Sharon Spencer held on to a phone number for three years before she found the will to dial it, and arrange to attend her first art class.
In those early lessons she would draw ‘‘tiny little pictures on tiny little pieces of paper’’, but soon her pencil strokes grew and so did her confidence.
The Wollongong classes, for survivors of childhood abuse, are not intended as therapy, but Ms Spencer says she has found in them a level of understanding she cannot get anywhere else.
''People who have been abused often develop addictions. One has her addiction clearly showing, the other does not. You can’t really judge.''
‘‘I can go there with a head full of nightmares and be shaking and buzzing all over and it’s completely accepted without judgment,’’ said Ms Spencer, of Albion Park, who was abused between the ages of six and 14.
‘‘You’re surrounded by women who have been through the same thing and nobody thinks of you differently. Even my friends who love me dearly don’t understand what it’s like to be abused.’’
The annual Purple Ribbon Exhibition, showing recent example of the group’s work, opened at the Old Court House in Wollongong at the weekend.
Ms Spencer’s contribution includes a pair of graphite nudes – a slim woman on the left and, on the right, a reflected image showing the woman obese, with meat hooks in her back.
‘‘I call the slender one My Sweet and the larger one My Sweet Addiction,’’ Ms Spencer said.
‘‘People who have been abused often develop addictions. One has her addiction clearly showing, the other does not. You can’t really judge.’’
Exhibition curator Kelly Ritchie said observers of the annual exhibition had told her the women’s work had gone from ‘‘raw pain’’ to real art over the past 15 years.
Despite their regular contact and shared experiences, it was not the women’s habit to spend their art lessons talking.
‘‘We don’t know the nitty-gritty of each others’ stories,’’ she said.
‘‘We don’t need to know - that’s in the past.’’
The exhibition continues this weekend, closing on Sunday.