Why I Paint

Photo of Kay Johnson  - An Artist In  Progress

I have always been drawn to art. My first tangible memories are the wonderful landscape oil paintings created by my uncle Terry. A quiet, gentle softly spoken man, now in his 80’s; as a child I was in awe of his talent.

To my young eyes, my uncle was mysterious and fascinating. He used to sell a few of his paintings and exhibit them in the Derby Assembly Rooms, near to where he lived.

I considered him to be quite famous and was very proud of him. I thought he was very handsome, and held the deluded belief he resembled Cliff Richard, the singer.

I would boast about my uncle Terry to my school friends. “My uncle is a famous artist and looks like Cliff Richard…!” The reality is he looked and still looks nothing like Cliff Richard. The only similarity is with his spoken voice and physical build. Nor is he famous. He’s a lovely man and I still think of him as handsome and I’m still proud of him.

When visiting my uncle I would always ask to see his latest paintings. He was very self-deprecating saying, “You can, but they’re not very good…” His “studio” was a tiny spare bedroom in his house, around which would be scattered several oil paintings, some finished, some works in progress, with an odour of turps lingering in the air. To me it was a magical place, and I would listen intently as he explained how he was “moving away from using a brush and now experimenting with a palette knife“. Wow!

I am lucky enough to own four of my uncle’s wonderful impressionistic, landscapes, which I treasure dearly, and are always admired by visitors to my home.


School and Paint By Numbers

When I was about eight or nine, I attempted to paint a boat scene with a Paint By Numbers kit. I loved the smell and texture of the oil paints, but became frustrated, as I was unable to “keep within the lines“, and I ran out of the colour blue! I got into a bit of a mess and remember my mum being very cross.

During the 70’s I don’t recall ever doing much art at school, apart from one lesson with a teacher called Mr. West. I produced a horrific dark purple and black mess, with some wet poster paints on very cheap quality paper, which crinkled and buckled. It was just dreadful and I was put off art lessons at school forever!

Once again, I was in awe of Mr. West, but not for his artistic talent. because I can’t remember ever seeing any of his work. He had dark, wavy shoulder length hair, quite shocking for a teacher in those days, with long sideburns and a thick moustache. There was a whiff of stale cigarette smoke about him too. On this occasion Mr. West most definitely resembled the British actor Peter Wyngarde.

During lunchtimes and after school Mr. West could be seen lugging a large wooden easel up the main staircase, along the top corridor, then finally disappearing into the drama room at the end, which had floor to ceiling black out curtains, in order to undertake life drawing. Pupils were absolutely not allowed. There was a sign on the door in very large, bold letters. NO ENTRY! STRICTLY FORBIDDEN! I thought Mr. West was really “edgy“.


Life Gets In The way

Upon leaving school I never bothered with art again until I was in my early thirties. I attended the occasional workshop, which always seemed to be watercolour*, but family commitments and the hamster wheel of life left little to zero free time.

* It has always puzzled me why beginners have a tendency to start with watercolour? Other mediums are so much more forgiving.

As the years rolled on by the urge to create and learn how to paint was becoming increasingly stronger; then, about four years ago, whilst enjoying a day out with a friend in York, we popped into an art gallery. Hung on a wall in a back room was a limited edition print by the wonderful artist Sam Toft. The image is of two people holding hands and skipping into the distance accompanied by a little black and white dog. The hand written caption on the print reads,  “It’s later than you think…
Sam Toft Print - It's Later Than You Think...

Copyright belongs to the artist Sam Toft


A Wake Up Call

Sam Toft’s print and the quote really resonated with me. I felt as though I’d been struck by lightning. A massive wake up call! Now in my late 50’s, I found myself working full time in a very monotonous job as a software engineer, sat behind a computer writing code all day.

For some time, with the boredom and predictability of it all, I’d felt as though my soul and the life were slowly being sucked out from me… In addition, I endured a convoluted car > train > tram > walk commute, taking over two hours at both ends of the day. After ten years of long 12 hour days, I was both mentally and physically exhausted. I would fantasize about sticking a POST IT note on my computer monitor with the words, “Gone for lunch. Might be away for some time…,” but never going back!

In one single moment, whilst standing in the art gallery that day looking at Sam Toft’s print, I decided things were going to change and I’d better hurry up about it. My life coins were running out and I had no idea just how many I had left? Such is the power of art!

And yes…I purchased Sam Toft’s lovely print!


A Change Is Made

After the trip to York, I made it my mission to find another job more local to me… I now have a very different job, earning much, much less money, working from home on a flexible part time basis for a charity. So no commuting anymore!

When I left my full time job, my colleagues held a collection for me. with which I planned to buy a piece of art to remember them all by. Whilst I was looking, I attended a pastel workshop at the Society for All Artists – SAA, with an excellent teacher and artist in his own right Jeremy Ford.

I had never used pastels before and was curious to try them out. The great thing about workshops at the Society for All Artists – SAA is they provide all the materials for you. Well, I immediately fell in love with pastels and invested my  entire collection money from my old job in a box of Unison pastels. I’ve been an art junkie ever since, spending many, many, many more £ £ £ on supplies!


Snow Scene - Jeremy Ford

Copyright belongs to the artist Jeremy Ford

My finished pastel painting from the workshop after Jeremy Ford, above. Unfortunately, my poor photograph doesn’t reflect the soft pale beauty of the true colours of the work in any way…


An Artist In Progress

I am presently in the process of consolidating my assets and moving house, getting rid of the mortgage. I’ve turned the spare bedroom into a small studio, so my painting supplies can be left out, and I’m trying my best to dedicate more of my time to practicing and learning how to paint.

I have also built this website and I’ve joined THREADS, an artists community designed to help you make a living online from your art run by Paul Foxton, which I enjoy being part of very much and highly recommend.

I can’t declare anything poetic or profound about why I want to paint. It’s just a burning urge inside of me. One day, I hope to be good enough to supplement my pension.

I am very excited about the next chapter in my life and the future… I am very much a beginner and this website is about my journey as I learn to be an artist. A place where I will share my struggles and frustrations and hopefully a few successes.

It would be lovely if you joined me along the way… Sign up for my occasional newsletter, and I will keep you in the loop so you won’t make any of the silly mistakes I do. And who knows… what works for me might also work for you too?


My very best wishes,


Kay Johnson
Artist in Progress


Why Kay Johnson Art?

I have always wanted to learn how to paint, ever since I became aware of my uncle's wonderful landscape oil paintings.
I am very much a beginner. This website is a diary of my journey as I learn to become a decent artist.

© Kay Johnson 2019