My studio is a tidy garage, painted mostly white with corrugated polycarbonate roofing. Not well insulted but it’s a mild day and the light in there is spectacular. Bright and clear. My model is a young artist and a mum, she’s come over from tassie to stay a few nights with a friend and to model for me. Daughter is three – she’s got short cropped hair, wears a striped top under denim overalls. She’s cute as hell.
My model is nude, I photograph her in a couple of simple poses, then she stands and faces me front on so I can paint from life. Daughter wants to be with us, why is mummy’s friend naked? We giggle in delight at the question. There’s a gentle knock at the door, we welcome her in.
I’m sitting on the ground, painting. Daughter crouches behind me, hand on my shoulder to steady herself. She watches me looking and painting, looking and painting. Oh I really like your painting mummy – this is such a beautiful moment in my life, I come back to it over and over.
I never finish the painting, but I am still hopeful to make something of it oneday.
A year on and I’m at my friends house, a few blocks from me. She’s pregnant with her third child and we had talked about my drawing her. She sits nude on a green chair in the living room, her two children play about us as I’m drawing their mother. They are a little confused but it’s soon pretty normal, kids adapt pretty fast; their mother naked and my drawing. I’m still new to drawing people from life away from the university setup, I’m very new to doing it with the kids about but it works. It’s relaxing, and a little funny – I will keep coming back to this moment too.
I approach this painting different as well – relaxed and open. It goes on to be a finalist in a lucrative art prize. I don’t win, but I get an honorable mention and it’s published in the Guardian.
It hangs in the house that we own now, in the good room.
Two years on – a young woman I was tutoring in Melbourne comes up for a lesson. It’s a beautiful autumn day and I take advantage it and set up a still life lesson outside. I’m dabbling in plant growing and arrange some things for the student to draw. After she leaves Daughter asks if she can have a painting lesson too. It’s gotten cold to we move it inside, to my half studio. I setup an easel for her, some watercolours. I arrange the plants and she does one of the most incredible paintings.
I am completely blown away.
In my current studio, the one that I have had for three years now – we’ve painted and drawn together through many mornings, days and nights. In our pajamas, when we should be eating breakfast, when we should probably be doing something else..
This is the safe place; the place that gives meaning, purpose, direction. When you no longer worry about if you’re drawing is good enough, what people will think, when you accept that you will probably do more bad drawings than good ones – then you really have made that safe place for yourself. When you see people’s real bodies, learn their stories. When you can be in each others space but making your own things. She can talk to me about the big and the little things, or we listen to podcasts about science and biology while she draws a unikitty and I draw another dead tree ( or another naked person.) She’s cross at me at the moment because I won’t draw from my imagination. I say oh well, this is my thing.This is what I do and I do it how I do it. She’s not satisfied with that, but that’s ok because I’m her mum and she’s meant to disapprove.
I don’t know how to conclude this, I wrote this on the train ride home. It’s a long journey with patchy internet reception. This all came to me, probably because I was talking to someone today about how much motherhood in interwoven through my work, I’m generally too wrapt up int he art making and making new work and trying to get my work shown and sold to really refelct upon the larger body of work that I have created.
Thank you to those who model for me, thank you to little A for drawing with me. It is so very precious.