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Painting a Fresh Perspective

March 4th, 2012

I confess that the first thought I had when I awoke on Saturday was “Oh crap. Why did I say I would do this?”

Back in January—when the resolve for self-improvement was strong and the options seemed alluring—I had signed up for a painting class. The course was simply a one-and-done, three hour studio event, and the teacher my client and friend, Michele Beschen. Still, I woke to a sense of dread and regret. My feelings came from two places: first, I had lived with a very successful graphic designer for close to 15 years. I know talent and creativity and I don’t have much of either, at least not for things like painting. My second—perhaps bigger—reason is that I enjoy Getting Things Done. I have long To Do lists for my weekends, and I like to run errands, make food for the week ahead, and get caught up on emails and stuff for my business. I’ve always thought of painting as a great outlet…for people with extra time on their hands.

But I had made a promise to myself. I would be missed if I bailed. I had paid my tuition and done the pre-class assignment. I was committed.

The studio was a half hour drive from my home and I brought along an audio book for the car ride. I reasoned that at least I would get an hour’s worth of “reading” done. Arriving exactly on time, I found a room full of women of varying ages. The mood was one of levity and excitement. I was beginning to soften.

We started by learning to build a canvas. Now, I have hammers and nails and even a staple gun at home, but they are merely remnants left behind by past lovers or hired handymen. I was completely out of my element. And in the moment of asking Michele—for the third time—to help me make a tight corner on the canvas, I suddenly re-understood that we all are simultaneously teacher and student, mentor and protégé. I paused and thought about the clients I work with every day. I don’t judge their inexperience any more than Michele judged my slightly irregular canvas shape, but still a part of me wanted to be on to the next level. I wished for my results to be ahead of where they could be, given my lack of experience. And in that anxiousness to “get it,” I realized that I was cheating myself out of the moment. I was trying to skip out of “now,” and in that very process I was missing the point of being there at all.

Next came the painting part. As part of the homework assignment, I brought along visual inspiration: clipped pages from art books, scraps of fabric, and an old greeting card. But in the end I didn’t use any of that stuff. By this time the class was half over and I had decided simply to—as Michele calls it—“move some paint around.” I made blobs and splats, used a few tools and played with lots of brushes and rags. I stepped back to see my work from a different angle and dried some of the layers with a hairdryer to be able to work more quickly. I stopped to watch the other women work on their creations. I truly got engaged in the process. And after I got home I was still caught up in the mood and I added some “bling” to my creation—bits of shiny acrylic and parts from old costume jewelry.

I have to admit it was a lot of fun. And in the process I got something I didn’t expect. I re-learned what it’s like to be a beginner. To have everything seem new, and to feel awkward and out of my element. I was reminded that “now” is the Real Deal and that there will still be errands to do tomorrow too. And I have a visual reminder of my lessons. Thank you, Michele. You’re a fabulous teacher and a great inspiration.

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