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The Last of Summer

Updated: May 24, 2022

I might appear that I have been a little tardy with blog posts over the summer, but the truth is I have found writing rather difficult.

In early summer I began experiencing problems using my right hand. Both hands felt a little stiff and unyielding, but the right was worse and gripping my lino tools became very uncomfortable. I put it down to possible RSI and, thinking rest would help, I put my printmaking aside to move to painting again. Holding brushes was easier, particularly as I could support my hand with my mahl stick against my easel. But the pain didn’t go away, it steadily grew worse. A visit to my GP set things in motion and she recommended I see a rheumatologist to investigate.

From then on things moved quickly. A visit to the hospital confirmed that I had rheumatoid arthritis. When she was examining my hands, and relaying my condition to a medical student, as she simultaneously explained things to me, it began to dawn on me how serious it was. I saw too how my hands were changing shape and, for the first time, became gripped by the fear that I might not be able to do my art.

The next couple of weeks were very difficult. I was devastated by the news. I was doing something that I loved, but the prospect of me continuing as before became uncertain.

Then, once the initial shock had subsided, I determined to do all I could to hold back the arthritis and find out I could about how I could achieve this. A range of measures, including a radical change of diet, helped and brought fresh hope. I went back into my studio and tried again.

My early efforts brought great frustration. Some days I was barely able to write my name, my grip was so painful. But, as the weeks have gone by, and some good days with it, I have been drawing and painting again. My first subject was a drawing of a Treble- Bar Moth that would normally have been completed within a day, but took me three times as long, completing it in short bursts with stretches in between. I posted it on Instagram and Twitter with a feeling of enormous triumph!

In the weeks that followed, I eked out my drawings on social media and began taking more photographs. My camera was a saviour and a treasured companion. I took short walks at the fen, and in local woodland, and have enjoyed nature more intensely, perhaps because such events make you very aware of life’s fragility.

I began painting subjects that reflected the frailty of nature, wildflowers and fleeting, delicate moths. My subjects became smaller, initially instigated by the limitations of my hand strength, but also because it made me look more closely and treasure what was near to me.

Some days remain difficult, but by adjusting my artistic cloth accordingly and doing all I can to control my condition, those days are fewer. I saw this pair of Common Blue butterflies a couple of days ago on a warm and golden autumn day. Their exquisite flitting and circling was enchanting. It was one of those difficult days, but they reminded me how much watching such creatures as this have sustained me over the past weeks.

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