Fashion is not on the blog agenda this week, my friends. I apologize if you were expecting a fashion post. Not that I think you sit around waiting for me to weigh in on blazers or jeans. Ha. Far from it. But I do usually write something related to fashion in my Saturday post. And this week, what with politics, snow storms, and one country in Europe seemingly on the edge of destruction, my motivation to write about clothes dwindled to zero. Usually my closet provides me with endless hours of distraction when I need it. But not this week.

Hubby and I have been watching the news a lot. Listening to experts talk about events in Ukraine. Watching snippets of video. And then, because there’s little else we can do, turning away from the TV and very deliberately doing something else. For him that has meant moving a woodpile, clearing snow, reading, finding excuses to go to the grocery store. For me it’s been talking on the phone to my mum and my sister. Facetiming with a friend. Reading a charming book. And watching a video series on Prime that has captivated me. Inspired me. And restored my faith in people all at the same time.

The show I’ve been watching is not a new series. And it’s not a drama, although there’s plenty of suspense. It’s called “Portrait Artist of the Year” and narrates a competition which attempts to find the most talented portrait artist in the British Isles. The contest moves around the UK and each episode is filmed in a different city: London, Glasgow, Dublin, Cardiff. From each region, the judges chose twenty-one artists from the hundreds and hundreds of self-portraits submitted. Each group of twenty-one chosen artists then paints a portrait of a live sitter in four hours, and a winner is chosen.

I’ve watched all the regional competitions, and now the four winners will compete for the grand prize. But it’s not the competition that has captivated me. Although I do confess that I’ve had my favourites, and rooted for them. I find it more interesting to learn about each artist’s process, hear them speak of their lives and their inspirations. And of course watch the portraits that they are painting come to life. A couple of swipes with a brush and the sitter’s face jumps out of the canvas. It’s like a miracle.

Here’s a clip about one of the artists who I think is adorable, and talented, and unassuming. She’s a delight, actually.

In fact most of the artists are a delight. Except for a fellow who paints in sunglasses, rebuffs inquiries from the judges as he works, and in the end when he is not one of the finalists, grabs his painting and stomps off. What my friend Mary might call the very epitome of “the angry young man.” But for the most part it’s fascinating to listen to these talented people speak about their work and their lives. They are all ages, some are amateur and hold down day jobs, some are still in school, and some are professional (which according to one young woman means she is just about able to pay her bills each month.)

One artist (a painter and sculptor) from Wales lived in Holland for many years returning to her native Wales only four years ago. She works three days a week as a barista, and lives with her 91 year-old mother, who amazingly found her daughter’s work so fascinating she took up sculpting herself. There’s a lovely shot of the two of them working side by side. That made me smile. And reminded me of sitting with my mum, knitting companionably together.

Anyway, I’m not done watching the series. And, like finishing a good book, I’ll be sad when it’s over. I have found following the progress of the paintings, learning a bit about how to draw and paint portraits, and hearing about these amazing artists the best distraction from a world which has gone even more mad than it was a week ago.

In fact, I may even be inspired to pick up my own pencil again. I’ve been promising myself that I would for ages. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about taking some drawing lessons from a friend who is a retired art teacher. She graciously agreed to hold a small class in her basement for three friends. It was fun. Although, I did have trouble shutting up and settling down to work. Just exactly as I did when I was fifteen. Ha.

I used to love to draw and paint. Although more drawing than painting. I found drawing absorbing and utterly engaging. The best distraction there was for an angsty teenager. And looking back I can see that in some ways I wasn’t terrible at it. Just not schooled enough in proportion, how to use white space, or in rendering what I saw instead of what I wanted to draw.

That drawing on the left is one I did from my step-brother’s grade seven school photo. I see some of him in it. The mischievous smirk, the full cheeks, but overall it doesn’t look like him. For the self-portrait I was assigned in grade ten art, I was holding my sketch pad on my lap, looking down at the mirror in front of me. The nose is right, the hair isn’t bad, and even though the mouth is too full, mine does turn down like that when I’m not smiling. But it still doesn’t look like me. I can remember that I was pretty proud of the one on the right, though. It’s a drawing of former New Brunswick premier Louis Robichaud copied from a photo in the newspaper. And except for the fact that his face seems in retrospect too thin, I think it’s a pretty good likeness.

Making someone look like themselves is the magic in portrait painting, or drawing for that matter. Much harder than it might seem.

Watching that series, “Portrait Artist of the Year,” seeing the talented people, young and old, tackle each painting with such courage inspired me. It’s hard to face a blank canvas or page. Hard to begin when you’re not sure that you’ll ever be able to do something as good as the last thing you did. You know, I felt the same way when I started writing this blog back in 2014. How was I ever going to come up with ideas each week? Starting from scratch each time was difficult at first. Then I began to trust myself. And now if I don’t have a clear idea of where I’m going with a post, I do what I used to tell my writing students, I just start writing and see where it takes me. Maybe that’s what I’ll do. Just start drawing and see where it takes me.

Sometimes I think that learning how to distract myself from my troubles is a skill that I have had to learn as an adult. Not that I have any troubles this week. Except how not to get drawn into endless doom scrolling on social media or too much television news. So to combat that, I’ve been reading, watching. And even dreaming of taking up an old hobby that seemed to work for me way back when. We’re not burying our heads in the sand, or the snow, here in Manotick. We are keeping up to date. Still tuning in. Just not falling into a pit of despair that helps no one, let alone ourselves.

As I said above, usually when I need distraction, I look to my closet. I reorganize, dream up outfits, have a try-on session… you know. But this week, all that seemed too shallow, even for me. And watching those earnest, talented, and, almost without exception, self-effacing artists totally captivated me. Distracted me from the awful events in the world. And inspired me.

Not that my being distracted or inspired helps anyone who is currently suffering in the Ukraine, or anyone anywhere else. I get that.

P.S. The charming book I mentioned earlier on is The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett.

P.P.S The book link is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a small commission.


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30 thoughts on “The Art of Distraction”

  1. Yes, turning away from the news is sometimes necessary. I get what you mean with facing a blank page. For me, it’s all about just starting! Whether it’s weaving, stitching or mosaic, trusting the process to see where it takes you, is the key.
    I think your drawings are great! I would find realistic portraits tricky.

    1. Trusting the process is good, I agree. One thing I find is that I need to be alone to do anything with drawing. Hard to manage when we’re both retired. 🙂

  2. The book seems charming,I’ve seen it already and now am very interested
    One’s needs a distraction…it is very sad and it reminds me very much how everything started and I could only cry -but, no help from that. Donating is better and our country gets ready for people who would come and seek help
    I am not talented in art but like it very much (and even I like to sketch a thing or two from time to time)-it would be excellent way for you to enjoy your creativity in a different way

    1. Stu just finished The Windsor Knot and he liked it too. We both commented over the past few days that we wondered if the events in Ukraine are bringing back difficult memories for you. xo

  3. Yes. Watching the news from the far east of Europe is distressing and astounding in equal measure – the courage of Ukraine. But I have spent time baking, something I can normally take or leave. Tired of wittering about some of the gluten-free products available (very very first world in present context), I have been experimenting with recipes and enjoying the outcomes. It is bright and sunny here today and our skies are quiet. That will do, thank you. In the end, little else matters.

  4. I know I’d love Portrait of The year but it’s on Sky & we don’t have that on catch up . It means sitting down at a certain time to watch a certain programme , like the olden days , & we’re not very good at that . We do need to rest our brains from the madness of Putin these days .
    We’re currently watching ‘ Watercolour Challenge ‘ which was a favourite years ago then taken off air before coming back recently . Each week there are four amateurs taken to five different picturesque locations in the UK to paint outside ( whatever the weather ) vying to be painter of the day . We are told a little about the area & there’s a different expert each week to help the amateurs & judge the best .
    One of the experts is called Peter Cronin , a Welsh painter who does the most wonderful watercolours – soft , luminous , almost mystical . Just wandering his website is very calming & soothing He has some video tutorials on YouTube where he conjures up magical landscapes with light sketches & very loose washes . He has a lovely voice too . Most of the amateurs on the programme are not great watercolourists but we like watching their progress & they often surprise us .
    Another site I dip into is Duane Keizer an American who does an amazing still life everyday – Unbelievably realistic paintings of often mundane subjects
    As you can see , I like art . I’ve always been a drawer & sketcher . These days it’s usually sleeping dogs 😁 They aren’t as critical as humans either 😁

    1. All kind of bad jokes are on my lips about sleeping dogs… but I will resist. I don’t think I knew you were a drawer and sketcher, Wendy. I will check out those links. Thanks.

  5. Sue, you are always right on point. My husband, who never gets up early, has been up early to watch the news since this horror in Europe has happened. I on the other hand have a whole different distraction. Agatha Raisin! I had never heard of the series and wandering around on Acorn TV looking for something to watch. This series ticks a lot of boxes…mystery, romance, comedy and fashion. Love, love, love her heels and handbags. Going to have to dress like Agatha around the house just for the fun of it. Just to know, Thank God, we are still alive. Stay well and safe all.

  6. During lockdown I started drawing and painting with Lifebook. There are many teachers and the videos and written lessons are incredibly well done. Through Lifebook I also found Ida Andersen Lange and her lessons have transformed my drawing and painting skills. I’m now on my second year of Lifebook. Just thought I would mention it in case you would like more distraction. You would receive one or two lessons each week. Check out

  7. I enjoy your fashion post, but the posts you write about what you are thinking and feeling are my favorite. Please keep sharing, you are creating a bright spot for us at a time when the world needs it. Keep shining!

  8. I appreciate your insight. I struggle every day to keep everything going on in our world in perspective and balance it with finding joy and peace in my day. Thank you!

  9. Supposedly the benefit of a project in is in the planning and initial start. Saw a tv segment on people turning off tv;s to prevent depression in these troubled times. In other words- stay busy! Or see a tharapist! Could not agree more. Worry about what one can change and not what can’t be affected by us .What network was that series on? I want to recommend it to my son who has just started painting again.Thanks.

  10. I agree that there is a fine line between obsession with the situation and burying one’s head in the sand. With so many rabbit holes beckoning from social media I just watch the news on CBC to get a handle on it and don’t bother with the rest. After the past two years ( and yes, the past four weeks!) it can be overwhelming but we still need to bear witness to the world stage. It’s important not to see the situation as ‘them’, over there, it’s all of us everywhere.
    It’s admirable that you wrote this post today Sue. I have started to read other ‘fashion/ older woman lifestyle’ blogs and think to myself are they living on another planet? Are they that witless or shallow that they don’t even acknowledge world events? Then I think, maybe their job is not to shine a light on the greater world or they don’t see what’s going on as that important to their own world.
    The meaning of ‘influencer’ has changed. Too bad.

    1. Not seeing what happens “over there” as important to us “over here” is dangerous, isn’t it? Amazing when you’re not listening how easy it is to forget there are other people in the world with different concerns.

  11. Sue, I think you have talent. There are so many YouTube videos one can watch and learn from these days. I’m not a portrait painter but my friend is and believes it’s the eyes that capture the person. Pick up your pencil again and see where it leads you.

  12. I remember when I first heard the word Covid and started to realize how serious this could become. I became obsessed with the news channels, needing to soak up every bit of information I could. I wanted to know what to do to protect my loved ones and myself. Day after day parked in front of the tv or reading my iPad! As time and the pandemic moved on I slowly became less obsessive but watched enough to keep up to date on the current numbers and restrictions.

    Then I got dragged down the rabbit hole of the “privilege convoy”. Once again too much time spent parked in front of the tv feeling helpless and enraged by the idiocy of it all.

    And now Ukraine! 🙏 it really is such a troubled time for the world! I have come to realize that I really have to limit my news consumption. Not completely of course. I think I need to follow your example and find something else to help occupy my mind until spring finally arrives and I can get out in nature to calm the mind.
    I’m going to look up that series you recommended on Prime. Sound interesting. Thank you.

    1. I am now on season two of the Portrait Artist of the Year. And then I noticed there are landscape artist shows as well. They may keep me delighted until spring!

      1. We also watch the Landscape Artist series. Husband prefers the Landscape series although I much prefer the Portrait series. They also showed the Canadian Landscape series here in the UK last summer.

  13. Now my husband and I are hooked on the “Portrait Artist” series. We mini-binged the first two episodes last night. It’s elevating, educational, fun, inspiring – –
    everything we need for a break from that other bleaker reality in Ukraine. Bonus: it’s real life with real people, not a fictional panacea. Thank you so much for the recommendation.

  14. I understand what you mean about needing to blog about something else right now and reading about artists is a lovely way to escape for a little while. As you say, it isn’t about ignoring what is happening in the world, but easing away from it for a little while.
    I have been researching organizations that are helping the people in Ukraine, so that I can blog about it. I don’t feel up to a post about cooking, traveling, etc. There’s plenty of time for all of that.
    I hope that you pull out your pencils and sketchbook soon. One of these days, I will do the same. I need to retire, so that I can get on with it.

    1. Yes… easing away from the strife is good. We donated to the Canadian Red Cross because the federal government is matching whatever we donate at the moment.

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