On my 7th birthday I asked my parents for Charles Tunnicliffe’s book of bird illustrations. I had at the time a mild obsession with painting owls, especially barn owls, along with Dutch windmills for some obscure reason.
Maybe it was a flight thing, the sails rising up into the sky, the connection with the wind, using that breeze to generate lift. Tunnicliffe’s colourful rendition of birds captured my young artistic eye. The exquisite colours and details fascinated. How do these artists capture the light, the movement, the story. It’s these questions I am once again exploring after so long having drowned myself in the equally creative tax world of my career.
My parents seemed ok about my painting obsessions, late nights finishing my latest project blurry eyed and oversleeping and being late for school next day. I even had private lessons. My eccentric Jewish teacher had a lovely garden studio and we painted for three hour stretches on Thursdays after junior school. I adored her. The casual way she wore her clothes, her bohemian jewelry and her very loud eye makeup. She enthused about art. She was gentle but honest with her critique and so wanted you to progress. My parents were finance. Insurance firm, tight, frustrated and staid.
I remember my parents having a blazing row before tha 7th birthday. I had also asked for grown up gouche paint. Powder paints were not paints! Mum didn’t really want to buy them. She sort of hoped I think that the art class would fizzle out. A fad. I hated ballet. I hated swimming. But the art I felt was like breathing. I needed it.
I was bullied at school and art was somewhere safe and all absorbing. Dad was upset by the row as he had often had disappointments too. I arrived for my second lesson and just before he left, Dad produced a parcel from his leather briefcase. For your future he said. He winked and told me to not tell Mum. I opened the parcel and there were 12 little glass pots of gouche paint. Cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, paynes grey, ultramarine….. And a turquoise green that I later found out cost a tonne of money. Even today it’s hard to find. I still have that pot. There is still a little dried spot of paint at the bottom as a keepsake.
I progressed for three years and my teacher had high hopes of my having a future in art. My progressive school too was pushing me towards an art career. By my 11th birthday I knew how to screen Print, block print, bind books, make paper mache models, lino cut and paint murals.
My maths skills were zero. I had no idea what physics was. I hated sports. At home I kept a bird diary listing all the birds I saw each week. I went to the cinema and watched RSPB films. Art, writing and history were my passions.
Senior school loomed. It was a chance for my mother to cancel the lessons. Simply she wasn’t prepared to make the effort to get me from the later school finishing time to classes. It meant simply I would miss half an hour of the three hours but that was excuse enough to drop it. I was distraught. There was no negotiation.
My teacher tried to offer a discount. She even suggested I came another day. No the art was off the agenda. My senior school was a comprehensive. It was barbaric. The bullying got worse as my physical features changed and I grew more withdrawn. The art lessons here were a joke. We were back to powder paints and sugar paper. My confidence collapsed. I still painted back at home and tried to practise new techniques, borrowing art books from the local library. But it felt pointless.
As the academic years passed, and I took exams in a rather eclectic selection of subjects, the day came to discuss options for university. We had completed our A Levels. Mine were rubbish as I had just gone through a year of gruelling facial surgery. No more bullying as I now looked normal but when my head teacher asked what universities I had looked at, I replied none. My parents won’t pay so that’s it. I have to get a job!
My best friend said the day I left school for the last time, I never glanced back. The past seven years had been awful and now I had no way of getting to art college either. We couldn’t get a grant as my Dad earnt too much.
I got home. I wrote CV’s out to over 150 companies. It was recession time in 1985 and I got three offers back. I joined Natwest Bank. My parents were thrilled. The bank offered luncheon vouchers and regular pay rises. The portfolio of paintings now consigned to the top of my wardrobe I dragged out and tearfully destroyed. It’s funny how you fail sometimes to realize that you can keep dreams on backburner and resurrect later. As a teenager, like I suspect many feel, changes mean the end. That’s it forever. The dream is gone!
When I looked after my husband’s two teenagers a few years back, I drummed into them constantly to never forget dreams. There was always another year ahead to pick up on what you might have to postpone today. Nothing was final. Nothing set forever. I remembered how I felt.
Fastrack to 2012. I met my future husband. He was a graphic designer and creative. He invited me, after a drink As his client and me now as fully fledged tax accountant, to be a partner in his company. But not just as a financially savvy partner but as an artistic partner. Over the years as a hobby I had studied architecture, interior design and textiles. I had a sort of portfolio and was quite proud to show it. He liked my ideas. I accepted his offer. I had just left my husband and raw with a 25 year marriage that had turned sour had a feeling that if I missed this chance to make changes in my life, I would have regrets again. I begun to downsize my client base and started to sketch again.
It’s 2020 now. I am in France and life has gone a full circle. I have a studio in development where I can paint and write and sew. Over the last two years I have been collecting art books. The range of artists who paint, sculpt and craft is huge. The internet provides a pandoras box of inspiration and it’s taken a few years to realize that actually what I loved painting as a child, I am still drawn too. Birds, wild flowers and hedgerows. I am studying colour, blockprinting, collage, ink, creativity on many levels again. I feel a little overwhelmed, anxious, nervous about my new opportunity. In my last post I wrote about my recent London visit to study at Central St Martin’s. I almost wet myself with excitement! This was a big dream. Art college. Ok it’s not the full three years but my tutor said a lot of it I already knew and honestly better to do short courses on niche specialist topics I really connected with. So that’s my aim over the coming year.
One step further, I now rehome ducks, chickens, cockerels and geese and they provide endless opportunities to sketch, photograph and get inspired for fabric designs and products.
I often wonder where I would be now if I had gone to art college all those years back. Maybe where I am now but quicker? As my husband says often..your here now so just do it. I am.