There is so much more to the art room at The Prince & Princess of Wales Hospice than a place to create new work, says patient Gordon Currie.
I have always been crafty at the Blue Peter level, but never arty in any way. I have never considered myself to have any level of drawing skills, let alone the ability to lift a brush and produce a piece of work worthy of hanging on a wall.
So I have truly been on what that much over-used expression would describe: a journey of discovery.
That first step into the hospice’s art room saw me have a quiet chat with one of the hospice artists to get an overview of the media options: watercolours, charcoals, pastels, oils or acrylics, to find one I thought I could handle.
Then, from the extensive reference library, there was some time to flick through the pages until something raised a spark in my mind and I was ready to take those first tentative steps of applying pencil to paper.
In my case I was soon absorbed in the creative process of watercolours, yet very aware of the light approach of the hospice artists as they flitted between my colleagues. There was a word of encouragement, a passing comment on the basic pencil outline, a quiet suggestion on colour options, praise for the boldness of the brush strokes and positive snippets that build confidence and make you feel you are going in the right direction.
If they sense you are unhappy with your efforts, they will find something positive in the work and encourage you to take that bit forward into a more suitable piece.
And then there is the support from within the group and their encouraging words, the ultimate accolade being, “Are you going to have it framed?” That’s not said out of politeness but genuine acknowledgement that you have completed something worth keeping.
As the say the artist is their own worst critic, in my case the question was: “Did I think it was worth framing, and is this a picture I can live with and look at every day?”
Those of us attending day services at the hospice have one thing in common – palliative care. Is it just vanity to want to leave some tangible evidence of your own existence? Something you have made with your own hands?
I remember when my mother was in her 70s and already a master with the crochet needle, she decided to learn to knit a piece of lace. Was it vanity that encouraged her to sit for hours learning a new skill? I think it was determination to learn something new – and a great deal of love.
And that is what the art room has provided me with, an opportunity to leave my children with a tangible token of my presence on this earth, and of my love.
One of my favourite paintings made in the art room is of a rose. There was a moment in painting this bloom when I lifted too much paint on my brush, producing a dark blot in the middle of the rose. And the sinking feeling that, after much effort, I had spoiled the piece. Then there was a faff to blot it, only to find that, once lifted, the image now had a texture.
It may sound silly, but in creating this almost three-dimensional effect I had discovered not only a new technique but a need to look more closely at art in general.
You could say this was a genuine moment of enlightenment, it was the first time I felt competent and capable of tackling much more.
Now when I look at this finished painting in its frame, I am drawn to the richness of the rose and the feeling I could stroke the petals. But it is the twisting leaves that hold my eye. Long finished their task of protecting the rose when it was but a bud, the leaves don’t hang limp and desolate but still reach out and up, enjoying the light. That is perhaps a pretty good metaphor for where my life is and perhaps the same for many others enjoying the support and encouragement we receive in the art room.
On a personal level, I have not only discovered the importance of companionship outside of immediate family, I have found peace of mind, a great desire to use my time constructively and a need to apply and extend this new-found skill.
As for my painting? The words of Robert Burns sum it up:
“O wad some power the gift tay gie us
Ta see oor ‘art’ – as ithers see it.”