- Would you encourage anyone to have a go at painting, even if they’ve never felt particularly creative?
Absolutely, I would encourage everyone to have a go at painting, it’s so therapeutic and has the potential to be extremely good for us. Our levels of creativity are a constantly evolving part of our psychological make-up and very dependent on mood as well as the specific external factors influencing us at any given moment. You simply never know when you’re going to surprise yourself. It’s always empowering when you can look at something you’ve created and think, “Wow, Idid that!” Fundamentally, I believe that if you give something a chance, then anything is possible.
- There’s lots of research around art therapy – would you agree it’s good for mindfulness/comfort in times like these?
I totally agree, creative pursuits like painting have massive potential to be used as part of a package of mindfulness activities to promote positive mental health, especially at times like these, when we are all facing an uncertain future. While I would always recommend that anyone with specific mental health issues should seek professional medical advice, on a more general day-to-day basis, building a creative activity into our schedule - such as painting, crochet, baking or gardening, for example - enables us to process the stresses and strains around us much more successfully, which ultimately brings a sense of inner peace and well-being. Given what is happening in the world today I am a huge advocate of giving ourselves permission to look after ourselves in this way. By taking the time to care for our own health we will ultimately be stronger and more able to look after those around us. It’s not selfish to build our personal resilience, especially when times are tough, it’s essential.
- Any advice on how to get started? Ie – is it easier to start with acrylic paints rather than watercolour for eg? Should people make sure they get a certain type of paper? What are the basics that complete beginners should know?
We are extremely lucky with the sheer range of art materials available to us today, but most people will naturally gravitate to one particular medium or another and then stick with it. It’s all about what works for you and your situation. Many people are intimidated by watercolours and would prefer to go with acrylics for various reasons, but I believe that, if you are open minded and willing to try, then you can learn to use whatever is available. The only way to make progress is to just dive in and have a go, but remember to be kind to yourself. If one media doesn’t work for you (my particular nemesis is pastels) and you have the flexibility, then don’t stress about it; simply move on and try another one.
In my teens and early twenties, I always painted with oils, but this had to change when I had small children because I constantly worried about them getting into my paints and associated toxic thinners. I reluctantly switched to watercolours – I had always had a mental block about them – but I adapted and, through trial and error, taught myself how to work with them. I was surprised to find that they aren’t as difficult as I had always assumed. Now I switch easily between watercolours, acrylics and oils without too much thought.
Making sure you are working with the right paper can make a difference (especially with watercolours) but these days you can buy pads of mixed-media paper which does simplify things with regard to that.
- What tips do you have for doing it at home? Is there anything you can make use of already in the house to keep it simple?
My advice would be to go with the flow and be adaptable. Make sure you have somewhere that you can leave your work to dry – remember watercolours, in particular, will need to lie flat for a while.
There are plenty of things around us that we can use to be creative. Given that many people are facing financial uncertainty it may not be possible to buy in materials and so I’ve specifically adapted my on-line tutorials to be flexible in the hope that there will be something in them for everyone. Paper and pencil are generally widely available - even if the paper is a blank A4 sheet from the printer or a page torn out of the back of a notebook – so basic sketching is a really good place to start. The techniques involved in sketching will always hold you in good stead for picking up painting at a later date, when more materials might be available to you. It’s amazing how therapeutic a bit of sketching can be and it doesn’t just have to be done using a standard graphite pencil. The other day, I ransacked my son’s school pencil case and borrowed the coloured pencils he uses for his geography homework. The picture I created was really quite effective and I was really relaxed by the time I finished it.
It’s surprising how many people have an old set of paints stashed in a bottom drawer somewhere, perhaps an unused gift from a Christmas past. There’s every chance that these will still be perfectly useable. Perhaps now is the time to haul them out and get creative.
- If people don’t know what to actually paint, what’s a good way of getting inspiration?
Usually I would say that nature is the best place for inspiration, although I appreciate that many people are currently restricted to their homes so, this might be tricky. However, if you have access to a garden, then flowers, trees, squirrels and birds are rather good subjects. I loved drawing my kids when they were small, but they rarely stayed still and diving straight in to drawing a moving subject can be quite challenging. If you are completely restricted in your choices, then a classic still-life composition can be very restful, however, I would advocate choosing something nice and colourful.
One project I often recommend is to imagine, for example, that you are writing a children’s book. What does your main character look like, where do they live and what do they do? Whereas children’s books often have bright and appealing illustrations, they are often not true-to-life representations, which means that there is plenty of scope to think outside the box and come up with your own concept and then paint it. It can be quite an intriguing exercise. If you have kids at home, then it can work as a fun activity for them too.
- What would you say to anyone who has a go but feels like their work is rubbish?
If a piece really hasn’t worked - and they don’t sometimes, it happens to us all - I would recommend putting it away somewhere out of sight for at least 2 weeks. Then, when the immediate disappointment you might feel about it has passed, take it out and look at it again. I will guarantee that it’s not as bad as you thought it was. This is the time to consider it objectively. Think about which bits of your painting worked and give yourself credit for that success, then consider where it went awry and how you might do it differently next time. There can always be a next time. Each painting you do will get better and better as your technique improves.
The final painting is not really that important. The critical factor is how you feel as you create it. If you enjoy it, then it is very successful indeed and can never be considered ‘rubbish’. If it doesn’t quite work out how you intend, then consider it a first draft and therefore part of a work-in-progress. Don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t pay too much attention to what other people say either, their opinion of your painting is not relevant - unless they like it, of course, then you are definitely allowed to listen.
It’s not possible to please everyone else anyway, so it’s important to concentrate on what you think.
My thanks to the amazing Anna Bonet for her inspiring article, published in Good Housekeeping Magazine 1.4.2020 about learning to paint.