Fashion Illustrator of the Year – hoping that I might just equal or improve upon the position I got last year while trying to convince myself it didn’t really matter!

As an entrant, I was asked to attend the event in Dubai where the finalists and winner would be announced but I wasn’t told if I was a finalist. I was also selected along with three other entrants to take part in a live, on stage master-class with the judge illustrator, an artist whose work I admire and who has worked for Alexander McQueen and Prada among others.

I had convinced myself that I hadn’t got anywhere in the contest but I took my chance and went, it would be a great experience, to take part in the master-class (I chose to do my best to ignore the fact that there’d be a crowd of people and TV cameras watching me sketch!), a chance to network, 24 hours mommy time in Dubai.. meanwhile I prepared myself for coming away not even making the top ten.  It’s a gamble. I entered because I love fashion art and I just couldn’t resist it. I discovered I was more competitive than I had ever realized! Deep down, I wanted the big prize!

It was terrifying, standing on the catwalk trying to sketch a model in a DVF frock in front of cameras and an audience in 25 minutes. The nerves, my aching feet in badly-fitting patent heels, my total lack of food for most of the day (due to nerves…) had conspired to ensure my effort on the page was a miserable over-angular contortion of scribbles. The other artists did sooo much better.  I wanted to WEEP. Thank God the competition was not going to be judged on this.  Plus, it was the closest I’d ever got to a runway and so what if my flesh-toned bra cups positively glistened like beacons beneath my sheer top under the bright lights, so what hey, I did it!

Imagine my total shock, surprise and utter JOY when, standing on said catwalk in one of the world’s biggest malls, surrounded by crowds of people and cameras, I was announced the overall winner! I fought back the tears to accept my prize, gave a few interviews, glugged a couple of Cosmopolitans with my friends who had joined me, hardly slept, flew back home and then started the task of letting it sink in!

I am absolutely thrilled about winning. I cannot tell you what it means to me. It’s the sort of thing that seemed a million miles away when, as an awkward 14-year-old, I’d sit quietly in my room drawing designs and painting portraits, dreaming of going to fashion college but never did. I’ve come full circle, returning to the thing I LOVE.  Two years ago, virtually house-bound with ME/CFS I would not have believed such an amazing thing could ever happen to me. I couldn’t even walk my son to school most days, let alone move to another continent, build an art business, stand on a stage and draw and win a fashion illustration competition with Harper’s Bazaar!

Now, this should be a lesson in following your dreams and never giving up.  Well it is.  But there’s more to it than that.  These past two weeks since winning, I’ve really had some figuring out to do.  I’ve got so much going on in my life (as we all do) that I haven’t known what the heck I’m doing and I’ve really hated it! I want to make the most of winning this award, build on that, but I’ve got other projects on and all along my darling son seems to be taking the back seat, my husband is taking on my stress and we’re arguing, I have no time for fun and friends, and at the end of it all my health is really kicking back.  Now this isn’t a sudden thing, it was kind of creeping up on me before the competition but now it’s really in my face. Weren’t these lessons I learned the last time?  When I got ill five years ago and my immune system went AWOL?

How can it be that such trials can come from something so amazingly positive?  Well, isn’t that the case throughout life? We get a job offer, it means changes; we get an opportunity for something, it means giving something else up…So I realise I have some decisions to make and some changes to implement.  I can’t carry on like this because it’s making me unhappy.  Full stop.

Doing my art and specifically fashion illustration isn’t what I’ve always wanted. It is part of what I’ve always wanted to do, together with having a family of my own, finding stability, achieving wellbeing, having fun, finding calm, seeing the world, being with loved ones… So if the past two weeks have taught me anything, it’s that I need to focus on a few things that I can enjoy and do well rather than spreading myself too thin and constantly feeling like a failure and like I’m always in the middle of a storm.  I don’t want to live like that.

I want to have a successful career in my chosen field and I want to have the time and energy to play a board-game with my son when he asks, because one day, he’ll be too busy to ask me.

And as part of that, I have something else to say. I have had an amazing time writing a regular slot for GEM, I have found friendship, encouragement, support, insight and inspiration by being a part of the team and this fabulous community.  But I feel like the time is right for me now to say goodbye. I need to narrow down my focus in order to progress and for now, that means simplifying my life. Wish me luck as I step forward and focus on nurturing those things that make up my own individual dream and I wish for you to believe that following your own personal dream is what you deserve.

Good luck GEMs and thank you!  I’m sure to see you around the site 🙂

From the Head GEM: Nikki, I thank you so much for your willingness to share, be open and honest, to learn and grow with our little community. I, and so many others will miss you terribly. But you know how they say you can never go home again? Well, that’s a lie, at least around here. Think of this as one of your homes; you are always welcome here. Love you to pieces! Rene

Nikki Newman, 36, from England, currently lives in Qatar, where she moved this year due to her husband’s work. A former teacher and proud mother of seven-year-old Oliver, she’s currently focusing on settling her family into their new lives, while also pursuing her passion for painting. To see Nikki’s work please go to: