Fifteen years ago I was a 27 year old single mom with a lot of anxiety, extreme OCD and a hyper-active 3 year old son. I hadn’t even heard the word Aspergers and Autism was not what I know it to be today. My son’s over active mind and body and his extreme mood swings were actually quite shocking at times. I was also trying so very hard to try to find a way forward. A way to keep us afloat. We had been without our home and belongings for 12 months. I was home again now and I had the idea I wanted to be an art teacher, I wanted to do something I enjoyed. Teaching children to create art was my dream. I was beginning to realise that I wasn’t thick like school and certain relationships had made me feel. I just hadn’t had the support at school or around me to help me succeed or plan ahead for myself. I didn’t get the correct support with learning to read. I had an idea I might be dyslexic I thought maybe I can do it this time, maybe I’ll get help. I enrolled at college and became an art student on an access course.
After the first 6 months I started to struggle
Keeping up with all my written work was impossible for me. I didn’t have a lot of confidence and I was embarrassed to ask for help. I couldn’t priorities and my time would get wasted. I was finding each day I felt sad and overwhelmed that I had to leave my baby boy in a nursery 5 days a week. I was missing him terribly and it was from 8am till 5pm some days. He started to have really bad nightmares about Baked Beans. Each night he would scream, kick, punch and bite me while I was calming him. The only way I found I could get him to calm and to get him to sleep was to put him in bed with me and sing to him and stroke his hair. I was shattered most days before I even got to college. Pushing a buggy up a big hill with my art box and portfolio was not at all easy after a night of hardly any sleep. *AJ would very often sleep the afternoon in the quiet room of the nursery, this was helpful for them of course but not for me.
I remember sitting in the college library
We had our computer class in the library and where I would sit had a clear view of the nursery playground. Twice a week I got to see my baby boy playing while I was working, I would very often cry because I wanted to be out there with him not stuck in a library. I hate libraries they are one of my worse places.
He played on his own most days
He pedalled round and round in circles on a little blue tricycle, he was so speedy, he still is actually only now it’s his mind, his body he trains with exercise. He did make one friend at nursery, a little girl called Deokee. He called her Okey Cokey and they were little terrors together. Deokee’s mom was in my art groups she was 15 years older than me she was 42, the age I am now. We became friends, she was a loner too. Her name was *Ange and she had spiky hair (different colours on different days) and she dressed like an old punk rocker.
As the months rolled on the pressure of the work became too much.
Even though I was studying art I only had art on two days out of the five. The rest was other modules I would need for when I would go to uni.
I spoke with the college and decided to spread my one year access course over two. This meant I would only be at college 3 days a week instead of 5. I thought this would be easier but it wasn’t. Trying to do my college work at home while *AJ was climbing the walls was just impossible. The only thing that was keeping me sane was my love of painting. I loved the days that I had art but I found myself actually wagging it again. Yep, at 27 years of age I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in a classroom listening to my one tutor drone on and on and on. Educational Psychology became my nightmare and the loops in my sleep were vile. In fact *AJ’s screaming and the Baked Bean nightmares were a relief from the cycles of Sigmund Freud theory or anything else that was being drummed into my already overloaded brain.
I had four tutors for art
They all taught different techniques. I loved all the art I did but there were a couple of the tutors I just couldn’t relate to, they really got up my nose. I know now why this was happening but at the time I was going home and screaming. I was holding it all in and melting down/shutting down in my safe place, home. The tutors wanted to see results of their teaching and I wanted to express who I had hiding deep inside of me. I had 27 years of wanting to be heard and a way to let it out but who I was sharing was being corrected or rejected.
I learned my most valuable lesson off an old hippy.
Now this was adult education so I will share. He was a wonderful tutor so relaxed and in tune. He was odd but in a lovely way and he was such a giggle. He didn’t care what people thought of him. He was out to live life and live it in the way that suited him. He positively bounced into the art room and always told us the exact mood he was in at the start of the class. He never held anything back, he just said it as it was and most of the time I think he was stoned. He just seemed to be so different from all the other teachers/tutors I had ever met before. He was like a friend who respected everyone as individuals and saw all people as equals. He was full of encouragement and adored everyone and how they expressed through the paint. I learned so much from this guy about expression in paint and I loved that he would tell me to ignore the other tutors and just be myself.
He would say things like, “Lisa, art is about you, you being in touch with you…it’s practically orgasmic my dear.” I giggle now at the thought of this 50+ long haired, full bearded little art man and the way he taught. They were some of the best memories of a school experience I have. A bunch of mature students, me being the youngest most of them were in their 40’s. We were having such a laugh, accepted for who we were and where our lives had led us and we were playing with paint.
Wise words from a friend
I was home one afternoon expressing myself in paint, I had *AJ set up next to me with his mini easel, he was painting soldiers. I had a lovely friend renting a room in my home at the time. She had just finished uni and had her first job as a graphic designer. She knew me really well and she knew everything I was going through with *AJ’s Dad and worries about my benefits. She could tell straight away that I was upset and went through a list of things she knew were constantly upsetting me asking with such patience. It wasn’t any of the usual things but through talking it out with her I realised I was getting hurt by the tutors not accepting the way I wanted to express myself.
My friend *J then said to me words that made me think deeper about my art than I ever had before. She said this…”Do you paint like this because the tutor asks you to, or because you want to? To study art and get your exams you have to give the tutors what they require. To paint for you, you just need to paint and be you. You need to decide what you want out of art.”
While I was at college for those few months
I created a 9ft tall cardboard suit of armour made to the measurement of Goliath in the Bible. I wanted to take it outside and burn it after I made it. To me the art would have been the photos of the sculpture falling to the elements. My tutors wouldn’t let me.
I made a clay mask of a blind man I wanted the eyes left expressionless. My tutor poked holes in the eye balls with a pencil without even asking me.
I made a sculpture of a headless breastfeeding mother, I understood why but couldn’t explain and therefore looked like I was not following the program.
I also made a sculpture that got stolen and then found it for sale in a local Christian book shop.
But what pushed me to finally leave was having my whole portfolio stolen with 6 months of completed work that had been sent in for marking. These were mostly batiks that had taken months and landscapes of local woodland. No one understood why it hurt me so deeply to lose that work.
I put me into my art and my art is a healing process, a journey through who I am and a discovery of where God is leading me.
An after thought from writing this post shared with a friend.
I always photograph my art now. Those painting were a healing process for me and I think maybe I was never meant to hold on to them or the memories captured in them. I released a lot into the work I did and I know that it brought me peace. The 9ft Goliath armour was still standing in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs when my younger sister went to the same college. She didn’t even know I had made it but she felt drawn to it and it comforted her while she was studying. So even there God had a plan.
A quote from Pablo Picasso
“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”