Monday, September 29, 2014
My Biggest Lesson from Painting (which is surprisingly universal to life)
Is there something you have thought about trying, but never did because you thought you didn't have time, or you didn't know how to start, or you didn't have anyone to teach you, or you think you won't be able to do it anyway, or... whatever millions of reasons you've convinced yourself are true?
For me, one of those things was painting. I always liked the idea of painting. I like looking at other people's painted artwork and seeing how they do it. It was one of those things that I thought I might like to try one day, except I'm not really an artist. I don't know anything about paints, or drawing for that matter.
Then one day this spring, I found out about a watercolor class being offered to adults in my small town. It was three nights, no experience necessary, supplies included, $30. It was just the opening I needed. It would let me try out this whole painting thing without committing to a long-term class and without spending tons of money.
I talked to my husband and he was willing to take charge of the kids those nights, so on alternating Wednesdays in April and May, armed with a photograph I had taken of cone flowers, I went to the middle school art room.
I went in with a beginner's mindset, allowing myself to feel whatever I needed to feel - intimidated, overwhelmed, silly - all of it. I didn't worry about perfection because I knew that would be an impossible goal. If my flowers looked more like flying saucers, then I would just pretend that was what they were. My purpose wasn't to create a masterpiece, it was simply to try out painting with watercolors.
But a miraculous thing happened. My flowers didn't look like flying saucers. They looked like flowers.
That is my first painting. Seriously. Not too shabby, right?
Sure if you look closely, you'll see tons of blurred, bleeding edges. You'll see inconsistent colors. But I'm pretty sure you'll also see flowers and leaves and be able to identify them as such.
When the class was finished and we all parted ways for the last time, I wondered if painting was something I could continue on my own. I bought myself a simple set of watercolor paints, a cheap set of brushes (now that I know, I advise not skimping on brushes- go for the more expensive ones), and a beautiful leather-bound watercolor journal which just happened to be on clearance for $9 (down from $32!).
And for a couple months those materials sat unused.
Toward the end of this summer, I realized fear was holding me back. I didn't know what I would paint or how I would draw it, so I didn't bother. I experience the same resistance with writing and I have to consciously decide to write anyway. Eventually I realized I would have to do the same here - paint anyway.
So I pulled up a few online videos about beginner's watercolor to learn about technique. I drew a few squares in my art journal and practiced blending colors, using more water, using less water, and using different brushes. Along the way I scribbled notes below each one to remind myself what particular combination created each effect.
It was a really good exercise, but at a certain point I needed to try painting a scene again. Since then, I've made a few more paintings and I'm really proud of them.
I'm still holding on to my beginner's mindset and focusing on enjoying the process of playing with color. I'm still embracing the imperfections because they are a sign that I tried. The fact that they exist means I showed up for painting.
I showed up. I tried. And I keep showing up and keep trying. Because if I show up I might have fun. I might learn something. I might progress. I might also make crap, and so what if I do? I might make something that makes me smile. But I won't do anything - good or bad - until I show up.
It's the first (and often biggest) step for anything, don't you think? What might you show up for this week?
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