Updated: Oct 15
This month’s blog is not so much about botanical art and my love of it but who we are and how the right personality for the right job or hobby can be right there under your nose.
I can imagine myself small and sitting in my cardboard pop-up botanical room. I would have a small desk and chair and an infinite supply of paint materials and paper, and a window to look out of and dream.
May I be so bold as to share this with you?
As a child I was visibly shy; I would hide from visitors or happily choose to be alone in a crowded room. Those of us who are shy are often very content to spend time alone. Following events or time spent in crowds; we are only too ready to retreat into our thoughts and, as they say nowadays - find our happy place. It is a funny thing; all my young life I fought shyness, and yes, even today, I think I still do.
Back in my teens I remember making a conscious effort to be more gregarious, to speak out and be more noticeable. I was tired of being shy and thought life would be better in the spotlight. On occasion, I would push myself forward but found I was unpracticed at being visible, often messing up and doing all I could to retreat into the background again. The decision to push myself forward followed a school report that said I was often seen palely loitering and staring out the windows ( brutal but very true), this made my parents giggle but it was a label that I have never forgotten, as you can see. The psychological effects of these excursions from my natural character made me feel quite overwhelmed, and were followed by hours of worry and concern on how I was perceived.
I could describe many events that sent me into a whirl of worry. In hindsight, they were literally non-events; moments that were probably forgettable to everyone there or, most likely, never even noticed. To mention one occasion, there was an audition for the school choir; my voice was underwhelming, quiet, and probably off-key. My heart was pounding and I was terrified, yet I longed to join in. After finishing my song, I was bluntly told to sit down, and nothing more was said, I did not get in.
I laugh at this event now, but it felt so awful at the time that I have never sung publicly since. I sing silly stuff at home, to the dog or when I am washing up. I wasn't good enough for the choir, and the rejection was such that I would never try again. I love to sing but, since that experience, never in front of strangers.
Daisy and shadow (crop)Ⓒ Billy Showell
I am relating this story to you as I have met many students who have had a similar event with art. Something they desperately wanted to do but were thwarted with a misplaced criticism at a time when it meant everything to be accepted. Artistic people are often too shy to ask what was wrong or what they could do to improve. Often our art is an expression of what makes us tick, therefore, any opinion of it can be emotionally charged. I am constantly aware of this when teaching and wary of saying the wrong thing in place of comfortable, caring and constructive criticism.
I taught a chap some years ago who had waited until his retirement to try art and painting. He was 10 years old when he was told by his primary school art teacher (who, to be fair, was probably not the best judge) said that he would never be an artist as he couldn't draw a straight line! But I can't draw a dead straight line either, surely that's why the ruler was invented? It is sad how we can put our dreams on hold after one such sentence. Luckily, I don't think a modern-day school teacher would lay out such life-limiting ideas.
Fading splendour (crop)Ⓒ Billy Showell
I am exploring shyness here on my blog as I imagine many of us who like to paint nature are, like me, of a similar disposition. I think that painting is the perfect pastime for those who want to be alone with their thoughts and flourish in the safety of their own imagination.
I was chatting to my youngest son about the idea of shyness, how one can be shy yet still put themselves forward for attention, battling their way through every step. It is something that comes to mind so often that I question why I inflict it upon myself. I wonder if others do the same? Every late summer I fall into an unexpected episode of shoulder pain and stress that I know to be associated with the pressures of keeping up with this pace of life. It's a pattern I am working hard to amend but there it is every summer, an unconscious inner pressure.
The pressure to be vocal or actively joining in seems to have become more intense these days. So, while thinking about the stresses I have put upon myself over my lifetime, I have decided to attempt the opposite: to joyously bathe in the quiet.
It's not an easy thing to switch off, especially when one is exacting about their work.
Teaching painting is one of my loves. I adore seeing students flourish and indeed, overtaking my career to fly to newer and greater heights of skill. However, teaching involves standing in front of a room full of people and, in a way, performing. When I started out 25 odd years ago, I was a bag of nerves. Now, when it comes to teaching a live class, although I feel the trepidation of messing up, I can confess that I really do enjoy it and it has been a successful exercise to combat my shyness. I love seeing the familiar faces, but now also love meeting the new. Fortunately, I can remove teaching from my stress list.
I do not enjoy crowds and never have; I panic, and no matter how hard I try, I can't help feeling overwhelmed and afterwards, relatively low. I have no idea why that is, but it's easily avoided, so I can try to avoid that from now on and not worry about it.
Well, this is a funny one because sometimes I would stand up to say something despite my whole being telling to me sit down and be quiet. Often, I would stand up because it was a subject that I felt passionate about, so I guess that's where my energetic bravery came from. After any public speaking, I would dissolve into a fearful mess of wobble. Nowadays, with my epiphany, I can gladly put public speaking to bed; however, I think I am or would be able to talk about 'my art' in a public capacity, as I am fairly sure I know what I am talking about. Recently though, in my position as president of the Society of Botanical Artists, I had found making speeches or speaking in front of the members was the worst part of the job. Even now, I feel queasy thinking about it. The speeches were less about what I knew and more about the event, the facts and the 'thank yous' and so on. Any number of mistakes could be made. Heavens! I was out of my comfort zone there; even arranging events behind the scenes gave me huge feelings of imposter syndrome. I could do the job well enough, I think but feared I would fail. Those fears were enough to give me many restless nights. Sometimes you have to step back to see the state you have put yourself in.
White star Ⓒ Billy Showell
I am a visual person, which is a perfect thing to be when shy. One can stand aside and watch the world around them, absorbing it slowly.
I remember things by recalling specific scenes, pictures, moments of light or the composition of objects and words. I can look back on the emotion of a particular moment in time; only when I have remembered the image can I call upon the feeling and then the facts or information as it appeared to me at that time. Perhaps it's an odd thing to remember things in this way but I suppose all our brains are wired differently, to recall and store what we need. My brain has filtered everything away that it thinks I won't need and leaving only images. I think I have a 'scrapbook brain'. I should probably try some brain training to filter out the filter, ha ha.
Looking positively at how I perceive the world around me, I think there is merit for a painter to have a visual memory. I remember specific shades, subtle changes in light, and how colours bounce off each other. I also remember songs that complimented scenes and how the light affected the emotion of a situation. I know I am not alone, we can all do this, but it is not so easy to understand how we are in the world and how we can be happy in it. Sadly, we all compare ourselves to others; we can find ourselves saying, why aren't I more like them, or why can't I do this or that? This is the paranoia of the shy, wishing we were out there in the crowd, rather than watching from the side.
The Paintings I have added to this post tell a story. I wonder if what we chose to paint says more about our characters than we think? I don't think it is any coincidence that my paintings are predominantly on a white background. Once I saw and recognised the style of botanical art images, I loved the space around them and knew I’d found my genre.
I never comfortably chose to paint crowded images, I liked to paint the flowers alone or in familiar small groups, and when I did add a background it was usually dark and 'quiet' in its effect on the subject. Sometimes my flower paintings looked like they were in small conversations or alone in splendid isolation. So maybe we don't choose our art, it chooses us. Maybe it changes as we change. Perhaps my art will change when I learn how to be more chilled. I will say here, I am now very happy not to sing in a choir or in public but much happier to express myself through my art, it suits me.
So, let us positively move on from combating who we are. Let’s not do that anymore and enjoy being shy. Let us embrace being quiet and contemplative. Let's not compete or try to be like others but gradually nourish our own way of being and encourage ourselves to be the best we can be within our own sense of what is comfortable. We may become stronger and less vulnerable if we do things our own way.
We can reach higher if we know how best to gently stretch ourselves.
Plants for wellness
I have been nourishing some houseplants that add to the general well being of our home. lavender in the bedrooms and bamboo in the kitchen, together with the beautiful Gerbera Daisy plant is an effective way of removing trichloroethylene and benzene (which is a chemical found in inks, compounds known to add to indoor air pollution.) Chrysanthemums, add calmness and joy to a room and as a tea, can also help to relax the body and increase your metabolism.
Conversational Gerberas Ⓒ Billy Showell