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Creativity and my head injury

I have drawn and painted for as long as I can remember. On our family summer holidays in South Wales, my Mum and my artist friend Brenda Perkins used to provide me with sketch pads, watercolours and brushes and encourage me to draw and paint what I see around me. It became a passion for me from then.

As an adult I was working in Melbourne as a neuroscientist in 2008 - I went on a works night out with other brain researchers when I fell and had a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). Oh the irony I hear you say. I went into a coma, had a bleed on my brain, had the front part of my skull removed due to swelling - and replaced of course - spent three months in hospital and have been having rehabilitation treatment ever since, both in Australia and Glasgow.

I feel as though painting after my injury helped me - it gave me some direction after losing my science career and I feel that it helped my brain recover from using creativity...can you relate to this?


The first time I lifted a brush after my severe traumatic brain injury, I was art therapy and my therapist told me to pick a photo of myself after my head injury. I picked a shot showing how my hair had been shaved at the front and was regrowing. Part of my skull had been temporarily taken away due to swelling and then replaced!

I finished this canvas after around six hourly sessions. It means a huge amount to me as it was my first step into painting again. Though for a good few years after my injury, I found it hard to look at it as it reminded me of my severe injury. But now I’m fine looking at it.

After my first dabble with paint and paintbrush, it took me a long time to do another. My TBI had amongst other things, damaged my eyes. I heard it said in passing that I may not be able to paint again due to this, as it would effect my ability to distinguish colours. When I heard this I was really upset as painting before my TBI was so important to relieve stress and to help me think.

When I did lift my brush again, I felt it was important to prove to myself that I *could* paint, despite the eye damage. So I picked photos and copied then exactly. To show that I could put the right colours in the right place - basically painting by numbers! As you can see below I did this for a year until I was satisfied that I was able to "paint by numbers" - ha.

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I did enjoy doing these canvases above, but there was something on my mind as I did so. To me, painting is describing what I see in front of me, but is also adding something of myself too. I felt that copying a photo was maybe lacking a little - was I being too rigid and structured?

Well, one day a friend of me asked whether I'd do a nude of him as he was turning 50 and he was hoping to remember that time in his life. I picked the photo, prepared colours and grabbed a handful of big brushes...and let myself go! Once I'd finished it, it was the first time I'd added myself to a picture and it meant a lot to me. I ended up painting in that way and I found it hugely rewarding...

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