Nine years ago today, my Dad died from sudden, instant heart failure. It was such a shock, and it left a huge, empty space in our lives.
Immediately, I started trying to draw Dad, hoping to somehow re-connect with him by preserving his image through my hand, so very like his own hand. But my drawings failed to capture much of his character. It was too disappointing and I stopped trying, until now.
A few weeks ago I tried to draw my Dad again. It began badly, but slowly the likeness improved, the form of his head began to feel familiar, and in a mysterious way, it became as if I was spending time with him each day as I worked. Now the drawing is complete, and after nine years in the making, there’s a lovely sense of accomplishment and peace.
So why did it take me nine years?
Losing a parent has a profound effect on anyone, at any age. When he passed away, my Dad was 60 and I was 30, exactly half his age. The grief had a galvanising effect. What if I was half way through my lifetime too? Was I achieving enough? Was I ‘on track’ to get done all the things I had been putting off until later? Not quite.
I realised I had spent years just waiting for my paintings to improve, as if it was something that would happen by itself, over time. I wanted to travel more and to teach around the world, but I thought it would all come in time. Now, time seemed much more precious, and there was a sense of urgency.
I read books, attended life classes and portrait groups. I practised my own studies and taught portraiture workshops, but it wasn’t enough. I resolved to find teachers who could show me how to gain the skills I lacked, so that I could better express my appreciation of beauty in the world, less hindered by a lack of painterly vocabulary.
Then I found Barry John Raybould. I’m so very grateful for his advice, and for his incredible Virtual Art Academy. In answer to all my questions about how to get into better galleries, gain teaching appointments and improve my understanding of colour and form, his response was always the same: “Just keep painting!”
Barry also introduced me to his portrait teacher, Stephen Perkins, an immensely generous and knowledgeable sculptor, artist and tutor specialising in portrait and the figure. Steve’s tuition helped me enormously, and slowly, each drawing I did improved a little on the last.
As I consider this portrait of my dear Dad, I realise with gratitude that I am now very much ‘on track’.
I paint, travel, and teach around the world. I enjoy the fulfilment of expressing myself more eloquently through my paintbrush than ever before.
‘On track’ seems a fitting phrase for a vocation that, happily, never reaches a destination, but rather forms a long, fascinating journey through various genre and subjects.
Who knows where I’ll go next and what does it matter? I’m loving every moment!