On following one’s passion … whatever it is

A little over ten years ago I was a painter – not the house-painting kind, but on canvas.

I used to draw when I was a kid – without worrying what it looked like. But as an adult I never felt my drawings were good enough. So one day, in an attempt to do something about it, I cut back on my ‘real’ job and enrolled at the Brisbane Institute of Art as a part-time student. It was like finding something I hadn’t even realised had been lost.


From then on, art filled my waking life and even my dreams … which might have been the reason my husband caught me, fast asleep and swishing my hand through the air in wide, painterly strokes.

For nine years, I learned to draw and paint and understand the alchemy of mixing colour – under the tutelage of brilliant artists like Hollie, Glen Henderson, Sally L’Estrange and David Paulson. I lived, breathed and talked art, and probably bored my non-artist friends to death.

I do have one pang of regret though, remembering the day I told my young son to stop complaining and go make himself lunch because I didn’t want to stop painting. He made himself a rough banana sandwich and one for me. He was four at the time. It was 2pm and I had forgotten to eat lunch – alright for an adult, but not a child. And it wasn’t the first time I had done that. Bad mother!

I thought I would be painting until the day I dropped with brush in hand and the smell of gum turpentine up my nose. But no, an interloper crept up on the paintings … insidious, gentle TEXT.

‘land is memory memory is land land is memory memory is land’

I have never been happy with painting objects as they seem (although I loved to paint still-lifes every now and then), and going to BIA pushed me out of comfort zones. I loved when the abstraction of ideas appear in the images too.

When I studied painters who use text as part of their art – like the wonderful Australian artists Bea Maddock and John Wolseley,  words began to appear into my paintings more and more – paintings became narratives, demanding to tell more than what the images did.

I did a text-sprinkled painting about my grandmother growing up in the shadow of Walsh’s Pyramid and it wasn’t enough – the narrative filled my head until I wrote it down.

I was hooked. The path to writing for children followed soon after.

In the beginning it was easy to slip between the two forms of creating – they are so similar. A painting goes through many drafts like writing. Sometimes a mistake ends up a ‘happy accident’, offering a better solution to a problem in design or media, just like in writing. But writing demands much more than painting. Something had to give way…

What I once was with art, now I am with writing –  not answering the phone if I’m in fictional land; thinking, dreaming about characters, plots, dialogues and all. I try not to bore my non-writing friends, especially those who keep asking me when I’m going to paint more pictures or have another exhibition, but my head is never not filled with words.  I also relish any opportunity to spend time with my author friends talking writing and books.

But have to admit, I do feel pangs of regret I don’t make the time to paint anymore  – especially when I see my artist friends at their work-in-progress or talk to other artists about what they are doing. Or when I smell gum turpentine. Tubes of oils still sit in my studio, with blank canvases, my easel and brushes. I will paint again. One day.

Two of my paintings feature in the February 2010 issue of the Housten Literary Review online magazine.

(c) Images on this post are under the protection of international copyright laws and must not be copied without the permission of the author.


17 thoughts on “On following one’s passion … whatever it is

  1. Hi Sheryl,
    Thanks for visiting my blog. Your art is beautiful.

    It’s interesting to hear from you in more than one way: both of us switched from a different art form to writing fiction for children; and I got my Bachelor’s and Honor’s degrees in music from Australia! I went to the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide.

    I wish we could have time to focus on more than one passion…


  2. I so get this post. And I so understand the guilt of spending more time on one passion rather than the other one. For now I keep trying to balance them.
    Wish me luck!


  3. Thank you, Lynn.
    I’m going to make a real effort this time – I miss it so much, even though I tell myself that’s life, get on with it.


  4. So good to hear you’re painting again, Sheryl! Almost every writer I’ve met has fallen into it from a different artform whether it’s music, acting or the visual arts. I love flittering into a past artform while I’m writing – it’s so freeing 🙂


  5. I’m envious! I have no talent in drawing or painting at all, or the patience. I can take time over a single word, but not over details in an illustration!
    But when you do a school visit and the kids want to know if you illustrate your own books and you say no…. I do wish I could.


  6. Congratulations Sheryl with your recent success in the Housten review. Love your paintings.
    You’ve inspired me. I haven’t drawn for years. Thinking I may take up my sketch pad again and see what happens.
    Cheers, Karen :))


  7. Sheryl… I can understand a little. I too have slipped from painting to writing and though I’ve done a little folk art, pastels, charcoals etc I really relate to that smell of oil paint. I too hope to get back to it one day, though am reasonably content writing these days.
    I knew when I was 8 that I wanted to be an artist but at that time I dreamed that I would be painting as an old hermit, living alone… so I’ve still got a little time before I reach what I consider ‘old’. I’m already a hermit!
    (I really don’t know how writing crept in… that wasn’t in my dreams at all.)


  8. Kath, when I think of you down there in Adelaide, I wonder if you’re at the computer or the drawing pad. 🙂 You’re right, it is a balancing act – and I haven’t got my balance right yet!


  9. Sheryl, I know exactly what you mean. I remember early on in my writing and illustrating, I really didn’t think I could have both. I’m lucky in that I’ve found a way to move between them now, but they’re both very demanding. And when I’m caught up in one, I often feel guilty I’m neglecting the other. But life is an awkward kind of balancing game, isn’t it? I suppose we can only do our best!


  10. Hi Sheryl
    Your post reminds me of a story about my mum when she took up pottery. Dad woke in the middle of the night to find sitting up in bed molding imaginary clay. It’s nice when your passion slips into your dreams. The plot for my next novel came from a dream.


  11. It’s a hunger isn’t it? The hunger to learn how things work and to strive to develop your own style. And there are just never enough hours to do everything.

    Thanks for sharing Sheryl


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