Artist at Work

I live in a tiny hamlet near Launceston on a 10-acre smallholding where conversation is in short supply. My wife is away at work all day and all the kids have flown and although talking to the bees is therapeutic enough, for a while, eventually I get to crave more than their droning on and after a few days start to develop cabin fever.

One of the few real downsides for me of being a professional artist is the huge amount of time I have to spend alone. Most people have at least a few colleagues that they work with and although that has its own challenges at least it’s a social environment and we obviously all evolved to live in close proximity to others. So my sign, ‘Artist at Work, Conversations are Free’ (which I always put up when I’m out painting), is there so that I can enjoy some human contact while I work. I’ve done a fair bit of demonstrating at local art societies over the years, so I am more than happy to work and talk at the same time. Very often I have to wait a while for a watercolour wash to dry, so I make myself a cup of tea on my camping stove and with any luck can have a free conversation too.  

I’d say about a third of all the people who stop to look over my shoulder say something like ‘I wish I could paint’ or ‘wow, it must be lovely to sit here on the cliffs and be able to do that’ and then go on to tell me that they have always been rubbish at painting since Miss Terror in primary school told them their flowers weren’t any good and anyway they couldn’t draw a straight line even if they tried. 

My answer goes something like this… In the days when you could walk up the isle and peek past the curtain and actually talk to the pilot of your plane, you wouldn’t think of saying to them ‘hey I wish I could do that but when I tried it at primary school I was just useless’. The chances are that the pilot ran round the playground with their arm’s out ‘wishing they could fly’ but clearly realised some time later that something else has to happen before take-off. The point being that flying and painting have a lot in common; there are a lot of variables that you have to control, and you have to know how to control them and (maybe) even know where you are going. AND to do it well you need to do it a lot before you get any good at it. It’s no surprise that our early attempts at painting are frustrating but that is not a good reason just to give up.

 The only significant difference between artist and non-artists is that artists do it and ‘non-artists’ don’t.

It has bugger all to do with talent (I know plenty of very talented ‘non-artists' and quite a few non-talented artists). The key is in the doing, just like learning to ride a bike (or flying). The good news is that crashing a painting results in less loss of life, though I admit it can be a terrible blow to one’s pride.

The hard bit is letting go, opening a tiny sketchbook and making a start. If you fancy it, and you come across me on the coast, I always carry a spare chair and an extra mug for tea.