I find joy in an easel in the corner of my living room. It’s been there for years, unused, unfulfilled. The world spun, we worked, we played, we got busy and I hated painting. I wanted to love it and I wanted to do it, but the brush always had a mind of it’s own and what was in my head, never quite blossomed onto the canvas.
Then he signed me up for a painting class. I no longer question the timing of it, or why he decided that after so many years, that I should do what I had always said I wanted. But there I was, in a class. Other fledgling artists or craft-ists sitting in front of metal easels and blank canvas with pigments in tubes and unsoiled brushes. Sharpened charcoal at the ready. With a perfect blend of sunlight and studio light and a roll-up wall of windows looking out onto a courtyard of rushing water, trees and grass. I felt nervous. I felt quiet. I felt competitive.
Our first painting, simple shapes and shadows-reminded me of writing when I was a little girl. I made sure all of my poems rhymed. made sure all of my words, handwritten, were perfectly spaced on the page. But, just like my writing, the first painting fell flat. My instructor took my small brushes from me and grabbed one that seemed impossibly huge for the job. In two strokes, there was depth and promise. Whereas my hours of tiny little dabs had produced, well, shit.
He told me to always remember the economy of a brushstroke. Do not attack with a toothpick, what requires a baseball bat. Do not be afraid of your instinct. Be the bull in the china shop, even broken plates can be pieced back together in a mosaic. In other words, quit trying to be perfect and just be.
I looked at my other classmates and their paintings were variations of my own. Competition began to leave me, when I realized that there is no measurement of beauty. We are all just putting our own brush strokes on canvas. We are all just learning the economy of a brushstroke.
Our second painting, started with bottles and a coffee pot, apples and a vase. Shadows, curves, perspective. He set us free to draw.
My immediate reaction was a sort of panic, so closely similar to what I felt when I used to watch dad draw. I can’t do that, I will never be as good as he is.
As evidenced, above, I’m not the sketch artist that my dad was. Not by a wide margin. At this point, in almost every previous attempt at art, I’ve quit. But, not this time. My drawing, as inaccurate and as simple as it was, got transferred to my canvas. The process continued. As everyone else around me, simple colors covered the dark lines.
We mixed our own colors, watching the theory play out on the tips of our brushes. Layer by layer. But it is so hard, sometimes to see where you are going instead of where you are. To know that there is more than what lay on the surface. True of so many things. True of so many people. Some people arise from their birth looking flawless, some bloom into a beauty that takes more than a precursory glance.
Sometimes it takes years to notice the subtlety of the background, to know the nuances of where someone or something comes from. How that influences where and what they are. I loved painting this background, blending these colors. Making something only I could make. Not my classmates, not my dad, just me.
Something in the bones of this made me feel like I had wind in my sails. something in the way I could guide a brush made me feel like I could do this. Something made me think that anything was possible. I just had to want it.
I do, in a way that is foreign to me. Writing has always been a compulsion and sometimes, it just plain hurts. But these colors, these shapes, while scary to me, that I could some how completely destroy and distort them….they are joyful.
But now I can appreciate how shades and darkness provides depth to something that lacked life. I can appreciate that I may never have the intelligence that Clay has, the faith my mother has, may never have the heart my sister has, or the ability to love like my brother. I will never be the artist my dad was. But, I will have abilities and nuances and glories of my own and they will never be duplicated by anyone. I will be the artist, the person that I am.
And this will hang in my home as a reminder of where I’ve been, where I am and where I will go.