These first few blogs are, I believe, important, and from the response to my last blog about limiting ourselves to one kind of painting – so do you. It would have been easy to launch straight into the mode: ‘This is my painting of XYZ’ ‘These are the Work in Progress shots etc’. Oh yes I have those blogs lined up, and we will get to them soon enough, but these few ‘Introduction’ blogs are about subjects which are relevant to us all, no matter what your favourite subject is.
I started this week with the idea of asking a question which you might already have asked yourself at some point:
- Are Artists born and not made? Coupled with
- When did you realise you were an artist?
- What made you become an artist? Lets face it – it ain’t easy. Right?
Then in the last week or two I started to receive a few messages . In fact I have had some messages expecting a response for a few months now but the Pastel Academy Online has bought about more questions, and they are much the same as mine:
- Heather – when did you realise you were an artist?
- What made you decide to be an artist?
- Were there artists in your family?
(Coupled with: Heather – How could you possibly decide to put your own work to one side so as to get the Pastel Academy going? This I will answer in the next blog.)
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Meanwhile back to this blog – and the slightly changed plan;
You know the funny thing about writing a blog is that the process makes me realise stuff that I hadn’t thought to much about for a long time. I am finding it hard in some ways and almost therapeutic on the other. We all have stuff in our lives that bring about different feelings.
So I’m going to go first and answer those questions, and for a good reason;
Artists need to relate. They need to understand other artists so as to understand themselves more. Why?
- Because more often than not they feel isolated and in some way ‘separate’ from friends and family.
- Some are actually isolated physically – eg live alone, single parents, limited income etc.
- Because artists who have a clear understanding of WHY they produce art -make more progress in accomplishing a standard of work they desire and – in my experience they build better careers for themselves.
So yes I had a bit of an unusual start as an artist (some of you have ploughed through my BIO – you get a medal for that lol!), but I bet some of what I am about to say resonates with you.
Here is the deal – I tell and then you tell – use the comments box beneath to leave your thoughts and responses to the above question.
Question One: Heather -When did you realise you were an artist?
Answer: When someone told me! I was a child – maybe 6 or 7 years old and I though all kids were like me – always with pencils and crayons in my hand. I also knew other kids were not like me in that I was constantly ill for most of my childhood – had every illness going and I could not read or write properly until I was 9 years old and managed to put a full term in at school for the first time.
Drawing – colouring books and music were my life – not playing outside with the other kids. I was OK with that I remember.
So – I was overweight – (no exercise) and used to living in my own world. No brothers or sisters. Mum and Dad worked – Gran looked after me and taught me to knit, crochet, cook design knitting patterns from the age of 5/6 yrs old.
I finally got a bad dose of Glandular Fever aged 13. Whilst recuperating from hospital I saw a face on TV – a face so beautiful I rushed to get what was to become my first portrait done before the song this guy was singing finished. This was in the days before video.
( This is a pretty long and fascinating story – and will be expanded on later for a group of people who follow this man and his amazing talent to this day ).
So I fell in love (hey I was 13 years old!) with a face on the TV and was captivated by faces ever since. I spent days – weeks perfecting portrait after portrait of this man (he became very famous), and then this happened:
Me The Page Three Girl circa 1966
Yes that is me aged 13. Photo taken in the Town Hall at Rugby, by the Daily Mirror. It was printed on page three – before page three girls existed! Those large pencil portraits are of the group The Walker Brothers, they got very famous and I ended up with a BBC contract as a teenage artist aged 14 yrs old. For the next 4/5 years I was the ‘portrait darling’ of the press and TV.
Now under those circumstances – you are called an artist from day one.
The upside – I got to meet anyone just by doing their portraits. Boy that was fun – i the middle of the swinging 60’s!
The downside: my school worked out that every time I was off school ill (that lasted until I was around 15) – there would be something in the papers!
The bigger downside: Everything I did as a teenage artist was in the press and that affected my life on many levels.
(The portrait ( above) that landed the BBC contract – of J F Kennedy – which is now homed on the National Archives Gallery in Washington DC. 1966 – Pencil.)
(The photo is of me and the daughter and husband of the founders of the British Bramley Apple. Pencil portrait 1967)
The Strangest Downside of all: I knew I was an artist – but then I felt no different than I did before all the press attention – but now I produced portraits. People said I was an artist because that is what artists did – produced ‘art’. I learned to smile and say thank you.
A good Upside: But the only time I felt like an artist was when I was alone with my work in progress – knowing I was improving all the time and loving it. As soon as I finished one portrait – I was keen to get on with another one – and not for the press attention. But because I felt I was learning something.
I was developing a pride in my work. That is when I knew what it was to be an artist for the first time.
The real bummer: I was in the middle of all the press interest and the person who was such a magnificent ‘manager’ of his artistic child – my father.
Between the two I found I lost my personal identity as an artist. I turned away from it all, got a boyfreind, got married, became a Mum, and knew all along how disappointed my father was in me. He strongly believed in the power of publicity – I didn’t. I had lived it for 5 years and knew better. I makes you famous – it doen’t make you an artist.
Making My Own Decisions
When a daughter becomes a mother, there is a slight shift in the relationship with her own father – I was not a child anymore – but a mother in charge of her own child. I commanded that respect.
That is when I became an artist.
My daughter was less than one year old – and I began studying and learning, not just about portraiture – but all subjects,including the History of Art at a local college for an O level exam. For a long time I hid all of this studying from my father. By the time my daughter was three I had organised and produced my own first exhibition at the Preston Guildhall – where it was a permanent fixture for five years, and comprised 36 portraits of musicians and songwriters.
That is when I new for certain what it meant to become an artist – and yes I could ring up the daily papers whenever I wanted to – I had learned a lot as a teenager.
Question: Were there other artists in my family?
Answer: My Gran was a artist/ craftswoman of enormous talent – a trained pianist who was forced to give up her passion to earn a wage before the war and help look after her family.
And my father – was always known as a poet and wordsmith from the age of 16 years old, and a great creative mind. For a while he lost his creative way which is why I became the focus. With my encouragement he found his own creative path once again.
Heather with portrait of Rupert Brooke – Rugby poet circa First World War. ALl the wording in this peice was the white of the paper – all done by hand. Hung in the Kings College Library, Cambridge. 1967
So are there any conclusions to be made about my story?
Was my colourful and exciting teenage career of use to me as artist? Only as far as my ability to deal with the press and understand their agenda. As for my being an artist – no it didn’t help. It fact it got in the way of me going to study art at college or university.
Did I learn anything about myself as an artist during this time? Yes – that what matters is you and your relationship with your work and your love of doing it. Everything else is a diversion.
Was any of it of use to my career as an artist? Only in as much as I have some impressive stuff to quote, and some interesting tales to tell. Also in that it gave me a real insight into public relations, publicity management and press, TV etc. But that has limited uses.
It did give me confidence beyond my years. That is of enormous value to any woman in particular, developing a business side to their art.
SO there it is – Both a Happy and a Sad tale. In some ways it is a wonder I ever made it with my need to create intact.
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Being the other side of 50 is no bad thing. Many start their art at this time, when family have flown the coop etc. It also means that your time is more your own.
Great you are now in France too. I have some artists friends in France – one of which has a story very similar to your own.
The key to making a better income: well that is a big issue for many. Building a business from your art is an ‘art’ in itself. The other side of earning though – is to develop your art into a teaching business. To do that I would concentrate on drawing. More on this issue is coming out in this blog and in a course I am putting out. Income is a big issue.
Meanwhile enjoy France! Where are you located? XX H
Hi Heather 🙂 thanks for your encouraging reply.
I’m in South Brittanny in the port town of Redon – it’s a river port on the Vilaine river. Quite parochial – with Rennes, Nantes and Vannes within striking distance.
I look forward to your course on drawing, and I have been concentrating on this, having completed an absolute beginners ‘on -line’ course and in doing daily sketches- which are surprisingly useful! I also met up with an artist in Cornwall when I visited and did some sketching / drawing lessons with her. I also belong to a life drawing group in Cornwall that I go to whenever I visit the area!
I’ve been heavily using art instruction books too!! I really get that drawing is the absolute necessary foundation for all forms of art – well, and I love it 🙂
Thanks for making the time to start this whole teaching project – so valuable to many of us!! You’re a complete Star! There is so little available concerning pastels!
What a terrific question- and I have read your story and other peoples with interest – I’m impressed at how amazing you all are!! So many difficulties worked through and so much courage!!
I have been living in France for eight years after a marriage break down. Initially I worked in care work, spending 3 weeks as a live in carer, then returning home to France for a week or two, then repeat!! It just felt too fragmented and I was getting totally exhausted. Some one at this time said to me’ you will be what you do’. I had always wanted to be an artist , so 2 years ago I decided to live on a small monthly income and enjoy my life here and do art!! I feel very lucky to be able to do this!!
My family keep saying I should sell my art, I should build a business etc. because they worry about my meagre income! I do see myself as an artist but I’m not a business person and I’m a new artist ( on the other side of 50!!) exploring different mediums. I have sold a couple of pieces, but my focus is on creating art and on improving. I’m very new to pastels and love them. I agree with your other article – I want to use many different mediums:)
I think that not having formal art training has affected my confidence and so it’s only recently that I’ve admitted to myself that I’m an artist. I get around it if people ask by saying ‘I do art’
Art is very much my life now and I’m enjoying learning and improving. One day I may even say when asked, that I’m an artist! Not yet though 😉
5 years ago I would have laughed if you had said that I would be an artist. I was a physicist, sea kayak guide and aircraft engineer. My wife and I bought an original oil from an Irish artist from a large local gallery. The gallery invited us to meet the artist when he was conducting a UK tour. When we met him he was going to do a small pastel to be auctioned for charity. He got every person in the gallery (about 20) to take a pastel from his small selection and make whatever mark the wanted on a piece of pastel paper set up on an easel. When everyone was done his canvas was a right mess. Without using another pastel he just used finger blending to make an amazing seascape. I looked at my wife and said – that didn’t look difficult, I can do that, I want a set of pastels. It clearly was difficult, I’m pretty sure I still couldn’t do it it but that moment is where my artistic journey began 🙂
WOW – Stephen – yes I can see how that would have been a dramatic moment. In the International Society shows they sometimes do a paintaround: 10 minutes spent on one piece then you move around to the next. About 6/8 artists take part. Great fun.
I know what you have learnt since knowing you is that pastel isn’t easy – many have reached that stage – and I bet you will agree with me that is when the real learning begins. Pastel is capable of fabulous special effects but that is just the tip of the ice burg.
Normally a guy with your background would be have a tendency to be a ‘tight’ precise painter. Your not. So your creative side is winning!!
Hi Heather, what an interesting story and what a life you’ve led so far! So talented. I most certainly don’t call myself an artist.
I never started painting until I was in my forties. I was very much a computer person and had to change my whole lifestyle when I suffered heart failure, my Mum who always loved art suggested it so I had something to keep me busy.
Having dabbled in watercolour and acrylics I met and fell in love with pastels. I’ve got so much to learn but with your help I can see an improvement. Thank you so much.
Kris – I didn’t know you had a heart issue? I had a heart attack at 42 years old.
Many people dont have chance or inclination to start to paint until later years. Many go on to make not only good livings form themselves but good reputations too. Age is no barrier to learning how to paint.
What can be a barrier – not always but for some – is not to be able to draw. I know that you are working on that. I only wish others would too. But you work is coming on leaps and bounds – because you listen, and it shows in your work.
XX X H (Oh dear no blue cats – ah well never mind!)
You know Fi, I have taught art to beginners and improvers and ‘returners’ for over 25 years and your story is not an unusual one. So many people, women in particular were encouraged to get a regular ‘sensible’ occupation. But the love of creating something, a drawing, a painting, is something that brings not only you pleasure – but also the owners of a piece of your work.
You have you creative life on track now – and that is important. But it takes a long time for so many and for others – they never get that spark back. But getting to grips with it now – later in your life is special. ENjoy. XX H
Thank you for sharing your story with us Heather – there are many points in it I can identify with.
Like you I have been drawing, painting, scribbling etc from a very early age. I was fortunate during my childhood years to have very supportive parents who encouraged me in everything from sport to art (although my Mother was less pleased when I drew all over her diaries with a green pen – but that’s another story!). Looking back as an adult, my childhood was one of constant flux and change. I was born in Kenya and grew up in both South Africa and England, moving between the two countries at regular intervals during my childhood, my family being more on the adventurous side. Now as you can imagine moving about from country to country doesn’t give a child much time to form many lasting friendships, not to mention trying to catch up on school-work, 4 primary schools and 5 senior ones.
So I took solace in art. Art doesn’t leave you (at least that’s what I thought as a child – I know slightly better now). Art doesn’t care that you don’t speak like a native. Art doesn’t care that you different from most of the other children the same age. Art accepts you. Art allows you to be you. Art is.
And then life happened – I went to a school where art was not on the curriculum …. You can’t make a living from art, you need to learn something practical that you can use in life, was how the headmaster put it. So for the last 4 years of senior school I studied the sciences, then I went to university and studied them some more. Then I did all the things that most adults do at some point, I got married, settled down, learned how to cook, clean, keep a husband fed, watered and happy. I had a good job, I was successful in my field, it just wasn’t the field I wanted it to be, I wasn’t the artist my childhood me had envisioned – I was a scientist! And so it remained until a serious health scare forced me to re-evaluate my life.
I suffered a stroke at the age of 46 – for the first 6 months I was retraining my brain to do the things that it had done on automatic since I was born. I also realised that I was not going to let my job kill me, so I reduced my hours and went into retail. I also picked up a pencil for the first time in more than 20 years …. terrified that I may have lost the ability to draw, paint etc. Well my style has changed definitely although that is probably more due to age than illness. But I have regained my love of creating art, thinking art and feeling art. Try saying that to someone who doesn’t know which end of a pencil to use and you get some pretty odd looks !
I have started a new career at the age of 52 and am loving every moment of it. Although I still have my “real” job as well – it’s the one that pays the bills at the moment! And on the positive side, my name is getting known, and some of my works are selling, I have undertaken a few commissions so it’s looking hopeful for the future.
I’m not what I call a professional artist, yet. But I am working on that.
Do I see myself as an artist? Yes. And with every piece I finish I can see the improvement and that gives me huge satisfaction and pleasure.
I also think that looking back on my life so far, the highs, the lows and the in-betweens, it has developed my character and made me stronger and defined who and what I am, and maybe I wasn’t ready to be an artist any earlier. The responsibility would have been too great. I am a firm believer that Art in all it’s forms is food for the soul, and as such it should be encouraged and nurtured. I also love the look of joy on someone’s face when they take delivery of a painting where I have interpreted their vision, and isn’t that the main reason to create art – to bring more joy into the world.
Hi Heather. What a brilliant story. You were so talented from such a young age and already knew how the ‘real’ world worked and that it wasn’t always right. Not for you anyway. You really are an inspiration and I now understand why the basics of drawing really are fundamental for any artist.
I don’t call myself an artist. I don’t feel I am producing my best work yet. I haven’t found my own flow and until I do I will continue to call myself a learner.
I had always loved art and crafts from a very early age. I loved making things. I could look at a picture or object (Disney was a favourite) and copy the image perfectly without the need to trace when I was a teenager. I didn’t understand any of the theory and colour and just learned to ‘draw what I saw’. I took Art in high school and got a good pass. It was my favourite subject. I had produced many projects in various mediums. One moment I always remember was when I used pastels to create a very basic two tone tulip. I showed it to my art teacher and he said it was my best work he had ever seen. I was pretty shocked and actually thought he was having a joke (he was known for that). It was so small and I thought it was too easy. He said ‘it’s not the complexity of a project that makes it great art, it’s how you use your medium. It’s perfect’.
I left school and spent the next few years getting myself into University to study Nursing. I got so engrossed with my studies and exams I let all my hobbies slip away. I qualified 9 years ago with a BSc in Adult Nursing and have been working as a Staff nurse since then.
My future husband encouraged me to start my hobbies again once my studies were over so I began my cross stitching again with big charts that artists had allowed to be converted into cross stitch (my current work in progress is 120000 stitches!). I started to learn crochet and knitting and then Christmas last year my husband bought me pastels and pastel pencils after he had admired me looking at other peoples work. I have been practicing when time allows and have completed some works I really like. None are perfect and some I am disappointed in. It’s a big learning curve but I do love it. I have a lot of confidence issues with my work and have periods of time where I don’t think I should try as others are so much better than me. I know I have something and can do it but fear gets in the way. It’s a hobby more than a career at the moment. I don’t want to be put in a box. I love painting animals and landscapes and I would love to try potraits and also fantasy. Once I am much better of course!
Sorry for the long story haha 🙂
Ali no matter where we are in our careers – we are all still learners. I am still learning.
With painting – unlike the crafts – you learn quickly. Producing a fine cross stitch is very time consuming I know – I did a lot of embroidery once.
Painting is different – yes it does show up your weaknesses but it also pushes you further than craftwork will. You will learn more the more you do and with every painting you will improve. The key is to enjoy the journey, and do not be put off by other peoples work – when they might well have been painting for a lot longer than you.
And Yes – Do all subjects – dip in and out of different subjects, Eventually you might settle on one but then you might not. XXH
I have always loved to draw and paint from a very early age. I was never very clever, my teachers told me my brains where in my hands and feet. I was a county champion, sprinter, and swimmer. When I was in senior school, I would do my friends art work homework, in exchange for them doing my maths…….my friend actually got a better mark for her art than me…..but it was my work!
Loving all the other work on show, I just hope to improve, with everyone’s comments and help. I know I can draw, it’s the other bits!
Oh that is precious Jude – your brains in your hands and feet!
And yes I also used to swap out homework for artwork! Couldn’t do it for long because of the press attention and the school had ‘issues’ with me having so much publicity.
If you can draw that is a massive head start. XXH
To answer your question, I don’t think I am an artist, but I suppose that’s because I have a fairly busy day job and kids at home to keep me busy. Growing up I always thought I would be an artist and somehow ended up in IT instead – something that I’m good at but it’s quite stressful at times. So art is what keeps me sane, and gives me some “me” time.
I also think that somewhere in my head I think I’m not good enough to be a real artist – but then how good do you have to be?
Thanks for sharing 🙂
Well from what I know from your work Emma – you certainly are good enough. But is that what makes you an artist? No – it is when you are happiest in your own skin; when you are enjoying your me time. Getting better is just a matter of practice and dedication.
Amazing how hard we can be on ourselves.
Fabulous questions and thoroughly enjoyed reading your story,wow what a lot to go through during your childhood and teens! My vocation was originally to be a flautist. From the age of 7 a talent was recognised in me when I could pick up any instrument and play it, well. I wanted to play the piano or the violin but we had no room for a piano and my parents didn’t like the sound of the violin so I chose the flute. I also used to love studying my Encyclopedia Britainnica and drawing sketches and writing “reports”.
I was raised as an only child happy with my own company. I do have a brother but due to disabilities that require a lot of care he has always lived in specialised care homes.
I’ve always created, whether it be music, writing, knitting but never considered myself any good at art until about 8 years ago during a bad time in my life, I picked up paint brushes and began to paint. I was definitely not an artist at that point. I then let it lapse again, busy bringing up my children and working when I had yet another breakdown – I have bipolar disorder so these breakdowns are part and parcel of my life. I started drawing again but this time it was different. This time I had a huge need to better myself, to learn everything I could and then some more. That was nearly 2 years ago and I have drawn almost every day. I now sell work – I am now an artist! I have embarked on a Fine Arts Degree,I hope eventually to be able to teach and inspire others because Art truly enhances my life, allows me to lose myself, yet focus. How I wish this could have happened 20 years ago, but then I believe everything happens for a reason and perhaps I needed to live a little, take some hard knocks and get through them to unlock the artist inside. All I know is I am in a happy place:-)
I really can understand your story Helen – I was an only child too.
I think they are important questions. You say you weren’t an artist until 8 years ago – but you know your need to create was always there. Because creativity is ‘your ‘ space.
It is a pity that so many people think that they ability to sell work equates to being an artist, but they do. Great that you are working on a Fine Arts Degree! Enjoy. XXH
Wow what an interesting childhood you had Heather, famous at age 14 and a superb artist at that age. You are a very talented lady. I think I thought of myself an artist when I sold my first painting 8 years ago and it was a soft pastel of a Basset Hound, my first ever entry in an exhibition.
You know all too often it is when you first sell a work that you think of yourself as an artist.But logic tells you that in fact the commercial side of it is nothing to do with the artists process apart from helping to pay for it to continue ! lol.
There are people who need to create and those that don’t. My grandmother was an artist in everything she did – cooking, knitting, clothes designing and making, her music of course, ; she was a born ‘creative’. I took after her in every way.
But selling a piece of work makes you feel ‘professional’ – I get that.
What an interesting beginning.Boy you really got thrown into it.Sorry to hear your health was bad when you were younger.How is it today?
I first started to consider myself an Artist when I started producing work that I found acceptable and people found exceptional.My wife says I’m too hard on myself,but I think most Artists are probably like that.Always trying to be better,and not reaching perfection. But I don’t consider myself an equal to other Artists because I can’t draw free hand.The proportion turns out wrong.So I developed my own style of measuring everything,using a compass and creating arcs from two known points from my sample and transposing it onto my drawing from two similar points that I have placed onto my drawing paper,(reference lines).I learned this skill in Junior High School in a Mechanical Drawing coarse.I do realise there is a lot more left to do to create a portrait.Colour,shades,etc.I think he most difficult part is to actually seeing what it is you are looking at.If you don’t see what you are looking at,you won’t have a chance to duplicate it.That’s where my camera comes in handy.I use the screen on my camera to compare my work to the original.I just click back and forth between the two images and if there is something wrong with my work,it will jump out at me.I’ve tried to explain this to you before but I wasn’t able to get you to understand me.Somehow,I just fell into portraits.I wanted to do my wife’s grandson Thomas for her.He died of Cot Death.She babysat him the night before he died.So you can imagine how she felt.When I finished it I was pretty pleased with the results and my wife thought it was good too.I said to her,”I think this should go to Alison”,(Thomas’s Mum.),my wife agreed.So without Alison knowing that I had done it,we got it mounted and framed and gave it to her.Her and her husband were both speechless.That was all the satisfaction I needed to do more.I have given most of my work away as a present.I have done a few commissions as well,which does put pressure on you.It almost takes all the fun out of it.
So,I haven’t done much in the line of Landscapes,or Flowers,or Still Life and I would like to learn.I also would like to do Watercolour,(I went to an Art workshop by Jeremy Ford for a couple of years,but felt like I was stuck and not improving so I stopped).I find it very difficult to practice Watercolour,because of the results I get,I know I have to practice to get better,but my results in Pastel are much better.So that’s my story.Thank you for sharing yours.
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Ed that is quite a story too. You are absolutely correct – artists are too harsh on themselves but in a way that is natural – it is the creative instinct at work.
Very sorry to hear about your grandson, there are never any words to say at times like that but – you did respond and produced something that gave his parents a great deal of comfort.
As for commissions – they are important to many and not so much to others – but yes they sure do put pressure on you! Some thrive on that. I do to a point.
Thanks for your response Ed.