The Pandemic and Art
Can I tell you about my journey to the art pursuit, and subsequent diminution of worries and pressures I was under at the time.
I had never ever considered taking up painting. I didn’t think for a minute I would be able to draw anything, far less paint it. I don’t remember ever drawing or painting anything when I was young and at school. I attended Noblehill Primary, Dumfries, and Dumfries Academy, both prestigious schools and the various staff members worked real hard at trying to find out what made me tick, and injecting some knowledge into me. I have truly no recollections of ever lifting a paintbrush in anger. Maybe I did, but it is a while ago now and a few, nay, many of my brain cells have retired since then.
So, fast forward about forty years and I am in a caravan site where I have purchased a caravan, having just been ‘retired’ from my prestige job in ‘Strathclyde Police Serious Fraud Squad’ and was recovering from a major spine operation. I thought a caravan, away from the ‘rat race’, would be a good place to convalesce. I wasn’t in a good place at the time – I don’t mean the caravan site wasn’t a good place, I’m talking more about where my head was. Actually it was still on my shoulders but it probably thought it was somewhere else!
Anyway, I was walking through the site one day, trying to get some fresh air and clear my head a bit so that I could find some good thoughts, when a miracle happened. Well it probably wasn’t a miracle cause I met someone, and he didn’t have wings or a beard!
What happened was that I came across this little caravan sitting on the side of the roadway through the site and, not that I was doing my ‘peeping Tom’ act, or anything, but I happened to glance through the front window as I passed, and noticed a chap standing there. He was facing away from me or I might have been worried. No, he was standing at an easel, painting. I’d never seen an artist at work before so I blatantly stared through the window watching this chap. I can’t really explain what went through my mind but I felt so much at ease as I watched this chap produce a lovely colourful scene on the canvas – I can’t explain how it made me feel but it was a feeling I hadn’t felt for a long time, and it was a good one.
Well, I think the guy got so fed up being stared at while he was working that he invited me in for a coffee. Bob his name was and he came from Kilmarnock but had been thirty years in America and was staying in one of the caravans until such times as the purchase of his house in nearby Ballantrae was finalised. Bob had been painting most of his life and was renting this small van to use as a studio. He and his wife lived in a larger caravan elsewhere on the site.
After that first meet I was a regular visitor to Bobs studio , and, through time, Bob got me involved in the art of painting. He loaned me a few tubes of paint, some brushes and a couple of small blank canvases. With a bit of direction from Bob I eventually turned out a painting which I was quite pleased with. More to the point, Bob was pleased with it.
To say that I was painting at Bobs studio every day of that two week visit to the caravan site would not be an understatement. I was hooked, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I don’t know how to explain it but being involved in something that made me think, and something I was enjoying, was helping me to forget my troubles. Painting was helping me feel much better, relaxed, whatever, and was easing my tensions much better than any medication had ever been.
During the rest of the summer of 95’, when I had first met Bob, I was never away from his studio when I visited the caravan site for weekend breaks / holidays. Ray, my wife, said that it was worse than being a golf widow!
However, I was right into painting at the end of that summer and wanted to keep on going out-with the caravan season.
During the winter of 95’/96’ I enrolled in a night class course - ‘Basic Oil Painting’ it was called. I had tried various mediums in Bobs studio but really liked painting in oils. I had learned a lot from Bob but I wanted to be taught by a professional and as the course was being held in the renowned ‘Glasgow School of Art’ I felt it would be a good place to meet a professional artist. ‘Glasgow School of Art’ is no longer with us, having been burned to the ground a couple of years ago – for the second time! I am sure it will be rebuilt again very soon
Following being tutored at the Art School that winter I carried on painting at home until the spring of 96’ when the caravan site opened and I could get back into Bobs studio. I painted a lot that year and when the next winter arrived I enrolled in another course at the ‘Glasgow School of Art’. This time it was a course on Portrait painting, which I loved.
I’m afraid I didn’t really follow up with what I had learned about painting portraits but carried on painting in oils. My favourite painting subjects were Landscapes, Seascapes and Sunsets. You couldn’t get a better venue for a Seascape, or a Sunset, than at the caravan site. The site was right on the edge of the coast, with the sun in the evening going down over ‘Ailsa Craig’, or ‘Paddy’s Milestone’ as it is otherwise known as, or later in the year, over the Mull of Kintyre. Absolutely fabulous painting material.
From 1996 I painted right through to 2007 joining a local Cambuslang, Glasgow Art Club in one of the church halls where we had a ‘tutor’ who kept us right. We arranged the occasional Art Exhibition there, and where I sometimes managed to sell a painting or three. In those days we were asking for £30 to £50 for a painting, not the hundreds of pounds that’s asked nowadays.
During 2007 I moved to Banchory but still carried on with my painting. We sold the caravan as we couldn’t make the five hour journey very often. Occasionally I enrolled in a winter and / or spring art course which is held twice a year in the art room in Banchory Academy. That is, until a couple of years ago when I found myself out every night of the week through one thing or another that I was involved in – I still keep my hand in doing paintings, though not as much as I used to do. That is going to change very soon once I finish preparing my new studio area in the spare room, or in my office. I’m not sure where I’ve having it yet.
I would urge anyone to start painting. If you feel that you wouldn’t be very good at it remind yourself that you don’t have to be as good as those you admire as artists. It’s good to have artists to learn from and be inspired by. But, remember that they started out just the same as you. The main thing with them, and it could be with you, is that they did pick up that brush! The more you paint the more your style will evolve and confidence in your own abilities will become second nature.
As I said at the beginning, and it is worth repeating ‘At times like this, it is hugely important to stay busy. The stimulus of drawing and painting allows us to momentarily forget about the immediate reality, and provides us with a much-needed mental rest which lowers stress and generates relaxation and happy feelings’
Stay safe everyone.
Stan Thomson Editor, ‘The Ronnecht’
In my job I easily covered the 10,000 steps we are urged to do every day. Now, with lockdown in place, some days I was struggling to reach several hundred steps!Add in the fact that I am now cooking, baking and eating more and better than I think I ever have in my life before, then my daily exercise was absolutely required! So, what exercise was I going to do? I do love to walk and have been known to run even, but my toes have arthritis in them and are quite sore, so long walks were just not an option.
So, I started cycling, this is only possible just now because there are not as many cars on the road, as I am quite a nervous cyclist but oh my, I am enjoying it so much. Yes, I have fallen off. Yes, I have aching muscles. Yes, I have a bruised stomach from all my emergency stops into the handle bars, but for the good of my mental health this has been a life saver. We are all coping with getting through these difficult times in different ways and I have never liked being cooped up inside, I need to get out each day. I was becoming anxious as I watched the daily news and heard about the rising deaths due to Covid-19. I was not sleeping well during the night and then sleeping too late into the day. Then I felt down on myself if my day was totally unproductive. I was constantly worrying so much about all those I love and praying they would make it through this time safely.
There can be no doubt about the increased feel good factor of exercise, the endorphins being released boosting your mood and I can certainly vouch for that. If I miss a day out on my bike, my mood alters quite significantly. Add to that the bonus of the beauty of our surrounding area, which is totally awesome, and I thank God every day for his creation. On my cycle I have time to reflect and pray. This is my time alone with God and it is just so refreshing and so energising.
I feel blessed that I now have the time and the ability to get out and rediscover this wonderful countryside. I say rediscover as I used to ride around Banchory by horse when I was younger and again that was back in a time when it was safe to do so. This time in lockdown, is taking me back to when I was about 14/16 and spent a lot of time, all my free time in fact, riding around Banchory. There is hardly a country road in this area that I did not explore by horseback, back in the day, or that I am not enjoying now by bike. I feel like I am a teenager on an extended summer holiday when I am out on my bike. I have been from Banchory to Duthie Park and back, up to Aboyne and back, all on the Deeside way. (Please don’t tell on me, yes, it did take longer than my allocated hour!) Sadly I have not yet seen the Banchory Otters but I look out for them almost daily and if I do see them then I will be ecstatic. I have explored all the back roads from Raemoir, down to Hirn, to Flora’s, Hopton, and all the roads in between there and to Cullerlie. All these roads lead down to Culter or Drumoak depending on how far I have gone and I have even discovered the delight of the Park shoppe, having never been in before. A treat not to be missed and one I will enjoy even more when I can shop there bringing bags to take home my wonderful purchases, not just the wee backpack I take with me on the bike rides. In the other direction Torphins is a great distance to cycle, over to Kinker and home by Potarch. Within the trampoline club we are trying to exercise our way “around the world” together. I have cycled far enough now to have visited my brother in London and my next stop is Paris. So far I have cycled over 900km!
So, thank you Nicola, or Boris, or whoever it was that encouraged us to get out there and be active. This is something I really want to keep up in the future, hopefully one day soon I will be able to cycle and then have my swim. I am just wondering though, will I have the time to go back to work!
The big Lock down question.
Just what do you do...
once you've deep cleaned your house?
If you have been watching our Sunday services online, and I sincerely hope you have, then you will have seen me taking part in those too.
In “Life before Lockdown” I am a trampoline coach. I also work 8 hours per week for Aberdeenshire council, teaching pre school gymnastics. I have been doing that for over 30 years and love it. So, on the 19th March, exactly 2 months ago, like many other people we stopped working. I say we, as my husband John, is a trampoline coach also. We had been due to go down to Telford the next day to a British competition but this was cancelled as all competitions have now been for the foreseeable future.
John and I had such busy lives, we worked Monday to Friday and then often spent whole weekends at competitions either in Scotland or around Britain. When you add in squad training dates and Performance Pathways for our gymnasts, we certainly had a pretty non- stop diary planned right up until July. Then, after the British Championships we had planned to take a week's holiday, followed by coaching summer camps for the rest of the holidays right up until the schools went back. Busy, busy, busy!
But like so many others, our lives have completely changed. Our pace of life has altered significantly, and we love it! Yes, we miss coaching and most especially we miss seeing our gymnasts. Normally I would see about 200 young people during my working week - now it is none, or at least not in person, that is. We had no choice in the Lockdown and I understand that it is for the very best reasons that we need to stay isolated, but I think it has also made it easier to accept that life had to change.
Like everyone else, deep cleaning of the house was my first task. Washing anything that even might have been dirty. Tidying, and clearing out cupboards - but with the tip and all charity shops closed we soon realised there is little point in clearing out with nowhere to take unwanted items. Gardening has been both joyful and endless and there are still jobs to be done! We have been so blessed with the weather. Then there has been the daily soup making, and the planning of our meals all now cooked from scratch as there is time to do that. Zero waste is absolutely paramount, and the sense of satisfaction in using up all leftovers is astounding. Baking - not something I normally do - is included several times a week now and along with that eating! I think I might have gained a few pounds during this time of lockdown, is anyone else with me in that?
Alan asking me if I would help with Church services was hugely welcome and I have really enjoyed being able to do so as it has been a real privilege to be able still to connect with my Church family in this way.
Missing seeing family and friends is probably the hardest part of this time but we are so grateful for all the many ways we can communicate with them and blessed that in this day and age we can see who we are talking to, not just hear them. My mother at nearly 89 years of age has discovered how to use Facetime and zoom which is just fantastic. She is going through this lockdown alone and knowing I can see her and we can talk whenever we want to is just so wonderful. My siblings and I share a catch up about our mum along with little snippets of our lives daily just now which is just so special. We have missed family weddings, 2 so far, birthdays and other special occasions but like every family in the land, plan a huge family get together when we are able to do so.
There are many horrendous sides to this lockdown and I do know how lucky I am. I know that this time has taught me to be more appreciative of so many different aspects of life. I hope I remember the excitement of being able to buy toilet paper, flour, pasta, sugar - to name just a few. I pray I remember to truly value the ability to see all my family and friends when I choose and plan to spend more quality time with those I love. I must remember to slow down in life, when the option is there once more to fill my diary with work, I hope that I won’t take it and that I carry on enjoying this slower paced but very rewarding way of life. We live in such a beautiful place and I am enjoying God’s creation immensely and seeing things anew with fresh eyes, each and every day. I feel truly blessed right now and I thank God for the kindness shown by so many to those in need. God's love is clearly seen in action and work every day, helping me and so many others through this extraordinary time in our lives.
Well just what did you do after you had deep cleaned your house?
I have not even got on to my daily exercise - I think I will leave that for another Blog - if Alan allows me back again, as that has actually helped me through this time more than I could ever have imagined.
Melanie Stewart Wills
I Have a Little List
The Bucket List:
Mine contains four items, two of which require further lists.
This lockdown has been a great opportunity for list-keepers. Firstly, it has been possible to review, examine and tidy up all the lists. More importantly, it has given me time to reflect on whether any new lists are necessary. One glaring example stems from the very first days of the lockdown. People went wild panic buying and stocking up on the most amazing items. Banchory supermarkets were full of people who had nothing to do with Banchory (the badges on the children’s blazers are the giveaway) raiding our shelves to the detriment of Banchory residents. The supermarkets began rationing products. What rôle can a list play in all this? To be ready, just in case, for the next lockdown (which I hope never to see) a list is needed of those items which flew off the shelves at the end of March in order always to have a stock of these. And a strange list it is. Toilet rolls (naturally?), canned tomatoes, rice, flour, yeast (for the bread-makers amongst us), tonic water (yes, honestly) and lots more. The fact that there was also a run on baked beans does not worry me. They will not figure on my list of necessities – ever.
I am often asked “What is the point of all these lists?”. Way back in the age of steam, it was a question put to all those enthusiastic trainspotters (males of all ages – apparently the hobby did not appeal to the ladies). The point is that there is no point. They can, indeed, provide innocent fun. For example, choose an exotic ingredient (turmeric, for example) and find on the recipe list something which includes it to be cooked for supper. The lists can stir memories. Reading them I remembered the excitement of landing in America for the first time forty years ago and the ten-year-old boy who was enthralled to see England and France for the first time sixty years ago. Or that book I remember reading on a particular beach one summer. Using the book list, I avoid buying books I have already read (though clearly they did not leave a great impression!) Yes, sometimes my lists can be useful but if you are not a list-keeper it is impossible to explain to you why we list-keepers find list-keeping so enthralling.
As I finish writing this, I have realised how I will spend part of the rest of lockdown. I will draw up the ultimate list. A list of lists.
Did someone say OCD?
Grandbuddies, hobbies and chatter
Grandbuddies is one part of the East Church’s evolving Children and Families School's programme involving Hill of Banchory and Banchory Primary schools. The idea is to give the children an opportunity of interacting with the community outwith the school environment. In particular it provides a connect with an older generation that many of the children either do not have or only to a very limited extent.
It was set up by Sarah and Alan after a very enjoyable visit with a class from an Aberdeen school to a local church where something similar was happening. After discussion with Banchory primary school and Hill of Banchory school heads and deputes, she adapted what she had seen to fit the facilities at Banchory East church. Unfortunately, Sarah fell ill just as the scheme was to start, but it is testament to her marvellous planning, that George Montgomery was able to step in as Grandmaster of the Grandbuddies and the programme could proceed.
So far there have been three well received sessions in February and March with one school attending twice. The church provides help with walking the children from school to the hall when required. Thank you, David Laing for your help in this. Sadly, after three, the need for social distance meant we had to stop meeting regularly.
Getting to know each other was an ongoing process throughout all the sessions - all of us exchanged information on every manner of subject including favourite meal, work ambition, colour, book, hobby, pet and so much more. Who knew so many in one class could be supporters of the same football club? It was a heart-warming indication of the connect between the age groups that quite a few of the children who had attended a previous session recognised and joined up again with their original Grandbuddies.
Activities included the children taking along their favourite books and reading passages with several reading to the whole assembly. Origami was another prominent part of a session with many of the children 'instructing' the adults on how to complete the various items. To another session John Wills brought details of the new Banchory Coat of Arms and gave an interesting talk pointing out the many similarities with the children’s school badges.
Our Grandbuddies have very much settled in to the scheme as reflected in comments such as ' I wasn't sure what might be involved but now that I have it has been thoroughly enjoyed'. The children and the staff too have been appreciative and we all look forward to recommencing the sessions in the future where we plan to produce a collage in two parts, part to hang on the church hall wall and part to be displayed in the school.
Banchory East Church
A journal of the life of the East Church through the personal memories and opinions of our members.
We post on Tuesday and Thursdays. but not always every week.