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The Economy of a Brushstroke

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.

Each layer, something new. Each color on the palette, fresh and vibrant. Nothing to drive me into despair, nothing to pull me back into the shadows.


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.

25 Responses to “The Economy of a Brushstroke”

  1. Sybil Law Says:

    Love it. :)

  2. Jennifer Says:

    I love that you’re doing this, and that you have found the peace to let yourself be the artist you are. It suits you very, very well.

  3. alejna Says:

    This was beautiful. I love the progression, in words and images together.

  4. Orangeblossoms Says:

    I love every THING about this. (and you)

  5. Laurie Says:

    You blow me away in different ways, all the time. It’s my favorite thing about you. You are beautiful in so many different ways and I feel you unpacking them all of the time. This continual willingness to grow means you’ll never be satisfied with less than what matters and as difficult as I know that is, it’s so much better than the alternative.

    Sarah wrote something last week, about each of us having our own “bag of tools” that I just loved and I thought of her in the back of my mind while I read this.

    “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 have a bat in my hand right now, basically, and I’m scared to death, but after years of this fear stopping me, I’m just done with it. I know it’s time.

    You are a gorgeous painter and an artist — I have absolutely no drawing ability and it’s one of the things I admire most about anyone in the world, just like composing music, another creative skill that is so foreign to me. The way that you describe painting in relation to writing is how I feel about photography. Writing is in me, photography has been acquired, and as much as I know I know there will always be so much more that I don’t. To grow into myself as a writer is a lifelong task, but it doesn’t scare me. The photo part does, and whereas I can never diminish writing and how it (truly) defines me, pictures are just different.

    I think it’s wonderful that you are doing this, and so apt at this time of transformation for you. You are an artist of life on every level, you just…are. I want a print of yours someday soon. Love you.

  6. Sayre Says:

    I’ve watched with great interest as your painting evolved – just as I’ve been watching you evolve for a couple of (?) years… One of the best things ever is seeing a lightbulb go on – even when you didn’t know it was off. Your flinging yourself into painting has inspired me to explore my own creativity. I’ve been doing crochet but feel ready to do something else. Painting might be the thing. Or it might be something else. I won’t know until I try.

  7. Jess Says:

    I love it. And I love that you’re loving it. :)

  8. magpie Says:

    Way cool.

  9. meno Says:

    Art is not a competitive sport, no one is good at it and we are all great at it, in some way. What a great progression in these pictures.

  10. TheChambrayCountess Says:

    I love that you took the class! I tried something new this fall too, but my results from class were not remotely as attractive as yours :)

  11. Sophanne Says:

    What a fabulous post. Economy of brushstroke. Economy of all things. I wonder if the words economy and equanimity are latinly related.

  12. @maggiedammit Says:

    For a moment there I had a flash of feeling akin to what I used to feel for your therapist, for your art teacher. Heh.


  13. De a Says:

    We humans are creative by design. I am finally starting to understand this and attempt to find ways to make time in my life for creativity. It’s not necessary to be able to do something easily or perfectly when we first try- it’s the sticking with it that matters most.

    You have so many talents, C, it does not surpass me at all that you have found another way to bring beauty to the world.

  14. Chibi Jeebs Says:

    “In other words, quit trying to be perfect and just be.”

    You take my breath away. Thank you for continually teaching me. <3

  15. TigereyeSal Says:

    Awesome! Gives me a happy tear. Good for you, for being you, and loving that.

  16. jaded Says:

    Reaching our potential is a journey, not a pitstop. Don’t forget to enjoy the process.

  17. Suebob Says:

    You’ve captured the essence of creativity, both in words and in your paintings. You are so magnificent.

  18. Jocelyn Says:

    You are Gaugin.


    What I love about blogging is that it’s been years I’ve been reading you now, and I love you afresh each time.

  19. JCK (Motherscribe) Says:

    Oh, I absolutely LOVE that you are doing this! Love it.

  20. john langford Says:

    i’ve been eagerly waiting, watching, wondering when your next post would appear. and here it is…exquisite as always. if i wasn’t related to you…i’d want to be! xoxo j.

  21. sarah Says:

    wow. i’d proudly hang that on my wall.

    blossoming, you are.

  22. andrea frazer Says:

    What are you painting now?

  23. TwoBusy Says:

    “Do not be afraid of your instinct” = best. fucking. lesson. ever.

  24. shrink on the couch Says:

    Wow! Amazing, the way your painting comes alive. Really like the finished product. And I’m just so impressed. I imagine it takes real courage to start out. I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes to try (let alone any talent to encourage me, am serious there, my talents lie elsewhere).

  25. Dani Says:

    My beautiful girl, I haven’t been to your page in far too long! I am in awe of you. I envy your beautiful voice, your way with words and now your vision with painting. You are so amazing Christine! I can honestly say that finding you on facebook has brought so much joy to my life! It’s strange to say that considering we haven’t seen each other since we were 15 years old. I have to change that. Soon. I truly feel so blessed that you are my friend.

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