Tomorrow, I meet up with a person who, when I was ten years old, had a huge impact on me and my life. Whilst at Victoria Junior School, Penarth, some forty-six years ago, a teacher took me under her wing and taught me for a full ten months in her class. Since that time, we have only briefly met once.

I would often ask myself; I wonder what became of Miss Glaves? Had she continued teaching, where had she ended up? Did she live locally, and I just did not recognise her, or was she now on the other side of the world in a totally different lifestyle to that which I remember her for?

I had previously tried to see if I could find what had happened to her through a website called Friends Reunited, and I posted a question asking where she was. But nothing came of it and once more, I considered this plight to be no more than a fond memory of a moment of my life, and we had now all moved on.

However, my memories are vivid of that exciting time when all we wanted to do was to absorb the information, the experiences, the creativity, and run as fast as we could until it was time to sleep.

One rainy winter afternoon in class, when the temperature fluctuated between boiling hot from the overheated classroom to the bitter chill of the cold air outside, and Miss Glaves announced, “everybody out, I’ve had enough of you in here, you need your fresh air”, we charged forth into the vast expanse of the playground. On our way through the door, I recall my mate and I noticing her quietly reached behind her desk and producing a beautiful Spanish guitar for the next lesson when we returned from the battlefield outside.

We had not seen anything like it in the flesh before. Yes, the black and white tv showed groups of musicians strumming, blowing, and hitting their instruments, and some class members did a pretty good impression of these talented people. It was just a shame that the sound left a lot to be desired. But the enthusiasm counted for everything at that age.

Wide eyed and with disbelief, we watched in awe and listened with the intent of a person hearing for the very first time. The melodic sound, the harmonious combination of chords being formed and linked together, taking us on a journey of sound and emotion. We sat, captivated.

The impact was so much that this instrument was the number one priority in my mate’s and my life. Xmas lists were rewritten, and we hoped and prayed that our begging to our parents would pay off. Fortunately, it did. There, at the beginning of the January school term, John Rook and I stood outside the school gate admiring each other’s guitar cases, refusing to admit that these oversized items were too heavy for our spindly arms, our parents smiling at each other whilst we clumsily made our way in through the main door and along to our daily sanctuary that others called the classroom.

Rock’n’Roll was about to get serious, not that we had any idea whatsoever about it, the fashion, or the culture. But it was the initial step. And it started with the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with Miss Glaves.

This was not the only first experience of a new world that this teacher introduced me to. Being quite a shy youngster who wanted to be part of everything that was happening around me, but just could not make that step, I never really went anywhere further than I could without the comfort of knowing where one of my parents were. This was commonplace and daily life for us all. That was until I came home telling my mother that I was going to Belgium for a full week with the school.

Shocked was not the word to describe her look. I had never been further than her apron strings had stretched to, and for a working class terraced housed family, Belgium was a place that existed solely in school geography books.

The key to this trip? The reason why I felt reassured and confident to venture further than the front door? Miss Glaves. And off I went as an excited ten-year-old for an absolutely magical week to Belgium on the other side of the world!

And tomorrow, I finally catch up with the teacher who helped to give me the confidence to do something different to which I was used to. It will be an opportunity to relive those special moments, to fill in those missing years and again be grateful for what I now have in my life.

So, looking back on the characters that have influenced me, I count my blessings that I have had some wonderful people behind the scenes, supporting and encouraging me in many different ways, even if I did not recognise these at the time, which is often the case for many of us.

In reflection, revisiting past memories and catching up with Miss Glaves is in some way a part of the theory of the full circle. Back in that haven of a fantastic period of schooling, she displayed a piece of my artwork which I was so proud of at that time, I had to write about it in my book, as you may very well know.

Now, some forty-six years later, my son, being a successful musician who travels the world playing guitar with his band to large crowds, also plays his very own rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. Of course, it is much better than anything that I could have played, but I am not admitting that to him.

And as I look forward to tomorrow’s meeting, a thought just crossed my mind. I hope I don’t have any outstanding homework!

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Every now and then, an artist hits on something that is like gold to them. It may not have a high monetary value; it may not mean anything at all to another. But to the artist, at that moment, it is the centre of their world. How long it lasts depends on several factors, but if it is truly that moment that we all crave, it lasts an exceptionally long time indeed, if not stays with a person for life.

Sometimes it is an experience of seeing something for the very first time or being in the presence of an influential person who captures their attention and inspires greater belief in themselves.

On other times, it is something that you do which makes you think about that action or occurrence, and hopefully, on these occasions, it is something that is memorable for the right reason.

In my case, this moment recently happened when I was asked to consider painting a portrait of a child. This was not going to be the normal pose that we often see. It was a close up of a young boy wearing the helmet of a medieval knight.

He was peering through the gap, proudly playing his part in a medieval world full of youngsters, dressed in their own costumes, their individual adventures intertwining with his. The birthday celebrations were in full swing. However, he had just experienced one of those emotional party moments, and eyes welling with tears, he faced the camera.

The shot was taken, and the image was caught.

And I was asked to capture this look in traditional oil paint, to preserve that moment for it to be hung in the family home, creating an everlasting memory of that young character, emotionally caught up in the excitement and bewilderment of a child’s party, as he bravely went forth once more into battle against, fairies, unicorns and other fictitiously dressed youngsters. A memory we all know too well, and no doubt, wish we could venture back to just for one more time.

What developed on canvas over the next weeks, layer upon layer and cautiously manipulated brush strokes, was that very flashback to those times of carefree abandonment of my own exciting childhood, and the want to create a photorealistic image that would stand above and beyond the last painting I achieved.

Finally, as the knight in shining armour peered through his upturned helmet visor, a character started to look back at me. And when that happens, you as an artist know that you have captured what you intended, and at times, even more than you expected.

That moment had just occurred. Spencer, the medieval adventurer of fantasy party worlds, stood tall and proud, defiantly replacing the tears of disappointment with joyful playfulness. His childhood quest of dragons, baddies, and chocolate cake, all captured in oil on canvas in a memory forever.

The priceless moment of a family’s recollection of their little hero there for the whole world to witness.

Excitement and sentiment, the value of art and the knowledge that no matter who the character captured is, in real story terms, heroes carry their emotions for all to see with the audience willing them to overcome and succeed.

And then the request came in. A portrait of his arch enemy, his adversary, his nemesis. Yes, his cousin!

To be continued…….

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Something made me pick up ‘The Storytelling Artist – The Road to Controversial Art’ this week and start reading random sections of it, looking for possible better phrases and examples to replace those that I had used when compiling each chapter.

I felt it was a little like creating a painting to the best of your ability and then checking this future masterpiece that will represent you for the rest of eternity for errors and misalignments. Yes, improvements could be made, and I could have written more or included other examples, ideas and incidents.

But of course, there is a time when you must leave a painting and call it a day before you over paint it and totally ruin the original reason for its creation.

I read through a section I wrote about watching tv as a seven-year-old and being absolutely amazed at other kids having their artwork shown on a teatime kids television programme. Everyone who had tuned in to watch it, could see their art.

“Wow, imagine that” was my very comment that summed up this huge accomplishment by these young artists, which in my small world, was pretty much impossible to achieve.

This, I guess at the time became an aim of mine, even though I didn’t know what an aim was, or what it was like to focus on something so far removed from my small Welsh terraced house and my love of art with my broken crayons and pencils.

Fast forward many years, and here I am now resetting my aims and objectives each week to achieve becoming a full-time artist and being successfully recognized in my field and financially secure beyond my dream.

Goal setting: something that has been part of my entire adult life. I don’t know if it is innate or we are conditioned to ensure that this becomes second nature to most of us, in order to be better individuals, to fit in and comply easier, or even in a microscopic way, to play a single part in advancing the human race.

And many times, I find I am readjusting these to take account of varying dynamics or sometimes reflect on the more achievable rather than the ultimate dream. But little do I go back in time and see what my original goal was last year, a decade ago or even back to my childhood. I just plough on regardless, forward facing, ignoring the past.

This inability of mine reminds me of the quote of the fictional Italian Ferrari racing driver “Franco” in the 1976 film Gumball Rally, ripping his rear-view mirror from his Ferrari Daytona tossing it aside and saying, “What’s behind me is not important!” A quote I love to use from time to time in my best but poor Italian racing driver accent.

But where we came from is in fact very important, and what is behind us is actually quite significant. We all have had that look of wonder at some stage, just like me as a seven-year-old and dreamt of the far reaching, the unbelievable, and the impossible. What we have actually achieved in that time since that moment of wonder is quite remarkable when we look back at what caught our imagination all those years ago.

For some, it was that car that dad owned and the speed it reached when you struggled to look out of the window as you were so small, and you clung to the base of the seat laughing at the top of your voice. Or the wedding dress of the bride that looked so exquisite and the attention that she attracted as she stepped out of the church into a wonderful cloud of colourful confetti. The size of the giant of a man in the sports team you supported, the kindness of the doctor as she comforted you when you sat on your parent’s lap feeling unwell.

Moments that made you think that one day you wanted to own that car, be that bride, that sports person or doctor, but had no idea how to get there and what to do. That wide eyed moment of wonder that stuck with you.

Well in reflection, with the demands of the world, our society and peer pressure to continually achieve greater things than yesterday, and aspire to the next challenging goal, it pays to step back and reflect from time to time on your very own equivalent of that seven-year-olds wow moment. And in that reflection, appreciate that you have actually achieved something significant and worthwhile in your life.

For me, I just have to acknowledge that I have now had many thousands of people viewing my art, it has been displayed in numerous galleries, and it hangs in countless locations and homes, bringing happiness and fond memories to all those who choose to possess it and ask me to capture something that is close to their heart.

So, be kind to yourself occasionally, and think back to the wonders of your childhood and the amazing world that stretched far into the distance ahead of you, as you looked with opened eyes at the fantastic things that made your ‘wow’ moment and filled your mind with awe and optimism and reassure yourself that you have actually achieved something worthwhile.

Ian Mackenzie

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