How to learn to paint

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After I'd dropped off my son at his nursery the other day, I came back and recreated a scene that was much more familiar to him than to me. I got out acrylic paints, pots of water and brushes, some rags, plates for mixing colours and some very large A3 sheets of paper. I was going to learn to paint.

Having received a certain amount of discouragement towards my artistic efforts from an early age, I had never seen myself as a future Leonardo. But, when I heard about Sophie Wellbeloved I thought I'd give it one last try.

Sophie visits your house and gives individual tutoring, promising a "happy, gentle way to develop your creativity and overcome blocks". I wasn't sure I had a block exactly - more like I'd never got started.

I realised early on that this was not going to be the sort of art class where someone plonks a dun-coloured pot on a table and tells you to paint it. When we spoke on the phone, Sophie asked me what I was most interested in - drawing, sculpture, printing, colour? She suggested I closed my eyes and tried deep breathing so I could visualise the best direction for me to take. I plumped for colour.

We started off mixing primary colours. "Which yellow would you like to mix in?" asked Sophie. "Now, which of the blues? Put a bit of water with the yellow. Now pop in a bit of blue and give it a good mix."

A column of ever-darkening greens began to march its way down the length of my huge and pristine piece of paper. I eyed it with suspicion: it looked rather murky to me. "Not at all," said Sophie. "It's a family of jolly nice greens, I think." Encouraged by this remark, I even stopped worrying about making a mess.

"Most people I teach have been dumped on by bad art teachers so their creativity is blocked," says Sophie. "One woman said I had to promise not to laugh at her. It turned out her evening class teacher had gone around daubing paint on their efforts then tearing them up. She was terrified."

By this time, I had progressed from single splodges of the brush to wiggly lines. I'd tried mixing a few more colours, and was on to a family of oranges.

So who takes Sophie's classes? Some people are starting from scratch, some are really quite experienced and looking for special tutoring. Sophie stresses that she is teaching you how to access your creative powers - not just how to paint. You could then apply them to drawing, printing, sculpture - all of which she teaches - or, equally, to playing the cello or gardening. "Everyone has creative powers," she says. "But to access them you have to stop trying to be in control and let them come through. Oddly enough, I get a lot of bankers. I think the fact that they have to relinquish that sense of control in order to prosper is what attracts them to it."

By now, I'm starting to feel really quite adventurous. Sophie tells me to pick some music, take off my shoes (to get me grounded) and close my eyes. I dip two rags in different- coloured paint. "Let the music start to flow through you. Let your hands move with it, whatever it's doing. Sweep and move with it." This seemed more like therapy than art - but whatever it was I was rather enjoying it.

Individual tutoring is becoming more popular and your local college may be able to suggest a tutor (as well as having its own evening classes). Sophie taught at St Martin's Art College in London for eight years before starting one-to-one lessons. She only drops her flyers into houses she likes the look of. Swept steps, flowers and so on are a sign of a willingness to engage in life. Barricades of net curtains and a complete absence of gardening are not.

On the whole, I found my morning good fun. As for being an artist, though, I don't think there's an awful lot of hope. A friend who later saw my efforts assumed they'd been done by my three-year-old. Well, I did have my eyes shut.


Sophie Wellbeloved, (0171-609 6766). Classes pounds 30 (first session free)