As we end a bizarre, scary and damn right destructive year, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I’ve learnt. This may be a pretty desperate way to look for positives, but I’m generally a fairly optimistic person. Like so many others, however, I’ve struggled over the past few months. It’s an over-used phrase, but it really has been an emotional roller coaster. Just as I felt myself relaxing on the run up to Christmas, my mum had a heart attack which threw us all into a state of panic. Thankfully, she’s back home, having had a stent fitted and is recovering well.
Prior to lockdown, I was pushing forward with my art, even if my biggest achievements were finding time to paint or complete an online course. When your day job is results focused it can be hard to switch out of this mentality. Maybe that’s why sketchbooks and more illustrative work appealed to me. When you only have an hour, it’s easier to rattle off a half-decent sketch than start a painting.
Painting takes time.
I think this has been one of my biggest learnings…even if it’s taken almost a year for it to really sink in!
Learning No. 1: Put in the Hours
The rush for results was such a driving force for me. Finding time has always been difficult. So, when I did get a day in the studio (or even a couple of half days) I put pressure on myself to achieve some form of result. I’d be disappointed when that didn’t happen.
Lockdown changed all of that.
I was painting with a different purpose. I started enjoying the process and appreciating the time for what it was: time to play, experiment and learn. It became more of an exercise in wellbeing rather than trying to create a finished sketch.
This change helped me see that my paintings started to develop in their own time. Over a few weeks canvases, boards and paper started to accumulate in my studio. Many were half started/half finished pieces with layer upon layer of paint. Not all the pieces worked out: some still remain propped up against the wall, destined to be revisited at some later date. But… my work has started to mature and develop organically.
Taking the pressure off myself has also allowed me to experiment more. I have spent more time on my art, so have had the freedom to try new materials, art supplies and new techniques. I’ve had some absolute disasters, but I’ve learned so much and have a wealth of different techniques to play with.
But none of this would have happened if I hadn’t spent so much time painting.
Learning No. 2: Learning to Play
I’m fortunate during this lockdown period that, unlike many, I have kept my job. The day job has changed. Working from home is, at times, a challenge. It’s more difficult to switch off, and the amount of hours I work have increased significantly: early morning starts and calls late into the evening. Days spent on video calls do not replace actual interaction. It takes more time to sustain working relationships without coffee and a chat around desks.
But it’s not without some positives and the big plus for me has been more time at home.
It’s taken me a while to find the right gear change between working and painting. Earlier this year, I’d switch off the laptop and head up to my studio to paint. But it just wasn’t happening – I’d have a few frustrating hours before deciding to pack it in and settle down to watch some box sets.
Then I did a free taster course online with Louise Fletcher. One of the exercises was a 20minute warm up where you take a few colours and just play with mark making and paint. There is no expectation that the results will be anything worthwhile and this simple technique of play opened a door for me. It’s the perfect gear change!
The act of not thinking, and just letting my hands push paint around on a piece of paper somehow clears my head of all the unanswered emails or meeting prep buzzing around in there. So learning to play again has to be one of my biggest achievements and one of my main sources of joy.
Learning No.3: Be Myself
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been able to draw.
By that I mean when I draw something it generally resembles the object of focus. It is something that has earned me praise since I was very young. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is great to get that boost of confidence when someone likes what you have created, but over the years it has developed in me a need to end up with a ‘nice looking’ ‘finished’ result. And when this is your driving force it stops you from experimenting.
I recently completed Nicholas Wilton’s Breadcrumbs challenge and was completely demotivated by my first few drawings. I abandoned the need for a finished result and just let myself go. This resulted in really ugly drawings! Had it not been for the fact I’ve watched and been inspired by others’ comments on his videos on YouTube for over a year I think I would have walked away. But I stuck with it and pushed past my reservations, creating a load more ugly paintings.
Then, about 2 weeks later, a light bulb moment!
This process of painting what’s inside me started to throw up some really interesting textures and finishes. Combining this with some stringent self-editing afterwards, I actually started to like the finished results. More importantly, they felt like they were truly mine: my style, my ideas and a reflection of who I am and my life.
Now I’m not going to lie: I’m finding the work more challenging, and it takes so much more time to create something I’m happy with…but the work has more depth and is something I’m really proud of.