How I Came To Be A Painter

The mystery of how people come to be anything I can’t explain, in my case it was all about feelings and intuition, circumstances and who knows. I came to be a painter in fits and starts but it all began with two life-changing experiences: I was about two years old, sitting on the floor holding a sharpened graphite pencil and as I dragged the pencil over a blank page of scrap paper a black line came shooting out of its end.

It felt like holding up a magic wand and creating an arc that went wildly all over the place.

I remember thinking to myself, “wow! what’s this coming out of this thing!”. I must have played with crayons before then, but this particular moment really stood out. This was weird science! From then on, as kids do, I started scribbling and drawing.

Then a couple of years later, I was playing alone in my room, when I got a whiff of something I had never smelled before. It was coming from down the corridor, it was a luxurious almost food-like scent and I had to find out what it was. The scent led me to my sister’s room. There she was painting with a Paint-By-Numbers kit, she was using real oil colours, pigment embedded in linseed oil. I distinctly remember thinking: how do I get my hands on this stuff?. The intensity of the colours she was using was just too much. I finally got some thirteen years later.

Throughout my childhood, my mother would dabble in oil paints. She would paint on small canvases on the floor and I would stand by and watch. When I was five I had to start school and they had a lot of cheap-o supplies so I drew there whenever we were given the opportunity which was rare enough in my book because we were there, of course, on the important business of being turned into obedient drones. As I got a bit older I was sent to attend another drone-friendly school but they had actual art classes. I was never any good in the class, I wouldn’t do the assigned exercises and showed no real talent. The teacher would set-up a vase of flowers or a bowl of fruit for us or something else as stifling and dull and then I would set about to draw space aliens, monsters and undersea scenes. That teacher had no patience for that but I only went there for one year so no loss.

We left England then and lived at sea for the next eight years. I doodled and drew a lot but with not much improvement in technique, I was just too lazy and undisciplined for that. Then one day my dad gave me a pile of art books and bought for me a bunch of supplies, this when I was about 15, and I set about practising in earnest. Over the next few years I got a bit better and eventually he got me into the fine arts department at Cal Arts university in southern California. I only lasted one semester because the department was deep into Post-Modernism and moral-relativism and I didn’t understand any of that at all. Plus I’d been living in England and at sea for most of eighteen years and the culture shock was too great, didn’t fit in.

I left there and my dad oversaw my instruction for a couple of years but eventually I gave up, I just didn’t have the talent. There were some jobs in graphic design around as part of working for the activities my father had founded so I just sort of strayed into that since there were few others available to do that sort of work: artist by default.

Anyway, to make a long story a bit longer, I eventually gave up on that stuff and struck out into the world to try my hand at being a full time painter. That was thirty-two years ago at the time of this post and I’m still slogging away at it, god help me.

Looking back at it today, I wish I had been familiar with the concept of easy gradients, “baby steps”. First, you draw something you can see, then you move on to what’s in your head. It would have saved me a great deal of frustration. But I stuck with it. In my mind nothing brings together the senses of smell, touch, and vision as much as painting does. Except for sculpture, that is. If I ever get really good at painting then maybe I’ll try my hand at sculpture. Probably not.