I had arrived in Scotland with a perfect BBC accent. Aberdonians are very Scottish, very patriotic, egalitarian and up-front. No place to be talking like a London radio announcer, as I soon found out. That BBC accent disappeared very quickly.
My new school was the High School for Girls in Aberdeen, now Harlaw Academy where pupils gain the advantage of a great Scottish education. I was there for 8 years in total – my longest term at any school by a long shot. In spite of our continual house moving though, my parents had always made sure I got the best possible schooling. This settled period at an excellent school occurred at just the right time in my education.
Outside of school, I started off making scrapbooks of pictures I liked, embellished with painted artwork and lettering, drawing on ideas from magazines and books. My stamp album got the same treatment. And though with some of these ideas I was copying from existing artwork or photos, I’ve come to appreciate that the discipline of doing that started to train my eye really well.
The leaping tiger was an icon used by Esso Petroleum at the time.
Getting close to pipe band competitions on Scottish soil inspired a pencil study of a Highland dancer, drawn from a photo in the local newspaper – I’m glad I have that. Not many people outside of Scotland realize that Highland dancing is actually an excellent fitness training. Traditionally, in Highland Regiments the soldiers did PT and the officers did Highland Dancing, to stay fit. Highland dancing is something I loved at school and would take up again, if there were any close to me – I was always happy when we walked into the gym and saw the pianist sitting at the piano!
The sword and helmet design was also an embellishment in one of my scrapbooks.
There was plenty of Art at school in the early days – I still have one or two of the many things we created in art classes. Of course, we were given the usual array of still life subjects, but it seems at some stage our art teacher got creative and found something especially taxing for us to focus on:
They’re actually quite tricky subjects, and I’m glad to have these two paintings still – mainly because I used the backs of them for designing something else. (It’s called keeping a portfolio -Haha!) They would have been done in my early teens.
As we got to the higher classes, we were encouraged to produce black and white ink illustrations for use in the annual school magazine.
My first was of Alice in Wonderland, drinking from the bottle and holding her hand on the top of her head to see if she was growing any taller. No prizes for guessing where that idea came from, but I remember especially the art teacher’s help and encouragement in creating it. I know it was accepted for the magazine, and so were a couple more in later years.
I wish I still had those magazines…
Parents – keep your kids’ art stuff!
The earliest piece I have, done within a couple of years of moving to Scotland, is a half-finished drawing on a sheet of lined paper ripped from a school exercise book of a tiger attacking a buffalo, copied freehand from an illustration in the book “Man-Eaters of Kumaon” by Major Jim Corbett.
It was perhaps the fist edition of this book, and there have been many since. I’m not sure if they all have the original artwork, which I think was by the great wildlife artist, Bob Kuhn. I remember being fascinated by the illustrations in that book – more quality artwork!
And though the book was technically a “hunting” book, it was special. Jim Corbett has an enormous reputation as a humble yet highly skilled and patient hunter, who rid parts of India of some really dangerous wildlife, while at the same time showing humanity and care for wild animals. In later life, he exchanged his rifle for a camera, as many hunters do.
Another very early piece was this Guy Fawkes, developed from a black and white logo in a newspaper advertisement run by a fireworks company. Inside the small circle, probably less than 1″ across, you could just see the face and the tall hat, the armful of fireworks and the side of Guy’s lantern. Tiny as it was, the quality of the design made an arresting image.
My dad suggested I do something with it. The challenge was to expand it out, bring in color, and still retain the play of light and shadow created by the lantern. I was about 10 when I did that.
Learning About Art
Gradually, art awareness began to develop. With help, I was learning to analyze what I saw from a graphics point of view – maybe not with the improved understanding that comes from years of practice, book study and looking, but at least innately. My dad encouraged me to start a “swipe file” of pictures I liked, as a reference tool. Over the years it grew to huge proportions, but it still contains stuff that dates back to that time.
Soon, when looking at books or magazines, I was taking note of the artwork. How was that picture done? What about the composition? What about the colors? What about the angle? At the time I was barely conscious of this, except to know that I enjoyed pictures, but through sharing my dad’s thoughts, the habit grew stronger and never left me. It took me a while to realise that not everyone sees things this way. Quite a shock!
Years later, that old Tiger drawing got reworked it into a fantasy battle between a tiger and a huge snake. Must have been looking at too much of Frank Frazetta’s work, he had a real passion for huge snakes!