When I had my first baby, I didn’t know what to do with him, which way up he went, or how to achieve anything useful with him around. I read a few books on the subject of motherhood, but decided I’d have to figure it out by myself. It took me a while of experimenting, gradually tweaking the variables of sleep, states of dress or undress, feeding and when best to make a cup of tea to actually get to drink it HOT, but I eventually decided that having a daily walk was the best possible thing to aim for. There were real people out there, and just me and baby at home, and I was perhaps losing my mind just a little bit. I like walking, and had a lovely pram with big springy wheels, so off we went, dressed or not (although I usually was). We walked for miles, round and round, finding new paths and enjoying old ones, chatting to anyone we met. Most days we ended up at the friendly local library, and thus was reborn my love of children’s books.
I could have recited the Dewey system off by heart, so often did we read all those books, my back to the big cast iron library radiator, baby on my lap. I even read them when the baby was asleep, eschewing the adult section as not having enough pictures. That’s when I decided that I could write those books myself. That’s when, dear Reader, I decided I could draw those pictures myself.
I couldn’t actually draw at that point, although I was an avid doodler, which was something. Some might say (myself included, most days) I can’t actually draw yet, but that’s by the by. I enrolled on a distance learning Art Course, as a start off. Most of my assignments got somehow decorated with Weetabix, sick and breastmilk, but I got through it, though it took me ages. All the feedback was good. The last parting piece of advice from my postal tutor was: ‘go to Life Drawing class and find your style.’
Puzzling, indeed. It took me another few years, and lots more frustrated doodling, to get round to finding a life class that fit our ever complicating routine (now involving three children! Don’t ask! Where do they come from? I still don’t know. They just kept appearing). And so, on the first day of Life Class, I turned up, so nervous I was twitching, but with high hopes of: a) being able to draw, magically and, b) somehow finding my style (maybe under the desk?).
Once I had got over the initial shock of gazing intently at naked strangers first thing on a Monday morning, and when my nerves died down, and I recovered free use of my body without twitches, I started to enjoy myself. I applied my addled brain to learning, and tried to keep my pencils sharp.
I couldn’t do it – a good drawing is as slippery as quicksilver, and still usually escapes me right at the last. Training the relationship between eyes, arm, hand and heart, without letting that pesky brain get involved, is quite a challenge. The difference between looking and seeing is still a revelation. It was fun though, and still is, to watch what the other artists do – how they draw, how they lay out their equipment, and especially what they use. It’s helpful to soak in the tips and advice. I come away buzzing with ideas. It’s liberating to have found a tutor who reasons that what he teaches ‘could just be rubbish – if you think it’s rubbish.’ In figuring it out for myself, and finding my own way, not being told what to do, or feel, I do think I’m gradually getting more easy with my own style.
It interests me that those drawings I do which I like the best are somehow reminiscent of my old doodles. They speak the same language. Perhaps I knew my own style all along! I’m just more conversant now. I’ve got more vocabulary, but I’m still learning new words every week. I’m trusting it though, and trying to build on it. But I hope I never quite make it, at Life Class. I like to feel that itch to improve, that drive to push through the barrier.
I haven’t cracked being a Mummy yet, no way, and I’m guessing I never will (although I do know which way up they go now). But I found my own style in motherhood, and it’s been OK so far, even when it doesn’t look like anyone else’s. I’m trusting that too.
This year? That baby turns 16. And I’m writing and illustrating that children’s book!