Seeing the light
Artist gets new outlook with the help of Continuing Education classes
In his youth, Harold Saffrey thought he knew what path his life would take. But things took an unexpected turn early on.
“If you had asked me when I was 5 or 10 years old what I wanted to be, I would have said ‘artist,’” says the 50-year-old. “But I got caught up in university life and put down the pencil when I was 18.”
Harold traded in life as an artist for life as a lawyer. Yet, although he was very successful in his new profession, he (in his own words) hated every day of the job. Working long hours, he felt as though he was living in a bubble in downtown Toronto and felt disconnected from what was going on elsewhere.
“Even though I was doing well as a lawyer, I always felt like I was chasing after something else,” he says. “And the worst part was that I didn’t know what to do to break that cycle.”
Then one day, after suffering from bouts of fatigue, stomach pain and skin irritation for close to eight years, the then-43-year-old woke up in too much pain to make it into work. What he found out from the doctor shocked Harold out of his “bubble.”
“It was cancer, and it needed to be treated right away,” Harold says. “It was a breakthrough for me. I went through chemotherapy and quit law. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to practice law anymore. From that point on, I vowed to only do things that made me happy.”
Although he spent three enjoyable years working as an advisor for a group of car dealerships and launching a successful business producing environmentally friendly gas cans in New Brunswick, Harold decided “it was time to start doing something that I enjoy.”
And that something was art.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t know where to turn to make the dream a reality,” he says. “I had taken some community classes, but they didn’t offer the level of professionalism that I was looking for.
The turning point
Harold’s answer came when he picked up a George Brown Continuing Education course calendar and discovered the fine arts courses. He began his tenure as a George Brown student – enrolling in the Illustration course – in early 2007.
“The course – and the school itself – was a total revelation, so I took more courses,” he says. “The more courses I took at George Brown, the more organized I was in the rest of my life, including my new business venture.”
Harold has now taken a dozen courses through Continuing Education – and recently witnessed the move into the school’s new Fine Arts Building.
“The new facility is very liberating; it’s a great place to paint and work,” he says. “I can’t imagine a better environment. When I show other artist friends what we do at George Brown, they are truly amazed.”
And the results speak for themselves.
“When I came to George Brown, I hadn’t had any formal training in drawing at all, and the transformation is astounding,” he says. “I also hadn’t done wet media until I took a course at the school, and now I’m preparing an exhibition of my work. If you want to be an artist and make a living as an artist, you can do it with the help of George Brown.”
Harold (or Hank Safre, as he is professionally known) is putting the finishing touches on his art show scheduled for Spring 2010 and will launch his website before the end of the year. Best of all, he plans to retire in a few years, move up north and paint all day – making a living out of his passion.
“For me, it has been life-changing. I have a different perspective now: things are beautiful,” Harold says. “The 30 years I took away from art helped me appreciate many things. But you can get so much out of life by knowing what’s important to you and to your inner needs. I care about painting – and it has brought me tremendous joy.”