Monthly Archives: January 2014

Looking For the Good in Life and Landscape

At this time of year almost everyone you meet has a comment to make on the grey skies of January.  It’s not that we don’t get bright days, blue sky and crispy white frost, it’s just that they don’t come often enough.  Recently I was talking with a friend who made a point of saying that he had adopted the philosophy of trying to look for the good in life.  Later, a link to  a song     popped in to my inbox which made the point even clearer.

I began to think round the idea from the point of view of an artist.  All too often when painting from a photograph we forget that this is only the starting point, there is much more that is good to be found by seeking a little harder.  I recently began a simple watercolour of the distant Humber Bridge seen across fields, a subject which I have painted many times and usually find enjoyable.  This time, however, inspiration was missing, the weather was poor, the light dull and my photographic reference material didn’t inspire.

Here in East Yorkshire, we have the most amazing skies, seemingly on a grander scale than I have been used to in other parts of the country.  I wondered why wasn’t I enthused by their grandeur today.  A low tree to the right  leant in to the painting and as a bonus had a very acceptable shape without the need for artistic license, what could possibly be holding me back? Why could I not see the “good in life” in this case?

After musing for a while I looked down at the paint box and brush ready and waiting beside me and on the spur of the moment mixed up Brown Madder and Prussian Blue, two of my favourite colours.  Immediately inspired, and needing only the addition of a little Winsor Yellow and Alizarin Crimson to energise the sky my painting was completed quickly, the whole process being both enjoyable and energising.   The end result was very far from the naturalistic landscape colours I often use but the painting had a freshness and energy that emphasised the pleasing composition of tree, sky and Bridge.

So thanks, Colin, for  sharing your philosophy with me,  I am going to try to apply it to all my landscape paintings through the next few months until the dull winter weather clears and bright spring days return.  Oh, and the added bonus is that if I apply it to life as well I shall hopefully be a much cheerier person to know.

 This is what reminded me that though the artist may wake up to a grey start, there is the whole day to paint it a different colour.



CFS/ME and Art

I’ve begun to realise in recent years just how many people use art as therapy. When I have work on public display I regularly meet people studying a painting with the greatest of care, the signs are all there and I quickly recognise a fellow artist. Often enough people tell me that they began to paint after retiring or whilst recovering from illness; it was always an interest, they say, but there was never time before. Sadly, it so often takes major life events to put us in touch with the things which most improve the quality of our lives.

I can speak with some experience here as this was exactly what happened to me. I can never remember a time as a child when I didn’t draw and paint, if no paints were available then mud and crushed flowers or stones scratched on concrete worked a treat. Later, the best birthday presents were art materials and art college naturally followed. So how does it happen then that so many people just like me end up in lives that simply make no room for creative pursuits?

For most people, the need to earn a practical wage takes over. Houses, children and family life soon follow and the time passes until retirement arrives, or after years of coping but not feeling quite well, illness is diagnosed. In my case I got so good at living my off balance, uncreative life that it took a dramatic illness, later diagnosed as M.E. / Chronic Fatigue to realise that all was not well. To cut a long story short I came out of hospital on my fortieth birthday to return to a life that I was too weak to live and a future which was unrecognisable.

I began painting again about 2 or 3 years later after attending therapy sessions at our local hospital. These were run by a lady called Sue Pemberton who with Catherine Berry later published the book “Fighting Fatigue – a practical guide to managing the symptoms of CFS/ME”. Sue was part of the Leeds and West Yorkshire CFS/ME Service and gave me the most truly important piece of advice of all the many thousands of words I read and heard in my attempts to get back to the life I used to know.

The words which made such a difference were simple ones based on her observations of many years of working with CFS/ME patients. I was told that sufferers only started to get better when they began to enjoy life. It sounds too simple, no magic pill, no complicated routine, just start to introduce elements into life that are enjoyable and gradually energy will follow. Of course it helps if you can improve quality of life in many other ways and I would highly recommend reading her really excellent and practical book for guidance, but for me this was key to a new type of life. Now, aged 48, I’ve achieved the artistic life I so wanted as a 20 year old student and yes, gradually, energy did follow. I would say that I am now usually about 60% of my old self, sometimes better. If you have experienced severe CFS/ME you will know that this is not a bad place to be.

Painting as therapy. So why am I writing this at the start of 2014? Well, in part to encourage anyone with seriously impaired health who might just be trying to find the energy to pick up a paintbrush or pencil. To you I would say you might need to start very small but that’s ok, enjoyment may very well follow and with it new energy and zest for life. Whether you hope for a hobby or a future career it all starts on the first day and hopefully goes on getting better and better.

And the second reason? Well, last year, for lots of perfectly good reasons, I ignored every bit of practical advice I have just shared, and guess what ….. I got ill again and it’s miserable. So my New Year’s Resolution for 2014 is to start enjoying life again, to let go of the deadlines a little, to be less results driven, to chose at least some subjects just for experimentation, and, in short, to remember that painting is for pleasure. Both mine and yours.

By Yorkshire Artist