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3 Nov 2022

Right On Time

Self portrait by Artist Hong Cumming

Hong Cumming is an artist who maintains curiosity and creativity.  As owner of The Art Studio in Kirikiriroa, Hamilton she ensures others are given opportunities to enjoy reaching their potential. She credits Creative Waikato’s ELEVATE programme for enabling her to achieve her own goals of expansion, structure and strategy.

Hong’s childhood in Shanghai was a creative one and alongside her older brother much time was spent sketching and learning together. They went on to form their own advertising agency while in their 20s.  Her principal role covered stories and ideas, working as an illustrator across a range of mediums, making storyboard illustration for advertising companies. 

She met her kiwi husband, who was teaching English in China, and they bonded over a mutual love of dungeons and dragons gaming. After their daughter was born, they decided to move to New Zealand for an easier and more relaxing environment.  They had two more children and Hong continued to work remotely in the family business at night across time zones. However, she hankered to work as an artist teacher so set up a studio in the back shed of their property, and through connections in the Chinese community she started to work with a small cohort of students.

As her reputation grew so did her student numbers and she soon outgrew this space.  Fortunately, a family friend offered up an industrial storage facility in Avalon Drive and she was able to expand dramatically taking on 60 students, ranging from 5-18 in age. 

Image of The Art Studio on Casabella Lane

Moving into the city centre was her next planned step and now Hong enjoys her gallery and workshop in Casabella Lane.  Here people are able to walk past, pique their curiosity and be welcomed into the space.  Artwork is displayed across every surface and espresso, wi-fi and comfortable couches create a warm and friendly atmosphere. Around this same time Hong lost her older brother and when the opportunity came for her to join Creative Waikato’s ELEVATE programme she felt as though “pushed by an invisible hand.” 

ELEVATE is a free skill-building programme, supported by the Ministry of Social Development, to help and support Waikato based creative practitioners into achievable, financially viable and sustainable creative careers.  For Hong, participating in weekly workshops across a range of topics “teaching you a strategy and tools for running a business with advertising, invoicing, marketing and funding rolled into one package was really helpful and exactly what I wanted.

Working with other participants and the advisors in-depth regularly was challenging, especially with family commitments and in a second language, but Hong acknowledges the process brought on a breakthrough. An unexpected revelation was that in hearing others sharing their stories, issues and frustrations Hong could more clearly see her own challenges reflected, but also wanted to push herself out of her comfort zone and take action.  Accepting that making progress is progress itself she never missed a workshop session and gained both confidence and satisfaction from achieving weekly and longer term goals. During these workshop sessions she stayed open minded about ideas that might surface later and excitement about her achievements and moving onto the next challenge.

Hong credits ELEVATE with making significant changes in her business model to achieve her vision.  These include bringing in more teachers and classes within a commercial framework, more variety of styles to bring more artists and therefore more students into the workshop, and also altered structures and strategy, such as increased networking to keep the business growing.  The Art Studio currently has 75 enrolled students and workshops tri weekly covering portrait and life drawing.  She’s excited to evolve into new mediums, introducing other artists to bring workshops into the studio, such as sculpture, and oil and watercolour painting, all contributing to creating a dynamic environment.

Many changes have come from Hong developing more comprehensive strategy and better systems. These range from the prosaic, a dropbox where all receipts are immediately photographed and deposited, to a philosophical stance of valuing her own time and self-knowledge to achieve peace of mind.  She feels it is now easier to navigate the realities of creativity and commerce having explored these concepts in depth alongside others, including experienced Creative Waikato staff.

Portraits of Hong Cumming

Always curious, Hong acknowledges that teaching makes her a better artist and changes she has brought in allow more time and space for her own practice. She accepts the need for her own expectations to change and be open to a slow evolution while always being true to herself.  As a teacher she is able to laugh at her mistakes and revel in the dynamic process of teaching teenagers requiring both authenticity and problem solving. “I enjoy researching and working out solutions together that keep students engaged and I love that students give me nicknames!

– Megan Lyon, Freelance Writer.

Follow Hong on Instagram at @hong_cumming and pop in for a coffee and a class at The Art Studio on Casabella Lane in Central Kirikiriroa.

Piqued your interest in taking the leap from creative practice to creative career? Elevate is back, more accessible than ever, and open for applications from Waikato artists now. Check out the info and criteria on our Elevate page in our menu, and apply today!