TAMARA ARMSTRONG: A Visual Arts Teacher Finds the Courage to Pursue Her Passion


The end of the school year was approaching for high school visual art teacher Tamara Armstrong when she applied, and was accepted to attend the inaugural TEDxSouthBankWomen in 2012.

“Around 2010 I became determined to put my work out there as much as possible, but after two years I was still working full time as a teacher.” Tamara said.

“I had well and truly burnt the candle at both ends juggling life as a full-time teacher and part-time artist, and I had just committed to use my entire six months of upcoming long service leave to pursuing my art practice professionally and generally just slowing things down”.

“That’s when TEDxSouthBank came into my life.”

“As soon as I found the Facebook page and website I was beyond excited. I hoped to be inspired.”

“TEDxSouthBank can change your life if you let it. There’s a very real chance that if TEDxSouthBank hadn’t come into my life I might still be teaching, struggling with work life balance, and feeling unfulfilled.”

Maire Barron and Tamara Armstrong at TEDxSouthBankWomen


“I was nervous about having to mingle with strangers, but on arrival everyone was smiling at one another and people were open to talking, to absolutely anyone. It sounds cliché, but it was like walking into a room full of friends I hadn’t met yet.

“Every speaker on the day was incredible and I hung on their every word. It was somewhat exhausting because I didn’t want to miss a second of it.

“The most significant speaker of the day for me was Michelle Law. I had spent so much of my life obsessing over my hair, complaining about my hair and trying to make my hair like everyone else. After hearing Michelle’s experience of life without hair – my ego was hit hard.

“I openly cried as I sat listening to her speak and I realised that I needed to drop my fear and do something brave. I turned to the lovely lady in the seat next to me, Maire, who I had just met that morning and spontaneously declared I was going to shave my head.

“She was delighted and went on to tell me how liberating an act it is to do, having previously shaved her head twice. And I realised I had joined a community of people who like Maire, are supportive, brave, and committed to changing the world for the better, which includes challenging ourselves.

“Throughout the day, inspired by the talks and the other participants I continued to think about ways that my actions could help others. There was an overwhelming feeling of empowerment. I decided to do shave for a cure and raise as much money as I could for something important, something meaningful.”


Within two months of Tamara’s first TEDxSouthBankWomen experience she had organised a community trivia night and group art exhibition to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation. She approached every Australian artist that had ever inspired her up to that point, as well as many up and coming locals, and asked them to take part in the exhibition.

“I surprised myself at the courage I had found to approach people I had long admired from a distance. I quickly learnt that if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

“I ended up raising just over $10,000 for the Leukaemia Foundation. I embraced having short hair so much that I have kept it very short, spending far less time, money and energy on hair care, beauty products and clothing.

“I’ve actually become very minimalist in my approach to most things since attending TEDxSouthBank. I’ve always felt that life is just too short to worry about things that only weigh us down, and now my lifestyle reflects those beliefs.

Tamara never returned to full time teaching. Following her six months of long service leave, which she spent developing her practice professionally and the accompanying small business, she returned to teaching part time, finding a much healthier work life balance. Within a few months living her new life Tamara was thrilled to discover she had finally fallen pregnant after four unsuccessful years of trying.

“Our daughter has brought such joy into out lives. And my art has gone from strength to strength despite having some new demands on my time to juggle as a mother.”


At the start of 2015 Tamara officially left her teaching career behind in order to pursue her art practice full time. She has built her own art studio at her Tamborine Mountain home, an inspiring space that was recently featured on the Houzz Australia website as well as the United States counterpart.

From here Tamara works on private commissions, and paintings for exhibitions as well as hosting small creative workshops teaching adults the basics of illustration and painting. Tamara also publishes a monthly blog series called ‘My friend can paint’ where she showcases the talents and work of fellow female Australian artists who have inspired her, or whose work warrants a broader audience.

“In some small way I feel as though the energy I used to give solely to my students, is now being given to the wider world via the platforms I have made for myself.”

Tamara is grateful she didn’t allow her nerves about having to mingle with strangers, or being in a room with highly accomplished and passionate people stop her from applying to attend in the first instance.

“TEDxSouthBank can change your life if you let it. Before I attended back in 2012, I was burnt out. I hadn’t really stopped to look at the direction my life was trying to lead me in. I just kept taking on more and more at work, and naively thinking that I could never leave teaching to follow my dreams and become a full time artist. There’s a very real chance that if TEDxSouthBank hadn’t come into my life I might still be teaching, struggling with work life balance, and feeling unfulfilled.”

Watch the initial steps of Tamara’s journey:

About The Author


TEDxBrisbane is more than a set of events—it is a local and global community that comprises individuals from diverse walks of life, with a diverse range of skills, knowledge and experiences, but with a shared commitment to challenge preconceived ideas, challenge the status quo, sharing ideas worth spreading and making a positive difference in the world.

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