From burn-out to beautiful brushstrokes: Meet the maker

When Jenny Brown, a busy mum, grandmother and former teacher, experienced burn-out in 2010 and was later diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, she didn’t take it lying down. Instead, she was compelled to paint Scotland’s seascapes and native flora and fauna – something which ultimately helped her on the road to recovery.

“While my diagnosis was quite devastating at the time, it awakened in me a creative urge to paint,” says Jenny.

“I would wake with an image in my head that I felt compelled to paint.

“My early pieces were simply an expression of how I was feeling but, as I continued, I found an untapped latent talent within.

“I chose to use the short periods when I wasn’t light-headed or exhausted to paint. Then I put a few seascapes for sale in a tearoom and they sold!

“There’s nothing quite like others appreciating what you do to encourage you to persevere.  

“Six years later I wrote an autobiographical self-help book: Living Lightly: A Journey Through Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – which charts my journey to health again.”

Jenny, who is based in Kilmarnock, has been an artist member of Open Studios Ayrshire for the last seven years.

A self-taught artist, her collections span an eclectic mix of Alice in Wonderland paintings in oils, mixed media and pastels, as well as portraits and stunning canvases depicting Scotland’s natural beauty.

Jenny has had several solo exhibitions: ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Scottish Islands’, and the ‘Fantasy Collection’ – and the pandemic has given her more time to be creative.

“My work is heavily inspired by my love of the Scottish landscape and the friendliness of its people,” says Jenny.

“I like to capture the changing light and bring a luminosity to my subjects.

“For my woodland collection, I became fascinated by the way sunlight bleeds through trees or illuminates bluebells in the Spring.

“After becoming obsessed with the action of waves on smoothing sea glass, I produced a 30-piece body of work, ‘Wave Forms with Sea Glass’ for ‘2020 The Year of Coast and Water’ – but unfortunately the exhibition was cancelled last year because of lockdown.

“I donate three or four pieces a year to worthy local charities which are close to my heart, but it’s not just painting I enjoy. Creativity in all forms is a passion of mine.

“I have always loved art and craft. As children, my sister and I were always involved in industriously creating. I was never happier than up to my wrists in clay or resin or glue. The highlight of the week was receiving our subscription of Encyclopaedia of Crafts.

“I attribute my inventiveness to childhood poverty and make-do-and-mend!

“When I was 14, I had nothing to wear to a family wedding, so I dyed a sheet, made a skirt, ruffle-hemmed with one of my mum’s old scarves; I cut up a white jumper that was too wee and made a top; and finally wove strips of cloth into a bag, lined it to match the skirt and attached a pleated strap. I prided myself on making clothes that didn’t look homemade.

“I found I had a flair for dress-making and made my own wedding dress, bridesmaids’ dresses, my suit, mother of the bride outfit and my fiancé’s suit for my own wedding.

“I was even featured in the local newspaper modelling my Edwardian dress and received so many orders that I opened my own business in the 80s.

“I had a whole new vent for creativity when I gave up the needle for chalk when I trained as a primary teacher.

“In my late twenties, all my artiness was ploughed into being mum: knitting, sewing dresses and jackets, painting my-little-pony murals or making dolls. Now I’m retired, I have lots of time to paint and spend time with my five grandchildren.

“Painting makes me happy. Hours can just disappear in a happy haze, dobbing paint. I have an amazing attention span. Once I’m switched on to a creation, nothing disturbs me.

“Some pieces are a la prima (all done in one sitting, wet-on-wet) but others require to dry before I can add next layer. I know artists who have several canvases on the go at once but that isn’t how I work.

“The spotlight of my creative attention remains fixed on a work until its finished. I am lucky to be a fast worker so most pieces are complete in a week.

“The pandemic has impacted on the time that I spend painting and the amount of people buying my work. Lockdown meant that I didn’t have my grandchildren after school, so I had more time to be creative.

“My annual open studio event as part of Open Studios Ayrshire was cancelled so I accepted a challenge in the first lockdown to produce a piece of art every day and while some pieces took longer than a day to produce, I did create 50 works in 66 days. You can find these pieces and all my collections on my website.

“The other major change, which completely took me by surprise, was that my audience grew and I so did my sales. I think that people have had more time to browse online and there has been a trend to supporting local businesses.  

“I could hardly keep up with the sales and commissions on the lead up to Christmas in the second lockdown.  

“I do a daily post on my facebook page to update my audience on what I’m currently working on, my reflections on the inspirations and time-lapse videos of me working.

“I am still amazed to receive such lovely positive comments. It’s all very encouraging!”

Multi-talented, Jenny is also a yoga teacher, who runs Living Lightly Yoga under her professional name, Jenny Light – teaching the yoga approach to meditation to beginners and experienced students.

She write articles for Mind, Body, Spirit magazines, shares free meditation podcasts on Podbean & Youtube and has written two books on the yoga approach to meditation: ‘Divine Meditations: 26 Spiritual Qualities of the Bhagavad Gita‘ and ‘Awakening the Lotus of Peace’, which is due to be published by Mantra Books in November.

You can meet Jenny on Sunday, 4 July at open air event Art at the Exchange, beside the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow, from 11-4pm. 

She will also be at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway between 10 & 13 September from 10-5pm, alongside three other Open Studios Ayrshire artists where you can see her painting and some of her most recent work (and maybe even bag a bargain!)

You can also contact Jenny at Jennybrown.scotart@gmail.com

Articles by Jenny Light:

5 steps to think yourself calm

How to deal with worries mindfully

About lyndahamiltonparker 514 Articles
Lynda Hamilton Parker is an award-winning PR consultant, journalist, editor and publisher based in Scotland. She is the founding publishing editor of Good Health Magazine.

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