I have always created art from a young age. It’s part of who I am. As a shy child, I spent hours absorbed in drawing people who became ‘characters’ in wild and wonderful imaginary worlds, which I would lose myself in. As with most young children, art-making then was simply about being in the moment, free expression and joyful creation.
Growing up, external influence inevitably came into play as the adults around me praised my drawing ability – the message I took on was that skills and technique were what made a good artist, further fuelled throughout school where the emphasis was on realistic representations of still-life or the human figure. I had the best grades and my identity as an ‘artist’ was sealed.
Things changed when I started my fine art degree in London in the early 90s – all of a sudden we could express ourselves, in whatever medium or form we wanted. For the first time I was not the ‘best’ – I was simply one of a sea of art students trying to figure themselves out through the medium of art. Critique from tutors often felt biased towards their own art preferences. Mine didn’t quite fit the ‘mould’ and I was stubborn about taking advice! It was a confusing time.
Just before my 3rd year my grandfather (who I was very close to) passed away. Life became busy soon after, as I returned to college and immediately embarked on an art residency in Cyprus for a two months. It was here that something profound happened. I was sitting alone at this beautiful rocky cove, looking out at the vast turquoise sea – when I felt an overpowering sensation of grief and tears followed by feelings of joy and contentment to be remembering my grandfather in such a beautiful and serene place. It was the first time I’d had the space and time to just be in the moment and experience those feelings and the place I was in made it all the more profound. I felt truly connected to myself and was able to begin creating meaningful and expressive artwork for the first time since starting my degree, inspired by those views and that experience.
Back at college, a supportive art technician taught me how to use oil paints and encouraged me to go out and paint the landscapes of Hampstead Heath and Wandsworth Common, where I continued to find inspiration. Focusing on this got me through the rest of my degree well enough to find some favour with the tutors! I moved back to my home county of Yorkshire and with so many beautiful landscapes on my doorstep, it felt natural to carry on painting this subject matter. Through various jobs and raising my family, I did just that for several years.
Fast forward to around 12 years ago - I realised there was something fundamental missing from my art practice. I'd always had a vision in my mind of the stereotype artist who spends hours in their studio so absorbed in their work they don’t want to stop. I knew this was not me. For some reason, painting had become more like a chore – it wasn’t lighting up my soul anymore.
I realised my approach to painting was at the root of this – I was focused too much on the end result. The process itself had become about planning and technique, rather than joyful expression. Over the years I had lost myself in my art practice. It had become boring and predictable and my paintings lacked life.
Thinking back to how I used to draw endlessly as a child, it struck me I needed to re-connect with that part of me – the part that knows how to be in the moment, to tune into emotions and express freely and authentically without thinking about end results or judgement. This was the key to finding joy in my practice once again.
I therefore had to free myself from thoughts/planning/techniques and focus purely on the process. Switching to abstract painting was the obvious way to remove these elements as it would allow me to be fully intuitive and playful without limitation or expectations. With an approach of experimentation and using a wide range of materials as spontaneously as I could, I gradually moved towards the artwork I create today.
This transformational approach enabled me to become that artist I had envisioned - one who is excited, motivated, compelled, absorbed and thoroughly engaged in her practice. Painting is now about creating moments of true connection to myself, letting go of thoughts and trusting the process. Not knowing what the results will be, is what excites me most about my practice and keeps me going back for more.
Through the ebbs and flows of life and creativity, my aim is now clear - to always strive to get back to that ‘child’ part of me – the part that truly connects with myself and creates authentic and meaningful artwork.
It feels really poignant to me that this art journey has been a circular path - starting as a child, going out into the 'wilderness' and eventually finding my way back to myself. Thinking of the artwork I did as a child - imaginary worlds that I would lose myself in - it strikes me that this is essentially what I paint now! Though abstract, my paintings often feel like ethereal worlds that invite you in. Amazing how the subconscious is always at work even when we're not aware... I would never have made that connection if I hadn't written it down in words.