Think of all the things you put in the blank at the end of this sentence: “I’d love to someday learn to ______.”
When I drank I only talked about the words that would fill in the blank. Now, I routinely fill do them.
Do yoga. Play the guitar better. Foreign languages. Knit a beanie. Bake bread. Listen. balance my life. Meditate. The list grows as I take on things I’d only dabbled in before or never got around to trying. One of the big ones was paint.
My mom painted for several years when I was young and some of her paintings remain throughout her house. I never fail to look at them when I visit. My cousin Dona, is perhaps the single best portrait artist I have ever seen. For years and years I would see her art with a mix of thrill and envy.
One of my earliest memories as a child was a beautiful dream that felt like heaven with a mental image so powerful I recall it (mostly) to this day. For decades I wished I could paint that picture. But I never once picked up a paint brush and applied paint to a blank white canvas.
I won’t forget my first brush stroke when I started to finally fill in the blank that someday I would learn to paint. I paused to enjoy it because I knew how much I had been waiting to try.
It didn’t look like much, but to me it was the first brush of a new interest that immediately felt like something I should have been doing all my life.
The class was the genius idea of Art Social, a business that started out marrying art and wine, but really got it right with its name. It’s a marriage of art and social because the wine it turns out isn’t necessary. On this night, held in a large restaurant’s upstairs conference room, wine had little or nothing to do with the event. We ate a burger before the event and got serious about painting once it started. We even socialized a bit.
Fun was the order of the day, the instructor Katherine Yost said. With quirky humor and a stellar playlist of background tunes, she set a light-hearted approach to filling the blank canvas with whatever interpretation of Van Gogh’s Cypress Trees that came out of our minds and through our brushes. She offered enough instruction that folks could succeed, but absence of rigidity that would cause us to become art critics of our work.
As we slowly began to turn our canvas into a painting, I couldn’t help but be amazed. I could “see” things I wanted to do like my five-year-old dream of heaven, but for once my brush-weilding hand could execute what I saw.
I knew I’d end up Monet-ing my Van Gogh a bit. He painted the Cypress Tress near the end of his crazy life (this is the dude who chopped off his own ear to paint it if I recall). The darkness that ruled his mind during these years shows in the blacks that dominate his art. Having had enough darkness, I purposefully went for more light while trying to stay true to the original form. Yost encouraged such freedom so I took it.
“I’m going to officially declare you artists for the night,” Yost said enthusiastically. Effin Artists, I thought. Yeah, man.
Yost, program director for ArtSocial.com, said she’s been an artist and art teacher all her life because as she played with art as a kid like we all do, “nobody ever told me to stop creating.”
If that’s not the best advice, I don’t know what is.
Toward the end of the night with wildly different interpretations created by the novice artists in the room, I couldn’t find a single person who didn’t look positively thrilled with their creation. Everyone had that look…. the “I’m an Effin ARTIST, man!” look. I know it was plastered to my face.
When I signed my first painting I had a sense of accomplishment that defies simple explanation.
It wasn’t an act of crossing off an item on the bucket list. It was a greeting. Welcome to paint. I knew I’d soon have to learn more, do more and explore more. Knowing full well I’d never be “a painter” I now embrace this for what it is, an expression of something within that to this point hadn’t had precisely the right way of communicating. I continue to fill in this blank, just as I continue to struggle with foreign languages and guitar and surfing and a host of other things I want to “learn to do.” I don’t ever really arrive at these things, but life is so much more full with the pursuit.
And my newly redecorated bathroom has a personal touch as a result.
I may never be a painter, but my life as an Effin Artist continues to evolve ever-deeper and richer, which has been the point all along since I decided to put down the bottle and start living again.