Learning With Paintbrushes, a Canvas and Life

photo 5I recently went to one of those canvas painting classes, where participants get step-by-step instructions in order to end up with beautiful artwork after two hours. I love the creativity! The time with friends! The challenge! And each time, I eye the example piece and nod my head, thinking, You can do THIS!

I’m always excited to get started, but by the end of the night, my gusto dwindles. Although I’ve had fun, I look at my work and know its earned a place in the garage.

This is not natural to me. I’m not an artist.

In the rare case when I draw for my elementary students to explain some kind of concept, I also have to explain exactly what it is I’m trying to show them. “This (rectangle with legs) is a horse,” I say, and they respond with sad, sad, we-can-do-better-than-that looks.

So, instead of wanting to hide my work (it’s a reminder that I fell short), I’d rather reframe this experience because I really do like the everyone-can-paint-idea. We all may not be fantastic at it, but we can enjoy it.

What I’ve learned about making art (with paintbrushes, a canvas and well, in life):

1) When in doubt, ask for help. When painting a forest scene, the details on my trees looked all wrong. After getting some help and changing my technique, things looked more accurate by the time I got to the last tree (sometimes, I’m a slow learner). I also got some profound encouragement along the way.

“You’re looking at the finished product, but you’re not there, yet.” Um, yes. Always, it seems. And then, I pray because I need help.

It's messy.
It’s messy.

2) Sometimes it takes more time. How often do we look at where we are, mad that we aren’t where we think we should be? I look around at others’ progress and want to be where they appear to be– with them. When painting, I second guess myself and work too slowly, so when I get to the part that really counts, I’m slapping on details and running out of time.

3) Which brings me to—> be patient with yourself and your needs. I never have enough painting time and get so behind, I don’t even listen to the instructor anymore. It would be okay to take a break and get back to it later. Maybe I should buy the supplies and try to finish another day. It would feel scary to try it alone, but who knows what might happen?! Same thing with everyday things– forcing it sometimes just makes things worse.

I'm a work in progress.
I’m a work in progress.

4) Lose focus on perfection and have courage to make it your own. When I paint with a certain end in mind, I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up. And everyone will laugh. This time, some of my tree details took the shape of fuzzy caterpillars, so I gave one of them a smile and legs (although it felt wrong and still does, it’s growing on me). It seems like this gets easier later in life. Maybe our older and wiser self begins to care less about what others think.

5) Relax and go with the process.  I had a great time with my friend, but I didn’t relax. I was stressed and ended up with a stiff neck the next day. Putting less pressure on myself and being grateful for the experience means finding more joy in the doing. I’m still learning.

painting8Sometimes what we have in mind at the beginning of a journey takes a different path if we have the courage to let go of our expectations.

I

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