It is an interesting phenomenon that when psychotherapy works clients are often unaware what is going on until it is pointed out to them. Things change gradually. An unassertive lady may unexpectedly stand up for herself when she has been unfairly treated. Someone who fears speaking in public finds he does so unusually well. Someone with a phobia about heights looks out of a high hotel window and realises later that he felt no fear.
Surprisingly, instead of being delighted by the change some people are uneasy about it. The sort of thing they say is “I didn’t feel like myself. My voice sounded strange as though someone else was speaking.” The fact is that we all change from day to day, very gradually, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. People need time to adjust to feeling and behaving differently. We are all very closely tied to our habits. They do not change easily because we all become addicted to our present lives. We feel safe with what we know which is one reason that people stay in very difficult situations. They moan about it to all who will listen. Why? Because they hope that people will pay attention and give them sympathy. That is their compensation. Don’t do it!
I was always fascinated by Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” One of my favourite games is learning to read people from their faces. The older people are the easier to read. One of the advantages of my kind of research is that I have read non-fiction massively all my life which helps me to interpret what I see.
I may go back to painting portraits again. I would choose older people as subjects, including myself. As a general principle I believe that as we grow older we care less and less how other people see us. Oscar Wilde knew a thing or two about people.
We are bombarded on all the media with young women. The more beautiful they are, the more they look like inhuman dolls to me, except for the very few who have a character of their own. Very rarely do I find out anything about them. If I see a beautiful woman who is not wearing the usual uniform of ridiculously high heels, long hair flying around their faces and necks, with skirts so short that they can scarcely be seen, I know that such a person has the courage to dress as she pleases not just to please other people.
I like to sit with a cup of coffee in Waitrose and enjoy reading faces. The most interesting are the very young and the old. Most people in these categories are not self-conscious which means they are not seeking attention. Being a writer I make up little stories about them. If you want to understand people here are a few tips on what to look for:
Small children: Notice their energy levels, they vary a lot. Nowadays parents allow far more freedom than when I was a child. This is a good thing. Most of the children I watch do exactly what they want to do. They look straight into any eyes they like. They may respond to me or not. I can soon see which are the more outgoing and which ones might turn into ‘stuck-insiders’.
Ageing people are the most interesting. Unlike Dorian Gray’s Picture, their past life shows very clearly in their faces. The two main categories are stuck-insiders and individuals who still know how to enjoy life. The withdrawn ones usually have what I call ‘dead eyes’. They notice nothing except anything that annoys them. The ones who clearly enjoy life have bright eyes and notice what they want to see. These are the ones I would like to paint because they have grown into their own selves.