Having reached the age of 65 and looking down the barrel of at least 40 hours of freedom every week, I was struggling to work out what to do with my time. Looking back at previous activities that had taken my interest, I considered painting and drawing. I had no real talent for either, but at various times over the years I had given both a go; usually after a visit to a stately home or an art gallery, being sparked with inspiration by looking at the works of many talented artists.
For reasons that won’t be detailed here, I am one of those unfortunates in life who didn't exactly plan properly for this momentous turning point and, as a result, any retirement activity I decided to pursue had to be done on a strict budget.
Looking at the cost of paint, brushes and canvasses could have put me right off continuing with art as a hobby. However, I had a plan. I had recently noticed that a local charity shop had decked out its front window with lots of art equipment as they had obviously taken in many donations over the last few months. What a great way to kit out my new studio - spare room - all my equipment at reduced cost and helping out a charity at the same time.
I soon discovered that there was no shortage of availability as I toured other charity shops in the town. Easels, canvasses, paint, brushes, pastels and pencils; just about everything I needed and all for a few pounds. It seems to me that people buy a set of paints for a specific project, use what they need and then ditch the rest at the charity shop; a bonus for me.
I wanted to try every aspect of drawing and painting, so I bought canvasses, oil, acrylic and watercolour paint; pads of paper for every medium; an easel, a few dozen brushes; and a selection of old issues of various art magazines.
Ready to go, I printed up some glossy high definition pictures of flowers and plants, some pictures of cars and set off. I mistakenly thought that watercolour would be the simplest way to get into painting, but very soon found out that it is a very technical medium to use and a good result required much planning and more knowledge than I had at the time, so that was very soon shelved.
Oil painting is just as technical as watercolour and takes so much longer to dry. I felt that I wanted to be using something that would dry quickly so that I could get on and finish the whole thing in one session; no patience you see; well, not yet anyway!
I started to use acrylics and soon discovered that this was the paint for me. I found that it could be used thin like watercolour or applied very thick like oil paint, giving a complete range of textures to work with. It can be used on anything from the thinnest of paper up to a sheet of plywood, or even a wall. I had found my preference. The next obstacle was colour mixing; I was lucky enough to find a colour wheel in a box of bits and pieces that I'd bought and then found an article in one of the magazines which taught me how to use it.
This was, and still is, the part of painting that I found most challenging; trying to make my efforts look like the photograph. I wasn't looking for an exact replica; I saw no point as I already had the photograph, but I wanted to produce something that at least resembled the subject.
As with every new venture, the only way to succeed is to practice and practice some more. And practice I did, ruining many sheets of good paper and getting through many tubes of paint in the process, but after a few months I could see that I might, just might, be getting there. I particularly liked a 60cm square painting I'd produced of an apple and a couple of large flowers; a lily and a sunflower (see above and below).
One thing I noticed was that time would just ebb away whilst I was painting and even though there were frustrations I suddenly found that I was happy and relaxed; my mental state of mind was much improved and, whatever the end result of the painting, I just felt better in myself.
Having survived a working life full of technicalities and the traumas of interaction with other people for far too many hours of the day, I found painting to be a beautiful and relaxing pastime. I was unlikely to become a famous painter and would never make money at it, but that wasn't the point. This was a retirement hobby meant to pass the time and make me feel good, and that was certainly working.
I chanced on an advertisement in a local newspaper asking for submissions of art pieces for a local exhibition. I was about to throw it away but something made me take a second look and, seeing that the closing date was only a couple of days away, thought I'd missed the boat. Nothing ventured, I called them and they asked me to send three photos of my work which would be go to the judging panel and they'd let me know.
I followed the instructions and sent three photos and the fee, £15. I could ill afford that, but the thought of having my work on a wall beside other 'proper' artists meant that it was worth it. A few days later I received a call to say that one of my paintings had been chosen and could I take it to the gallery. I didn't need a second invitation and so off it went.
I attended the event which was an altogether grand affair and I was feeling very self-conscious about my work being in a place like this but when I saw it on the wall it didn't look out of place at all. I think my biggest thrill was standing a few feet away and watching two people admire it and making comments. It didn't matter whether they were good or bad comments, they were discussing my humble piece of work. I left the exhibition full of pride and the inspiration to carry on.
A week later I called the art centre to arrange for the collection of my painting to be told that it had been sold. I thought at first that there had been a mistake; but no, it had been sold, someone liked it enough to pay money for it. That was it, I was an artist. My work had sold.
There are a couple of morals to this story: firstly, never give up, however hard a task seems and however frustrated you become trying to achieve something, just never give up. Secondly, and more importantly, look at the value of what you get out of the process. The mental peace of mind and sheer pleasure of producing something that someone else might want to own.
I have gone on to do graphite drawings of cars and motorbikes which I make into greetings cards and are now selling quite regularly and so starts a whole new life for me in retirement. I had been worried about the cost of my new hobby, but quite quickly managed to find a way around that and even though I can now afford to buy from art suppliers my first port of call is always to the charity shops where I invariably find just what I need, and I'm helping a charity at the same time.
See more from Rob in the PaintersOnline gallery by clicking here.