The Wee Drawing That Changed My Course

Earlier this year I experienced a turning point in my art. I’m not sure I was aware of it at the time. Perhaps I had an inkling that something had shifted, but it’s not till now that I see when it happened.

I was on a year-long drawing course at Paintbox School of Art, an independent art school in East Lothian. We were in our second term and were learning about introducing colour to our drawings.

Up till this point I’d been nervous about using colour. I was comfortable with monochromatic drawings, but when it came to colour I would freak out a little. I wasn’t confident, and I’d never had any formal training.

I’d never been to art school before.

I had wanted to, though, when I was a teenager, but I never spoke up. No one knew about my dream of being an artist, not even my parents. I didn’t feel I would be good enough to go to a kunstacademie in The Netherlands where I was born. Instead I said I wanted to do Business Studies in the UK, which I was kind of interested in, but not passionate about. It was a “safe” choice.

Over the years – especially the past 8 years I’ve been reconnecting with my creativity – I’ve been doing art courses and workshops here and there. But nothing that formal. Until the drawing course last year. I’d learnt a bit about colour previously, but I dreaded it, because I didn’t seem to be able to get my head round it. I now realise it’s because I didn’t give myself the time and space to explore and experiment, to make mistakes and learn that way. It was a mental block I’d created to stop me from pursuing my dream. But that’s another story.

Towards the end of our second term of the drawing course we were able to focus on our own little project using the skills, techniques and materials we’d learnt so far. We were given a theme to explore, and I eventually decided on robins as my subject matter (no surprise there!). I challenged myself to do the robins in colour. My tutor suggested I tape off some sections in my sketchbook, paint them in different colours and then use oil or soft pastel to draw the robins over the top. It was a similar process to what we’d done that term, which I enjoyed and wanted to practice further.

I did quite a few. The first one I’d completed was on an orange/blue background, the robin done over the top with just a bit of oil pastel (see above photo).

And that, I now know, was my turning point.

I loved it. It expressed exactly what I wanted it to express. The feelings I have about birds, the joy and delight they bring. In that small colour study I’d done it. I eagerly completed the others, some were better than others, but I wasn’t as afraid now to make those mistakes. After all, it’s only a bit of paper!

Colourful Robins by Carrie Sanderson

For my final pieces, I enlarged two of the little studies – which was a challenge in itself too – and I had a lovely response from my class mates regarding them. Personally, I felt one was better than the other…well, I preferred one over the other. But that’s not the point.

The point was, I’d found a new way to express how I feel about birds. If you’ve been following me for a while you’ll know that I previously made pen and ink drawings of wildlife, in black and white. Very detailed and controlled drawings.

I was now moving onto something freer, more abstract, with less details.

When I was at home I began to play around with this new way. I found old bits of paper that had colourful paint on them, from when I would just play around randomly and there was leftover acrylic paint I didn’t want to discard. So, I did some more robins! Two of which were for the Rock Trust Charity Exhibition and Auction, the sale of which raised money for youth homelessness.

Moving on, I then picked an A4 size paper with blue paint and used oil pastel to draw a cormorant on a branch. I used pencil to make marks as well.

That led me to try a herring gull on a pink and purple background; a pigeon on a multi-coloured background; a puffin; a wren, and so forth. See my Art page for more.

I found a love for mixed media. In the third term of my drawing course, where we spent the whole term on our own project, I did a series of 30-odd small mixed media drawings of the coast outside the art school’s studio in Cockenzie, which I carried on working on during part of the summer. One of them I chose for the Paintbox End of Year Exhibition in June. The rest I put into a “display book” to keep them safe and neat. It’s become a visual diary of my experience along that coast, drawing outside for weeks as well as in the studio. It brings a smile to my face when I look at them (see some examples on my Art page).

All this led me to overhaul and refresh my website with a new look and feel, and to showcase my new art.

It feels more like a reflection of me now. Well, of who I was all along but who was buried beneath all sorts of stuff that wasn’t me, of who I thought I had to be in this world.

No more.

This is me now going forward. I’m in a new phase and I am excited.

When have you experienced turning points in your art or creativity, that resulted in a truer reflection of who you are? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.



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