Making space for creativity
How artist Zena El Farra followed her dreams to mindfulness
Banker turned artist Zena El Farra is the founder of MasterPeace Creative Studios. London’s first ‘mindful painting’ experience, it uses the rhythmic, colourful, meditative process of painting to boost mood, and manage anxiety and depression. El Farra, twenty-seven, believes that ‘creative restoration’ can be as mainstream a form of therapy, wellbeing and relaxation as yoga. Accordingly, MasterPeace has patrons across seventeen countries, while a successful At Home Mindful Painting Kit was born from lockdown restrictions.
When did you decide to leave banking to follow your artistic dreams?
I had the idea for MasterPeace for years. But there were moments that triggered the decision to take the plunge. Having burnt out after a particularly difficult year in my job as a banker, I started to reflect on what truly mattered to me. Seeing my mum with advanced cancer also contributed to a sense of urgency. We can’t take time for granted, if there’s something you’d regret not doing, do it now.
How did you feel as you left one life behind and started another?
Initially, full of self-doubt. But I kept coming back to this idea that it was now or never – that I couldn’t not do this. Then it stopped feeling like a choice with a right or wrong. It started feeling like a certainty that I needed to make the best of.
I definitely have a love-hate relationship with change. If things stay the same too long, I feel I’m not growing or making the most of life. On the other hand, I’m such a creature of habit that the prospect of change sometimes feels exhausting. That being said, with the launch of the business, every time something I relied on fell through, something better came along. It’s as though the universe is trying to tell me not to be scared of change, and to ride the wave a little more spontaneously.
What has been the hardest thing to learn?
Managing the pressure that I put on myself. I am so in love with MasterPeace, our community of guests and neighbouring businesses that I give almost every waking moment to making the experience a success. I truly believe in the positive impact it is making on thousands of people around the world. But I am equally passionate about the importance of balance and rest, especially having had personal experience of burnout. So the challenge is ensuring I practice what we preach every single day: taking time to do what I love, valuing rest as much as productivity, and enjoying the journey, not just the outcome.
And what has been the best thing?
Talking to our guests at the end of their classes and hearing what the experience meant to them. We’re proud to help them reconnect with their creativity in meaningful ways. Guests have told us that our classes have helped them sleep at night after years of struggling with stress. With all the pressures of the office, it felt like the first time someone had told them ‘Good job’ for something they’d done. Or the first time they allowed themselves to play like children again. Guests who, for decades, have been too scared to pick up a paintbrush have finally felt able to follow their creative dreams. That’s all we ever set out to do, really.
What advice can you offer anyone looking to change their life?
I believe there are no wrong decisions. The key is committing to a decision, and doing everything in your power to make that decision the right one – by making it a success.
Doubting myself and questioning the path I was on was exhausting. Once my mindset shifted, and I truly believed that I had to do this right now, it was no longer a choice. All my energy could be directed to making it happen.