I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since I was at school. However my 3 sons have all inherited an artistic gene from somewhere with one of them growing up to be an artist.  But that gene has passed me by although I’ve always rather envied people who could paint. I just assumed it was one of those things I wasn’t born to do. And after all these years, it was far too late to start.

Fanny Blake

Fanny Blake

Then, when I was settling on a career for Caro, the heroine of my new novel Our Summer Together, I decided to make her a portrait painter. Researching what that would involve whetted my appetite for making art. I was also writing about how it’s never to late to embark on something new. Surely I should practise what was preaching? I wasn’t sure about life drawing but I had heard about a short course of botanical painting that sounded more the thing for me.

A couple of friends had already completed the course and were obsessively painting fruit and flowers in minute accurate detail as a result. The results were impressive and their work improved quickly. I loved the idea of losing myself in something for hours. I felt that studying one immobile object warts and all might bring an extra dimension and intensity over looser character creation. I imagined how satisfying it would be to end up with a representation of a flower that was quite perfect. But hadn’t I left it too late?

One night, after a glass of wine or two, I persuaded myself I should have a go. What did it matter if I discovered I had zero aptitude? At least I’d have given it a try. But, with several months to go before the start date, my enthusiasm started to wane. Then I was told about an online school, complete with video tutorials, advice forums and so on. My friend suggested that I enrol. ‘If nothing else, you’ll have learned how to use the paints and paintbrushes before you start the course in September.’

How to use the paints and paintbrushes? What did that mean? Wasn’t paint just paint? I signed up to find out.

The initial expense was not insignificant. But I was then the rather daunted owner of watercolour paper, a set of brushes and an array of watercolour paints. The colours! They were like bright jewels that I couldn’t wait to play with. Slowly I discovered how much they varied depending on the amount of water mixed with them or another colour. This sounds so obvious but I had never given it any thought.

The first tutorial was to paint a pear. But not from real life. I had imagined studying the object itself, seeing how the light fell on it. But no. Instead, we trace a picture then layer on the paint from the lightest to the darkest shade. This process made me start to look at things in quite a different way, seeing the variations in tone and texture. And the finished result wasn’t bad – if you don’t examine it too closely! It’s mesmerising work and as absorbing as I’d hoped. I’m so glad I didn’t write the idea off. Again I’ve discovered once again that it’s never too late to try something new and sometimes it pays off in pleasure.

Our Summer Together by Fanny Blake (Orion) is out on July 13th