Personal Best: When a hobby becomes an opportunity to spread a little joy
Columnist Adam Hopkinson, our resident wannabe Banksey, has found a fulfilling way to spend his spare time, even if it means that one person on Instagram thinks he’s a weirdo.
On the rare occasions whenever I find myself having some spare time – which, with a couple of (unnaturally energetic) kids and a busy work schedule, is often at the more useless ends of the day – I like to paint. Not decorating, that always finds its way to the lower levels of the to-do list. I mean artistic painting. Portraits to be specific.
Doing this gives me a way to immerse myself into a world where everything else goes away, without drifting off to sleep. I find myself in a properly relaxed state – and it is remarkable how solutions to things present themselves when you are not actually spending your energy worrying or thinking about them.
But that’s not why I do it. Nor is it to contribute to my slightly antisocial ageing git persona. In fact, I don’t even have to be alone; it can be done of an evening when we are all chilling in the lounge together and I can be present in (light) conversations.
I do it to create a body of work that can act as something of a legacy.
I work in advertising during the day. We place advertisements in front of you for products we work for, on the calculated assumption that you are the right person to be seeing those products, be it posters, on TV, on the radio, internet etc – everywhere, in other words. (I should probably apologise.)
We don’t make the message; we broker the space. By its nature, my work evaporates leaving little trace of its existence and it is very hard then to show my kids what it is I actually do. Yes, we are left with a set of PowerPoints and documents and spreadsheets and occasional awards, but this doesn’t feel enough to define a career. There’s nothing to show and tell.
So, I started thinking about how we define ourselves. The common question is: What do you do? Answered usually by something linked to work. I don’t like this. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do for a living, but I want something more colourful and interesting to be the descriptor of what I do.
So, I learned how to paint to have a way of showing rather than telling something I do. I’ve produced bundles that one day will be sitting in folders in the kids’ loft gathering dust, hoping to be discovered on the future equivalent of Antiques Roadshow. Look, having time not worrying about things doesn’t stop me daydreaming and making up scenarios.
‘Spreading joy’ could be a rather egotistical way of describing my paintings, but here’s what I mean. I have taken to Instagram – along with the rest of the world and in-between – and as well as doomscrolling and mindlessly chuckling at Reels of monkeys, I search for random people in my feed who I think have an interesting look, and I paint them.
I do it altruistically (ish). Once done I share the image with the subject and, if they want it, I’ll send them the original (old school, watercolours on paper – not digital). For free, obviously. I’d love to have the gumption to add a price tag, but that’s not my objective. I feel that even though they may be anonymous, even the smallest human touches in this increasingly digital and isolated world must be doing some good.
As of writing this, I’ve completed 39 portraits of randoms found online, sent out 31 to people who seemed genuinely flattered, grateful, amused, surprised, and who have gone on to either further share online or show the paintings in situ; all of whom have sent me lovely messages by way of (unnecessary) thanks. I’ve had one person tell me to ahem off for being weird and am waiting on seven responses. I think this is a pretty good strike rate.
I’m sowing my seed, spreading some moments of joy and all through doing something that is profoundly good for my head and, increasingly, my heart.
But back to the daydreaming again: What if I turn into a Banksy, and these actions grow in significance over time? The mischievous side of me loves that the person who told me to move on might just live to regret it.
Meanwhile, on planet Earth, I get a thrill from remotely and anonymously positively affecting someone’s life, no matter how small a gesture. I guess that must be what attracted me to advertising in the first place.