My life as an artist

Sitting in a workshop, surrounded by easels and paint pots, a smile extends across the face of Lewis Buttery as he describes the artwork he’s produced.

We’re at the Clarendon Park base of Soft Touch Arts – a charity which helps disadvantaged young people. It’s only since he began attending sessions last autumn that Lewis has discovered his painting abilities, but they have already made a big difference to his life.

The 19-year-old has long suffered with anxiety and it all became too much for him when he started at Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College in 2011. He let deadlines get on top of him and ended up leaving two months after starting. “I had really bad social anxiety and depression, which were making motivation really hard,” says Lewis. “I did nothing for a year other than play games on the Xbox, then, eventually, my mum pitched the idea of Soft Touch’s Thursday ST-Art sessions to me.


“It’s a referral-only project where you do a range of artistic stuff, like painting, stenciling and that sort of thing.” Having done a music Btec at school, the idea of mixing with like-minded people appealed to the teenager. He had to battle with his nerves, but Lewis took the plunge and went to one of the Thursday sessions. “It was difficult at first,” he says, “but when I started, I was the first person on that particular project, so it was just me and two workers – one of whom I thought was another young person. “I ended up chatting to her for most of the session.

After experimenting with Posca pens (water-based markers), Lewis tentatively began painting on canvas. “When I first started, I hated painting because I remembered from school that it got your fingers really crusty and horrible and the brushes were all covered in paint because all the kids had used them and they hadn’t been washed properly. “I wasn’t fond of painting when I first started but I’ve really got into it,” says Lewis, who has produced some impressive pieces – many of which portray human figures.

How much does his work express his feelings? “With the whole depression thing, it’s hard to think about feelings on an extreme level, so I mainly just focused on trying to get to a point where I was satisfied with what I was creating,” he explains. “I remember as a kid, any time I tried to draw or paint I thought it looked terrible, which is probably part of the reason I hated painting, because I was no good at it, or at least not to the standard I was happy with.

“I’ve always had high standards for creating my own work so when I got here I was just trying to focus on making sure it was something I was happy with. “There are a few pieces I’ve hated and painted straight over and there are some which, at the time, I thought were okay, but then over time I’ve disliked them and got rid of them,” says Lewis. Despite his own misgivings, Lewis’s paintings have proved popular at Soft Touch events, where they’ve been exhibited. Following an exhibition last year, he’s sold one of his paintings – of a night sky. “That was a quick experiment,” says Lewis, who used spray paints to create the simple, yet effective, painting, featuring the moon and a planet, against a background of space dust. “The rest of my stuff had taken a long time to do but that only took an hour to make the whole thing,” says Lewis, who has also created wooden sculptures for exhibitions.

Now, Lewis is working for Soft Touch on a six-month internship, while also attending the Thursday sessions, which enable him to further explore his creativity. He’s also involved with the charity’s latest photography project, Luv Leicester, where 10 young people are producing and curating an exhibition on the best things about Leicester. The young group has been working with graphic design agency Arch Creative, and last month hit the city streets with the agency’s photographer, Tom Wren, to take photos for the exhibition, which opens on Tuesday. As well as photos, the exhibition – sponsored by financial training company Kaplan – will feature “The Unusual” – a collection of self-portraits created by young people, including Lewis.

There will also be an interactive element, with shoppers having the opportunity to have their portrait taken with a message about why they love Leicester. Lewis is thrilled to be involved. And his anxiety? “It’s still there,” he says, “but it’s improved. “When I was learning to deal with it, I found the only way to get past the anxiety is by challenging the fears, so if there’s anything I don’t want to do, I push myself to do it, because it’s for the best.”

Another young person to have benefited from Soft Touch is 18-year old Abby Smith, who is heading up the Luv Leicester project, having proved her abilities working on a similar activity last year. Abby, who lives in New Parks, first got involved with the charity when she was a shy 13-year-old. “They came to my school and I joined a film project about Lady Jane Grey. We got to learn how to use a camera, act and direct, so it was really good,” she recalls.

Abby’s since taken part in other film activities, as well as projects about  healthy eating, sculpture and photo- graphy – the latter being something she is particularly keen on. “At last year’s exhibition, I sold about eight or nine of my photographs, which gave me a real confidence boost,” enthuses the teenager, who’s delighted to be leading this year’s Luv Leicester exhibition. “It’s good to know people have that trust in me and think I’m capable of taking that role. It’s good to be helping some of the young people, as well,” says Abby, who’s particularly pleased with the shots she’s taken of New Walk Museum and the fountain in Town Hall Square.

Having recently finished her A-levels, Abby comes to Soft Touch every week- day, and says getting involved with the charity has been a really positive experience. She says: “For the first time, it got me doing something and keeping up with it. Usually, I start something, get interested, then stop. It’s given me a nice career choice, because I’m hoping to go to university this year to study joint media and film, then do something creative.”


“Soft Touch gives young people an opportunity that not all schools can provide. It’s more relaxed and open. You get to try so many things. There’s nothing to stop you.”