The short version of this story, without the biographical waffle, is here. It’s the most important bit, and I’d love it if you would read it and consider donating.
It’s a funny thing, but I didn’t realise until very recently how much I wanted to be an artist.
I have always wanted to be a writer. It’s my favourite part of my job, I go to Urban Writers Retreats, I read lots and I think about writing a lot. But, if I’m really honest, other than professionally – and here on this blog – I don’t do that much of it. I find it hard to write except in specific ways and spaces. It’s not something I find easy to do scribbling down a few ideas by hand; I need a laptop, a lack of diversions, a focus.
Writing will always be my first love. But it’s not really the form of creativity I employ most of the time. What I do – what, I’ve only just recently come to realise, I’ve always done – is draw.
As a child, I doodled incessantly. My rough book and homework diary were covered in sketches and lettering, particularly the recurrent themes of skirts and dresses, shoes and boots and mirror writing. I drew a lot of eyes with dense, spiky eyelashes; bottles were another favourite so I could shade in the curves and give them a little bit of three-dimensional depth. My art teacher – ah, wonderful Mrs Aplin – told me it was a shame I didn’t continue on to GCSE art, and I assumed this was because she was kind and tactful. It occurs to me now she might have meant it, but it’s rather too late to ask. When we could choose a number of subjects for free general study at A Level, I was right back in the art room, making theatre masks (one was unspeakably awful, like some sort of horror movie sex doll) and then hastily changing track to ink and watercolour, where I was merely a bit crap, and sometimes okay. I remember once doing quite an involved pencil copy of the cover of a magazine and realising that – albeit in a lumpen, potato-y kind of way – it was recognisably similar to the source material. (The cover shot in question was of Jan de Bont; that stayed with me because of the infamous scalping story). And this really has been the essence of my life in art: everything’s always looked more or less how it was meant to, kind of – but not exactly.
And so gradually, I began to wish that I was “good at drawing”. That I was some miraculous talent who could seamlessly translate what was in my head onto paper. Who could have a gift for a dash of colour here, a smear of white there, which would just so render the shape, lighting or depth I wanted. I was drawn to deceptively simple, cartoonish sketching – since my favourite artists range from Edward Hopper and Francis Bacon to Mary Blair and Oliver Jeffers, I’ve never been about photorealistic, perfect portraiture, but about colourful, sometimes impressionistic, worlds. I wanted to be able to swish a pencil across a page and instantly create an understanding of the form I was going for in someone else’s mind. But, I wasn’t born with the talent, so…
So, yes, for a relatively smart person, I can be pretty stupid, huh? Of course there are natural talents, but as a very smart lady, Stacey Conway of AXES, once reminded me about her own musical abilities, it takes a shitload of hard work to turn the seedling of talent into the blossom of good art. And I wasn’t really doing that hard work. Or at least, I didn’t think I was, except for maybe that time I doodled – while listening! I always listen – through that meeting, and when I bought acrylics and created Moomin pictures for Ramona, and when for several nights in a row Ash would sit with me and challenge me to draw various animals in minute-long pencil sketches, or every single time I mapped out any project, content calendar or presentation in diagrams and sketches, or all those times I said “I can’t explain this, let me draw it for you”. I’d been practising all along. Just not regularly enough or in a focussed enough way to make it really come together.
Late last year, I decided to carry a notebook and some fineliners around with me all the time. At least once a week or so – alright, maybe once a fortnight – I’d sketch something, and while I was on holiday a week or so ago I spent two days at the V&A, one of them mostly devoted to sketching. I’ve become semi-serious about getting better, thinking of characters to develop, and even planning a stop-motion animation that will involve painting and crocheting some sets. But I’m used to having big ideas and then distracting myself away from completing them.
And then, #100forChildsi happened. I was challenged to get sponsorship to fulfil a life’s wish. And I felt pretty embarrassed, because the kinds of life’s wishes that Child’s i grants – well, God it makes my droning about lack of talent extraordinarily pathetic. These are children who for one reason or another have been abandoned, and found themselves in emergency care. And Child’s i works on the principle that children are better off in homes than institutions, and where possible they’re best off with their families. And so it reunites family members and helps children avoid orphanages. Now that’s what I call fulfilling a life’s wish.
Next to that, my lack of commitment to something I enjoy is pretty ridiculous. So I’ve joined the #100forChildsi team to raise £100 by doing a drawing or sketch or painting every day for 100 days and snapping the results for Instagram (or at least bits of them – I reserve the right to edit down the really rubbish stuff!). And I’m asking family, friends or generous strangers to encourage me by helping the extremely deserving charity, which is pretty tiny and punches well above its weight. Your money will be put to good use. My JustGiving page is here, and you can see what the rest of us have pledged to do on the team page. You can also find out more about it there, and maybe join us. Everyone is welcome, bucket list in hand.
Now, best get moving so that I have enough time to do my next sketch tomorrow…