The Pastel Academy Blog

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These first few blogs are, I believe, important, and from the response to my last blog about limiting ourselves to one kind of painting – so do you. It would have been easy to launch straight into the mode:  ‘This is my painting of XYZ’   ‘These are the Work in Progress shots etc’.    Oh yes I have those blogs lined up, and we will get to them soon enough, but these few ‘Introduction’ blogs  are about subjects which are relevant to us all, no matter what your favourite subject is.

I started this week with the idea of asking a question which you might already have asked yourself at some point:

  •  Are Artists born and not made?  Coupled with
  •  When did you realise you were an artist?
  •  What made you become an artist?   Lets face it – it ain’t easy.  Right?
Then in the last week or two I started to receive a few messages .  In fact I have had some messages expecting a response for a few months now but the Pastel Academy Online has bought about more questions,  and they are much the same as mine:
  •  Heather – when did you realise you were an artist?
  •  What made you decide to be an artist?
  •  Were there artists in your family?
(Coupled with:  Heather – How could you possibly decide to put your own work to one side so as to get the Pastel Academy going?    This I will answer in the next blog.)

Meanwhile back to this blog – and the slightly changed plan;

You know the funny thing about writing a blog is that the process makes me realise stuff that I hadn’t thought to much about for a long time.  I am finding it hard in some ways and almost therapeutic on the other.    We all have stuff in our lives that bring about different feelings.
So I’m going to go first and answer those questions, and for a good reason;
Artists need to relate.  They need to understand other artists so as to understand themselves more.  Why?
  • Because more often than not they feel isolated and in some way ‘separate’ from friends and family.
  • Some are actually isolated physically – eg live alone, single parents, limited income etc.
  • Because artists who have a clear understanding of WHY they produce art -make more progress in accomplishing a standard of work they desire and – in my experience they build better careers for themselves.
So yes I had a bit of an unusual start as an artist  (some of you have ploughed through my BIO – you get a medal for that lol!),  but I bet some of what I am about to say resonates with you.
Here is the deal – I tell and then you tell – use the comments box beneath to leave your thoughts and responses to the above question.
Question One:  Heather -When did you realise you were an artist?
Answer:   When someone told me!  I was a child – maybe 6 or 7 years old and I though all kids were like me – always with pencils and crayons in my hand.  I also knew other kids were not like me in that I was constantly ill for most of my childhood – had every illness going and I could not read or write properly  until I was 9 years old and managed to put a full term in at school for the first time.
Drawing – colouring books and music were my life – not playing outside with the other kids.    I was OK with that I remember.
So – I was overweight – (no exercise) and used to living in my own world.   No brothers or sisters.  Mum and Dad worked – Gran looked after me and taught me to knit, crochet, cook design knitting patterns from the age of 5/6 yrs old.
I finally got a bad dose of Glandular Fever aged 13.   Whilst recuperating from hospital I saw a face on TV – a face so beautiful I rushed to get what was to become my first portrait done before the song this guy was singing finished.  This was in the days before video.
 ( This is a pretty long and fascinating story – and will be expanded on later for a group of people who follow this man and his amazing talent to this day ).
So I fell in love (hey I was 13 years old!) with a face on the TV and was captivated by faces ever since.     I spent days – weeks perfecting portrait after portrait of this man (he became very famous),  and then this happened:

Me The Page Three Girl circa 1966

Yes that is me aged 13.   Photo taken in the Town Hall at Rugby,  by the Daily Mirror.    It was printed on page three – before page three girls existed!   Those large pencil portraits are of the group The Walker Brothers,  they got very famous and I ended up with a BBC contract as a teenage artist aged 14 yrs old.   For the next 4/5 years I was the ‘portrait darling’ of the press and TV.
Now under those circumstances – you are called an artist from day one.
The upside – I got to meet anyone just by doing their portraits.  Boy that was fun – i the middle of the swinging 60’s!
The downside:  my school worked out that every time I was off school ill (that lasted until I was around 15) – there would be something in the papers!
The bigger downside:  Everything I did as a teenage artist was in the press and that affected my life on many levels.

(The portrait ( above) that landed the BBC contract – of J F Kennedy – which is now homed on the National Archives Gallery in Washington DC.      1966 – Pencil.)

(The photo is of  me and the daughter and husband of the founders of the British Bramley Apple.   Pencil portrait 1967)
The Strangest Downside of all:   I knew I was an artist – but then I felt no different than I did before all the press attention – but now I produced portraits.   People said I was an artist because that is what artists did – produced ‘art’.  I learned to smile and say thank you.
A good Upside:   But the only time I felt like an artist was when I was alone with my work in progress – knowing I was improving all the time and loving it.   As soon as I finished one portrait – I was keen to get on with  another one – and not for the press attention.   But because I felt I was learning something.
I was developing a pride in my work.   That is when I knew what it was to be an artist for the first time.
The real bummer:  I  was in the middle of all the press interest and the person who was such a magnificent ‘manager’ of his artistic child – my father.
Between the two I found I lost my personal identity as an artist.   I turned away from it all,  got a boyfreind,  got married, became a Mum,   and knew all along how disappointed my father was in me.   He strongly believed in the power of publicity – I didn’t.    I had lived it for 5 years and knew better.  I makes you famous – it doen’t make you an artist.

Making My Own Decisions

When a daughter becomes a mother, there is a slight shift in the relationship with her own father – I was not a child anymore – but a mother in charge of her own child.   I commanded that respect.
That is when I became an artist.
My daughter was less than one year old – and I began studying and learning,  not just about portraiture – but all subjects,including the History of Art at a local college for an O level exam.   For a long time I hid all of this studying from my father.   By the time my daughter  was three I had organised and produced my own first exhibition at the Preston Guildhall – where it was a permanent fixture for five years, and comprised 36 portraits of musicians and songwriters.
That is when I new for certain what it meant to become an artist – and yes I could ring up the daily papers whenever I wanted to – I had learned a lot as a teenager.
Question:  Were there other artists in my family?
Answer:  My Gran was a artist/ craftswoman of enormous talent – a trained pianist  who was forced to give up her passion to earn a wage before the war and help look after her family.
And my father – was always known as a poet and wordsmith from the age of 16 years old, and a great creative mind.   For a while he lost his creative way which is why I became the focus.     With my encouragement he found his own creative path once again.

Heather with portrait of Rupert Brooke – Rugby poet circa First World War.   ALl the wording in this peice was the white of the paper – all done by hand.    Hung in the Kings College Library, Cambridge. 1967

So are there any conclusions to be made about my story?

Was my colourful and exciting teenage career of use to me as artist?      Only as far as my ability to deal with the press and understand their agenda.    As for my being an artist – no it didn’t help.   It fact it got in the way of me going to study art at college or university.

Did I learn anything about myself as an artist during this time?   Yes – that what matters is you and your relationship with your work and your love of doing it.  Everything else is a diversion.

Was any of it of use to my career as an artist?    Only in as much as I have some impressive stuff to quote, and some interesting tales to tell.   Also in that it gave me a real insight into public relations,  publicity management and press, TV etc.  But that has limited uses.

It did give me confidence beyond my years.   That is of enormous value to any woman in particular, developing a business side to their art.

SO there it is – Both a Happy and a Sad tale.   In some ways it is a wonder I ever  made it with my need to create intact.

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