Be careful what you wish for… by Bernadette Larkin

When I was a child I lived very much in my head. I lived in a world populated with books and dreamed of going to boarding school and having midnight feasts with the girls of St Clare’s. My constant companions were books, paper, pencils and paints. I cut, I stuck, I painted but above all, I drew. I designed clothes for myself and my dolls. I drew perfect symmetrical houses with the hall door in the middle and windows, trees and flowers on either side. There was always a pathway leading to a gate in a white picket fence even though my own house looked nothing like it and was tucked behind my father’s shoemaker’s shop that opened straight onto the street. In my pictures I also had curly hair, facts never got in the way of a good picture!

Then somewhere I stopped, I knew it was around the time I left primary school but I couldn’t be sure. When I became involved in the process of The Drawing Room, I began to delve into my memories to find out what cut off my creativity or at least the manifestation of it through drawing. I realised that a few events conspired to make me give up drawing. I took art as a subject in first year secondary school and really enjoyed it. I got good grades but began to lose the confidence to draw what was in my head. The drawings that had been a huge source of happiness became one of frustration and embarrassment instead, as I could not make them look realistic. I began to compare myself unfavourably with my older brother whose work, understandably, was much more developed. I decided there could only be one artist in the family and he had got there first. Around this time, I also developed other interests too like music and fashion and boys but the crucial event came at the end of the school year when I was forced to choose between art and Latin as subjects. I chose art but the head nun told me I ‘had the brains for Latin’ and would not sanction my moving to a lower stream. Now I see that, at the time, when I needed the guidance and encouragement to bring my skills to another level it was cut off. Also, I believe, I absorbed the message that art was not for me.

The pencils were put away and I pushed the niggle that emerged from inside me further down, each time it re-surfaced over the years. I have been immersed in the arts and creativity for much of my working life and have been focused on creating the optimum conditions where children’s creativity, in particular, can flourish. I have been involved in lots of creative processes, and have loved the journey but I always felt a bit of an imposter because I managed to keep my drawing skills, or lack of, well hidden. Eventually I felt that the inability to draw was holding me back from so many other things. I draw like a child, lovely flat drawings, which are great if you are a child but not so much if you are a grown woman. It’s as if my brain, when giving instructions to my hand, had stayed in the place it was all those years ago and I suppose it makes sense that if you don’t practice a skill it doesn’t develop.

This year the urge to draw became so strong I could no longer ignore it. I decided it was time to confront my fears and my shyness. I suppose I have always thought that drawing was a gift, a talent you were born with not something you could learn. I almost felt I had no right to go to a class.

Jole has been with me on my journey for many years now and has seen my path leading to this point. Her workshops and courses have always focused on helping people to develop and become comfortable with their own creativity and introducing them to a range of mediums. She has never been bound by the right or the wrong way and so often avoids formal drawing which can be so intimidating for adults. This year I began to talk about my desire, no my need, to learn and to my surprise she called me to say she her next course would be devoted to drawing. Now I had no way out. After bending her ear so often about it, I couldn’t avoid it and make an excuse. I couldn’t ‘be busy that night’.

I felt so nervous on the first night of ‘The Drawing Room’ as all the participants eyed each other nervously not knowing what to expect. I quickly realised that it’s as much about seeing as it is about drawing and I learned that I don’t look at things –I race ahead to make a mark that I think is what I am seeing and am disappointed at the result. I slowed down and began to see things and replicate the shapes. I went away from the first night feeling hopeful. Week two was hard for me, no matter how hard I tried I could not perfect the tea cup I was trying to draw, I felt frustrated and even angry but more determined than ever. Then on week three I drew a cat. I drew a cat that looked like a cat. I was so happy I drew several and another before breakfast the next morning! I know that many people in the group are far more skilled than I am and that there will be more difficult nights but I feel I have confronted my fears and have broken through. ‘The Drawing Room’ has forced me to look not only at what is physically in front of me but also at what has lain dormant for so long. I want to have fun with this I am determined that it will be filled with angst. I learned so much setting up and managing The ArkLink project in Fatima Mansions, most of it from children. I went back to ‘The Butterfly Effect’ for inspiration and found it in these words from Evan. “I can draw a cat, in fact I am very good and can draw anything” One day Evan, if I keep practicing.