I can remember the first artwork I was proud of - a colourful bird in crayon, with a thick black coat of Readimix paint - a perfect wax-resist! The only problem was that my best friend had done one exactly the same, and I’d copied it!

The rest of my glittering primary school art career passed in a blur - I remember a lot of tracing, painting from imagination and trying to get my drawings to ‘look like something’. It wasn’t until early secondary that I discovered that I could actually draw reasonably well, so of course, that became my medium of choice: small, detailed drawings, shaded in coloured pencil, because that was what I was good at. Skills teaching is now core to the Art curriculum, with students taught to develop their skills in different media, but not in the eighties, so how I passed O level and A level Art, I don’t know, as I possessed very few!

As I didn’t really know what else to do, I went into primary teaching and in Art lessons, really loved helping the children experiment with different materials, especially clay. The trouble was, I had very little skill myself, so the children would reach a certain point and couldn't go any further. I promised myself that when I retired, I’d do a college course in ceramics... This ambition was however forgotten about among my enjoyable, yet exhausting teaching career, which left little time outside school to pursue my own interests. I loved teaching, especially teaching art and craft and, after an arty friend showed me the absolute basics of watercolour painting, incorporated this in my art lessons.

By then, I’d been teaching for over thirty years and my ‘stress bucket’ was close to full. Work was an absolute priority above all else, even family, and I found myself hospitalised due to what I would later learn was an anxiety attack. For a while, the gym was my refuge and I trained hard as a way to cope with the stress. This worked for a while, but eventually became an added stressor! Then, COVID arrived, society shut down and jigsaws and dog-walking became the new national pastimes. Naturally, being a teacher, my job moved online, and for the first time, Artreach Studio appeared in my Facebook timeline, as friends and their families had participated in their online classes.

In the hiatus between lockdowns, I did one of Artreach’s online painting in watercolour workshops and was gripped! I bought my own set of paints, did a couple more online courses and kept practising. Inspired by the beautiful architecture in Peel, I began to draw houses and local buildings, but with a twist, making them purposely ‘wonky’!

Like many people, after COVID, I took stock of my life, my lack of work-life balance and knew that something was missing. I remembered my long-avowed intention to do a ceramics class ‘when I retired’ and thought, ‘Well, Cath, there’s no time like the present!’ On Facebook, Artreach had advertised a beginners and improvers course in ceramics, so I signed up.

It sounds extremely corny, but this was the beginning of my rediscovery of Art. Every week, I’d look forward to Thursdays, to the time I could be creative with clay in that calm, welcoming atmosphere with like-minded people. Each workshop, time flew by. It wasn’t always easy to get to grips with the various techniques - I described coil pots as my nemesis - but Kate and Colette and other arty friends were encouraging and supportive and I improved. At the end of the eight weeks, I had a ceramic project in mind that I wanted to develop, so I freestyled at the studio whilst another course was continuing. I was so gripped by working with clay and the positive effect it had on my well-being, that together with a friend, I invested in a kiln and we began creating and firing our own work.

Around this time, I realised that if I was to keep the headspace that Art had given me, then I needed to change my job to one that was less all-consuming. With the support of my ever-patient family, I took early retirement from teaching and now work part-time in a Coffee Shop! I began an Instagram account I called ‘Finding_headspace’. Through it, I recorded my art journey. As I look back through the posts, I see my tentative steps learning how to use a whole host of different media, usually with Kate and Colette’s guidance; my increasing confidence in my own ability and the development of my own ideas at home in my ‘Zen Den’, a.k.a. our tiny spare room art ‘studio’.

I’ve learned so much, not only about Art, but also about myself. I loved my job, but everyone needs headspace to call their own - to develop in the way they want to and live the life they want to lead. As for the future, who knows? I’m going to work really hard on my art, in all its forms, and maybe display some of it at a craft fair in the next couple of years. My art journey never finishes, but it’s one that I love and which gives me purpose and true peace of mind. Cath Smith, April 2023

•••A note from Artreach Studios - Cath has attended numerous art and craft courses since our move to new premises in Peel (two years ago in 2021). We love hearing about everyone's art journey and if you would like to contribute to our monthly blog with your creative experiences, please get in touch!!!