Hidden talents

The other day, I was cleaning out our guest room to get to the LGBB’s old cot. It’s going to be used by our sweet little nephew – remember this little guy entering the world? Awwwww, he has his Daddy’s perfectly round cue-ball head and the most adorable pixie face. I love him to BITS. But that’s not why he’s getting the cot. And this is not what I was posting about today.

I digress.

I found my old high school studio arts portfolio. In it were bits and pieces – some old favourite paint brushes (the one with the oh so fine tip, great for creating tiny hairflick lines) and pencils, an eraser (as I recall, this was the oldest, most reliable eraser I ever came across and I used it almost daily on my work… I found it discarded on a desk in a classroom and never parted with it again… SCORE!).

My old tattered once-loved art folder was in there as well. Very dog-eared and becoming quite the fragile, ancient relic (aren’t we all?), I turned the first page and gasped. Staring back at me was a rather youthful version of my grandfather. I had clean forgotten that he had sat for his portrait when I was fifteen. I clearly  remember him pulling the wide-eyed, somewhat hopeful look you see in this likeness of him – a fairly good one, I think – and I am really shocked to discover that when I sketched him, I was locking him in to a time before another six years’ worth of age would show on his face.

I was GUTTED one day to see that someone had been careless with ink on the top of his head. I am still suspicious about the teacher, for she took some of my work (and others) and displayed it without asking – as if it would be some sort of surprise…. which I suppose it was, but not in a terribly positive way – in a local shopping centre where they were showcasing some of the talent from various schools in the area. Okay. All good. No harm done there. But THIS I found almost inconceivably careless of her/them:

“Are you finished yet, Kirrileh? Oh, choogs.”
Oh, Granddad. I still miss him, even after he’s been gone 16 years

You know why I blame her, that teacher? This paper is quite fine. It has bled through both sides of this leaf. There are no other blots anywhere at all on my book; no, this page was folded out from the rest of the book somehow and rested somewhere it shouldn’t. When I questioned her, she shrugged it off and didn’t know how it could possibly have happened. I knew damn well she knew something different but what leg did I have to stand on? Unforgivable! Mrs…. Whatever her name was!

Flicking further through the book, I gasped again. A portrait of my mother this time. Decidedly younger than I see her in my mind. Now, I could go to town on myself and critique the proportions, the perspective, the fact that I didn’t draw the chair and cushions she was sitting on so she looks kinda squashed….. quite a fair bit, actually. But no. I will give my fifteen year-old self a break and will simply say, what a wonderful keepsake of a time when I was still so close to my mother and wanted to capture her in that moment. Funny that I forgot this entirely in the intervening years.

my mother

There were various other sketches in there, I remember spending some enjoyable time on these two:

Why does that fish remind me of Paul Stanley from KISS???

And then there was my end of year project when I was sixteen. I guess I must have been steeped in the magic of J.R.R. Tolkien around this time because, ah, The Hobbit phoned…. he wants his identity back.

You know what, though, I look at these and think, My God! I made these up out of my own head. Was I really ever that good??  At the time, I certainly didn’t think so. I had such little belief in myself and my ability as an artist, as a good… anything. Growing up with emotional and sexual abuse will do that to a youngster, I suppose.

But the final, most amazing thing I found in that folder was the fellow below. I spent hours on this. Blissful escapism, pushed through the grey lead onto the paper. He is an old Mongolian tribesman, from the cover of a National Geographic I picked up one day. When my father left, it took him some time to retrieve all of his possessions – being kicked out will cause that to occur to a person, so I’ve found – and he had left behind his sizeable collection (okay, it was more like every single NG ever printed from 1968 through to whatever the current year was… 1990 or something). Thumbing through it, as I would do from time to time sitting in the study at the front of our foreboding home, I found this man I couldn’t look away from.

Funny thing is, I remember being disappointed with myself because the end result didn’t look exactly like the actual man. There was a likeness but I thought the picture was flawed because I hadn’t made it identical. Mine was softer, not as harsh-looking or weathered. I look at it now and there is a familiarity about him to me, probably because I spent so much time with him back then. Strange feeling, to think you know someone you’ve never met, just because you sketched their portrait!

I just loved his face. It looked warm, trusting, honest. So I began to sketch it, without much thought of where it would end up or when I would finish. I don’t remember how long it took but I consider it one of my best artistic achievements so far….





Have you ever rediscovered something you were good at? Did you take it up again? Did you enjoy it then and do you enjoy it now? Do you want to start it up again but keep making excuses? (I’m good at those… Hey, something else I’m good at!)

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