When I was perhaps seven years old, I won a Kellogg’s Art Competition. Throughout the sixties and seventies, several firms ran prestigious art competitions, and I was fortunate to receive prizes from Shell, Texaco and Kellogg’s on several occasions – usually books or art supplies. The Kellogg’s competitions culminated in A National Exhibition of Children’s Art, whereby the selected pieces were exhibited at local galleries. I never saw my work exhibited, but I was sent a very lovely set of paints and brushes which I used for many years afterwards, remarkably different from other palettes in the vividness of the pigments.
School art at that time was executed using powder paints which were only as effective as the skill of the mixer, did not sit well on the ‘sugar paper’ used and had usually begun to flake off long before the paintings were taken home, applied using a one-size-fits-all brush that allowed no room for finer work. In theory, the colours were blend-able to achieve different hues and tints, but, in practice, it was incredibly difficult to obtain the colours that were envisioned. As young as I was, I found the whole thing disheartening, causing one teacher to obliquely write on my report, “Would rather write, but paints to please”. I think I first became consciously aware of how much colour meant to me, when I became the recipient of a red ball that was a give-away with Tide washing powder. ‘True Red’, or, indeed, true any colour, was not something I had been aware of before, and it opened my sensibilities enough to recognise that dull, flat shades that almost inevitably had an undertone of muddy puddle brown or dirty purple were not something I wanted to engage with.
My winnings had already provided me with a selection of more suitable palettes, including a lovely Reeves black watercolour tin, but my Kellogg’s prize was my first introduction to the Reeves Tempodisc paint cakes, with rich, gorgeous colours I never knew existed before, and a texture that was not only easy for a child to use, but gave a satisfying coverage. There were twelve cakes, including a magenta, a bright cerulean blue, a glowing tangerine, and a glorious egg yolk yellow that shone. They were colours that I could never have obtained, no matter how skilful I had been at mixing, and I adored them.
At around about the same age, Christmas gifts often included a colouring book of some variety. For the most part, I found no satisfaction in the heavy black line drawings that seldom had any theme or cohesion, preferring a blank sheet of paper to work on, but it was the covers that really put me off. In the sixties, there was a bizarre fad for employing mise en abyme art on imagery aimed at children, and it scared me witless; I would become increasingly anxious at the recursive droste loops, worrying I would somehow get trapped in the seemingly never-ending vortex. The fear ran so deep, that I still irrationally struggle with such images and feel my heart starting to race when I encounter them; unlike Russell Hoban’s mouse child I never did scratch through the last visible dog and see the shine on the tin. My saving grace were two colouring books from a very dear great aunt. The first was focused on world maps, and the second was the story of Cinderella with illustrations to colour in. They both had a linear, cohesive journey, and artwork that was done with care and attention to detail. I enjoyed both these books so much, taking tremendous care and attention, using my Tempodisc paint cakes to paint in the details of the maps and to let my imagination run wild in designing ballgowns for Cinderella and her sisters.
My most joyous moments were spent by myself, with my art supplies and a screw top jar of water, and although I lost some special creations to the big organisation art competitions, I also had tremendous gain from them, and it was through my prizes that I really came to discover the value of making good quality art materials accessible to children.
This part of my site isn't about me at all.
It is about watching, observing and reading the work of others. Those who know what they are about, who have honed their crafts over many years and for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration.
I have learned, and continue to learn, so much from each show watched, each book read, each art work discovered and each person encountered, and I am humbled by their generosity of spirit in giving so much.