picking up my paintbrushes again
The path of my life changed because of one comment the art teacher made. It took over a decade to find the confidence to paint again.

I always knew I wanted to do something in the creative and media industry.

For me that meant working in TV, which I achieved (it was my first career), but I had no idea how I was going to make it a reality.

My mum is a nurse and my dad, now retired, worked fixing cables for BT. A very average, working class family with no connections to help me out – but it did seem as though anyone vaguely creative (and cool) had done a foundation art course, and so I thought it might be a way in for me aswell.

I always knew university wasn’t particularly for me – I’m not the best at making myself study, plus the thought of being in any amount of debt wasn’t enticing.

But, as the course was only a year, I could still move to London and, perhaps slightly harshly, it didn’t seem as if there would be too much studying needed – it was always the plan in the back of my teenage mind.

So, when the time came to pick GCSEs it was a no brainer that art would be one of them.

I loved art class. I loved learning about art, I loved making the art and I even loved the actual classroom – but I did always feel like a bit of a fraud. Jealously admiring those girls for whom art just flowed through their veins, and I even remember trying (and failing) to copy the effortless style in which they wrote notes straight into their sketch books.

When exam time arrived I can’t quite remember exactly why I chose to do what I did, what I decided to create a piece about 9-11.

I painted a wooden canvas white, then outlined the twin towers in black paint – placing rows and rows of windows inside. I wrote around the edge that each window represented 10 people who had died that day.

Perhaps subconsciously I was trying to illustrate the fragility of life through the representation of glass, and touching upon how ‘eyes are like the windows to the soul’- but those souls where now gone from our world.

Whatever it was, I got either a B or a C overall for that GCSE – good enough to move onto A-Level, but just as I was about to finalise my decision – my art teacher changed the course of my life forever.

In a nutshell, she told me I wasn’t good enough.

Now, if this was a subject where there was a definitive answer – like maths – and I wasn’t able to grasp the fundamentals, then a comment like that would have been tactless, but understandable. In a subject though, where it is quite literally subjective – it just seemed a bit cruel.

The direct outcome of that comment meant I didn’t chose art for A-Level and didn’t end up going to university. I also didn’t pick up a paintbrush many years.

Fast forward to the beginning of the pandemic and my partner started to work on a TV programme called Grayson’s Art Club.

Intrigued, enthused and quite honestly with nothing much else to do – I decided to paint again.

I chose a subject I knew well; the female form, using tools that felt natural to the subject; my fingers and I immediately remembered why I feel in love with art all those years ago.

Those hours spent painting were heavenly, filling me with inner calm and contentment.

After a little hesitation I decided to post them on my Instagram page at the time, nervous of the reaction – but I needn’t have been. Everyone was so kind and one person even asked me to do a bespoke commission!

I declined though, because despite all the positive comments I still had that lingering left-over doubt courtesy of my art teacher, and put everyone’s kindness down to the fact they were my friends and basically had to be nice to me!

Two years on and despite the world still being a bit crazy, I’ve really tried to use the time to reflect on my life and figure out who I am.

It is one of life’s biggest questions and I’m still figuring it out, but I have can safely say that if there is anything we should have learnt, it’s that ‘life’s too short’.

Yes I know it’s a cliché, but it is for good reason. Despite it sounding a tad trite, we repeat it so often because its premise is true.

I feel quite sad thinking back to young Aleesha and how she felt she shouldn’t paint anymore – but I heard something really inspiring recently; let go of your past and it will let go of you.

And so, for any of you who might also being holding onto a comment like this – pick up your paintbrush (literal or metaphorical) get painting and start filling your soul with joy!

P.S. If you do fancy actually painting something then the next series of Grayson’s Art Club starts this Friday, 18th March on Channel 4 – and you can enter works here https://www.graysonsartclub.com/

More musings here