How I Became an Artist

I was a budding artist as a child and loved drawing, printmaking and anything else I learned in Art Class at school. Mr. Squiggle was my idol and I compulsively drew Garfield cartoons. I even invented my own comic character: “Regimental Reg” modeled on my long-suffering ice-skating coach.

Art took a back-seat to more academic pursuits in my teens and adulthood. I became a permanent fixture at the Australian National University. First student, then as an employee. I pursued a career in academia in the fields of psychology, applied statistics and psychometrics (the study of reliable and valid measurement: surveys, evaluations and assessments). In my spare time I was an avid triathlete and runner.

Then came 2010, when I developed a type of autoimmune arthritis: HLAB27 related Spondyloarthropathy. It turns out Ankylosing Spondylitis runs strong in my family’s genes, so that might be in my future. It causes fatigue and brain-fog, plus pain in my joints: hands, wrists, feet, ankles, elbows, chest and most of all my lower spine (sacroiliac joint). Sometimes I can’t walk without crutches because my legs can’t move independently without excruciating pain. Sometimes I just can’t move.

I’ve been chronically ill before in my teens (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome brought on by Glandular Fever). I know how to cope because I spent 8 years doing it last time. The trick is to focus on the things you CAN do, and stop upsetting yourself by thinking about the things you can’t do anymore.

So what COULD I do while stuck at home in pain with half a brain? My husband had a brilliant idea: art and craft. He knew I loved drawing and making things. I also LOVED painting walls (seriously I adore house painting!). So he got me some canvases, brushes and acrylic paint and challenged me to try painting pictures for a change. (Did I mention how much I adore my husband?)

My first attempt (a cactus dahlia) wasn’t too bad. I was hooked! I read everything I could about painting, enrolled in classes and joined Art Societies. I learned quickly because it was all I could do to keep my mind off my illness. I’ve tried everything: acrylic, Mixed Media, oils, water colour, pencils, pastel and printmaking. I have plans to learn sculpture one day too (I really want to weld!). I love it all (with the exception of water colour – it’s unforgiving)!

Now I’m feeling a bit better than I was thanks to a nasty cocktail of medications, but even though I’m able to do some academic work now, I’m also an artist for life.



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