My grandfather’s paintbox
I have been contemplating trying watercolours again for a long time. (Trying new things always takes me a long time.) But what keeps stopping me is that the colours in the old painting tin that I inherited from my grandfather – an architect and talented watercolourist are… well a bit limited. It is full of burnt umber and burnt sienna and veridian, ochre. The colours of his naturalist watercolour landscapes of Irish bridges and Scottish islands and Wiltshire woods, painted on holidays.
I looked in envy and amazement as women artists I admired used such a vibrant watercolour palette full of my favourite colours – turquoises and raspberry pinks and bright oranges and rich purples. And I wanted that. But I daren’t buy myself them for ages. Then eventually I did.
But it was a cheap child’s set. I took them home feeling excited to finally get my hands on the colours. Used them and the disappointment of their cheap chalkiness. I needed pure, flowing, rich colour. The children took over the box… and then they were lost. And I found myself missing those colours, the possibilities that they offered, even though they were poor quality.
Every so often I would look at watercolours. But which would be best? I couldn’t decide. I bought watercolour paper and a book on how to paint watercolour fairies. But I felt so bad using the paper, it was so expensive, and my lame first attempts with the muted colours from my grandad’s tin just felt like a waste.
I found myself looking on Amazon, trying to get a bigger selection than my local art stores – but which to choose, whose reviews to trust. So instead – be gentle with me people – I bought the same shitty cheap set again. Yes really.
And I was just as disappointed the second time around!
And then, just yesterday, after months of further stallin I saw a woman’s post on Instagram – she had just refilled the empty pans of her grandmother’s painting tin. There before me I saw all the colours I was coveting. Housed in her own treasured tin.
So THAT’S the solution. That’s what I can do. I can pick the colours I love, that call to me. Pick good quality ones. And fill the pans. I can add the colours I need, that call my soul to my grandfather’s tin, and the ones that called his.
I’m sharing this, because I am quite a slow learner. But I don’t think I’m the only one.
I am realising just how much colour matters to me – again, gentle with me people. It’s not a luxury. It is necessary to my mental health. And that’s OK. So I’m really letting myself have it. Including reading this book on it. In a recent interview I was asked what my gifts to the world were, I felt into that question for a few moments and then said, without hesitation – colour. And safe space for authentic expression. And that felt like a real recognition of myself. And freeing.
And there is the first take home: What do you bring to the world… and what do you need to support you in this? What do you LOVE, perhaps even NEED, that you deny yourself? Or get second best because it feels too indulgent? What do you tell yourself you can’t afford to give to yourself? What do you do with that money instead? What do you tell yourself about what you need and why you don’t deserve it? Do you just rely on what others give you, on hand-me-downs?
The message goes deeper though. Into metaphorical terrain.
This is not just a story about my paints. Or my grandad’s tin. It’s about how the ‘colours’ that generations past used were great for their styles, but they may be too limited, too restrictive or just not suited to our own time and experience. As women we may have gotten a lot of messages (colours) that we need to update. We may have been painting with other people’s colours all our lives. That doesn’t make them bad or wrong, just not what we need right now. It’s about learning to find the right materials for the job in hand, the ones to express OUR experiences, our feelings, our epoch. We need a full tin of colours, including the bright new ones, to represent that.
The colours that we use, that we can choose from inform, frame, colour how we see the world.
It’s about moving beyond a limited palette of the colours of war used by my grandfather’s generation. Each morning I check the news, worrying just how destructive one patriarch across the seas is going to be, about how scary it is to see one person throw red all around, and right at another patriarch who also longs for red. So many of us are longing for a more creative use of ‘colour’, more possibilities on the table. We’re longing for different hues – for that read different voices, different cultures, different hues of human engaged in building our cultures. the richer the painting. We want paintbrushes in all the hands, not just the hands of the rich white men.
When watching a beautiful documentary this week, The Goddess Project, all about women overcoming their fear and conditioning and coming into full self-expression, I was struck by this quote – “Others see their possibility in your reality.” Which is why I share this story. You may not be grappling with paintbox issues – they may be more metaphorical. It may be about the colours you are using, or longing for, about how you give yourself permission to access them, to invest in yourself. How maybe you have unconsciously taken on someone else’s palette or style, and are yearning for your own, but haven’t been able to articulate this. Perhaps you are grappling with which pieces of your lineage to honour and which to lay to rest, which to take out and rework and which to move on from. It’s about valuing our needs, our self-expression and using this life we have to take creative risks, move out of our comfort zones, try new things, inspire each other, and co-create a future together using all the colours. Adding colours to the paint boxes our grandparents gave us… and then using them.