Painting by numbers

It’s going to be a beautiful day. The sky was clear when I walked. A sky full of stars. And a town full of youngsters, drunk and reeling. Mostly girls. One in a strapless top, leggings and high heels and falling off the pavement. She giggled, her male friend scooping her up. I’m so pissed, she said, threatening to fall again.

What a different experience we have of it, those kids and me. I so lost in my thoughts, and they so lost in the fug of alcohol. The air smelt heavenly, a perfumed woody, smoky smell. A mist hung over the sea. No Aberdovey, no Aberaeron. And no homeless man on the bench. Aretha Franklin’s Respect was blasting out of the Pier Pressure night club’s doors. I sang along as I walked. I’m going to give you all of my money, all I’m asking for is….

I lay in bed last night and thought about Painting by Numbers kits and how I loved them as a child. Well, not loved them. I found them exasperating. I wanted to keep them so neat. I wanted to not go over the lines and yet the paint they supplied with them was so runny. Is it a crisis, this? Am I unravelling? It feels like it at times. I don’t know what I am about. Truly, I don’t. All this questioning. All this searching for the one answer. Perhaps there isn’t one. Shall I go back? Is that a way through? To take myself back to that point? Shall I do a Paint by Numbers kit? Follow those tramlines of ordered, managed creativity and see where it takes me? I don’t know what I am about. I try to catch at ideas that burst into my head continually. What about that? Or that? A short story where he talked about a wish that is granted if you make 1,000 paper cranes. Shall I? Why not? It is as good as any thing else I might do. Is this a crisis? Is this an artist’s block? Am I blocked or am I just exploring the gap, the space in between?

Needle painting. I’d never heard of it. Isn’t it what I am doing with the Sunflowers. Copying, I’ve always been fascinated by coping. Is it about confidence? Learning by imitation. Is it for those who doubt their own ability to come up with something new? Is there ever anything new? Following the tracks. The ease of it. The supposed ease of it. For it isn’t often easy. Mary Linwood was the exemplar of needle painting. Look her up. Now forgotten, she was lauded in her day. What accomplishment. What feminine accomplishment. So tidy, so un-messy. No paint-splattered dungarees for her. Bet she never pissed in the fire place like he did.

Is it OK to not know? To be in the dark. In the light. In the gap. Lost in the gap. Mind the gap. Write it out, he says. Write it out.

The birds are having a field day, she would’ve said. They’re giving it the gun, he’d say. Nice that. We live on in our sayings.

I should coco. x

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.