Friday, June 5, 2009

The Girl With Her Head in the Clouds

Every Friday morning, I don my nasty old jeans and ripped t-shirt, load my Stanley Portable Work Center with miscellaneous art supplies, and head off for 4 hours of bliss. I am a student of Painting 101. When I walk in the door, I am greeted by my upbeat teacher, Mr. Sneed. I sit down next to my compadres from last semester -- Beverly, a spit-fire woman with a big smile --10 years my senior; and Cece, a sweet soulful girl with long beautiful black hair -- 30 years my junior. We sit through a 20 minute slide show that varies each week. Mr. Sneed speaks with ardor as he moves through each slide. His passion is contagious. The room is suddenly filled with murmurs --- "Ooooohs" and "Aaaaaaahs", the kind you hear at a fireworks display. Sitting there in the dark, gazing at painting after fabulous painting, I dream of my hand creating a piece of work that will invoke those same sounds. Oh, to be that good -- to get an "Oooooh", or an "Aaaaah." It's only a dream at this point, but some day, it may happen, you just never know.

After the slide show, Mr. Sneed gives us our assignment. I break out my supplies and squeeze paint on my palette. I select a brush and begin moving it around in the paint. I have no idea what I'm doing. I mean it. I just sit and stare at the canvas, wondering where to begin. That's how I know that I'm not yet an artist. I have such LONG way to go. Sometimes it discourages me. But then I remember how much I've enjoyed the process -- blending the colors, and applying paint to canvas. It's not unlike those days in kindergarten, when you put on your painting smock, picked up a huge brush, and dipped it into tempera paint. I can still smell that smell, and remember how I felt when I made that first big stroke across that huge piece of paper taped to the easel. It feels like that here in Painting 101. I finally jump in. I make my first mark on the canvas. I get lost in my painting and before I know it, it's 2:00 and time to go home. I love Fridays.

I go on like this week after week. I complete the assignments: a still life in black and white, a color painting of flowers, a painting of a person without any details in the face. Nothing exciting. Although I learn something with each new task, I really wouldn't want to show these paintings to anyone. They look a little like a paint by number kit gone awry. Art that would invoke an "Oohhhhhh", the kind reserved for those moments when you are inwardly thinking: "Are you kidding me?", while outwardly you smile with raised eyebrows and try and muster up some enthusiasm so as not to offend. I don't need that, thank you very much. I'd have to retire My Stanley Portable Work Center to the back of my garage.
It is 3 weeks until end of the semester. Mr. Sneed gives us our final challenge: "Paint a self portrait, but instead of painting an exact replica of your face, paint from your heart." This causes a stir among the class. A few students get to work immediately. Some of us, myself included, sit and stare. I'm getting pretty good at that. My little friend CeCe begins to cry. She confesses to me that she's at a point in life where she feels lost. She doesn't know who she is, and she doesn't want to paint. She feels nothing but black. We have a tender moment CeCe and I. We stop painting, and for 60 minutes we talk. CeCe feels better.
I look at my own canvas, and I too feel little lost. Turning 50 does that to you. Suddenly you realize that time is moving much faster than it used to, and you need to make your days count for something. (That's how I ended up in an art class.) I can't paint. My mind is overwhelmed. I need to give this assignment some thought. I go home, and I pull out all my photographs. I smile as I see myself through the years -- a baby in the arms of my 18 year old dad, a little girl with a wagon pulling a dog, a teenager on vacation at Henry's Lake. Suddenly, I know exactly what I want to say.

The following week, I'm back in the art room. I pull out my paints and get right to work. I mix bright blues, yellows, and white. I begin. Painting this picture feels different. My brush moves with purpose. My eyes even get a little teared up as I work the canvas. Mr. Sneed comes up behind me and says "Wow! I see where you are going with this. I can't wait to see how it ends!" Those words inspire me onward. By the end of class, my self portrait is finished, and I feel happy.

On our last day of class, we all display our self portraits on easels around the room. Cece's painting sits next to mine -- it's beautiful, by the way. Everyone gets a chance to talk about their painting. It's such an inspiring moment -- listening to every student share a little piece of their heart. I can't but love each piece of work in this room as I hear the creators explain their thoughts. I learn from this, that when you understand the artist, you understand the painting.
Finally, it is my turn. I'm nervous to expose my inner self. I feel like I'm in a group therapy session. Here is what I say: "When I was a girl, my favorite place to be was in my back yard. My house was so tiny, but the yard was huge, and it was beautiful. I loved being out there among the trees and flowers. My great grandmother planted all of them. I never met her, but I know she was talented, she created all this -- my beautiful yard. I spent hours lying in the grass looking up at the clouds -- day dreaming. I loved doing that, especially when it rained. Now I am older. On the outside, my skin looks worn and my body moves a little slower than it used to. But, on the inside, I still feel like that girl. I still have those feelings of wonder. I still like to lay in the grass and dream. I am still a girl with her head in the clouds." I'm a little choked up as I say all this. I wish I had packed a tissue in my Stanley Portable Work Center. When I finish, hands raise and a girl says: "I love they way you used bright colors and painted this in such a simple childlike manner. It really portrays the innocence and joy of childhood. I can tell the girl in the painting is thinking deep thoughts." Another hand raises and a boy says "There's just no way you are 50 years old." I smile. They get it. Is this what it feels like to be an artist?


AMCutler said...

That was a fabulous entry! I loved it. Sometimes I feel like I have a painting in me just itching to get out. But I know I would be a horrible artist, you should see my sketches. Your blog is so inspiring, maybe one day I'll try it. My dad just took his first art class at 70-something.

RockMyFriday!com said...

I really enjoy your jewelry:) I saw it on Give Away Today.

Eve said...

You are definitely an artist. Even the way you tell a story is artistic.

I miss you!

Eve said...

p.s. You are KILLING IT on etsy. I looked at your shop yesterday and couldn't believe how many sales you had! Well, actually I definitely can - your stuff is beautiful.