When I was a kid in America, we occasionally had ‘art lessons’ which consisted of being given a piece of paper and told to draw whatever. We had pictures to colour-in and were encouraged to ‘decorate’ round the edges of compositions but there were, to my knowledge, no painting and no drawing lessons. I spent a year at a private girls’ school where we did have proper art lessons but I was six or seven years behind the other girls and my attempts weren’t much good.
Fast forward to London, circa 1960. My mother, who was good at drawing and had done some painting, hired a young person whose name I have forgotten, to come and give drawing lessons to my sister, Jennie – at least, that’s the way I remember it. Apparently, I drew something during one of those lessons, which was thought to be ‘good’ but I was far more interested in boys, dancing, pop songs etc and didn’t even remember doing that drawing until Jennie reminded me some time ago.
Fast forward yet again to the mid-eighties. Ralph (Julian’s dad) had found another project in West Malling (see earlier post about the Wine Bar) and had brought back to life a small courtyard of old buildings in Swan Street. He opened The Mill Yard Craft Centre where there were some really interesting businesses. Dorothy, who hand-knitted gorgeous sweaters, a man who made wooden toys and other articles, a photographer who took black and white photos, husband and wife ceramicists, a silversmith, a great café and a few others which have slipped my mind. There was a slightly more modern building as well which had a room in which craft fairs were held occasionally and, upstairs, a large room which was used for spiritual-healing sessions and art lessons.
I thought I might like to paint (I don’t know why as I had never had that urge before!) My first painting teacher was Diane whom I knew from one of the schools I worked in. I chose oil painting as I instinctively knew that I hadn’t the necessary skill for water colours. I stayed with Diane for a year and enjoyed my painting but didn’t really feel that I was an ‘artist’. After that first year I didn’t carry on with lessons and forgot all about it for a year or two. Then, Angela, my lovely mother-in-law, started teaching a class with the title “I Can’t Draw, I Can’t Paint” and I thought, that’s the one for me!
In that class we were given interesting items to draw – scrunched up pieces of foil, fruit and vegetables, fabrics etc and I went so far as to go out and buy a small sketch book which I carried everywhere. If I had a little spare time I would draw what I could see. I can’t remember why I stopped going to that class but I got out of the habit of sketching and did something else….I’ve no idea what it was but it probably wasn’t as fun or as useful as sketching.
Fast forward to 2007. Having retired and moved to Broadstairs two years earlier, I needed to find ways and reasons to go out and meet people. At first I went to a class on Roman and Greek history, then to a class on Baroque and Rococo art. Then, I thought, why not take up painting again? This happened because Julian, a much more out-going person than I am, came home from his art group meeting with a gorgeous set of Rosemary brushes. I lusted after the brushes though I had no paint or canvas. That set me on the path to becoming a real oil painter!
I signed up for an adult education class for beginners in oils. Although I had painted in oils about twenty years earlier, I thought I would start again. I bought a big sketch book, paints, some Rosemary brushes, a pad of oil painting paper, a pad of disposable palette paper and some turps. My teacher was called Judith and she was excellent at explaining how to get various effects and introducing us to the works of famous artists. After a year I had to give up because my knees were so bad but, after a year or so out for operations and recovery, I went back to Judith’s class. But, I still didn’t feel like an artist.
Then Judith left to do some art of her own and Duncan came in her place. He introduced us to new techniques and to other painters – and, though I know I didn’t paint the things Duncan wanted me to, because I couldn’t, I began to feel like an artist!
Last year I quit going to classes and started painting in a makeshift studio at home, sharing what should be the dining room with my husband at one end and me at the other. He paints things that he sees and his paintings are usually good or, even excellent, and are in a more-or-less impressionist style. Me? My paintings don’t seem to come under any label I can find. They are certainly not realism, nor are they impressionism, cubism, fauvism etc. The nearest is abstract, but I think an abstract has to start out as one thing from which a painter abstracts something and ends up with another thing. My paintings don’t start with a picture in my head (read my post on APHANTASIA or look it up on Google) nor even with an idea. I stare at my tubes of paint, choose the ones I’ll start with, get a large brush and PAINT. I keep looking at it, adding bits, wishing I hadn’t put that colour there, turning the canvas on its side, applying more paint, intertwining lines of colour, and eventually, I decide I’ve finished – for now. I might go back to a painting weeks or months later and change it by adding one or more colours or painting over it entirely!
A month ago I entered two of my paintings into a well-known exhibition and I am now waiting to hear whether either has been accepted. The two I’ve entered are two that I worked on over a year ago then added to, more recently. I am very pleased with them but I know liking a painting is subjective and no-one else might like them as much as I do! I’ll let you know if one or other is accepted and, if they’re accepted, I’ll add photos of them, then.
The paintings above are about 36″ long
The title, of course, refers to the mess I make as an artist. After an hour of painting, my hands, my apron and sometimes my clothes are covered with paint. Some people are very tidy and you wouldn’t know they had been painting (I’m not talking about you here, Andrea!!). And too, often my paintings look to me like just a mess of paint but I can deal with that. What I dislike is cleaning brushes. They cause so much mess! Just a swift cleanse is fine – swish in spirit (I use Zest-it), a wipe on cloth, another swish, another wipe and it can be used again, at least for a similar colour but for a really clean brush you have to swish it in spirit quite a few times and get as much of the oil and pigment as possible out of the brush then wash with soap and warm water. Just when you think there’s no more pigment left, the water turns slightly pink (or blue or green) and you have to soap it up again, By the time the brushes are clean, the sink needs a good clean as do the splashback, wall and floor!