Student stories: RT Jane
I have been doing courses with OCA for years, slowly plodding through the units and enjoying every moment of them. But finally my ultimate unit of the Visual Communications degree is in for assessment this November. My life as an artist and illustrator has blossomed in the last couple of years, as my confidence and technical skills have grown. Now that I am retired, I feel I can do what I have always wanted to do, just play around with visual media all day long. My last, and the most pleasurable job of my life, was working for OCA, which I did for ten years. That being the case I maintain a strong affection for OCA, the staff, the tutors and its purpose. I’m sure it has helped me feel confident about my studies, since I knew what the assessment process involved, and since I knew how hard everyone at OCA worked, I felt defensive when I saw criticisms on the OCA illustration Facebook group for instance! If I had started my degree later I would have elected to study illustration, (the illustration degree wasn’t available when I started) but it has certainly been helpful to be forced to study Graphic Design as well, especially since I seem to have fallen into the graphic novel/comic field, despite my original lack of interest in it!
Art and illustration is now central to my life, and was a stabilizing force when I lost my husband when he was only 56. Drawing helped me express my grief. Several years on, still studying my degree, with lots of free time, I am not sure how I arrived at the subject for my final project. I felt myself reluctantly pulled towards the most difficult subject I could possibly have chosen. It must have been because at the age of 64, I finally felt able to look back at my life and see my childhood trauma clearly, and without fear. I instinctively knew that if I managed to address this powerfully, that this would make a good piece of work. So I began to write, and sketch out thoughts about my abusive father, and this quickly developed, once I had come up with the title: Trust My Father. I had incredible and excellent support from my OCA tutor Bee Willey, who had, by coincidence recently completed an MA in Creative writing, so she was able to help me with the shape of my story as well as comment on the visual aspects.
Moving on six months or so, I had some serious doubts about my choice of subject. How could I get my story out into the public domain when I wanted to tell as few people as possible about it? I opted for a pen name and that solved one issue. And I decided the narrative was not finished and that I couldn’t possibly finish it in time. Then I knew what to do. I would round off the story, get 100 copies printed, and distribute the books to interested people and organisations and ask for feedback. Then I would be in a position to pursue the finished book at my leisure, post degree, under a pen name. The feedback rolled in, so much support, so many positive responses. A hugely positive response from the National Probation Service, who wanted 1,000 copies to share with female hostels, in the expectation that it might trigger women to talk about their experiences of abuse. This emboldened me to submit to the Laydeez Do Comics annual award. To my amazement I have found my way, first onto the long list selection and yesterday, onto the short list. The winners get announced in December. This is a hugely prestigious award, and makes publishers take note!
My book, in its current draft form, tells a story of reflection and coming to terms with the trauma of being sexually abused by a father I loved, and that love turning to fear and hate. I contextualise the story, by comparing my experience with the stories of many others who have been through similar traumas, and I also reflect on the unstable role of memory in telling this story. I was inspired by looking at the work of others, and by my own experimental approach to art to use as many approaches in the design as I wanted: including printmaking, collage, painting, drawing and cyanotypes. I even designed my own font. Creating this work has been cathartic, and important for my well being, and now I can talk about the subject easily, which I have never been able to do before. I want the book to help others and am now a resident artist on a website for adults abused when children. This helps turn something negative into something positive.
Finally it confirms to me the importance of OCA’s role as a broker for latent creativity, as an agent to support and foster the creative drive in those of us from whom it is central to our well being, and may help us to express things that we have hung onto for years.