Sonia Garner was among the finalists selected from 1,000 entries across 47 countries in the Explorers Against Extinction Sketch for Survival contest, raising awareness of catastrophic issues including habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade and climate change.
And now the mum-of-two, from Whitford near Holywell, is planning to open a studio, launch a new website and pursue a lifelong dream to turn her creative passion into a successful start-up.
Sonia has produced hundreds of pieces over the years, from acrylic and oil paintings to sculptures and soft pastel sketches.
With her strong social media following and the support of husband Mark and children Josephine and Kacie-Jane, she is ready to make the leap full-time.
Business Wales has been on hand with expert guidance and advice, and now – with the Sketch for Survival result giving her a boost in confidence – Sonia plans to turn her vision into reality.
“I have always painted and had a natural talent for it, but it’s only ever been something I did in the background,” said Sonia.
“I was very shy growing up and this was the only real way I could express myself, so it’s something that means a lot to me. I also absolutely love animals and wanted to be a vet when I was younger, so I guess painting them is the next best thing!
“To be chosen among the finalists by Explorers Against Extinction has given me extra belief that I can and should be doing what I love and taking it to the next level, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
The family business saw Sonia travel all over the UK and attend different schools – from Swinton to Doncaster – before settling in North Wales.
She worked in manufacturing and administration and has continued to sketch and paint in the background, but with a blank canvas and renewed belief the next step is to blend passion with commerce.
“I had wanted to be an art teacher when I did my degree, but that never came to be; it dawned upon me after years of working in administrative roles and being a mum to young children that I was going to have regrets if I didn’t do something about it,” said Sonia, a former Fine Art student at Liverpool John Moore’s University.
“I did put the brushes down for a while but in the past few years I’ve been prolific, it’s been non-stop, and not just animals as I’ve painted landscapes, seascapes, portraits and more.
“I can cover most subjects, but I do have a huge passion for wildlife and conservation, especially animals under threat of extinction, which is why I entered the competition with the portrait of a wild dog.
“That will now be auctioned off for the charity, so as well as the honour of being shortlisted the piece will help the organisation.”
Sonia is looking to give back to her community and feature in regional exhibitions, before opening a studio and meeting demand for her incredible artwork.
“I’m just going to go for it,” she said.
“Turning this into a business is a difficult thing to do because creative people tend not to be commercial, but I am very determined to make a sustainable success of this.
“It’s terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure but I’m excited to see where my art takes me.”
For more information, visit the website www.soniagarnerfineart.com and follow Sonia on social media at @soniagarnerartist.