Issue 14 Cover Art: Self-Portrait by Sonia Brittain

“Self-Portrait,” Sonia Brittain

As a child, I loved drawing and painting; it is what I naturally gravitated to, despite the fact that no one in my immediate family was particularly into art or supportive of a career in the arts. I ended up studying medicine at university and specialized in psychiatry. During those years as a doctor working in London, I did not draw or paint at all, and I really started to miss sketching. It was not until after I had my third son and we moved to Switzerland that I finally became more consistent in drawing again. Committing to a drawing-a-day project in 2014 provided the motivation for me to allow myself to make time for art every day. It also resulted in me finding an online art community via Instagram that shared a love of making time for creativity too. I feel, looking back over time, I have changed so much and become so much more confident in drawing and painting. My sketchbooks show my development and changing interests, though some muses still remain—I still love to draw my children, and sketching people has always been a fascination. I sometimes wonder if I am drawn to figurative art in a similar way that I was drawn to studying psychiatry—I have always been interested in human relationships and listening to other people’s stories. The best portraits for me are the ones that make you want to know about the sitter or even inspire you to imagine your own story—which is what happens to me when I am drawing someone I don’t know. The piece on this cover is a self-portrait, a gouache study of me turning my head away on top of an old heavily patterned painting that I didn’t like and was about to throw away. At the time I don’t think I was thinking particularly deeply about it, but looking at it now it makes me think about how we all have aspects of ourselves that we don’t like or want to change. I have succeeded in changing the original painting, which at one point I just wanted to rip up. Changing ourselves is sometimes more difficult—and we can often remain a mystery to ourselves. I am drawn to paintings of subjects turning away because—as both a viewer and as a painter—they allow me to put more of my interpretation and mood onto the painting.

Maybe it’s due to life experience, maybe the fact that I have got into a habit, but now making art is essential. I still primarily make art for myself. I find it therapeutic, like a form of meditation. For me, I feel most myself and content being in the moment, making marks with a pen, pencil or with paint. My sketchbooks contain so many memories; often, looking back through them, I can see clearly where I was and what I was doing at the time. Sometimes they evoke a clearer sense of place, of smell, or feelings than a photo might. I think that is one of the special things about drawing—often it makes you observe things more closely and appreciate small details that you might otherwise ignore. The images of my sleeping children are especially precious to me. Lately, as the children are getting older and I am becoming more confident, I have started to focus more on certain areas. I have begun painting landscapes on a larger scale. I am currently influenced by views of the bay area, near where I live. I want these paintings to evoke a sense of atmosphere. I also still love figurative art and have continued to draw and paint portraits. With these, I want to improve in attaining a likeness. Yet at the same time, I want them to remain painterly or a sketch—to make the viewer wonder about the person depicted, or want to look more at the lines or brushstrokes used. My latest project has been to start painting abstracts, and I have a daily abstract journal where I allow myself to explore mark making and color.

When I worked in psychiatry, I knew a consultant psychotherapist who had a Rothko in her room. It makes sense that this type of art is so appealing in various settings, because it allows the artist to put their emotions into a piece, to express themselves with color, marks—yet it may still remain a mystery to the viewer and each person viewing it may see or feel different things than someone else. That is the joy of art for me: there is always so much to explore, so many ways to depict emotions, places, relationships, life. The possibilities are endless.