Jackie Henderson: MyPsyche

PSYCHEDIN
10 min readSep 20, 2023

“I have a very specific colour pallet and a specific technique in painting, which is all about layers. I love layers in anything in life,” Jackie Henderson says as we chat whilst overlooking the peaceful River Kelvin in Glasgow’s west end.

Over the duration of our hour-long conversation, it is clear that Jackie’s relationship with stepping into unknown experiences has seen her build a vast array of layers to her identity, which echo perfectly onto the canvas whenever she paints. Whilst her work appears so at home on the walls of galleries like the Fotheringham Gallery in Bridge of Allan and Annan Art in Glasgow, to say that her transition into becoming a full-time artist, a role which requires sharing your imagination and ideas with the world, was an inevitability would be somewhat simplifying her journey.

“Initially I did art and creative projects really secretively and privately, nobody saw my sketch books. I think I kind of dismissed art a little bit when I was younger because I saw it as my sister Jill and brother Owen’s thing and I didn’t want to feel as if I was just copying them. I used to write a lot though when I was younger and actually learnt to write backwards so that nobody could read what I was writing. I loved it though and felt as if I was accessing another part of my brain.

“It’s a really difficult thing (putting art out to the world) because you’re almost baring your soul. I naturally didn’t want people to see it when I was younger, but they have to see it if you’re to do it for a living.”

On one hand being a private individual but on the other, possessing a talent and genuine passion for creativity appears on the surface a conflicting position to have been in. However, it wasn’t something Jackie thought much of at the time, after all, a pathway into being an artist did not seem all that tangible.

“For a long time, I viewed art and creativity purely as a way of expressing myself. I wasn’t hugely aware of it being a career option, especially as a female. I did art history at school and all I remember being taught about were men and very few females, if any, came up. I guess I didn’t view being an artist as an option.”

Instead of any conscious efforts to make a name for herself in the art world, Jackie’s energy was guided in a different direction in October 1988 when she had the first of her four children, Jamie.

“For years I was really focused on bringing up my four boys. Parenting at that point in my life really suited me because up until I was 19 I’d been ping-ponging about and it gave me a real focus. I also found that there’s still a lot of room for creativity with parenting, which I really enjoyed. Whether it was finding things to do at weekends, games to play or painting Jamie’s bedroom with clouds to build a beautiful nest, it all required elements of creative thinking.”

Bringing up four children, now between the ages of 24 and 34, was something Jackie loved and will admit to being a large part of her identity for a significant period of her life. However, as her children flew away from the nest one by one into adulthood and the demand of being a parent altered, this led to a time of readjustment.

“I got to the stage where I only had two boys left at home and was working as a classroom assistant at a rural primary school but didn’t feel overly fulfilled working there. I remember on my 40th birthday sitting in a carpark in tears and disappointed that I wasn’t where I thought I would be. At that point I realised I needed to do something different.”

During this period of self-analysis, a conversation with a young teacher working at the school led to a ginormous shift in Jackie’s life.

“I remember we came back to school on a Monday and all the staff were chatting away about what we did at the weekend. Mr Brown, one of the teachers doing their probationary year I think, mentioned that he’d gone along to the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design degree show in Dundee, which I hadn’t yet been to. The following weekend I decided to go along and it changed everything. I was looking at all the amazing pieces of work and thought that it was bloody amazing that people can choose to do art for a degree. I had just turned 40 and really wanted to just try something different.”

One application and acceptance into an art course at Angus College later, Jackie made the brave leap of faith to switch up her life and step into the unknown.

“It was brave, but looking back it just felt like the right thing to do. Having spent my 20’s and 30’s being a parent and working to pay the bills, I thought I wanted to do something for me.”

After acing and embracing the college course in Arbroath, this led to a determination to make an even bigger alteration in her life by continuing her studies 96.7 miles to the west at City of Glasgow College and the University of the West of Scotland.

“I went to Glasgow one afternoon to visit and was quite forceful, took along my portfolio and managed to get a place there and then. Doing the course in my 40’s really made me appreciate what I was doing, there was no time wasting. I knew that I was there to learn new skills and experiment and I didn’t want to waste a minute of it. I don’t think it would have been the same if I had done it in my 20’s, I think I would have felt more pressure to get involved in the social aspect of it. Now though I feel more comfortable in my introversion so it was at a time where there wasn’t any pressure on socialising.”

Studying a course which allowed her to lean into her creativity, Jackie says, felt as if she had finally been given permission to access a specific part of her brain and be her authentic self.

“It was like five years of playing and being allowed to be a bit weird. We were all encouraged to think differently and up until then, out-with the family environment, I hadn’t really delved into how deep I could go into that. Meeting others who thought similarly was such a revelation.

“I think I drove everybody mad because I was walking about and absolutely everything I was seeing or doing was inspiration. The course wasn’t just about drawing or painting, it was about making sculptures, the environment and using your creativity alongside what nature had to offer. My brain exploded with ideas.”

This fresh challenge and expansion of her identity saw Jackie graduate in Contemporary Art Practice in 2014, winning three creative industry awards whilst picking up a medal for highest achievement. She didn’t want to complete her degree and sit back and reminisce for years to come at how fun that segment of her life was though, instead, Jackie was determined to find a way to allow herself to turn her passion into a career.

“A lot of my work in education was very installation based and a lot of conceptual pieces. Throughout all the pieces however, I would always sketch out preliminary ideas which would then lead onto the final conceptual piece. Because of this process, I was left with tangible work in the shape of the sketches. I realised early on (after graduating) that if I was going to make a living out of art, the work would need to be tangible. I decided to start selling off my sketchbook contents and realised there was a market for that style.

“There was always that layered element, using texture which goes back to when I was young and making clothes where textures were really important to me. I think using 3D materials in a 2D way is quite exciting. I started selling my work on ArtFinder to begin with and then got approached by a gallery and just adapted my style to be framed.”

Now, living in the coastal town of Dunbar, 9 years after graduating and exhibiting with an impressive range of galleries across the UK and commissions across the globe, how does Jackie view her own work?

“I like to give things space to breathe around a subject matter. I like people to look at it and reflect their own experiences. I often find that I can linger on a painting of someone or something if I am not forced to make eye contact and I’d like to think that there’s a stillness to my work that allows people to look without feeling any discomfort.”

As we continue to soak up the sunshine sat on the terrace of an Air BnB she has rented for the night near Great Western Road, it is evident that Jackie still finds herself in that inspired headspace that awoke during her period of study. Fortunately for admirers of her work, experiences like this help her to create.

“It almost feels a bit self-indulgent in a way getting to spend my days doing what I absolutely love. There’s part of me that thinks that sat at the River Kelvin can’t surely be research, but I know that I need this to continue to create and I’m at peace with that,” she says playfully.

“Usually an idea for a painting will come about through something that happens during an average day. A walk on the beach, cosy-ing down with a cup of tea and a book or being in a landscape, basically just taking the time to appreciate what is around me.”

Whilst there is a tranquil stillness within Jackie’s work, that stillness doesn’t spill over to her plans for the future. She is at a place in her life where she understands that to get the best out of herself as an artist and as a person, diversity, variety and opportunities to evolve are paramount.

“Nothing is ever taken for granted. I never like the thought of well, that’s me, I am where I am. At 54, I am thinking about what is next, what other corners can I find inspiration in? When I was younger I used to put that part of my personality down to not feeling settled and restlessness, now I translate it as being someone who is open to new adventures and that is something I actually quite like about myself.”

Currently, Jackie has a solo show on at the Fotheringham Gallery in Bridge of Allan. Thereafter, Jackie will turn her attention to preparation for her winter shows where she is excited to expand, develop and continue to build layers in both her life and work.

“I love winter shows because I love trying to capture cosy-ness in my work, lots of scarves, gloves and hats. I’d like to continue to come up with new inspiration and ideas. The mermaid theme and girls with caravans all came about through having lived by the sea and taking an interest in reading about Scottish folklore. Most importantly though, I want to continue to be inspired by different people, places and experiences.”

Quick fire Questions:

How would you describe yourself in three words? Resilient, creative and resourceful.

How would your family or friends describe you in three words? Self-contained, thoughtful and calm.

Are you more introverted or extroverted? Introverted.

What is your biggest personality strength? Good listener.

Personality weakness: I am not very comfortable at social events so tend to avoid them. My recharging time required from mixing with the outside world can be quite lengthy so I can be quite solitary. Although sometimes our weaknesses can also be our great strengths.

Best moment in your life/career so far? Me and my sons had a day at a beach called Lunan Bay when they were all wee. We had a picnic, played games, paddled in the sea. I remember driving back home, all of them fell asleep in the car and I don’t think I’d ever been happier. They were all asleep after such a perfect day and the trust they had in me was beautiful.

Most challenging moment in your life/career so far? When I stopped working part-time at a gallery in Glasgow and realised that all my income was going to be through art.

What would your death row meal be?

Starter: Thai spring rolls with sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Main: Red Thai curry with rice.

Dessert: Sticky toffee pudding with ice cream.

Drink: Elderberry Cairn O’ Mohr

Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

It wasn’t given to me personally but through a book my son Isaac gave me by Susan Cairns ‘Quiet’. That was the first time I recognised my personality traits as being introverted and not socially deficient. The book highlighted the strengths and challenges of being an introvert in a very extrovert dominated society. It gave me permission and an understanding that it’s okay to be me.. quietly.

--

--