My paint palette – a resemblance to life

My paint palette – a resemblance to life

This is the speech I made at my School prize day as guest of honouring October 2021.You can also list to it on my podcast here

My name is Aly Harte and I am an artist, educator and podcaster.

I hand on heart can say that friends School Lisburn enveloped and welcomed me when I joined in 1999 to study A levels. I loved my time here. To be honest. when the invite came through to speak today, my business was going through big changes- we had signed for a new studio which happens to have a shop front on the main street of holywood- no pressure! My previous Personal assistant Gemma sadly passed away at the age of 35 and, covid has meant that despite many successes, business is even more unpredictable than you would imagine in the creative industry.  I worried that I wasn’t a good fit.

The first person I called for support and to share the news with was my husband Michael. He is a teacher in a Grammar school in Belfast. His response went something like “ oh Aly, that’s absolutely class. Normally schools have professors and high achieving academics to speak so it’s great they’ve picked you!” I took his words as a back handed compliment!?

His response brought to light the struggle I feel when I am asked to speak at prize givings. I am unsure if I should focus on the old school version of what success is – the fact that I was listed in Northern Ireland’s top 40 under 40 in 2018, that I received a first class honours and a distinction In my degree in fine art and masters. I now drive the 4 x 4 I dreamt about driving as a 14 year old growing up on a small holding in the country. The first kids workshop on my new space has sold out and I have already sold two large paintings before opening the doors of my new studio.

All relevant AND SIGNS OF hard work. I cannot deny that and I am proud of my achievements.

I known that we are here to celebrate academic achievements and successes however, I do believe that success in life is not always defined by what is on paper or in our bank account.

I came to study my A levels Friends after finishing GCSEs at the High school ballynhaninch where I was head girl. While sitting in the vice principals’ office with mrs Dixon I had a feeling that she was taking a chance on me. I had overheard the other pupils who joined that year discuss their GCSE results in the common room. My results were by no means bad but beside theirs, I worried that I was not a good fit for Friends.

Nonetheless, I met some of my best friends here – Lisa being one of them. On a Tuesday morning I met Lisa when she greeted me in the corridor outside the maths room. My third son is moving school after halloween and I am revisited by those pre school nerves now, except as a Mother.

Lisa and I would share chips and half a sandwich each day in the dining hall and she was my one friend who attended the funeral of a tragic and sudden death in my family during mock A levels. I noticed recently that I wrote in my Friends yearbook “you can meet good friends at any stage of your life” Lisa is proof of that.

As a creative I write for customers, for magazines and for my business’ online content. Ms black and mrs keys were my English teachers. They may not remember but on Thursday afternoons and lunchtimes in the library, they took turns to help me with my writing. I was a 17 year old who grappled with language, had a flair but didn’t know how to form structure. mY SPELLING also wasn’t great! So, I owe my writing career to their kindness.

Today is about you. Congratulations! You have worked hard and you are on the stepping stone that is the next stage .We are here today to celebrate your achievements. It is exciting, it is fresh and you worked for it.

Apologies that I am not the professor mentioned by my husband above but I believe that my message today can be translated into all aspects of your life, not just the classroom.\

Have you ever watched a time-lapse video on instagram or Tik Tok when painter makes a painting in 12 seconds? I use this tool for my own work many times. The video is is sped up many times faster than the artist actually made it. It’s impressive watching a painting come to fruition.

But how often do we see the palette?

The palette is where the painting is splurged onto and the brush is stirred into. Apart from the paint, paintbrush and artist the palette is the most vital part to making a masterpiece.

Today I have with me my paint palette. It is like an extension of me. My life as a business woman and painter would not exist without it. It is unused paint – mess , mistakes and chaos.

I have five things that an artist notices when using a palette which I believe are good analogies for life.

So Number 1 

The paint doesn’t make the colour you intended.  (WORK HARD )

My father passed away the week before my eighth birthday. One of the last things I have a vague memory of is him talking me that he would make the party even if he was in a wheelchair. Sadly that didn’t happen.

I went to a primary school of 35 pupils in in the countryside. I received a C grade in my 11* which is like the AQE that my second son is sitting in a few weeks.

When I applied to the PGCE after my degree and didn’t make it through my dream of becoming an art teacher crashed and burned.

However, the day before the interview a member of staff at art college pointed out that my portfolio was better suited to a master programmes. Iso I applied and, along with 7 other students studied a masters in fine art and I came out with a distinction.

The direction you think your ideal life will take is rarely how it is in reality and even more , it isn’t always what is best for you. Allow the closed doors in one room to open up other doors in a different space. Then work hard to know the tools you still have even if you fall short on one exam, or an interview… or, if you are the only person in the room whose living situation doesn’t look the same as the crowd.

Number 2 

You need patience and confidence in your ability when you don’t know the outcome of mixing . (SELF ACCEPTANCE)

There will be times when it’s necessary for you to be patient and to trust the process.

I recently featured in a French documentary . It seems glamorous but I hiked my very large wooden easel for two days about the giants causeway and spoke for so long while pretend painting that I wanted to sleep standing up. I had to look longingly at the waves, make a painting in a day while tourists spoke to me and to discuss my love of painting basalt. It was a process that will eventually make a gorgeous result and likely feature on Netflix. But it required so much energy and belief in my creativity.

Be confident in your ability. Most aspects of life, work and academia will require you to know yourself really well.

I have two members of staff who work for me because I know that I cannot reach the business goals I want without them. In other words I am aware of my strengths and talents and I am accepting of my short comings. The more you try, play and explore the more you will know these traits of your own.

Number 3 When you add water to paint it makes it last longer. (PEOPLE/FRIENDSHIPS/ RELATIONSHIPS)

After my second son was born I caught pneumonia and my body was run down. It took months of bed rest. My hair follicles became so weak and snapped half way down my head. Then  a GP discovered on a routine check during recovery that I had a heart murmur which tuned out to be the same heart defect as my late father. For a while when I sat in that heavy reality of my new life as a heart patient, I felt shocked, helpless and alone. Until I reached out to friends and family.

In fact when I think back to sitting in the seat where you are now, I would not have believed all the things that would happen between the age of 16 and 38. What is more powerful, I couldn’t have done it on my own. There is a reason the saying ‘ it takes a village to raise a child’ exists.

Dont be afraid to ask for help.

Another unpleasant time was catching covid last October. My heart and lungs didn’t cope well and we drafted family to help. I

Your physical body will fail you, perhaps not as dramatic as I have mentioned- it may be as simple as your rugby , athletics or music career is stumped by changes internally.

The more water we add to the  paint, the further the paint will go. When you turn off social media  ( imagine such a thing!?) who is it that texts or calls you? Invest in friendships and relationships  so that when you need them they are there to help you go a little farther.

Number 4 Enjoy the process of mixing the paint (ENJOY LIFE)

You’ve heard the saying that things are meant to be, life happens for a reason. Good bad, ugly, new, fun, frightening things will happen on your journey. Don’t mark everything as a failure, instead mark it as intentional.

My online teaching platform for beginner painters is called the unintentional artist. I encourage  the students  to do crazy things like paint with their shoes off, use only dark colours and add charcoal to the end of a stick. Each action encourages them to let go of making mistakes in their artwork and to enjoy it.

Money and academic achievements are great but the high of them is often short lives. Enjoy the search for Friendships where you watch the sunset on a road trip. Hot chocolate in a warm cup with mallows at the top of a mountain and sea swims at dusk. The magic of life can be found in these moments.

Number 5 Simple colours still have use (START SMALL )

Simple actions can have significance.

I worked as a community artist alongside social services, the arts council and in one to one art therapy settings. One session that stands out was when I worked with a boy who had abused solvents from an early age. He was 11 when I met him so you can imagine how young I mean his early age was. The way it works in that environment is that we set up stations during the art class.

The idea being that we accommodate his short attentions span and to keep hands busy and heart open .

I knew this young person liked dogs. I brought dog stickers and cast them aside thinking he wouldn’t like them. Sure enough he saw them on the table and one by one placed them on his top. He was so happy. He’d never had stickers before or someone give him a gift that was linked to what he loved.

Be Considerate of others. I don’t mean give them a few likes on their recent tik tok. More importantly recognise the people who need a friendly face or a text message. My dad said people see your manners before they see your brains. Be the better person when you see someone in difficulty. My mother also told me that when you show kindness remember that you may be the only one offering that person a smile in their day. How powerful and significant, albeit small.

This messy palette full of imperfections still assists me in my beautiful paintings.

If the palette could speak I guess it would tell of the turquoises that took a long time to mix or the water used to stretch a favourite colour so it lasted longer. Maybe it would tell of my lack of patience finding the perfect mauve or, the simple ultramarine blue which is a staple in every painting I make. The mess, the mistakes and the chaos all have value.

The palette is the most valuable part of the painting in your life. Every bump and burst of joy you have enriches it further which makes you into the colourful human being you are.

Thank you for listening today, well done on everything you have achieved so far.

No matter the paint and the problems on your palette, it can still produce a masterpiece.