I’ve just rediscovered painting and I love it.
I never had your talent or your instinctive artist’s eye. But I watched you and learned the basics and what you could do inspired me.
Without you, I might still have drawn that shoe made of dots with a 2B pencil under Miss Leigh’s tutelage. I would have had a good crack at the colour wheel in Mr Deacon’s class and I might even have stretched to a still-life of some sweet peas in a jam jar. But then it might well have been curtains for me and art.
Instead, I hung around in your room for hours while you stood at your easel creating. I always needed company and that’s where I would find you.
I never had the focus required for solitary dedication. And all that poncy art talk would’ve dampened my enthusiasm. But you had no time for it either. With you as my unwitting coach, I got a zero-effort, bunkum-free apprenticeship. By accident and providence I picked up the skills and confidence to paint and draw. All while we bickered and took the piss and grappled with our teenage years.
You showed me how to mix colours, stretch paper and suck my brush to a point. You lent me a bit of your cobalt blue, cadmium red and yellow ochre until I could pay for my own. You encouraged me to see things as they really were, made up of light and shade. You trained me to deconstruct with my eye what my brain had reassembled. Ninety per cent of painting was in the looking, I think you said.
You learnt at college and taught yourself too in the days before YouTube tutorials. You tried out different styles and mastered them all, with practice but apparent ease. We took it for granted that you were gifted. I wish I’d encouraged you more but I didn’t know you needed it then. I just thought you knew how good you were.
This summer, we went camping by the sea and I got the painting itch. I looked at the beauty and remembered how good it feels to try and commit it to paper.
I sketched Corfe Castle at sunset from our tent and drew Maya and James building sandcastles on the beach. Not masterpieces, but so much fun to do.
I won’t be blazing any trails in the art world but I love painting people and places. It helps me focus and reboots my brain and soul. It helps me feel like me, when sometimes I otherwise don’t. And it staves off the cerebral atrophy that repetitive mum-tasks can bring.
Some of my attempts to emulate you:
You’re not around to teach Oscar, but Maya’s watching me. Who knows what she’ll do with it, but the freedom and confidence to paint are sure to bring her joy. That’s all down to you – the funny, kind and stubborn uncle she never got to meet.
So thank you for art. For making it a thing we can do for fun. It’s just one of the many gifts you gave me. You know I’m not good at looking after things but I’m keeping this one safe.