Many things can trigger your memories of the past - a photograph, a scent, the touch of clothing, a journal. As I’ve been working on these new, colourful, woodland monotypes, my thoughts have returned to the many happy hours of creativity I had as a child and teenager.
I was born in Lancashire (née Nanson) and lived the first five years of my life in the village of Slaidburn near Clitheroe where our family later moved. My father was the headmaster of the village school and we lived in the school teacher’s house. The whole village and surrounding farmland was owned by a “Squire” called Colonel King-Wilkinson and all the villagers rented their homes from him in the feudal tradition.
It was in this house and garden that I took my first steps along a creative path that has been an unbroken thread throughout my life. My mother was very encouraging of my creative endeavours having been thwarted in her desire to go to art college by her parents. One of my earliest memories is of borrowing a huge pair of scissors and sitting under my Dad’s desk taking paper out of his waste paper basket (early recycling!) and cutting it into tiny shapes that I would store in very small boxes that I also made. Out of doors, I spent hours in our sand pit making all kinds of things that were part of my imaginative role play. Later, I copied my brother's hobbies of building Airfix models and drawing pictures for our animal encyclopedia.
My Mum was very keen on sewing, knitting and embroidery so I learned all these things at her knee and became quite proficient at an early age. I enjoyed making gifts for people and would pore over 70s style “How to Make” instruction books. By the time I was a teenager, I was making my own clothes, sewing patchwork quilts and knitting coats and bedspreads in the manner of Kaffe Fassett who had a great TV show round that time. His painting, textile art, creative lifestyle and enthusiasm made a big impression on me.
Alongside textile crafts, I explored painting and collage but in an experimental way. It’s these explorations that came to mind when working on my recent woodlands. I wasn’t interested so much in observational painting and drawing (that would come later) but in special effects, techniques and process. I made my own colourful scraper boards with wax crayons and black poster paints. I did rubbings, gouache and ink wash-off and all kinds of pouring and mixing of paints (what would these days be called fluid art). I spent my pocket money buying kits of fantasy-film (wire dipping), quilling (paper filigree) and reams of coloured paper. I also made some money selling handmade jewellery and luxury Christmas crackers to friends and neighbours!
It’s hard to describe how switched on I felt when immersed in these craft activities: focused, excited, driven to complete the task, frustrated when it went wrong. I tried to do the things that other girls did – shopping, make-up, discos, gossiping – but I was a fish out of water with them. Art was much more absorbing and fulfilling but also solitary unless working alongside my Mum or brother. As I didn’t know anyone else who was into these things, it was a little lonely. What a joy then to go to art school at 18 and be surrounded by people who loved art and making things! You’ll be happy to know that my mother returned to education and did a degree in Surface Pattern as a mature student and enjoyed every minute of it. You can read more about my pathway to becoming a full-time artist in Making my Mark.
Even though I have been self-employed as an artist for 24 years, I still have that feeling of excitement when I experiment and innovate with printmaking. As I work with stencils and masks trying many permutations of positive and negative, flat colour and texture, detail and space, I have the same feeling of focused concentration and suspense that I had as a child making my own scraper board!
Do you relate to my creative childhood? Were you given encouragement and allowed to make a mess or were your early efforts snuffed out to be channeled into more academic subjects and a “proper “job? You can share your memories, if you wish, in the comments below.
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