How I Came To Be A Painter

How I came to be a painter can be explained by two life-changing experiences: My family had just returned from a trip to South Africa to our home in England. I was about two years old, sitting on the floor holding a sharpened graphite pencil; something two-year-olds are probably not allowed today. I waved the pencil over a blank page and as if by magic, the page was blank no more. A black line came shooting out of its end creating circles and squiggles.

It felt like holding up a magic wand and creating an arc that went from the pencil to an object at a distance.

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 magic! From then on, as kids do, I started scribbling and drawing. Trying to make a straight line and tracing the edge of the page were my favorite “exercises” to try and get that pencil to do what I wanted it to do.

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, from one of the rooms down there. I had to find out what it was! The scent led me to my sister Suzette’s room. There she was, sitting on the floor and painting with a Paint-By-Numbers kit. She was using real linseed oil colors. It’s hard to explain how I felt, but I distinctly remember thinking: “whatever she’s doing, that’s going to be my life”. The oiliness, the silkiness, the slipperiness, and the intensity of the colors she was using was a feast for the senses.

Throughout my childhood, my mother would dabble in paints. She would paint on the floor and I would stand by her to take as much of it in as I could. As I got a bit older, I would attend art classes in school. I was never the best in the class, the teacher would set-up a vase or a bowl of fruit for us to draw but I tended not to do the exercises set out so my skill level tended never to improve at all. I wasn’t interested in drawing something objective, I wanted to transfer what was in my head onto the paper; at that time it was space aliens, monsters and undersea scenes.

Looking back at it today, I wish I had been familiar with the concept of “baby steps”. First, you draw something you can see and feel, then you move on to what’s in your head. It would have saved me a great deal of frustration. Thankfully, 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 sculpture is next on the list.