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.