A love of art fostered amongst tins of poster paint
Imagine a large, old stable that has been converted into an art room. Art supplies fill every shelf – sheets of paper in red, blue and green, tins of powdery poster paint, jars full of coloured pencils, wax crayons and chalk. Then there are vast packs of clay, sheets of Lino and scraper board, and tools for scratching, scraping, slicing and cutting. Put into this a teacher who loves art, who is creative, inspiring and enthusiastic, and who just wants her young pupils to have a wonderful time making art.
I may be romanticizing a little, but this is my memory of art classes at my junior school - Stormont School in the small town of Potters Bar in the UK. This art room was a heaven for little girls and art was easily my favourite lesson. I picture myself sitting at a trestle table, sculpting (rather clumsily) a boy’s head in clay. A couple of weeks later, we’d be carving patterns into a Lino board ready to make
prints. Or we’d be tying knots in T shirts and dipping them in vast vats of dye.
On another occasion, we swirled ink on the surface of a sink full of water and then floated sheets of paper on top. When we lifted the paper, we found the fluid pattern transferred to the paper in a marbling print.
I loved these lessons and our teacher, Mrs Lucas. There was no thought about who was best at drawing or who had artistic talent. It was all about everyone being involved in fascinating creative projects. Just writing about these activities makes me want to try them all again.
At senior school, the approach was much more serious. We had to learn about perspective and sat around uninspiring still lives trying to get the shading right. I got told off for talking when we were meant to concentrate. Girls were categorized as being good or bad at art.
I have few memories of these lessons, which were not about the joy of creation. Instead we focused on how to draw and paint accurately because we were preparing for exams. Art lost its excitement. With other girls in the class “better” at art than me, I focused on more academic subjects and went on to study French language and literature at university.
In my twenties I worked as a journalist in London. I got married, moved to Belgium and started a family. It wasn’t until my youngest child was a baby that I saw an advert for drawing lessons and my fingers started itching for a drawing pencil. I signed up for the lessons and my passion was rekindled.
A couple of years later, I drove past a large black and white sign advertising for art students. I stopped the car and went to investigate. To my surprise, I discovered we had an art academy, Beeldende Kunst Overijse (BKO), just fifteen minutes’ drive from my home town in Belgium.
I enrolled for an initiation class and found myself on a course reminiscent of my junior school. We dabbled in drawing and painting, we did some sculpting with clay and even took a few photographs. The teacher had studied printing at art college, and we spent a lot of time learning how to design and create prints using the heavy printing press.
I went on to take a five-year drawing course at the same academy and then moved into the painting class. After struggling with painting for two years (we were back to learning rules for how to do it), I finally got the idea. And then I fell in love with the whole painting process. I’ve studied photography too, which was great for developing my eye for composition. But my passion is for painting.
I now have a studio in the centre of my home town, Tervuren – if you are in the neighbourhood, please come and visit. I've developed an abstract style of painting loosely inspired by old walls, doors and notice boards. I still love experimenting with different media and mix collage, printing and drawing into the many layers of my paintings.
And I still love following courses. It's fascinating to learn new techniques. But the most important lessons are the ones I learnt in the art room when I was a small child. Keep the focus on enjoyment; surround yourself with exciting art supplies; and be enthusiastic rather than judgmental.