How it began, to now where I am (part I)
"You're so talented" people have said to me, all my life, "So lucky that you can paint what you want to."
When I was younger it used to almost anger me that people thought I had a "talent" or a "gift", something that had somehow been bestowed upon me without any input at all from myself. Well, but perhaps I did inherit something - after all, three of my four grandparents could draw - one of whom could also paint beautifully, and his father drew etchings and pictures for the newspaper.
But I resented the notion that somehow what I had had been given to me by others.
I remember the very first time I drew with an intention in mind. I was three or four years old, and the little girl across the street had promised me that she would teach me how to draw 'a girl': I was so excited until I saw what she drew for me: the standard child's sketch of a triangle (the girl's dress), on which she balanced a circle (the girl's head), and sticks for arms and legs. "But Joan-" I exclaimed in ardent disappointment, "- that really doesn't look like a girl!". For this harsh criticism she chased me back across the road to my own house, where I took up a pen and found some paper. I knew that no matter what, I had to make something that really looked like a girl.
At every opportunity I would look at illustrations in comics and magazines, to see how they did it. See how the shoulders slope down, how waists are thinner, how far wrists can bend, how the folds of fabric disclose the shape of the body beneath. Every night after my parents sent me to bed, I would draw by the light of the landing, drawing again and again until I could express what I wanted to. I wasn't interested in drawing men or boys: I wanted to draw princesses, pop-stars, brides and fairies and witches. If I drew a horse it was purely to give my female a platform, not for the beauty of the animal itself.
My teacher at school could see that I was unusually proficient with a pencil, and she decided to get me painting. At first I was annoyed that my pencil had been replaced by a large, choppy paintbrush with which I was supposed to daub sulphurous paints. She played us a beautiful piece of classical music and asked us to paint what we saw in our minds' eyes. I closed my eyes and listened: I could see in my mind huge, swelling waves edged with foam, with a three-masted rigger being thrown from side to side. Given that I was no more than five years old, what I painted was no more like a three-masted rigger than Joan's triangle was a girl, but, I was so happy. The music? It was Fingal's Cave by Felix Mendelssohn and when I hear it I'm transported just as I was then. If you play music while you paint, I was later to learn, the music and the painting become mixed together so you can almost 'see' the music that you heard while working on a particular part of the painting.
Or maybe that's just me.
In the next post I will tell you about how I came to be disillusioned with my abilities, and my life left the path it should have taken, away from my art.