Nicola Frances

May 19, 2020

2 min read

Painting in secret

Over the past weekend I have secretly been painting Mum a jar of lavender in watercolour. I really wanted to surprise her with something thoughtful for her birthday. I remember how a 9-year-old me drew a big yellow daisy on the back of an exam paper to give to her. She had it pinned on the wall for over a decade until quite recently when the kitchen was renovated. That’s Mum for you. She gets so little from us that what she does get she really cherishes.

I positioned my watercolours rather precariously in a drawer I could close quickly if Mum walked in. I had a full set up. Paintbrushes, sketching paper and colour swaths would be pushed under books and elbows at the ready. The laptop screen displayed emails I could say I was looking at. I was undercover, painting by night or Mum’s regular visits to the shops. I wonder if painting in watercolours will ever be as exciting again.

Painting, I’ve noticed, has made me see things differently. Colours, like blood and dyes and coffee sediment. Shapes and dimensions. I’ve been thinking of how I might paint things I see. I know for certain that I will never look at lavender the same way again, after desperately trying to understand its shapes and its sides and all of its hues.

I also like the idea of sitting in a garden and painting a still-life for a friend. Or just for myself. Even if it’s entirely bad, it sort of bares me, indelibly. It’s me in the running colours and the mistakes.

I also tried baking Mum a moist chocolate birthday cake. It failed grandly, refusing to rise and sticking to the sides. I baked a second one with the same results and ended up building one regular-sized cake. “It’s dense” my Dad said dryly, making me realize how sensitive I am to criticism. Mum made a point of finishing her slice and telling me it was lovely.