My Daughter is at a beautiful age. Old enough to have serious skills in all sorts of areas, but not yet old enough to have become stymied by indecision, inhibition or a perceived inability, she throws herself into everything with gusto and excitement. The only thing that curbs her enthusiasm, is cabbage – if it’s not cut small enough. I can live with that. I have been hiding vegetables in the spaghetti sauce for quite some time now.
I’ve had a few conversations about motherhood lately, and talked about my journey through it a little in my interview with Creative Boom. But it was something that my Life Drawing tutor said recently that really opened the floodgates. He’s always throwing thoughtful theories and advice into the ring for us, and this is one of his standard bits of artistic advice.
‘You won’t progress if you are afraid of the darks.’
What he means is: be more confident in your work. Press harder! Use more paint. Make a better impression, a darker mark. Scribble some. Go over bits. Lose things you like, to find better outcomes. Use dark to bring light. Paint over the darned thing, start again. Don’t be afraid.
Now, I love this advice, mainly because I don’t like to mess around anymore. I love dark, smudgy pencil and getting in a mess with black paint. I’m impatient. I get cross. I paint over stuff regularly.
That’s what really resonates for me. Paintings on top of paintings are always my best ones. I like the bits that glint through. I like deciding what stays and what goes. I like the power, the feeling of control and the scary thought of ‘What am I doing?! It was better before! This is new territory, it’s too much!’. But the resulting whole is always better than the sum of its parts.I got so fed up this week, missing my Mum, aching about my Dad. They both died, quite soon after one another. Those were dark days. I struggled. At the time, there was a song on the radio all the time, with the refrain ‘Now you’re just somebody that I used to know’. I played it hundreds of times a day. I turned my parents into people I just, well, used to know one time. It was much easier. I coped with months of sifting through all those boxes of possessions, sorting, keeping, remembering. I waded through the not inconsiderable wreckage, as though I didn’t know either of them. I don’t know if it was a good idea. It’s just what I did. Short term, it worked. I got through all the admin and hassle and heartbreak, eyes down, flat out, exhausted, overwrought… but still here.
The thing is though, to progress, you can’t be afraid of the darks, and ignoring the darks is a really bad thing to do. You can’t move forward that way. To see the light, I think you really do have to look in detail at the dark. The scope of it, the depth. Everything that happened to Mum and Dad, and to me, and to my brothers, couldn’t be ignored anymore. Short term, I had managed. Long term, I wasn’t working properly, as in, bits of me were dying. I kept checking the mirror to see if I was actually there. Maybe I had turned into just someone I used to know, too? My day to day story was one of panic and anxiety and fear. I did live for a while in a state of constant high alarum. I almost lost the plot.
Something had to change.
It was hard work, and I’m grateful for all the help I had to do it, but bit by bit I faced up to the darks, called them by name, saw they were pathetic. Painting helped. No question. Anxiety. Depression. Panic. Gosh, they make me mad. Crazed politicians, all of them, all pomp and bluster, standing on the tarmac with their trousers down. Ha! I try not to swear, so I won’t. But I could.
I’m not afraid of those darks now, though they still like to come back and haunt me. If they catch me off guard, I could be prone to listen. Lies, all of it. The dark is already beaten.
I’m a better Mother for my daughter, and my sons, having looked at those darks. I’m a better painter. I’m a bit like a painting I’ve gone over. The old one is underneath, still valuable. Still present. But the end result is better.
This painting is all about all of that. It’s called ‘All My Dreams For You, My Darling’, and it’s by someone I used to know, who’s very much alive, and living in the light.