Since I was very young, I was sensitive to atmosphere. Whatever form of art met my eyes, whether it was buildings, furniture, pictures, people or nature itself my spirits either lifted or they sank. I knew at once what I liked and what I didn’t like. I sought pleasure in my surroundings which meant I would never go anywhere that exuded a sense of sadness and ugliness.
The same applied to my own shops. I had to take the best sites and furnish them with care so that the whole effect when a customer walked in was a work of art in itself. People liked my shops and soon became regular customers. I didn’t have to try to sell anything, but if people had difficulty in making a choice, I suggested that they wrote out a cheque for something they thought they might like. I would put the cheque to one side and let the customer take it home for a few days to make up her (or his) mind, as to whether they wanted to keep it or not. Very rarely did anyone return anything.
On one of my trips to Glasgow my manageress told me that a customer had complained that a set of three pictures had not been framed for his liking. She was so frightened by him that she begged me to talk to him myself. Before he came to the shop I made sure that the manageress was not there.
In strode a tall overweight, red-in-the-face man looking like a bull in a china shop. I really enjoy challenges like that. I began by receiving him in my usual friendly manner and let him rattle on with his sad story. At intervals I offered an assurance that we were very sorry and would do our best to put things right. Like all bad-tempered people they cannot stand their ground when no opposition is given.
He slowed down and I kept on smiling . He couldn’t resist that. I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“We will get the pictures reframed and they will be ready in two weeks.”
“That is not good enough! I want them next week!”
“And in two weeks we will have the pictures delivered to your house.” (which happened to be a very posh part of Glasgow.) and since we have let you down, I would like to offer you a framed picture of your choice as compensation.”
He looked astonished. “For free?” he said. “Of course” I said.
His manner changed at once “Mrs Pain, you must think me very rude. Only you see, I have a dodgy leg that gives me lots of pain and it is especially bad today. You don’t have to deliver the pictures. I will see to that.”
He became a regular customer.
It is not what other people say to you that causes problems. It is how you respond and don’t lose your temper.
Because I was looking at pictures every day, I began to get my old yearning to start painting again for myself. I had had several starts but never yet a good teacher. I found myself becoming more and more critical of painters especially and I had the feeling that I could do better myself. One day I opened my Telegraph and found an interesting article in the middle. It was just up my street.
It was written by an art teacher, who taught at a well-known public school in Wiltshire for many years. He always had outstandingly good results in A-levels. He was tired of teaching boys and decided to take early retirement. He lived in an old cottage with a large barn in which to give lessons. He wanted to teach older people who wanted to learn art seriously.
I liked the sound of him. I sent him a letter. He received more than 400 altogether. I sent off for his brochure straight away. Clearly he was sought after. He was already getting booked up. His sessions were for one week and a few others for two. There were a few bed-and-breakfasts in neighbouring villages where I could stay.
Over a period of five years I went to Robin Child for some twenty courses. He is still teaching, I discovered recently. His teaching was inspirational! I discovered things in myself of which I was not aware. I developed a gift for portraits, probably because I have, all my life, scrutinised people’s faces. I have always loved bright colours and learned how to use them well.