After finding, then losing, then finding again, the certificate for a set of painting classes gifted to me by my spouse almost two years ago, I attended my first session last week. Twice I asked the instructor what I should bring, how I should prepare. Just clothes you don’t mind getting paint on, I’ve got everything you’ll need. I arrived early, trying to override mild anxiety with curiosity.
Josh didn’t look like a painter at all. Jeans, a plaid flannel shirt, and worn brown boots. His blue eyes were friendly and expressive above the medical mask. I followed him through a maze of framed paintings leaning in stacks against the walls, shelves oozing with paint tubes and brushes, palettes layered with flattened rounds of colour, and photos and papers clinging to dried out scotch tape covered the walls. Within the chaos were sections squared off with clear plastic draperies, easels positioned in the centre. My space had two windows. There was a dog bed in the corner. Perfect for me.
I was relieved to begin by looking through binders at pictures and choosing two or three that I liked. Assured that he would help me select one to begin with that wasn’t too difficult, I still fretted in my head. Together, we picked a winter lake scene.
My mind bounced between “Wow, I’m going to paint that?” and “I will never be able to paint that.” The confident yin and the self-doubt yang. A chronic barrage of enthusiasm and defeat is the opening line in all my beginnings. It drowned out the colour lesson of how to mix the ombre and white thick acrylics into a soft and faint gold colour. I was supposed to take a small dab of the ombre and then add a sliver from the edge of the white. Mix it together to create a small pond. In my panic to produce the perfect match, my small pond became one of the Great Lakes, using up all the space on the palate. And it still wasn’t exactly the same shade as his.
I was instructed to stand at an angle in front of the easel. And turn my mind off. Completely. Get out of my head. The energy for painting comes from the shoulder, down the arm, through a relaxed and still wrist to the fingers holding the brush. And, you always start in the middle. When painting scenes from nature use brush strokes in the same direction as the growth of what you are painting. Trees vertical, water horizontal, clouds and rocks dabs and circles.
The first assault on the canvas was to be a horizontal line of gold paint across the midline. I’m immediately back in my head. What if it isn’t straight, what if it isn’t exactly in the middle? This isn’t fun. Then onto to filling in the large pieces of the picture above and below the centre line.
Josh demonstrated with confident and even strokes. Mine was a series of jabs and frantic slaps. He told me to slow down. Work from the middle out to the edges. Start with the biggest components of the picture. Be deliberate. Stay with your brush stroke until it is finished. Don’t fade the treetops. Stay with your attempts.
The challenge of the blank canvas was akin to holding up a magnifying mirror. Standing before it, all my flaws and scars were visible. Palpable. The fear of starting something new. The resistance to being a fledgeling student. The overcompensation of the perfectionist. The challenge of turning off the mind–getting out of my head. The urgency to finish, get to the end.
The knowing, yet forgetting, that life is easier if you go in the direction of the flow of energy. The reminder to be deliberate and committed to the focus and intention. The truth of the middle as a starting point. It teaches that there is joy in the process.
At least, that has been my experience.