I didn’t always paint. In fact, I came to it in my late thirties. As a child and young adult I avoided art, mostly because I felt I was not talented enough to pull it off. Add to that problems with dexterity and vision, and I assumed it was a lost cause. Most of my life my creative drive was focused on writing. Writing came easy to me, and it gave me joy, so that’s what I did.
I’m not entirely sure when the shift happened. It likely was sometime during the year I had a membership to the National Art Gallery. A friend and I would go to admire the art, and it was hard to leave there as anything but inspired. It made you want to go home and create art yourself—even if you weren’t any good at it, you still wanted to try. When she told me that “watercolours are very forgiving,” it stuck with me.
Soon I was the proud owner of a watercolour paint and paper set. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a beginner set I bought at the gallery. But it was the start of something that would begin to consume me. However, I didn’t only stick to watercolours. I began to explore, and now I have almost every art supply you can imagine.
At first it was nothing. Just a few brushstrokes, trying to paint a penguin or a flamingo. But my friend was correct, watercolour was indeed very forgiving. Not only that, but I could also focus on the broad strokes with big brushes that didn’t hurt my hands, because sometimes the suggestion of an image is better than the details.
As I picked up art, writing fell away. I began to feel guilty. Was I even a writer anymore? Where I used to write regularly, now I painted every day, unable to even recall the last time I fired up the laptop to write. Why couldn’t I bring myself to do both?
And then I discovered mixed media and art journalling. Mixed media is exactly what they sounds like—using multiple mediums in your art piece. Art journalling dives a little deeper and is meant to be an expression of your feelings, or what concerns you at the time. Here is where I found my niche.
Because in the end, art journalling is not all that different from writing. They’re both forms of personal expression, sometimes for a wider audience, sometimes just for yourself. Not only that, but often the art journalling process involves written journals or quotes and phrases that have meaning for you. Sometimes I even paint a background to my own poetry.
But that’s just the process. For me the very act of painting, of putting brush to paper, gives me the brightest of joy. It doesn’t even have to resemble anything, it could be random streaks of watercolour or acrylics, and that’s enough to settle me. Without it I start to get twitchy. There’s a freedom in painting that I never could quite grasp before. With art you can be abstract, you don’t have to focus on realism if you don’t want to. I enjoy that.
And each painting is a story—told in a different way. Looking back, painting and art journalling are a natural progression from my hobby of photography. There was something about capturing a picture that intrigued me. It had to be framed properly, with the right light and composition because those were the key pieces of the story of the picture. This is no different with painting. It’s simply different mechanics of capturing what you see, be it with your eyes or with your imagination.
I’m a queer, disabled, indigenous woman. That’s a lot of identity politics to unravel. I always found it difficult to articulate what it feels like to wander through the world with all of that. Art gives me a way to express who I am in a very physical way. It’s the colours, the materials, the feel as you swipe brush across paper. I can be as dark and dramatic as I want or need to be, or as cheerful and cheesy as my mood may take me. I can simply be.
There was always something within me that wanted to be a storyteller. I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter what form the story takes, it’s in the telling of it that you find the true magic.
Despite her day job as a bureaucrat, April Laramey is a writer, dabbles in photography, spends too much time on the internet, paints, and occasionally gets some exercise. Her favourite colour is green, she wants to work in a bookstore when she grows up, and when she dies she wants her tombstone to read “To Be Continued…”