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Artists Who Started Late in Life: Winston Churchill

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

artists-who-started-late-in-life-winston-churchill

Art Can Be Therapy

There is time for everything you deem important. I remember once my grown daughter asked me how I had money for photographs, camera, film, and developing, when they were children, knowing that our income was so tight. I told her you make money for what’s important: you budget for what’s vital to you. It’s the same with time. If art isn’t of importance, you won’t ever find the time for it. That’s the way it is.

For this artist, it is amazing that he found time for so many things and art too. But art became an important tool to help him deal with the bouts of depression he suffered all his life. Art can be very therapeutic. This is the story of Winston Churchill as an artist.

Bathing

Bathing

Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.

— Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (30 November 1874-24 January 1965)

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. He did a lot of things in his life: Officer in the British Army, historian, writer, journalist, Prime Minister, statesman, and artist. He won the Nobel Prize in literature and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States. However, the artist part of the list of his accomplishments may surprise many people. He is remembered for a lot of things but the artist isn’t usually at the top of that list. Most people don’t even know he was an artist too. Here is the story.

Bottlescape

Bottlescape

A Premie Baby

He was born two months premature, into an aristocratic family in Oxfordshire, Great Britain. He was in a hurry to greet the world. From the age of two to six, Churchill lived in Dublin, where his father was private secretary to his grandfather, the Viceroy. This gave him occasion to see military parades and develop a fascination with military matters.

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.

— Winston Churchill

Churchill painting.

Churchill painting.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

— Winston Churchill

artists-who-started-late-in-life-winston-churchill

Prime Minister

Serving as Prime Minister during the Second World War was hard on his health, as it was on many people. He suffered a mild heart attack in 1941 and even a mild stroke later in 1949. Still, he pushed himself to maintain an active public life almost till his death. He married and had 4 children, one of whom died very young. There is so much more to put into his story. There is so much to say about these years that I couldn’t possibly find space to include it all so I will just jump into the artistic endeavors.

Learning To Paint In His Late 30's

The most interesting thing for me was that in-between his public offices and military career or writing for newspapers, he painted. As he describes it in his autobiography, he just wasn’t the type to sit and do nothing. So the idea struck him in his late 30s that he had always wanted to learn how to paint and had, until then, never had the time for it. So he sent his butler to the store to buy all the latest equipment for this endeavor. (That must be nice, to send your butler to the store.) When he returned, he set up the easel, paints, and brushes out in the garden for Churchill to paint. Churchill looked around at the beautiful English country garden: flowers, pond, trees. He picked up a brush and looked down at the paints. Where to begin? He remembered from school that the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue, so he squeezed out these colors on his pallet. There before him was a perfect, pristine, white canvas waiting to receive the master’s touch.

Churchill painting.

Churchill painting.

I Don't Know What I'm Doing

And that’s when it hit him. He didn’t know what he was doing. Where are you supposed to begin anyway? What if he ruined it? What if people laughed? What if he stinks at this? And so he was paralyzed, standing there unable to do anything for quite some time.

My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.

— Winston Churchill

Randolph Churchill reading.

Randolph Churchill reading.

Elderly Lady To Help

As the story goes, people then began arriving for tea. Lady Churchill was entertaining the guests when one of them spied Churchill out in the garden and went out to see. She waddled up to him and asked what he was doing. Not wanting the interruption and definitely not wanting anyone to see what he was doing, he grumbled, “Nothing.” At this point she saw that indeed he was doing nothing, so she laughed. It’s probably not wise to laugh at Sir Winston Churchill, but she did. She saw that he was stuck so she snatched the brush out of his hand. He was stunned. Then she looked down at the three colors squeezed out neatly on his pallet and she stirred them together. As any artist knows, when you mix red, yellow and blue together, you get a brown goopy mud. He couldn’t believe what she was doing to his paints. Then she looked up at his canvas and with the mud, she made three swipes at his perfect white canvas, put the brush back into his hand and waddled back toward the house. He was dumbfounded.

artists-who-started-late-in-life-winston-churchill

A Distinct Improvement

In his autobiography, he wrote that if he had his wits about him, he would have run after her, tackled her to the ground and beat her up about the head and shoulders. But as he watched the brown goop dripping down his pristine white canvas, he realized she had done him a tremendous favor. Anything he painted now would be a distinct improvement.

artists-who-started-late-in-life-winston-churchill

The Power of the White

You see, she had destroyed the Power of the White. We, artists, know that the first mark is the hardest because the Power of the White is so strong. It is so perfect that you begin to doubt yourself, asking who do I think I am. You are afraid to make the mark but after you do, after you destroy the Power of the White, drawing anything becomes easier. Many of us draw a line or a swipe even if it is something to be erased later, just to mar the surface and destroy that White.

artists-who-started-late-in-life-winston-churchill

Destroy The White!

When I taught beginners I would come with the drawings already begun so that we could jump right into painting. Afterward, my encouraged beginners would go out and buy all the materials on my list and take them home ready to paint for themselves and suddenly feel ill-equipped. They don’t realize it is the Power of the White, not lack of confidence they need to overcome. So I started telling this Winston Churchill story on the first day of classes so people would know what to expect when they got home with their white paper.

artists-who-started-late-in-life-winston-churchill

Artists and Writers Have This Problem

I love this story because Churchill explains better than I have ever heard before the problem with beginning as an artist. It isn’t the skill, talent or even confidence, that holds us back but an obscure power we give to perfect white things. Go, therefore, and destroy the White wherever you find it, my friend.

Bully Comments Welcomed

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 08, 2016:

grand old lady,

I am a great fan of Winston Churchill as well, even if I am American. He was amazing in everything he did including art. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 08, 2016:

A most interesting hub. I am a great fan of Winston Churchill:)

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2016:

CorneliaMladenova,

Thank you. I'm so glad to be informative. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Korneliya Yonkova from Cork, Ireland on February 28, 2016:

Amazing hub, Denise. Never had an idea about Churchill art. I thought he was only distinguished politician and military man. His paintings are so beautiful. :)

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 30, 2015:

ladyguitarpicker,

Thank you for checking this out. I agree, we make time for what's important to us, busy or not.

Blessings,

Denise

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on September 30, 2015:

I have read many books on the war and Churchill but never knew he was an artist. Most people who are busy find time for what they love. Very interesting . Stella

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 24, 2015:

lawrence01,

Thank you. I agree that art was his release. I think it is for many people. It seems we regulate art as something we only have time for when we retire, but there is so much therapy there if you would only allow time for it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on September 24, 2015:

Denise

Churchill is one of my heroes! Anything about him is like a magnet for me.

I loved this hub and the way you let Winston speak for himself, he was enigmatic in many ways but art was his 'release'

The 'power of the white' was just the kind of thing Churchill would say.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 23, 2015:

Sara Copley,

Thank you. I wish I could say that I made that up but it was actually Churchill who wrote about it. He was genius. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Sara Copley on September 23, 2015:

What a fascinating story! I knew Churchill painted but had never seen any of his paintings before. They are beautiful! The part about the power of white was very good, I will now destroy the white with confidence! Thanks for the great hub!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 22, 2015:

drbj,

I think everyone has several amazing facets to them but we usually only remember people for one or two. Yet we are all so much more. It is nice to see new facets to people we only thought of as one way, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 22, 2015:

Churchill was a remarkable man and a creative statesman and now I have learned from your fascinating account, that he was a remarkable artist as well. Thanks for this well-written tribute and images.

Paula on September 15, 2015:

You should have taken that picture :)) Nice story Denise.

Have a nice day :)

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 15, 2015:

florypaula,

Oh, you are so correct about children. They have no fear. It's a shame we have to teach them that. I remember my 18 month old toddler had finger painted with her own diarrhea on the walls next to her crib. It was so clever and artistic a design I hated to get mad at her and wash it off. In retrospect, I should have taken a photo of it to blackmail her with later. I think those who become artist later in life have to forget the fear to be able to dive in. Grandma Moses strikes me as one who never had any fear, but who knows. Thanks for commenting on Churchill.

Blessings,

Denise

Paula on September 15, 2015:

This is why I think children have an advantage in art, because they are not afraid to destroy the power of the white, they actually can't wait to set their print on things no matter if we are talking about painting, photographing, filming, and so on. Grownups tend to overthink everything and this is when fears appear and most of the time they take over.

If so many people made it after starting later in life than we should see comfort in this to start our won late life story.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 13, 2015:

Kathy T,

Great to hear it. I think deep down we all have a passion for art. We are visual people always looking at things and being bombarded with images and advertising all day long. Art only lets us stop and "smell the roses" for a few minutes longer, that's all. thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Katharyne Peckham from Boston, MA. on September 13, 2015:

Great article, lots of details I didn't know I have a passion for art

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 11, 2015:

Blossom, my friend, thank you for saying so. I believe he was certainly remarkable and his work a thing of beauty. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 11, 2015:

BarbaraCasey,

I think some are even for sale/auction. Imagine having been given a gift of a painting by Churchill. Today it would be worth a lot of money. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 11, 2015:

Ilonagarden,

Thank you. He was certainly brilliant. Thank you for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 11, 2015:

Larry Rankin,

I'm so happy you got something out of this. I really appreciate what a dynamic and extraordinary person he was too. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 11, 2015:

WillStarr,

Thank you. I know what you mean. The biographies I've seen get so bogged down on ALL that he did, the average reader misses a lot. I just wanted to focus on his art and what led up to it. I'm so glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting,

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 11, 2015:

Readmikenow,

I'm overjoyed that you liked it. Yeah, I hear that a lot, that people heard he painted but didn't care to look into what he painted. Now you have seen it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on September 11, 2015:

Thank you for an interesting article. I loved the paintings that you chose, he was such a versatile man and painting can really be therapy as well as producing something of beauty to share.

BarbaraCasey on September 11, 2015:

Oh, very cool. I'd seen photos of Churchill in the act of painting, but I'd never seen his actual paintings before. Thank you.

Ilona E from Ohio on September 11, 2015:

I think his painting is brilliant, which matches the rest of him. Churchill is one of my heroes.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 11, 2015:

Churchill is certainly one of the most fascinating and dynamic historical figures to ever have lived.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on September 11, 2015:

What is it about a blank canvas that is so intimidating?

Churchill is a favorite historical character for me, and while I knew about this aspect of his life, this is the first time I've seen and read about it in such fine detail, so well done, Denise!

Readmikenow on September 11, 2015:

Winston Churchill was an incredible person. I read he painted, but didn't think much of it. This really let me know more about his painting. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 10, 2015:

phoenix2327,

It is surprising, isn't it? He certainly packed a lot of accomplishment into his life. I'm always amazed at how much people can get done if they set their minds to it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 10, 2015:

You're welcome, Rachael. I think it is a bit of both. Talent, which he clearly had but was using in the area of writing and journalism; and learning the techniques, which anyone can do if you want to spend time doing it. Like learning the piano... anyone can, but a few excel at it because there is talent there too. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 10, 2015:

Ann, I'm so happy you enjoyed this story. It is one of my favorites about the Power of the White. I will often go out and spend big bucks on a really good piece of watercolor paper, with an image in mind for it and get paralyzed when I'm ready to start. It is indeed powerful! Thanks so much for commenting and I hope you like the others in the series as much as you liked this one.

Blessings,

Denise

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on September 10, 2015:

I had no idea Churchill was a painter as well. He truly was a remarkable human being. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into this side of him.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on September 10, 2015:

That was a surprise to me that Winston Churchill was a painter. I don't understand how someone can 'learn' to paint. I think it's a God given talent, but if you can lean it I would really love to learn. Thanks for sharing this story.

Blessings to you.

Ann Carr from SW England on September 10, 2015:

Very interesting, Denise. I knew Churchill was a painter but I didn't know about how he started; a great story!

I think many people in power take up drawing or painting as an escape; it's something many can take to or at least have a go at and you don't have to be good to enjoy it. He, however, was good as is shown by your illustrations.

The power of White is indeed strong. I've been trying some sketches today and almost had to wrench the colour from the pastels to make my first strokes!

I've noticed this series you're doing and have intended to read but got side-tracked by a very busy summer; now I shall make my way through them with pleasure, as I have some R&R away from home.

Thanks for an entertaining hub.

Ann