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Updated: Feb 20, 2020

As the cold dark winter descended, I felt my motivation to create begin to wain… So I purchased some new oil paints and I went for a coffee.

As I nursed my oat milk latte, I peered through the condensated window to the endless flow of stressed, shop beaten consumer exhausted faces. Here, was an opportunity. I grabbed my phone and snapped face after face, not worrying about the quality of the image but more importantly just wanting to capture this moment.

Later I chose a few faces from this stock to paint, and paint I did.

Almost eight months later at work at my part time bar job, the shortest shift possible on a day that I wouldn’t usually work, a woman came in. Small and frail, she struggled to see the items on the menu and needed assistance in deciding an item. She chose a glass of water and a tarte tatin.

She had never been in this pub before, she said.

Intrigue and curiosity arose inside me, this feeling of artist block dominating my current state of mind, I recognised this woman, and recalled the way I had been feeling the last time that I’d seen her face.

I quickly checked my website and compared the face on my phone screen to the woman sitting on table 4. Sure enough, it was her. It must be, she had the same cotton wool hair and purple cardy, and large square glasses.

It is an interesting thing, painting a stranger. As you apply layer after layer of paint you build a character, chiseling their life with a palette creating contours and memories. I knew this face, but it was not the character that I had created.

I attempted to push this to the back of my mind, what was I going to do - tell her? She was a vulnerable old lady, what would she gain from me sharing this with her?

Of course I couldn’t do this and decided that I had nothing to lose. I prepared the image on my phone screen and I sat opposite the woman. I nervously explained to her that I had seen her face before and captured it, muttering something about being an artist. I held the phone in front of her face, and she squinted at the screen. I caught her breath across the table as she gasped no gasp like I’d seen before. She suddenly evolved from timid old lady to the biggest personality erupting into a fit of laughter. Suddenly a strong cockney accent projected out of this now loud little lady as she cackled at the fact I’d made her ‘look grumpy’. She agreed it was uncanny and was impressed with the way I’d depicted her cotton wool hair.

The next half an hour contained laughter, banter and chemistry with this character that I relished like a tonic.

Despite finding the whole thing hilarious, ‘Wacky Jackie’ wanted me to redepict her true character, so I took some photographic references for this.

This serendipitous moment couldn’t have come at a more needed time.

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