I’m old, so why bother?


PaperMosaicOne afternoon in 1772 Mary Delany noticed how a piece of coloured paper matched the dropped petal of a geranium. She lifted a pair of filigree-handled scissors – the kind that must have had a nose so sharp and delicate that you could almost imagine it picking up a scent. With the instrument in her hand she began to maneuver, carefully cutting the exact geranium petal shape from the scarlet paper.” (The Telegraph)

In 1772 we began fighting the Revolutionary war. It was also the year oxygen was scientifically discovered. But what I find most amazing of all is that in 1772, Mary Delany was 72. Mary Delany “invented” mixed media art at the age of 72.

See if this sounds typical to you: on a good day I have the energy and spirit of my 25 year old self. On a “bad” day when my hands ache and my energy wanes, I consider myself old. I  have even been heard to say,” I’m old, so why bother.” Fortunately, most of the time I operate, plan, dream and scheme like my 25 year old self. It’s only when I catch my reflection in the mirror that I remember I am not.

Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise. Margaret Atwood

UnknownActually, it’s only my body that is getting old. I am ageless. (←tweet this)  I attribute my youthful spirit in part to the fact that I live my passion. As artists, when we create we tap in to the ultimate fountain of youth, we never lose our childlike sense of wonder.

Artists spin straw into gold, make something out of nothing. Mary Delany used tissue paper, watercolor and glue to create mixed media collage that is now housed in the British Museum. I don’t think it ever dawned on her that she was too old to try something new. ” ‘I have invented a new way of imitating flowers,’ she wrote with astonishing understatement to her niece in 1772.” Mary just followed her passion for botany and art. She was only forced to stop at the age of 88 when she began to lose her eyesight.

It so easy today to feel old, especially in our youth-centered culture. Botox and anti-aging cream are marketed to women in their 40s. My 20-something daughters are already worrying over their wrinkles. I’m not always happy when I see my smile lines, but then I smile because they are smile lines and even better, smile lines disappear when you smile!

MaryDelanyThe bottom line is, next time you think you’re too old, or you are feeling old, tap into the fountain of youth we call ART.

PS. Mary’s story is both historically interesting and inspiring. I was inspired to find out more and ordered The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72.

Want to know how she created her collages? Here’s an excerpt from the 2011 Telegraph articleA collage education: the woman who reinvented nature:

mary-delany-5-horse-chestnut“Unlike pale botanical drawings, they are all done on deep black backgrounds. She drenched the front of white laid paper with black watercolour to obtain a stage-curtain-like darkness. Once the paper was dry she’d paste on to these backgrounds hundreds of the tiniest dots, squiggles, scoops, moons, slivers, islands and loops of brightly coloured paper, slowly building up the verisimilitude of flora.

According to those who’ve tried to recreate her technique, Mrs Delany used tweezers, a bodkin, perhaps a thin, flat bone folder (shaped like a tongue depressor and made for creasing paper), brushes of various kinds, mortar and pestle for grinding pigment, bowls to contain ox gall (the bile of cows, which when mixed with paint makes it flow more smoothly) and more bowls to contain the honey that would plasticise the pigment for her inky backgrounds, pieces of glass or board to fix her papers, pins to hang her papers to dry. It was a feast for the tactile sense; it was dirty, smelly, prodigious.”

And, as always, I’d love to hear what you have to say about art and age. Your thoughts and comments feed my youthful soul.



  1. Leanne Boughner says:

    Your timing was perfect. I ordered and received it in time for my 65th birthday! I’ve always felt I would start a new life at 65.

  2. wonderful story and artwork!

  3. Ann-marie LaBollita says:

    Mary Delany’s work is very beautiful. She followed her heart and this wave of creative inspiration carried her through her grief. Art does that for me. The work may change over the years but the important thing is to honor its desire to be given form.

  4. What a wonderful story to share. Thank you so much. I just turned 52 and started mixed media or various forms of art 4 short years ago when I could no longer work a full time job. I have been feeling “too old” and “why bother” since my birthday this year. Then I read this article and all the comments by artists much older than I and I realized, for myself, using my age is just an easy cop-out to stop doing the one thing that always brings me joy and a feeling of life!

    Thank you again. Tonight I sit here and realize age is just a number and joy is priceless!

  5. I knew of her from my art history courses in college, but had never quite thought of her as a mixed media artist. Now I always will! And just as you say, most days I forget that I am 61 years young and have the energy of my youth. Those are the creative days. On the days I am feeling old and tired, I like to use those times to read, plan and contemplate my next creative adventure.

  6. Look at your demographics…I didn’t do it scientifically, but as I quickly scrolled through today’s letters, there were many of us in the second stage of our lives. I too retire at the end of this school year and although I have been creating and selling (a bit) over the past many years, I look forward to my second “career” not sure what it will be, but for sure it will include my loom and sewing machine but not going out to work in the middle of winter at 6:30 a.m. My mom will be 85 this spring and she just gave up knitting because of arthritis. I hope I still have plenty more years to create. A dear friend was hit by a car last week, she will be laid up for quite a while….it makes you stop and think, something you always make us do, Leslie! Life can be fleeting, make the most of it ladies!

  7. Wow…at a family lunch the other day we were having just this conversation. What age do we see ourselves as? I’m still back around 30. Some wisdom, some style but loads of drive and energy. But slightly mystified, my 23 yo son’s puzzled comment was that if I were 30 he wouldn’t be born. Sigh….the young just don’t get it.

    • We do know they will get it someday, don’t we, Diane? If we only knew then what we know now…
      Thanks for your comment.

  8. Mary Ellen Kundrat says:

    I wish you had one of those buttons that I could click on to tweet the line ” it’s only my body getting old. I am ageless.” I don’t believe there is anything that could say it better. I know I’ve been blessed with a Mom who, at 93 is the embodiment of this line. She is overflowing with curiosity, excitement and delight at ALL creativity. She has been a living example of art in motion – sewing, painting, collage, quilting and more. She remains my greatest role model as I strive to follow in her footsteps.

    • Great idea, Mary Elle. I just did add the tweet link. So glad your Mom is still overflowing with all that goodness.

  9. Wonderful post! When I’m feeling old or cranky some art time with my 10 yr old (or my neighbor’s 3 yr old) always makes me feel better

  10. Last week, a month after my 69th birthday, I uploaded my first designs to Spoonflower, a passionate wish since I was first told about them. I’d waited…and waited to have something perfect as a place to begin. Then one morning my wise, guiding voice reminded me of all the designs in my photo file and suggested I just start, begin the learning curve. I won’t know until the samples arrive but whatever they are, they will teach me. And today my musician brother wrote that he has composed a tune to transform a blog post ( into a folk song. New doors open every day. Circumstances, most of them physical, require us to adjust and in the process we become other than as we were. We are never too old, it is never too late. Thank you, Lesley. xo

  11. Susan D. says:

    Thank goodness that the paints and fabric and colorful papers and whatever we use to make our art don’t care about what age we are 🙂

  12. Madeline Sosnowski says:

    Art in all of its forms are what I love. Being creative has no age limit! We just have to get up in the morning and get on with it!! My mother at the grand age of 96 years old is still knitting beautiful dolls and toys that are in homes all over the world.(They have been sold on ebay). Such an inspiration to anyone who thinks that it is too late to be creative. Let’s go everyone..Time waits for no one…..

  13. Deb sims says:

    Oh Leslie, you’ve done it again by sharing your thoughts on looking vs feeling old. I have been getting tons of mail about signing up for medicare! How can this be? Like you I still see myself as a full of life and mischief 25 year old until I pass a mirror and wonder how my mother could be reflected back to me! One of my role models is Beatrice Wood, artist, potter, writer and romantic. She died at age 105 with the last 25 years being her most productive! So we’re all just getting started on this grand joyful adventure of being an artist and living artfully or art fully! Again thank you for sharing yourself. You are an inspiration.

  14. Thanks…needed your inspiration today.

  15. cindy Feyl says:

    You gals make me feel normal. Yes I was slowed down a bit but this last year when I got a change of meds I feel super and I am right on schedule. Thanks

  16. Marya Lowe says:

    Consider Freddie Moran. She and Gwen Marston did on a book together about collaborative quilts. The bio on Freddie said that at 60, her daughter-in-law convinced her to take a quilting class, so that she could make a baby quilt. Freddie did so, got hooked, and 5 years later had made 500 (I think that’s correct!!) quilts, had a line of fabric of her own, and had worked with Gwen on the book. What an inspiration!!

    Personally, at 60, I told myself I was (hopefully) just 2/3 done with my life, and had that a glorious last third to go. And I was going to live it my way, becoming the person I wish I had been at 30, or 20, or 10. So far, I’m enjoying the ride and am having a great time with contemporary quilts!

  17. Very inspiring. I love stories about strong women – hope to have people think that about me some day!
    Georgie O’Keeffe also painted until her sight failed – and then she worked on pottery into her 90’s!

  18. Lesley,

    Your comment, “Actually, it’s only my body that is getting old. I am ageless.” is so true! I always find your blogs and emails so inspiring. I get into a funk and then I get your email or see your blog and I think maybe I can do some work today!Thank you.

  19. Thanks, Lesley, what a great story! I’ll be 72 this year (how could that be?) and most days I see the world with the wonder of a child. I try to keep the other, older days to a minimum. Mary Delaney is an inspiration and I think I need to find the book as well.

  20. Christina Ferguson says:

    Thank you. Being Art-full (full of art that must get out) has been my lot since I was little. And my artist grandmother taught me how to paint, quilt, knit, and love all creative things. Because she was “old” compared to me, I always thought that being creative was a lifetime journey, that it was ageless and had great purpose. Afton was ageless for sure and I thought her artfulness was part of the how she stayed so cool, and funny and young. This brought back memories of her. I just turned 50 yesterday! I now feel old enough to do whatever I want! no excuses and no apologies. Thanks

  21. Fantastic post.

  22. In February I completed a “28 Days of Happy” blog marathon (for my birthday month…) and here is where I completed the posts:
    I, too, compared “old and ageless” don’t know about the rest of you but Lesley and I are AGELESS!
    I guess that I have always been lucky, as I feel the age that I am as the best possible age to be… and would NEVER go back to be 18 again!!!

  23. Susan Dunne-Lederhaas says:

    I had to chuckle, on the edge of turning 70. I am finally returning to my enthusiastic self after a year from multiple blood clots in my lungs, and bleeding out for a cardiac catheterization. It zapped my energy for a long time,but I would go and pet my fabric and hover in the sewing room,just to breathe in hope! I am so grateful for every day, and even though I am old, my spirit is that of a 10 year old! Always something new to learn every day..
    Susan Dunne -Lederhaas
    Charlotte, NC

  24. Truly inspired! Thank-you – :-)!

  25. I am in my seventies now and have been painting for years. But I notice that it is THE THING that pulls me forward… art. It is what has governed my life as I govern what I do with it (the art). I don’t often consider my age unless somehow it comes up, or I have to tell it to the person taking my particulars. THEN I am SURPRISED to say it! And of course I am not as high-energy as I used to be. But somehow, all the stuff important to me gets done and I am just planning the next creation….into what I intend to be a long future of continuing to do so.

  26. Wow, who knew! Thanks for sharing- power to the old feisty broads like us!