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Turning a hobby into a business

THERAPEUTIC: Carol Chapman with her very first painting, which she has now had mounted

YOU COULD be forgiven for thinking that painting by numbers was simply a sedentary art exercise to while away the hours. But one Manchester businesswoman is determined to promote its therapeutic and healing benefits, and her multi-cultural products are proving popular worldwide.

For Elaine Mills, painting by numbers was an escapism from the everyday realities of being a child carer for her mother who had multiple health problems. Added to that, she took charge of the household and her two siblings.

“It was definitely a therapeutic outlet for me,” she says. “I became my mother’s carer when I was just 10 years old and it was a very stressful time for me. My mother was almost completely housebound and I was always dreadfully worried that she was going to die. This created a lot of anxiety for me, so at downtimes when she was resting or asleep, I was able to do my painting by numbers and it gave me some pleasure and lowered my levels of anxiety.”

After continuing her hobby into adulthood, Elaine felt that she had exhausted all subjects of art, but still found one area lacking – multiculturalism.

“I think I’ve painted practically everything there is to paint, but over the years I searched the internet for African and Caribbean-inspired projects and the search engines would simply bring up images of animals such as lions and elephants,” she says.

“What I really wanted to paint was images of black people, something that was representational of my cultural heritage, so that’s what led me to start my own business.”

Despite having a full-time managerial role with Manchester City Council, Elaine launched Sun Colours Art in May 2017 at the age of 52, and is now shipping her custom-made products to countries worldwide. The artwork includes a diverse range of images of people, animals and scenery. And reports of the therapeutic benefits it brought to her as a child are now being fed back to her through the support groups and workshops that she hosts.

“People have told me that it has given them something to do while they are recuperating from illness and a lot of people say it helps them with anxiety and stress,” she adds.

One of Elaine’s customers, 55-year-old Carol Chapman, began painting to give her something to do and keep her brain active. She’s progressed from having “nothing that I do just for myself” to feeling a great sense of pride and accomplishment when she completes a painting.

“I find it difficult to put it down once I start. It helps me to focus and it helps to distract me from any worries that I have because I zone out when I’m doing it and I’m in my own little world,” Carol says.

The collections, which start from as little as £6 for a children’s set, are available to purchase worldwide via the website suncoloursart.com. But Elaine also has her sights set on using the projects for corporate wellbeing for employees.

“I am now in conversations with a client, with a view to them using paint by numbers in the workplace.

“It’s an area I want to get in to and it’s certainly a new opportunity for companies who are interested in the wellbeing of their staff.

“As the products are multiethnic I think it’s a great opportunity for organisations who employ staff that reflect our diverse communities."

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