Emma Samms: The gift of art

Celyn by Emma Samms

Celyn by Emma Samms - Credit: Archant

I am not calling my acting career ‘creative’. Saying words that a writer has written and standing where the director tells you to stand makes you more of a puppet

I have been reliably informed by our esteemed leader Mike that this, the March Issue of Cotswold Life, is the Arts Issue. I feel quite comfortable embracing this topic and even, dare I say it, feel slightly qualified to do so as I attended the very arty Royal Ballet School for 6 years. Also, the one and only A level I acquired before giving up on school aged 17 was for Art.

Notice that I am not including my acting career under the umbrella of ‘Art’. This is not an indictment on the series or films I’ve been in nor is it due to false modesty. It is, in fact, due to my genuine belief that acting in itself is not particularly creative. Saying the words that a writer has written and standing where the director tells you to stand makes you more of a puppet than a creative thinker. In fact, on most television projects, where time is money, creative thinking by the actors is rarely indulged and usually frowned upon.

I had seemingly been destined for a career as a dancer by winning and keeping a place at the Royal Ballet School but due to an injury at age 16 I found myself having to leave the rarefied atmosphere of that elite school and joining the somewhat different crowd at the Harrow College of Technology and Art. Just to make the transition even more awkward, I joined the college half way through their first term. So I was the new kid, the youngest, the smallest and the only girl wearing a sensible skirt.

The first class I had was Life Drawing. I don’t think I even knew what ‘Life Drawing’ was but I soon figured it out when the man in the middle of the room took off the dressing gown he’d been wearing and adopted a shall we say relaxed position on a chair in front of me.

I thought I’d got away with hiding my teenage mortification until the model took his first break. With very good grace he took it upon himself to welcome the new girl to the class so he made a beeline for me to do just that. With possibly a little less graciousness, he chose not to put on his dressing gown.

I was sitting down. He was standing in front of me. He was completely naked. There was an eye-line issue, to say the least.

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Towards the end of the 2-hour class, the teacher slowly walked amongst her students, delivering critiques. She looked at my work and said “You know, you’re going to have to paint it eventually”. I’d left one area, right in the middle of the painting, completely blank.

Nowadays I only draw birds and animals. Mostly because I can’t draw things if they don’t have feathers or fur. The medium I use is pen and ink but the disadvantage of working with ink is that if you make a mistake you have no choice other than to start again. This makes the last few hours of a piece that takes thirty hours (my average) quite nerve-wracking and I get progressively more careful with my cups of tea and chocolate biscuits the longer I’ve worked on something.

The picture on this page is a drawing I did last month as a present for one of my dearest friends. She had a beautiful little dog called Celyn that, heartbreakingly, went missing at the end of last year. Despite a whole town looking for her and the most wonderful effort by Twitter, she was never found. I had taken a photo of her that was good enough to work from, so once my friend Rachel had another puppy in the house and was feeling a bit better, giving her a portrait of her missing dog seemed like the right thing to do.

I suppose that’s the joy of art, whether it’s any good, or to your taste, worth a fortune or not, it’s always personal. It’s why the best possible present we could get from our child is a hand-drawn card, a poem or a wonky clay pot. It really is the thought that counts.

Follow Emma on Twitter: @EmmaSamms1