I recently agreed to donate a piece of art to a fundraising event for Wallington Animal Rescue (WAR), an excellent local good cause, run tirelessly by Neil and Amanda. As the event drew nearer, I got more nervous. A painting of a cat had been requested, a subject I’ve only tackled once before now, and on that occasion I took a rather unconventional approach.
I didn’t want to repeat the previous cat portrait, I needed to find something different. A few days ago, after a few failed attempts at cat painting using ink on paper, with uncertainty levels rising I found myself turning a small box over and over in my hands. The box was a gift from Simon Heath, containing some sketching charcoals. Simon gave me this gift several years ago, it’s a lovely little box with a sliding lid, containing six different coloured sticks. Over the years I have opened and closed the box many times, reluctant to disturb its miniature perfection by using it. On this occasion I broke the spell, took the sticks from the box and began to work. A vaguely cat-like shape began to emerge, and I pressed on. I ended up with a rather relaxed looking feline, and decided to title the art work, ‘Peace’. Uncertainty overcome, the good people at WAR appreciated the donation and Peace now has a new home.
I told Simon I had finally got round to using his gift, and he kindly replied with a lovely short story, which I’d like to share with you here.
“My favourite teacher at school was, perhaps unsurprisingly, my art teacher. He was not your conventional idea of an art teacher. He had served in the merchant navy during the Second World War. He was torpedoed and his ship sunk during the Malta convoys.
He was an evocative storyteller. He did not spare us the hardships and horrors of his service. He had a wealth of tales of all kinds and liked to set us drawing and painting projects provoked by different types of music. He used to jokingly threaten us with “The Persuader”. A table leg studded with nails and drawing pins akin to Captain Caveman’s club. He had a favourite scary story called Skull Island. It was terrifying and accompanied by grotesque sound effects.
He brought in plaster replicas of works of the great classical sculptors like Michelangelo. He liked to think that the figure already existed within the marble. The sculptor’s art was releasing that figure. I’ve always cherished that idea. And so, thank you for patiently reading this story and understanding why I love the idea that your cat was sleeping within the charcoal this whole time. And you’ve now released it into a wider consciousness. My teacher’s name was Peter Clay. He died some years ago but his stories didn’t. He was brilliant.”
I love the idea that sometimes our work is already there, it just needs releasing. That’s a notion I shall seek out again, next time a goal is proving elusive.
I hope you enjoyed this piece of writing as much as I enjoyed handing the finished artwork over, and seeing Simon’s story. If the idea of working with uncertainty interests you, come to the next Working With Uncertainty workshop in London on October 16th, and explore new ways to do things differently, in a safe, encouraging environment. See you there.