Last summer we invited people of all ages to express their experience of lockdown through words, pictures or music. The adult winner of our ‘My Life in Lockdown’ competition was Suzie Yates, for her beautiful paintings inspired by walks around Crediton. But, as she explains here, she had only recently taken up painting to help cope with the anxiety of lockdown. Inspired by Grayson Perry’s TV series Art Club, she found the confidence to pursue her passion and she is now selling her work as prints and greeting cards in local shops.
It was a huge surprise to me that I was able to enter the competition at all. I had written in my diary earlier this year: ‘I want to be creative but I can’t seem to bring myself to reward myself with the time.’ Well, if this year gave me anything at all, (and let’s be honest, we’ve got to take any positives we can find in 2020), it gave me time.
Still, time wasn’t enough.
Severe asthma meant that I was instructed to shield with my family. Thankfully both my husband and I were able to continue working from home for which we know we are incredibly lucky. Our four ‘children’ had to stay at home too - I really felt for them as they were between 16-20 in age and just at the time of life when they wanted to be out of the house.
For the first few weeks, we muddled along and it felt a bit like Christmas in the summer - lots of games and messing about. As time went on though, I found myself feeling more anxious about catching Covid or one of the family catching it. I began to avoid the news and really shield myself from the outside world. I couldn’t talk about what was going on at all without feeling couldn’t breathe and having chest pains. I realise now I was having anxiety or panic attacks.
I had realised quite quickly that it was good for me to keep busy during times I wasn’t working (I’m employed part time) and although normally I love reading, I found I couldn’t concentrate at all on more than a paragraph. I tried crocheting again, as a friend had taught me how last year. It was great - busy fingers, busy brain. I also tried to remember how to knit. A few amusing FaceTime lessons with friends later, I had knitted several crowns, a scarf and a huge cardigan and had made a few large rainbow coloured crocheted blankets.
Then summer hit. It was rather too warm to be holding heavy knitting and crochet on my lap.
The friend who had helped me with my knitting suggested I paint to keep busy. We had done A level art together years ago and were both lamenting our failure to create anything and our lack of confidence to even try. We had watched the National Portrait Artist of the Week programmes during lockdown and dared each other to have a go at joining in. I had a go and was fairly pleased that I hadn’t forgotten basic sketchbook skills.
Then I watched Grayson Perry’s Art Club
What a breath of fresh air that was. The one thing he said that I will never forget was this: ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish. Just have a go. It really doesn’t matter. It’s the process of creating that’s important, not the end product.’
It was a complete game changer for me. It was the first time anyone had ever said that the end product didn’t have to be brilliant. I always felt that if I spent a few hours painting, it would be a waste of time if I hadn’t created something beautiful - but Grayson was saying no, it’s not a waste of time at all!
And so I painted.
I painted a picture of the river where I played as a child on Exmoor. It wasn’t brilliant at all but it was art therapy in its finest form. It physically hurt to paint, for the reason above. but also because it was where I wanted to be and I couldn’t go. I was locked in the house but now I could escape into creativity. I cried into the paint and then tentatively shared the painting on social media.
Positive comments gave me the courage to carry on. Believe me, there have been more tears.
There have been more anxiety attacks, though not any for a while now. But there has been an unleashing of creativity, an unlocking of something that has been told to wait for too many years.
And this, perhaps, is just the beginning.