Many years ago, my mum bought a frog. Not a real one, but a wall-eyed, green and black-striped, purple-bellied beanbag frog, which (when my brothers and I weren’t hurling it at one another), took up semi-permanent residence on the sofa. A few months later, another frog arrived to keep it company, although its designated place was a couple of metres away by the hearth (and as it was made of pottery, never once did we attempt to send it flying across the room). After the appearance of a third, fourth and fifth amphibious companion, we began to realise that Mum had a thing about frogs.
So, naturally, we bought her more; frog brooches, frog mugs, frog calendars. Mum seemed happy enough and as far as we were concerned, birthday and Christmas presents were solved forever, until that is, the rest of the family cottoned-on to Mum’s batrachian obsession as well. It rained frogs. Plastic, porcelain, pewter; gorgeous, garish and downright grim,
it didn’t matter what, as long as they were wide-mouthed, had eyes like Marty Feldman and were approximately frog-shaped. In the end, there were so many that a cabinet was called for and there, mum’s colony of motley frogs were able to multiply undisturbed.
“What do you like to paint?”
I’m often asked this when people find out about my day job. I usually hedge about a bit and say I don’t get much opportunity to think about that when I’m teaching, but some questioners can be quite persistent.
“You must have a favourite,” my interviewer insists, “Landscapes, people, animals, boats? What?”
And it’s at this point that I think about my mum’s frog collection. Because, my mum didn’t really mind what size it was or how it was made, as long as it looked like a frog. You could give her a gold-plated, diamond-encrusted, giraffe, hand-thrown by sub-Saharan artisans and she’d stuff it back in its box and tidy it away under the stairs.
A poorly-pressed, pink plastic amphibian with a pencil sharpener up its bottom, on the other hand, would be given pride of place in the cabinet.
Frogs were her favourite. Beyond that, she did not discriminate. Her love for them was all-encompassing.
And I know artists who have favourites too. As long as they’re painting the thing they like, they’re happy. And it can help, actually, to be more than a little obsessed with your subject, because your subject can then become your trademark and your trademark is what sells – water-lillies or women; mountains, matchstick men; sunsets or sunflowers – but if you’re teaching art, then you need to be able to turn your hand to all of these things.
As a teacher I don’t feel I can afford to have a favourite, but I came to realise over the years that I do actually have one and it’s just the same as Pablo Picasso’s, in fact. When he was asked what his favourite painting was, he said…
‘The next one.’
So, here’s to the next one (and the one after that)!