What can I say? It’s hard to be inspired on cue. It’s even harder if that cue happens to be Dartmouth Royal Navy College and you are a twenty-year-old languages students with a striking disinterest in boats.
I didn’t once feel at ease at the college. Perhaps because one of my first words was “mess”, I’ve always been slightly unnerved by the perfectly ordered and regimented. I felt a sense of claustrophobia and little else when exploring one of the naval boats, and was struck by the sheer lack of individuality in the dormitories. It was all very disciplined, very structured, very male – everything that I and my style of drawing and painting are not. Perhaps on another day, with another subject, I might’ve fared a little better.
It wasn’t just the location but the format itself that I felt a bit constricted by. I couldn’t help thinking that, had this not been the paint-off but the bake-off, this would be our “show-stopper” (though as it turns out my painting was only a show stopper in that many people will’ve stopped watching the show at the sight of it), and we’d be given a bit of freedom, choice of medium, and time, to develop an idea. With the exception of the fourth episode, I’d also been told (far more than the final edit suggests) that my approach of making lots of sensitive little marks was not a good one, and in trying to change my style to please the judges, I began to feel I was losing the “me” in my work. But even if I crossed that fine line between bravery and stupidity, part of me is still glad I had the guts to go for it and rock the boat (sorry) a bit.
In any case, whether in an act of courage, exhaustion, protest, or minor breakdown, I ended up with that rectangle. And although I can try to excuse my four-sided f**k-up (which, I kid you not, left me with recurring nightmares about geometry), I have to admit that drawing twenty-seven cadets marching in formation in near enough as many minutes was a challenge too far for me; had I known what was in store I may well have cut out my rectangle and waved it as a white flag of surrender. Maybe that’s what it was in the first place - I don’t know. Hats off to Paul and Amy, though, who managed to create resolved drawings in that short amount of time.
And so by the time it came to the seascape, I sort of knew I wasn’t going to win, but was determined to enjoy this final challenge at beautiful, sunny Dartmouth harbour. I decided to do my own painting, an honest painting, however long it took. And I really enjoyed it. No, it wasn’t the finished article, but neither am I – I still haven’t refined and developed my style. I never came to win, but to learn.
And learn I did. From the judges, the other contestants, and from each new experience, I was taught a great deal in a very short space of time. I feel incredibly lucky; I got to make nine wonderful friends. I got to hug Una Stubbs, watch a flamenco performance, and take a ferry ‘cross the Mersey. I got to see how TV is made, travel around the country, and have a microphone attached to me by THE SAME SOUND GUY WHO ATTACHED A MICROPHONE TO KEIRA KNIGHTLEY (claim to fame right there). I got a chance to show my “funny little marks” to people having spent years hiding them from those closest to me, becoming a stronger person all the while, and hopefully even inspire a few would-be painters. A massive thank you to everyone who’s supported me even at the toughest points. I didn’t expect it and am extremely grateful for it.
I am chuffed to bits for Paul. He was not only the most able, experienced, and hard-working painter among us but is also just a great person to be around. All the artists were, in fact. My hope now is that people were inspired and not daunted by the show, and that they don’t see the big painting challenge is an insurmountable one. Because believe it or not, art is not Richard Bacon telling you you’ve only got 10 minutes left to resolve a painting before it gets snorted at with laughter, nor is it desperately trying to draw without being distracted by cameramen or producers or by Lachlan Goudie’s trousers. Instead, it’s about taking your time, developing, and experimenting. It’s about reflecting, making marks and mistakes and learning from them. And most of all, it’s about getting to know yourself and the world a little better.
I can’t wait to do more of that very soon, and I hope that goes for others, too.