The last 20 years of my life – from the moment I decided to step away from the mainstream and go my own way – have been a journey of finding and moving back towards who I really am.
That process has been challenging: there’s been exploring, there’s been shedding, there’s been trying on, there’s been confusion, there’s been hard work.
There’s been a lot of change.
Change fascinates me.
Recently, I was listening to an audio book in which the author posed the question, “What has changed you?”
I thought for a moment before confidently saying, “People”.
A list was forming in my head. “Of course”, I thought, “it’s all been about people…inspiring me, encouraging me, believing in me.”
But after a few more seconds, my brain paused.
…there’s something else.
…something huge and kinda wierd:
Italy has changed me. Here’s how:
I had a difficult childhood. I didn’t fit in. I was a square peg in a round hole.
I grew up believing there was just one way of being. Get your head down, work hard (“of course you won’t like your job, no-one does”), save money, be sensible, get a house, watch TV and go shopping.
This seems to be the way society tells us to live.
Yet, for a lot of us, me included, it doesn’t fit. This mis-match shows in just how many of us need shopping, food, alcohol, or some other form of addition to feel OK.
The separation between what the world told me to be and who I really am drove me to food. By the time I was 20 years old, I’d overeaten my way to 20 stone (280lbs).
Because…I’ve always been a curious, passionate girl, driven by her senses. That was well and truly squashed down very early in my childhood; made subservient to being liked, being sensible, being good and excelling at school. Before I even knew what I was doing, I’d turned to sweets, cakes and chocolate.
I’m in repair and I’ve come a long way.
And Italy has played a huge role in that rehabilitation.
I’d always loved it there; as a teenager Italy showed me a world that made my heart sing; the music of the renaissance, the architecture of Brunelleschi, the curiosty of Leonardo…oh, my!
When I first went to Italy I discovered so much more. The depth of colour, the rolling hills, the warm light. The sun on my skin made every muscle of my body sigh. The floating, expressive language danced in my ears. The food tasted of sunshine. People sat around and did nothing!
It was the sensual opposite of all I’d felt I had been trapped in for many years.
After those early visits, images of Italy lived in my soul for many years. But still I had to ‘get on’ and get successful.
It was a nasty illness that finally got me to listen to what I really wanted to do and in September 2009 I moved to Tuscany.
And what happened?
Slowly, Italy taught me that what I felt – that stuff that I’d hidden, pushed down, ignored or thought was frivoulous – was valid.
It was OK to love light, colour, sun, food, softness, joy, vibrancy and aliveness.
It helped me accept and hey, even celebrate, fundamental qualities in me that hadn’t had a chance to see the sun for a very long time.
For 4 years, I marinated in an environment very different to my birth home. I built a business helping people follow their passions, I started mosaicing, I healed my PCOS, naturally conceiving a child, something I’d been told it wasn’t possible. It was the most wonderful time.
These days, I live on the Cornish Coast with my husband, Rob and my son, Gabriel. We moved back to the UK when I was pregnant.
I love Cornwall, but I miss Italy.
Earlier this year, I went back to my home-of-4-years for the first time since leaving it in November 2013. So much has changed for me since then. I’ve become a Mum, I’ve let go of my business, I’ve got married, I’ve moved across the country, I’ve started painting. As the plane touched Italian soil I started to cry. I couldn’t believe I was back.
I bathed in all Italy has to offer for 8 beautiful days.
Returning home and entering my studio again, this piece, Poppy Kisses, flew from my hands. It began as an experiment on Jackson’s hand-made recycled paper. I covered the page with a paint made with blue pigment. The colour reminded me of the endless Italian skies. Next, I bundled up a handful of pine needles I’d picked from the forest floor during our trip and bound them with an elastic band. Mixing up two greens I dipped the sharp needles into the paint and brushed them onto the paper, creating grass. An idea was forming; I found my most vibrant red and used my finger to sweep the colour into circles over the page, creating poppy flowers. They looked like lips, so lucious in their greeting. The poppies in Italy are always moving, their delicate petals being caressed by the wind. I wanted to bring that movement and vibrancy into the piece, so I applied more colours using the delicate ends of twigs around the flowers.
The result is Poppy Kisses, a celebration of one of the ubiquitous landscapes of Italy – the country that has helped bring me home more than anywhere else in my life.
If you’d love to have Poppy Kisses in your life, you can get hold of a eco-friendly bamboo paper print here.