Storytelling Otters

Life doesn’t always go as planned. We say it and hear it often, but we don’t often stop and think about just what it means. For most of us around the world, 2020 has been a year where every plan seemed to go out of the window in a matter of weeks. Holidays cut shut or cancelled, weddings postponed, airports closed, countries locked down, missing loved ones’ birthdays, no more visiting grandparents, IVF cycles and minor surgeries cancelled…for many it’s been a year of disappointments and of crushed hopes.

For me, 2019 turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, too. Without going into too many details, it was one of the hardest years of my life, and it was also the first year of marriage.

We started 2019 with hope, expectations and was ready to plunge headfirst into the unknown, but with all the childish excitement and longing of exploring a new beach and building your first sandcastle. Little did we know that the tide would come in – often – and wash all those hard-built expectations flat. Every time the tide ebbed and our hopes grew again, inevitably the tides came back, sometimes stronger, sometimes leaving just enough sand behind to give us strength to carry on.

By year’s end we were exhausted, but not defeated. We had a new perspective and a new dose of courage from an unlikely source, and we were looking forward to closing off the year feeling “okay”, but prepared enough for whatever came next.

Then, like I said in the beginning, life doesn’t always go as planned. My grandmother became seriously ill just before Christmas, and within a few weeks, it was all over. So followed a Christmas of missing cards on the mantelpiece and holding on to precious memories.

January came and with it, time to say goodbye. It looked like 2020 wasn’t getting off to a much better start and coming back home from the UK I felt as though my perspectives had shifted yet again. I was caught up in leaving-behind and trying to move forward, and not sure how I could do either.

But then the world was hit by this virus, and plans were destined to be scrapped yet again. However, one event had already been set in motion: one that we’d been tirelessly planning for – and failing at – for more than a year. And one that couldn’t have come at a worse, yet a better time.

What has any of this got to do with painting, you ask? Well during all of this, a painting was sat on my easel, waiting for the final layers of paint.

It was meant to be bright, bold, inspiring, hopeful. But around me events were anything but. Then by February I was too exhausted and sick of paint fumes to spend any time at the easel, so still it sat there, with its beautiful rays of hope and incomplete expectations, until finally the time came to finish it.

It was one of those ideas that wasn’t really an idea at all. I spend so long thinking and stressing over ideas that often come to nothing. Do you start with a style, a mood or a subject? I know I was fascinated with skyscapes, the textures of clouds and the changing colours of light at the time, but I also know from experience that painting just a landscape alone with no subject doesn’t bring me as much joy as I’d like it to. Destined to be a forever half-finished painting, this one needed a subject, it needed hope.

And I did finish it, embracing all those feelings of hope, of loss, resilience and not too small a dose of joy. The otter and its pup represent all of these, with the baby as much wrapped in the warm envelope of colours as it is in its mother’s arms. Mother and offspring have more special significance to me now, but at the time they just seemed to be the right animal for the scene.

Patterns in the Sea, acrylic on canvas

Life doesn’t always go as planned, and neither does painting. Sometimes it’s a long and dark road to get to where you planned, and there could be some waves along the way, but eventually the sea will calm, the horizon will flatten and you’ll know your next adventure is waiting.

Thank you for allowing me to share this personal journey with you!

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