Career change at 59? Inspirational Katie Flowers did just that.

At age 59, art educator Katie Flowers made the bold decision to make a career change, leaving the security, safety, and salary of a job she’d loved for 14 years to venture off and start her own business. A respected art teacher at a top international school in Hong Kong, she’d grown close to her many adored students, colleagues and especially her “work-wife” Claire, whom she shared the art room with for a decade and a half. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it began a journey to her true self, following a vision that began in 2009. 

At the heart of Katie’s story is a theme of a woman who found her voice through creativity, curiosity, positivity, and resilience. Now as an Art Therapist, Art Educator and Mixed Media Artist at her Central studio, “Wild at Art Studio”, she helps others to do the same. “I don’t teach people how to paint,” she explained. “I utilize art to foster a safe community of self-expression. What art offers is a vital voice that people can’t always access otherwise. This is the gift of art. It’s the most precious journey and your art can become your own best friend.”

Katie’s journey into art therapy began after her mother’s death in 2008. “I couldn’t face going back to England without my mother being there, she was my closest friend.” A solution-focused person, Katie decided she needed something else to look forward to in England, “another highlight to go back to instead of a gaping hole.” Katie took unpaid leave from work and traveled to the U.K. in 2009 to attend a 4-day art journaling retreat “Call of the Wild Soul”. That’s where the lightbulb went off. She realized, “This is me.” 

Upon returning to Hong Kong, she began holding weekend art retreats for women and a weekly “Gin and Tonic Art Club” in her garden on Lamma Island. She began formulating the plan for a future creative business with a target of starting when her son Christie would go off to university.

Katie’s life journey was not always easy, but her vision, resilience, openness to change and support from a few cheerleaders has carried her forward. Claire calls her a “possibilitarian”. 

Katie’s resilience solidified at age 13, when her relatively idyllic upbringing was rocked by her mother’s announcement that she wanted a divorce. Katie’s father agreed to grant her the divorce on the condition that he would keep Katie, and her mother agreed, taking her brother and most of the furniture with her. When asked about this painful time, Katie explained, “I didn’t feel like a bargaining chip. But I became the emotional caretaker of my father, had too much freedom, and eventually went off the rails educationally, leaving school at 16.” Katie maintained her relationship with her mother, made herself a sanctuary in her self-decorated bedroom and listened to jazz with her father. Music, dancing, theatre, poetry, and art would continue to play an important role in her life through every stage. 

During her teaching years, Katie signed up for a yearlong intensive counseling course through the St. John’s service. One of the exercises from the workshop was to create a vision board. A single mom at the time, Katie collaged an image of a glowing, loving couple at the top of the board. A year later, attendees were asked to reunite at St. John’s with their vision boards to check in. Katie was carrying her vision board to the session when she bumped into Eric, whom she’d been introduced to previously by a friend. The chance meeting would begin their relationship, now in its 18th year, with the couple recently marrying. Fate, destiny, or the vision board? Maybe all.

After her mother’s death, Katie entered a follow up counseling course, a highly cathartic experience with a small number of attendees and three counselors, who used intensive therapy and role playing to address deep issues. This allowed Katie to work through the teenage sorrow and hurt of losing her mum the first time. She then chose to train in Art Therapy and this enabled her to “re-mother herself, through poetry, art and letters to my teenage self”.

Katie’s role model was her godmother, Auntie Irene, who lived until age 96, and married at the age of 70. She spoke her mind and drank champagne every day. Like Katie, she was positive, full of energy, fun and loving. “It’s important to me to help people realize that we are not fixed… we’re dynamic, we have the capacity to change and heal ourselves” Katie stated.

Quoting Jenny Joseph’s poem “When I am Old”, Katie said, “When I am old, I shall wear purple with a red hat that doesn’t go…” Katie smiled and added, “I’m in my purple years I’m eccentric, highly forgetful, that’s what you can expect.” Her advice? “Humor is vital… stay curious, look forward and do nice things for yourself and others. I don’t feel invisible. I’m 62 going on 15.” 

Published December 2021, Hong Kong Living