Who knows what tomorrow brings?

Sometimes, on a Saturday, I go to a painting class. I went yesterday with the intention of painting something I could use as a Christmas card.

The class takes place in a large warehouse studio in Deptford and is run by a very charismatic and famous artist (self proclaimed). He provides all the materials, a few anecdotes and a generous lunch of wine, smoked salmon, crusty bread and French cheese. Plus the most eclectic selection of music to paint by I’ve ever heard.

The playlist has expanded since I first went to his class in the Summer, but it always starts with Up Where we Belong.

And over the next few hours, I’m sung to by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Marina and the Diamonds, Adele and Kate Bush. The power ballad continues to feature heavily too, with Meatloaf telling me he’d do anything for love, and Celine Dion waking me from my post-lunch/post-wine lull with It’s all coming back to me now.

As corny as it is, the playlist has become more than background music; it’s become a soundtrack for my journey.

It was by going to the class in the first place that I found where I wanted to belong and after picking up a paintbrush for the first time in twenty years felt it coming back to me.



Slow dance

When I was younger, I went to Sunday School for six weeks. I started going because my mother thought it would be a good extra-curricular activity to do, along with gymnastics and bird watching. I stopped going because the Sunday School teacher would never let me finish my drawings from the week before and I would be faced with a blank sheet of paper again.

The Sunday School teacher wasn’t being cruel as every other child had finished their drawing. My drawings weren’t finished because I moved at a snail’s pace when I was growing up. I was creative. A daydreamer and a perfectionist. I wasn’t academically slow, just physically, and as a result was late for everything. I danced to a different beat.

This was the source of frustration to my parents but even more so to my teachers who misconstrued daydreaming for laziness. It was much easier to label a child lazy than creative and I can understand that being late for school every day and handing essays in after deadlines with excuse after excuse would rile the most patient of teachers.

Occasionally though, I got away with it. My history teacher was a lovely cuddly lady called Mrs Yeo. I remember little of what I was taught, but I do remember that I once handed in half an essay – two sides of A4 lined paper in blue ink – on the subject of the Crimean War. The next day I was summonsed to her office to find paperwork scattered all over the floor with a frantic Mrs Yeo in the middle, desperately searching for the second half of an essay that had yet to be written. She had no doubt that there was a second half because the first half had stopped mid-sentence.

The older I became, the less I daydreamed as I started to believe it would hinder me. On a practical level, no-one wants to employ a slow coach, and in early interviews for my first temping jobs, I was judged on how quickly I could type, not on how pretty I could make the text look.

However, earlier this year, I started to paint again and had a little daydream of being an artist. Later today, I have a meeting with my boss and am going to tell him that I rather like my daydream, and would rather like it to come true.

Negative Space

It was my last drawing class a couple of weekends ago.   A great sprawling still life was arranged on the floor so we could consolidate our learnings on line, space and perspective.  It was also important, the tutor added, to explore the “negative space”.  This has been a favourite theme of hers but a concept I’ve struggled with.  However, put simply, it means what isn’t there – e.g the space and shadow in or around objects, the absence of solid form – can be just as interesting as what is there.

The day before the class, I’d visited some friends who now live by the seaside.  They have a three year old son who was happily playing and chatting to himself.  We started talking about imaginary friends.

My nephew used to have an imaginary friend.  His name was Sam and he was a dinosaur.  Sam was friends with my nephew for a couple of years, but one day they fell out and he hasn’t been seen since.

I never had an imaginary friend.  But I did have imaginary boyfriends.  They were all real people but none were my boyfriend.  One was called Adam, who played the trumpet in an orchestra I was in when I was younger.  He smiled at me once very briefly (I think I may have knocked his music stand) and I was smitten.  On a family holiday to Wales, I remember trailing behind my parents as we walked along wet beaches, with my arm stretched away from my body, as if holding Adam’s imaginary hand.

In my last drawing class, the hottie of the previous classes didn’t show up.  While I got more done, and the results were marginally better, I found myself feeling a little bit disappointed.  However, I finally got to grips with the concept of negative space.

A rude nude

I am a part-time teetotaller.  Part-time because I have neither the willpower nor the inclination to stop drinking completely; I just like the thought of living a hangover-free existence.  In my  teetotal world however, I will always hop off the wagon if:

  1. champagne is on offer
  2. the drinks are free

Tonight, the drinks were free.  Consequently, I was late for my art class.

By the time I arrived, everyone had already completed some sketches and were preparing to paint the model.  They had also evidently got over the shock that the model was not a white middle aged, dimply-thighed housewife, but a beautiful young black woman with neatly trimmed pubic hair.

I set up my easel behind the model – the only place left in the room – and spent the next hour and a half painting my first life model.

While I painted, it became apparent that the model was annoyed with the tutor for not telling her she was expected to stay in one position for so long and got a little bit stroppy with him.  He’s not a great communicator but he’s a lovely man and I felt a bit sorry for him.

Therefore, I re-painted her bottom and made it less pert.

Finding my voice

In Primary school, I had a teacher called Mrs McGill.  She always wore a high necked frilly blouse with a brooch pinned at her clavicle.

Mrs McGill had a very scratchy voice that sounded like the noise broken glass would make if it could speak.  It was more of a croak and my young mind thought this was because the pin from the brooch had pierced through her blouse and got stuck in her neck.

I went to my drawing class today.  The tutor also has a scratchy voice but does not wear a brooch.  She has a vocal disability which means that her voice is barely above a whisper and it is a struggle for her to speak.  However, because she’s good and worth listening to, there is absolute silence in the room when she does talk.  Last week, she asked me if I could be her voice and call the class to attention which I did with an authoritative “Oi!!” to all.  I felt privileged, as if I’d just been given the honour of prefect (which I sadly missed out on at school because I wasn’t good enough).

We worked with charcoal again today and were warned it was going to be messy so I wore my funeral attire.  The theme was contrast and tone and our main piece was to draw our outerwear – coats, scarves, bags etc. – casually draped over a chair.  I meant to draw my coat and bag, but by the time I’d finished sketching my coat, it filled the page so I had no room for my bag.  Shame really, as it was my best handbag.

Oranges seem to be the only fruit

Tonight it was painting.  And the subject?  Still life. With oranges.  Again.

However, I seem to be getting better.  And there was almost a bit of banter in the class.  We still didn’t say “bless you” when someone sneezed (twice), but at least there was some level of chatter when the tutor announced that next week we’d be drawing from a nude female model.

Support act

I went to my drama class earlier tonight.  Ten years ago, I went to drama school for a year. I haven’t set foot on a stage since and I’m trying to find out if it’s fear that’s prevented me from acting, or plain disinterest.  Tonight was week four of a six week course and I’m breathing a sigh of relief that we only have two sessions left to go.

The tutor is good, and the sessions structured.  I just don’t like any of the other students.

On week one, our first exercise was to reveal something personal about ourselves to someone else who would then share it with the group.  The most disturbing admission of the evening was from a man who said he wished his father was dead.  Said man also wears slippers to do all the inevitable warm-up exercises which I also find disturbing.  What kind of man wears slippers in the twenty-first century, let alone chooses to wear slippers to aid his mobility?

The most irritating person in the group is an overweight lady who continually raises her plump little hand to ask questions about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.  Her most interesting feature, visible through her off-white tee-shirt, are her breasts, which point in almost opposite directions to one another.  Unfortunately, so do her eyes.

Tonight, we had to perform the scenes that we were given last week with our partners.  Only I didn’t go last week so didn’t have to perform.  The tutor was apologetic and I was secretly pleased.  The theme for last week – and the reason I didn’t go, was that we were all asked to bring in a piece of music that made us feel an extreme emotion, be it rage, joy, grief, regret etc.  I knew that most people would opt for sorrow/grief and couldn’t bear the thought of being surrounded by weeping and wailing.  I’m too happy to be sad.

May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung

My English teacher used to say that you should never put a comma before an “and” (clearly she’d never proof read Bob Dylan’s lyrics).  So this is my first public act of rebellion.

Earlier this Summer, I took a ten week sabbatical.  Having worked for six and a half years and coming to the end of a major project at work, I felt it was time to redress the balance of my life from work:work to work:life, by trying to discover the life I wanted to have.

The only problem though, was trying to define what I wanted.  When I started my sabbatical, I was hoping it would answer the questions I hadn’t yet asked of myself.  It didn’t.  Questions led to more questions.

In an attempt to find my life’s path, I had chakra-opening massages, learned how to “belly breathe”, had “future life” hypnosis,  scrubbed myself with Himalayan bath salts (to keep those chakras open), and “om”-ed until the sacred cows came home.

The only thing I tried that felt slightly hopeful, was painting.  I have, therefore, decided to become an artist.

I haven’t worked out how, or even in what discipline, but I know I need to be doing something more creative with my life.  I’m trying to build my own ladder to the stars and am slowly climbing up each and every rung.

This blog is about my journey.

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