At the age of 13 in the Scottish educational system, a pupil has to make the choice of what they want to do in life. Obviously a very big decision, quite hard to make at a relatively young age: I don’t know if things are the same now.
The options for me were Languages, Science and Art.
I wasn’t in any doubt what I wanted to do and it was called Art.
But here’s where one of life’s major disappointments reared its head: my father’s response was a flat, “No! You will never make a living at art. Keep it as a hobby and enjoy it.”
This was painted later in life, after I moved to Wellington to work as a lawyer. But it reflects the desolate feelings I had earlier – plus my grief at devastation of nature. Click on image for more details.
Looking back, I can understand his reaction at that time, but it sure was hard on me. What’s more, I was also very good at both languages and science. It wasn’t as if art was my only option. So I didn’t have that leg to stand on.
One doesn’t argue with an RSM, especially my father. With a great deal of sadness, I decided to go for languages.
There was nothing else to do but carry on …
This is another later painting and it’s worth clicking on the image for a fuller explanation of what’s behind it.
My dad’s comment impacted very heavily on my mind for far too long, and I am only just now beginning to shake it off. What’s more, I never until very recently fully forgave him for what he’d said because as I grew older, and especially lately, I became so very aware what a strong influence it had on my thinking and choices since.
Though I sold quite a lot of art all through my legal career, I found I had indeed a very deep belief that I’d never make a living at it. How deep that belief was, I only discovered when I quit my job and moved up north here – about which, more later. It seemed like I would never shake off the stigma (as I saw it) of not having been to Art School.
Parents: Be careful about what you say to your kids – especially about their dreams. Select your words carefully.
I’d been given four small books in a series published by The Studio in London. One was “How To Draw Farm Animals” by Charles F Tunnicliffe.
There was also “How To Draw Birds” by Raymond Sheppard, “Baby Animals On The Farm” by Vere Temple and another, the name of which escapes me. They were all excellent learning tools by real quality artists – CF Tunnicliffe in particular created an enormous oeuvre of top quality work, illustrating at least 250 books – some written by himself and some authored by others.
From school, Tunnicliffe won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London, and from then on his busy working life began. He was honored by the art establishment, and the Crown. In 1978, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire – a year before he died in 1979. Tunnicliffe was the subject of a 1981 BBC Wales television documentary, True to Nature, produced by Derek Trimby and narrated by Robert Dougall.
I was fortunate. Having these books as an instruction and an example was really good for me, and they also got me closer to appreciating the world of animals and birds in art.
I’m gradually chasing these artists down, thanks to the Internet, and recently bought C F Tunnicliffe’s “Bird Portraiture”, published by The Studio in 1945 with a reprint in 1946. I scanned the pictures below, and don’t think they appear anywhere else on the net:
Though Tunnicliffe’s regular subjects were wildlife and the countryside, whenever he includes humans in any of his works, they take their places naturally in the scene, executed with the same style and authenticity as his landscapes, animals and birds.
He has come to be regarded as arguably one of the greatest wildlife artists of all time.
They earliest thing I can recall about doing art was drawing a kiddy house as a square with a pointed roof, four windows and a door. The usual standard tot’s drawing.
When I drew the pathway as two straight parallel lines going downwards from the door to the bottom of the page, my dad showed me how to draw a winding path in perspective, wider at the bottom than the top and with a couple of sinuous bends on the way – looking like it was lying on the ground and not sticking up in the air.
What a revelation, at that young age! What a foundation for future interests in architecture, model houses, and landscapes, haha!
So began a long “collaboration” on art between us. And though there were times when I was right properly irked by his input, I know I owe my dad an enormous debt for what he passed on to me over the years. Where HE got his knowledge from, I have no idea.
Art at School
When we moved from Chelsea Barracks to Kennington, London, I attended the girls’ side of the boys’ prep school for Dulwich College for a short time. It’s a pity that in those days kids were not encouraged to keep their artwork. Hopefully things are different today – it’s important to start building your portfolio as young as possible, and.parents need to know this, too.
Anyway, the one piece of art that sticks in memory from that school was a shaded pencil drawing I did of a goose that was sent off somewhere to an exhibition and to be critiqued by the mysterious “powers that be”. I was told it got awarded some kind of distinction, but I got no record of it, and the work never came back to me. Wish I had it now.
Real, live animals didn’t come into the equation in those days – living the nomadic army life doesn’t lend itself to relationships with pets, or long-term friends either, unfortunately.
I’m sure thousands of army brats (gee what a phrase – who ever got to be a brat with a Guards RSM, or any other army NCO for a parent?) know exactly what I’m talking about. On the one hand, you get enough exposure to the wide world to kill parochialism stone dead for life (thank goodness!). On the other hand, you find it hard to conceive that ANYTHING (especially friendships and relationships) can be lasting.
It’s a lonely world, especially if you’re an only child and forbidden to play with “ranks’ kids”. In my early years, I had only one real friend – the son of one of my dad’s NCO associates. Nowadays, animals are some of my favorite subjects, as well as my best friends. And it’s that goose drawing that stuck in memory over the years.
The Movies – Walt Disney
Movies were another major influence. Just off Piccadilly Circus there was a small picture theater that ran continuous Walt Disney cartoon movies. Whether it still exists, I really don’t know. At any time of the day you could buy a ticket and wander in there and stay as long as you liked watching Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. We went there quite often and I can still vividly recall watching Donald Duck especially – oh man that attitude and that voice! It wasn’t until I got real live ducks of my own only a few years ago that I realized what a great duck impersonation Donald really does.
It was all just entertainment.. At six or seven years of age, there was for me no critical appreciation of what we were looking at – the colorful antics on screen were just something to laugh at and enjoy. But this first brush with Walt Disney was going to develop into a relationship that would impact on skills to come.
About which, more next time!
It begins in the City of London, right in Regents Street. It was there in one of the greatest and busiest cities of the world that a very small girl found her favorite haunt on the top floor of a wonderful toy shop – was it Hamleys or Gammages?
My mom, dad and I were living in Chelsea Barracks close to the Thames and Big Ben. Even as a small child I got used to looking for the light on top of Big Ben that showed Parliament was sitting.
We were part way through a whirlwind of army life. I realized later at the age of 16 I had lived in 16 different houses scattered through the country in towns as far apart as Derby, Caterham, Aldershot, Windsor, London and Aberdeen.
What I didn’t know then was that much more travel was to follow.
In fact, it was some years before it dawned on me that travel was (and still is) the always recurring theme in my dreams. Whatever else appears In my sleep, I am usually going somewhere, traveling along a road or trying to find my way… Journeying.
Model Railway – Hamleys or Gammages?
Back to Model Railways. We used to frequent both Hamleys and Gammages. In all of those enormous stores, with all their floors and dazzling displays of toys, my favorite place was right up on the mezzanine under the roof where the toy trains lived in – I think it was Gammages. Strange that it wasn’t the dolls departments – or even the teddy bears. I much preferred teddy bears to dolls, which I didn’t have much time for. But no, it wasn’t even the teddy bear department that drew me like a magnet. It was the model trains.
I could have stayed for hours – and probably did – watching the trains come and go, walking around the huge oval model railway display that circled right round the balustrade of the mezzanine floor. In and out of the little stations they clattered, along the winding tracks, through the tunnels in the hilly landscape. YES – those hills: for some unexplained reason, they had a fascination for me. Gammages’ train tracks were beautifully landscaped and I was fascinated by the green, paper mache sculptured landforms that made the journeys of those little trains such a joy to watch.
I always wanted a train set. I never got one, and in all truth if I had, it would probably have been a disappointment. Without all those wonderful hills and tunnels, I doubt that it would have really satisfied.
My dad with his artistic skills could have made a landscape for me – if he had the time. I remember an indoor target range he made for the London Scottish regiment with a green landscape made of plywood flats where tanks and other targets appeared and disappeared, running on hidden rails between the hills – quite like the trains, in fact. The night he took me to see that still sticks in my memory.
I was a city girl, born into a Brigade of Guards family, used to living in barracks around London and Windsor and used to hearing my father drilling troops on the square daily. The only hills I had seen were on train journeys between Derby and London – visiting my dad before we moved up to London to live with him in barracks – and of course at Gammages. Now, I am a lover of steam railways and vintage British Rail Posters.
Then when I was 8 we moved from London to Aberdeen, living initially in a suburb on the edge of town and later moving to the village of Peterculter, on the Deeside road to Balmoral. There I had my first encounter with cows – right over the fence of the small house we lived in. The hills didn’t make any great impression though – that was to come later.