Shopping Centres and Sons

What to do in a shopping,eat, the piano.........?

We are in a time when shopping centres are vying for business with online shopping, and in order for them to attract more footfall, they are having to find ways for the public to engage with them. So, when I offered a community piano to The Meadows Shopping Centre in my home city of Chelmsford, they jumped at the idea.

The piano started as a very sorry for itself, darkly varnished old thing that was about to be scrapped.

Fortunately, I was offered it as it would be a shame to see it go to landfill if some use could be made of it.

So, I rallied troops to help me sand, paint, put new wheels on, donate paint, come up with design ideas and help me transport it to the shopping centre.

It was quite tricky to line up the design from top to bottom, especially as I had decided it needed to go around the legs too! It meant that I had to get myself into all sorts of positions to get the right angle to paint.

In some parts, the paintbrush I used had to be tiny, and each colour had to be painted at least 3 times!

Once the design was complete, I had to draw outlines to each colour to make it look more professional, and I added notes to the sides.

A local signwriter offered his services for free to add a professional looking plaque to let people know where the piano came from, then I added my not-so-professional looking wording on top!

The next job was the piano stool. A lovely lady had given me her old stool-one that she herself sat on to play the piano for her parents. It had been tucked away in her loft for many years so was in a sorry state. What better way to cheer it up than paint it bright pink?!

The project from start to finish took 3 months as I had to work on it during school holiday and evenings (Transition was home for that time, and I had to paint only when they could let me and when I was able!)

But finally, it was done. Now just to get it across the City Centre, on a piano skate, to The Meadows!

I've been sent lots of photos and comments about the piano and it's all been positive. The staff at the shopping centre have told me that it is being played constantly. I think we'll call that a successful community project!


I am one of those people that likes to chop and change my creative direction, whether it is embroidery, photography, painting....whatever. So community projects are not the only work I do.

Sometimes, I HAVE to paint-I know that many artists feel the same as me-that it's a 'need' that you have to fulfil.

This is how I came to paint a portrait of my son, Jacob. If you know me personally, you will know that Jacob is autistic. I can't describe what an impact his different world view has had on my life, but it is massive. The photo reference I used for this painting is at his birthday meal. Just me and him, and I had to ask him to take his ear defenders off for the photo.

I thought it might interest some of you to see my progress of a painting.

I used a grey gesso as a base on a pre-primed canvas, drew a guide for the face, then blocked in some base colours with acrylic.

Once this was on, I could get going with getting the first layers in. I used water soluble oil paints, which I love because they blend so nicely and, as my studio is in my house, I can use them indoors without the normal smell of oil paints. I had wanted to make this painting quite 'block-y' with the paint strokes showing, but found myself being drawn to working more and more detail into the eyes.

I had intended to do more work on Jacob's clothes and the background, but decided that this was unnecessary, as the main focus was his face, so I left these areas as they were.

And here is the result.