Written by Barbara Hawken, Little Art School graduating student.
I can’t paint and I definitely can’t draw.
It’s hard to believe now that there was once a time in my life when I wasn’t particularly interested in art. A time when I’d visit a city and not make a beeline for the art gallery. A time where my spare room didn’t look like a ransacked art shop and when I didn’t know how to mix a cast shadow. But 6 years ago I was unaware that a whole new interest in my life was about to open up and that I would actually be a changed person because of it.
I was pretty hopeless at art at school with lots of ideas in my head but no understanding of how to create something with them. After a particularly excruciating 3/10 for a wine bottle drawing, I accepted that I wasn’t talented and moved on, leaving art to the few lucky people who had the gift.
“I was pretty hopeless at art at school with lots of ideas in my head but no understanding of how to create something with them.”
First Tentative Steps with flowers
Jump forward thirty odd years and my daughters were bringing home amazing art work home from The Little Art School. I have to admit, I was envious: I wanted to be able to paint like them and have the same enjoyment that they obviously took from the creative experience. As my day job became increasingly more challenging and the girls were needing less of my time, I was looking for an outlet that was completely different.
I suppose I could have taken up tap dancing but art classes seemed less energetic. I still had the ideas inside my head but no idea where to start, not a clue; not the materials or how to go about it. I certainly didn’t feel confident enough to join a local art group because I felt some ability at least was required. But the adult classes at The Little Art School advertised that it would teach me all the basics.
That First evening I was so proud of my painting: a snowdrop in watercolour. It looked like a flower! The early classes were simple challenges but they still tested me – remember I hadn’t held a paint brush since high school.
“That First evening I was so proud of my painting: a snowdrop in watercolour. It looked like a flower!”
Some Success with fruit
I found the course was structured so that we faced different challenges and learnt more skills each term and it wasn’t long before we moved on to more complicated projects. I wish I could remember it all and I still forget the names of the paint colours; I’m not fluent in the language of burnt umber and yellow ochre.
Beautiful names but in my mind they are still ‘chocolate’ and ‘sand’. But as we worked on images of peacocks and lemons, imitated Raphael and sketched castles I learnt more and more whilst my confidence in my ability grew and I discovered a passion for art which I never knew I had.
” ……..worked on images of peacocks and lemons, imitated Raphael and sketched castles I learnt more and more, whilst my confidence in my ability grew and I discovered a passion for art which I never knew I had.”
I particularly love that the teachers have encouraged me to view ‘disasters’ as ‘practice’ and a way to learn – not as a judgement on my ability. It’s fair to say I have had my fair share of practice paintings but I soon became confident enough to recognise that these particular lemons were all part of my learning process.
No one would ever expect a musician to pick up a violin for the first time and both compose and play Beethoven perfectly, yet often there seems to be a belief that you either can or can’t paint: that it is an innate talent that cannot be learned. I know that I believed that too, but now I know that although talent obviously plays a part, it is not the sole determiner.
” ……..there seems to be a belief that you either can or can’t paint: that it is an innate talent that cannot be learned. I know that I believed that too, but now I know that although talent obviously plays a part, it is not the sole determiner.”
Gaining Confidence with Turnberry and Carey
Fairly early in the course I mistakenly used a water soluble ink on a sketch of Turnberry but I swirled it up into the clouds and the picture was saved. Actually, it made the painting special and golfing friends even hung it in their dining room. And I can still remember the day when I showed my pencil portrait of Carey Mulligan to colleagues at work and they recognised who it was! Before I told them! I was making progress.
“…they recognised who it was! Before I told them! I was making progress.”
My own ball of string
As the course continued we moved on to apply our knowledge and skills to our own projects. One challenge was to create a still life arrangement with a collection of objects which inspired me. I chose items to represent my grandparents and great grandparents. I created very personal painting which includes Grandpa Charlie’s ball of string that he ‘acquired’ from a zip factory in circa 1975. Heirlooms don’t feature highly in our family.
I have really enjoyed the different themes as we’ve moved through the course but I’ve found painting people to be my favourite challenge. One of my earliest oils was of a ballerina, painted about half way through the course. It wasn’t a bad first attempt at trying to get the skin tone right in oil although she looks a little grey now that I look back. This week I finished a copy of The Girl With a Pearl Earring. The whole class were daunted at the outset but our teacher took us out of our comfort zone and it was so satisfying to complete. It was challenging trying to get the skin tones deep enough without making her look as if she’d been in a fight. And don’t get me started on the lips. Putting the two pictures side by side makes me realise just how much I have progressed in three years.
“I have really enjoyed the different themes as we’ve moved through the course but I’ve found painting people to be my favourite challenge.”
Easy to buy for
These days I tell people that my hobby is painting. Friends buy me books for Christmas, I’m always reading an art magazine and I love nothing better than visiting a gallery, with a trip to a good art supplies shop a close second. Each year a significant proportion of my Ryanair luggage allowance is given over to my art materials and every afternoon on holiday I get to play with paint.
There is so much more to learn and so much more practicing to be had. I know I’m not especially gifted and when I see the talent of professional artists it often blows me away. But I’m having so much fun working at my own level. I can’t thank the patient teachers at The Little Art School enough for pushing me to learn and achieve more than I ever thought I would.
I’m not sure I would have survived lockdown without having art in my life. As a furloughed worker I suddenly had more time in my life than ever before but also worries and anxieties over the future. So I threw myself into a project and went large. Old canvases (cast offs from my teenage daughter’s bedroom) were pulled from the loft and stood on a child’s blackboard easel (always knew that would come in handy again one day). It was hugely therapeutic to paint over the cupcake designs with images of Ayrshire sunsets.
“I’m not sure I would have survived lockdown without having art in my life. As a furloughed worker I suddenly had more time in my life than ever before but also worries and anxieties over the future. So I threw myself into a project and went large.”
Sometimes it is not even the doing it that makes a difference – it’s the anticipation that maybe I could do it
later. I’m always wondering if I will have time to work on my current painting before tea. Something to
look forward to tomorrow. Some joy in a year of cancelled events and worries.