Read about ... How I got to the place I'm in now
We'd gone through some tough times and come out the other end battered but somehow intact. And the way things had ended up brought back the need in me to be more creative again.
So I started to think about what I'd like to do. It didn't really feel right to go back to the style I'd developed more than 15 years ago, even though I still loved the artwork I'd done then and actually wished I could still do it. Firstly, I just couldn't find my way back to that same creative place. I'd moved on. Secondly, even if I could have got there, I somehow knew it would feel like I was going backwards to try and recreate the life that was in my art then. And thirdly, I'd now got a bit of arthritis in my hands and I knew they wouldn't cope well with the physical pressures involved in layering wax pastels and then using the very fine sgraffito technique I'd developed all those years ago.
So what could I do? What would I like to do? What was the thing I needed to do? Those questions stayed with me for nearly two years. Not having trained in art beyond A-level, I decided it would be useful to investigate all the techniques I could to see what, if any, would suit me. I'd always liked drawing of any kind. I'd always been happiest with a pencil or a crayon in my hand. But what about painting? I soaked up all that the television and YouTube channels had to offer, subscribed to all the art magazines, read books, studied hard, tried all the techniques and media I could manage. Painted some pictures. Became obsessed.
A few times I thought 'I've cracked it! I'll do this!' But the inspiration came and went. I became slightly crazed. I'd go to sleep with gritted teeth and furrowed brow. 'What am I going to do?' was my mantra. I needed to work it out and treated it as a logical problem that must yield an answer. Somehow. Someday.
I decided to do a picture for my best friend, Tina. I'd been to visit her in her new home in Devon, so it would be a promenade/beach scene, the place where we'd walked and talked together. I did many versions, two 'final' ones. I wasn't quite happy with the first finished one. And I knew all along it was because I'd been trying to be a 'painter' and I wasn't ready to be one. So I ended up going back to my pencil crayons and colouring over the painting, using them to add the nuances of light, shade and detail that I hadn't been able to control with paints. It wasn't ideal. And because this version hadn't turned out to be the joyous spontaneous creative experience I'd hoped for, I decided to do another one. This time I went back to my old friends, the wax pastels. I knew what I was doing with them as I'd honed my skills through years of creating the sgraffito images I mentioned earlier. I knew I'd be testing my hands, but I was determined to find a satisfying way of creating this surprise for my friend.
I enjoyed finishing the original detailed pen drawing of the scene for at least the second (or was it the tenth?) time, but I just couldn't win! I had to cover it up with the pastels! It's not easy depicting fine detail with a waxy crayon. But I was pleased enough with the end result and Tina finally got her picture in the post. She loved it!
But I still hadn't answered the question that frazzled my brain! What was I going to do? I knew I couldn't put my hands to the test long-term with the wax pastels. I knew I wanted to include drawing of some kind in my art, as that was my lifelong skill. I knew I wanted the scope to include detail. And I knew that, whatever I did, it would have to come from the place inside me that's excited about the process and excited to see the results. The crazy thing was that I was now tormented by a need to paint, even though I hadn't yet found a technique or medium to suit me. Traditional watercolour painting mostly doesn't encourage detail, and anyway it didn't really move me. Oil painting seemed too slow for me. Thick or thin, either way, I didn't get on with acrylic paints ... So how could I include drawing in my art and combine this with some technique I loved that wouldn't mean I'd lose the drawing? I puzzled over this for a long time.
And one morning, out of the blue, I woke up wide-eyed, ecstatic, my brain shouting the answer at me! I can draw with masking fluid!! I WAS SO HAPPY! I knew I had the answer. Now I just had to try it.
I drew a flower that was so lovely it shocked me. My drawing flowed. I let the masking fluid splash and drip. I added blobs. I painted the scene with watercolours. I let the washes run over and into each other. I sloshed water about and broke all the rules I'd just learnt. I loved it. I'd found my element and I was right in the middle of it! Then... I spoilt the picture by accident and couldn't fix it... So I did another one based on the first. And this time it worked! I called the picture The First Red Flower and it was the first of the Heartland Watercolours. At last, I was on the way!