Becoming a painter at 50

Jocasta Shakespeare loves that she found the artist inside in midlife, not earlier....

It all began again for me at 50 with a big, hairy Celeriac dug up from our vegetable plot and dumped on the dining room table. That earthy beastie, with a cavernous slug hole and tangled roots, was my first life model. I picked up a piece of charcoal. At least he/she/they didn’t move much.

My ancient stepfather had come to stay, wobbly on his feet and with one remaining passion: drawing. I decided to join him, sketching and chatting. He stayed for three days. And when he left, I carried on alone. The feral Celeriac became my first oil painting. The domesticated plant gone wild fascinated me. Like me, the Celeriac had evaded expectations. I felt its untapped energy as I traced the lines of sprouting, leafy white arms reaching for light. I empathised.

I believe we all have untapped talents which, for various reasons, remain under wraps until life throws up new crises or opportunity.

In my case, the joy of painting was stifled by my school art teacher at around 14 years old. She had six favourites allowed into the Art Room. And I was not one of them.

Being an only child, I grew up entertaining myself with coloured pencils but my parents’ expectations were academic. That was fine because I enjoyed Eng Lit and was fired up by Mr Vellutini, a name I mention here because anyone who was taught by him knows that he opened to all of us an Art Room of the Mind. Which led to…a whole career and another story.

My art moment

Because what I am writing about now is a magic moment, probably around 50 years old for women, when children have (kinda) grown up and the crisis of menopause is a great opportunity for talent revival.

Nobody warned me about the raw energy and desire for adventure that would build and demand expression when that moment came. Or how strangely it would hit.

With a Celeriac. There was no reason for me to stop. I had given up my first career as a journalist for the usual reasons. The change now was monitored by my daughter. At nine years old, she looked at me with big eyes: “Why do you want to go to away to Brasil?” (Assignment) At 14, she looked at me again: “Why don’t you go away and write another story?”

My life as a painter now

The story I write now is in images. I paint wild plants and flowers with oils. My latest series is partly inspired by a trip to Chocó, the Pacific coast of Colombia. I am glad that I was never allowed into that schoolgirl art room. I was therefore not moulded or trapped by 1980s or ’90s art teachers. I am not constrained. In fact, my work is all about not being constrained.

I now paint full time, every day. I paint wild and feral plants and flowers, often on big canvas.  There were sacrifices and things I had to change in my life to make this possible. The wilder world is not easy. My Celeriac teacher had a slug hole and was fighting for life. But I feel we over-shelter ourselves and lose – to comfort, habit, fear, convention, other people’s values or expectations – what is perhaps most precious about living. And that is to be free to connect.

How I make money as a painter

This may sound hard to monetise but I am most delighted when someone wants a picture because I know they are on the Vibe. I sell on Instagram and by private Studio visit, Zoom call or email. I show regularly in London. And I travel a lot for inspiration.

Right now, I am working on a Palm Viper in Heliconia, which I saw in Chocó. That wild Heliconia is my latest Celeriac. I fell in love with it: not a clean, botanical specimen but a sweating, dusty, seeding, living and dying creature.

How to find your new path

Whatever is your untapped talent, lots of people will say you can’t. That you need teaching, permission, to wait for that door to be opened. There are always Gatekeepers. They are there to keep talent out. Either you get trapped or break free. Among my friends who changed focus at around 50 are a teacher, ballet dancer, permaculturalist, therapist, opera singer.

Maybe you are an opera singer. A scientist. A traveller. A writer. 50 is a great moment to be another kind of you.

Join my Guest List on the LinkedIn profile and come to my next show.

See my art on Jocasta_Shakespeare on Instagram.

Jocasta Shakespeare on Facebook.


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