Telling stories through colour

PINETOWN resident Shirley Howells’ life is filled with colours and memories, and she loves telling stories through her paintings.

“I was born and raised in Cape Town in the 30’s and 40’s — during a time of simplicity, few cars and certainly no mod cons. I did show an aptitude for art during my school years but, my parents being poor, they could in no way entertain even the idea of me getting any tertiary education, and I was sent out to work at 15 to help with the family finances,” Howells said.

“In 1965 I relocated to KwaZulu-Natal, settling in Pinetown which was, at that time, a rather rural community without big businesses — with one general dealer, a bakery and a few small businesses. The Old Main Road, [now Josiah Gumede] was still flanked by banana plantations.”

“In 1986, and almost by default, I joined a once-a-week fine arts class for mature students at Pinetown Tech. From the first moment, I knew that painting was what I really wanted to do but it was not until 1999, when I retired from my totally left brain job as a conveyancing paralegal, that I was given the opportunity to pursue my dream.

“The journey has been long, and certainly not easy, but it has always been fulfilling, exciting, absorbing and has now become a lucrative career.”

She said carving a career in any of the arts is not easy.

“The journey is a long one and it takes hard work and dedication. But, for me, each new painting hopefully teaches me to be a better artist — like in most artistic careers, an artist never stops learning, experimenting, searching — there are so many incredibly talented artists from whom to learn or from whom to be inspired, and hopefully each painting is a little better than the one before.

“Over the years I have painted a variety of subject matter; however, at the moment, my interest lies in telling stories and depicting the people who are a part of the story — stories of everyday folk and the lives they live.

“I am inspired by the African sun and the colourful people from all walks of life who are a part of my South African heritage.”

She added that there are many challenges she faces as an artist.

“The challenges for an artist today are many. The competition is enormous and the pool of buyers ever diminishing, but the satisfaction one gets from painting a work that people admire, and even want to buy, is without equal.

Apart from painting, Howells teaches a class for painters once a week.

“I am very involved in my church community, and an orchid fancier. I am the mother of five children, a grand-mother of ten and the great grand-mother of five, from which you will gather that I live an extremely busy, happy and fulfilling life.”

Howells also had some advice for aspiring artists: “It is never too late to start painting, either with a view to turning your talent into a career or to having a hobby which is not only therapeutic, but will open new doors, enable you to make new and like-minded friends, open your eyes to the wonders around you and keep your mind active and alert. Painting is not a skill one learns overnight but the journey is forever exciting and full of wonderment.”