Art Group Wanstead member Elsie Drew developed a passion for art at a young age. But with a family to nurture and a career to develop, painting was put on hold. Now, in retirement, Elsie has rediscovered art all over again
As a child, I was always drawing on scraps of paper or sketching in books. I remember drawing Art Deco-style ladies with large Afghan hounds at their sides that I copied from magazines. One of my elder brothers was a very talented artist and he would often show me how to draw or to paint in oils. I now know my preference is watercolour.
It was my mother who took me on my first visit to an art gallery when I was 13. We went to the Whitechapel Art Gallery where they were showing some of Henry Moore’s sculptures. I wished I could have stayed all day.
I thoroughly enjoyed my art classes at school. When I was in my last year at junior school, my teacher read William Blake’s The Tyger to us, but it was years later before I realised Blake was a wonderful artist as well as a poet. The local council held an art exhibition for all the schools in the area and my painting of a tiger coming through the trees was picked to be shown. My art teacher at senior school was considered very Bohemian with lots of beads and bangles and very bright colours on long swirling skirts. I can still see her now and remember her as a wonderful teacher.
After school, my life became very busy, leading to a family and a career, and drawing and painting no longer played such a pivotal role.
After my husband passed away, I decided to join an art class organised by Age UK and realised I had been missing art in my life. I received great encouragement from everyone and have formed wonderful friendships in the process, as well as passing on my childhood wonder and rekindled passion for art to my grandchildren. Rediscovering art – in particular watercolour – has been wonderful in my retirement.
My art is constantly changing. When I first started, I felt I had to copy my subject in the finest detail. It was very precise and would frustrate me when I felt the perspective and colours weren’t right and the picture didn’t convey my feelings towards the subject. Then, through art classes both online and locally, I found that it didn’t have to be like that. I was shown how the water could flow over the page, taking the colour with it and mingling with other colours to produce new ones and wonderful unintended shapes. If you have the patience to let the water dry, it will show you the way forward, allowing you to use ‘mark making’ and other mediums to achieve what you want to express on paper. I have learnt that there is no wrong or right way to approach art, just different ways, and the process of creating a piece is uniquely personal and of a moment.
It’s only recently that I have found the courage to show my paintings and did so at the last local art trail before lockdown. I also entered three paintings in a virtual exhibition organised by Essex Art Club.
I now happily go out and paint, and my friend and I can often be seen in Wanstead Park with our sketchbooks and paints enjoying chats with walkers and other artists and the Wanstead community.
For more information on Art Group Wanstead, visit wnstd.com/art