Isn’t it weird when a lyric from a song jumps out at you and you really hear the line for the first time, despite having heard it play a hundred times before?
This happened to me last week.
I’d been writing a blog post about how important it is to prioritise doing things you really enjoy. The focus was on neuroscience research that shows doing enjoyable activities helps you to grow your inner strengths and actually enjoy your life more over the long term.
Of course as a mummy to two toddlers, my blog post writing was interspersed with time watching cartoons with them. And for a long while the favourite has been The Tiger That Came to Tea. It’s a beautifully animated 2019 adaptation of a children’s book classic.
In it there’s a joyful song performed by Robbie Williams which I’d heard SO many times. But this time a line from the chorus line jumped out at me:
“Do the things you love while you are able”
The poignancy of this really touched me.
It brought to mind the HUNDREDS of emails my team and I have received from people, mostly in later life, now struggling to paint due to health conditions affecting their eyes or hands, or both.
So I wanted to share this as a rallying cry to those of you still in good enough health to paint and draw in the ways you want to.
Your time is NOW.
If you LOVE painting, or believe you will, please don’t put off doing it until some future date when you think it’ll be more convenient to do it. Make the most of your health now. It can’t be taken for granted (something I learned in my late 20s).
But what about if you’ve already got health issues affecting you?
Is it too late to enjoy painting?
The thing about the messages I receive from people with compromised health is that, although I really feel for what they’ve lost, their courage and ingenuity shines through too.
They’ve found ways they can paint, styles that suit the way they are now. Perhaps they can still enjoy the feel of the paint, the play of colour. Detailed work might now be much harder, but other styles bring them equal joy.
And they’re not the only ones, artists throughout history have adapted. Here are just a couple of examples:
Grandma Moses (1860 – 1961)
At the age of 76, when her arthritis became so bad that she could no longer hold a needle to embroider with, Grandma Moses picked up a paintbrush instead.
That small act of picking up a paintbrush led to Grandma Moses producing over 1,500 paintings in 3 decades, winning awards, being featured on the cover of TIME magazine, and her being awarded two honorary doctorate degrees. When she died at the age of 101, President John F. Kennedy said “The death of Grandma Moses removed a beloved figure from American life.”
Grandma Moses achieved all of this with painful, arthritic hands. In fact, when her right hand became too painful to paint with, she switched to her left! She’s an artist who has inspired me profoundly. You can read more about her, and see her work, in a blog post I wrote about her here.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
For the last 14 years of his life, Matisse needed to use a wheelchair, and had to adapt his artistic practices. He took to working with torn pieces of paper and worked with assistants, using chalk on the end of a long stick to sketch out where the pieces of paper should be placed.
Rather than allowing his reduced mobility to lower his spirits, Matisse felt more able to do and say as he wanted, and described these years as “une second vie”, or his second life.
Paul Klee (1897-1940)
In the last 5 years of his life, prolific artist Paul Klee started to suffer from a mystery illness which affected his skin and his internal organs, causing him great pain and fatigue. Ten years after his death, his condition was diagnosed as “scleroderma”, an extremely rare disease.
Though the joints in his hands were causing him extreme pain, he continued to paint. His style became simpler, less colourful, and dominated by black lines. Whilst his productivity was affected, Klee painted through his pain right up until the end of his life.
So the message here is: focus on the things you ARE able to do. And make sure you DO them. You deserve to enjoy yourself!
It’s a happy message, especially when you take it from Tiger (and have a little boogie):
Have health issues affected your ability to paint? Have you had to move away from painting detail? Have you had to change medium or style?
Or has Tiger inspired you to pick up your brushes TODAY?
I’d love to hear in the comments below. Your story may well inspire someone else who needs to hear it.