I am by no means a professional artist, but in the last eight years or so I have taken great pleasure in painting. I love to fill my free time with it and even though my hands can’t do what I see in my imagination, it doesn’t really matter.
Now that’s a big thing for a perfectionist to say.
My foray began several years ago when an organization I belonged to hosted a couple of weekend art workshops at our 11,000 square foot retreat centre in Dorchester. This event welcomed artists of all levels from all over Atlantic Canada.
At the time, I had just started writing fiction, but had no experience with art. I catered their meals and I washed dishes and made beds and I listened. At first, I smirked because they sort of…floated. They were lateral thinkers who spoke about art in ethereal ways and used jargon that I didn’t understand.
But on the other hand, they were non-judgmental, they appreciated every artistic attempt anyone made, no matter how juvenile and they managed to convince me that since God a) created the universe and b) created me, His same creativity must also live in me.
Furthermore, since that same creativity is as unique and limitless as God is limitless, I could no longer use other people’s accomplishments as an excuse not to try.
I chewed on that for quite a while. Kept writing, working towards my goals. And then, one day a couple of years later, I picked up a brush.
I’ve taken no courses. I have gathered a little bit of knowledge from my husband, who is a talented cartoonist and from a growing stack of how-to books in my closet. But to be truthful, studying books with titles like Human Anatomy made Amazingly Easy just frustrate me—because it’s not amazingly easy. It takes lots of practice.
And why would I want to be frustrated when I’m doing something for pure enjoyment?
As an intuitive person, I approach almost everything in life intuitively: my work, my play, and the way I learn. I would rather just do it, and do it again…and again, until I develop some proficiency and achieve results on my own terms. This is the torturous, long way round and to analytical people in an analytical world, that method doesn’t make much sense. I’m a square peg in the Western world’s round hole. And as much as I’ve tried to be different, it’s the only way I can steer my brain.
Despite the amount of time it’s taken me, I’ve grown from this experience and I thought I would share three of my conclusions with you:
Painting has made me more observant. The way your eyes crinkle at the corners when you smile and the shadow your one little dimple casts—I see it now. The blueness (or brownness or hazelness) of your eyes, except that little bit of green in the centre; the colour of your hair—it’s not actually as dark as you think it is. Black isn’t really black. The grittiness of birch bark, how it curls and waves. The veins in a leaf, the shape of that lone tree on the horizon line, the way the paint peels off a deck. Before, all these things were just backdrop as I sped to my next destination. But I notice the details now.
Painting has emphasized the importance of savouring moments. It isn’t just the look of the waves on the water or the colours of the buildings on a cloudy day that I try to capture—it’s how those things make me feel. This painting of Italy, for example. I think about my niece who took this photo while in Venice. I wonder how she enjoyed her trip and the experiences she had there. I wonder what she was thinking as she stood on a footbridge and looked over at the next.
And this one below, of my daughter Sophie at the Bouctouche Dunes in Bouctouche, New Brunswick on a spectacular August day. It was cool and cloudy, but the children played at the water’s edge and laughed while they picked up periwinkles and ran from tiny crabs. Everyone was happy.
The moment is gone, but it comes rushing back to me whenever I look at the painting.
Painting makes me see the world as shadow and light. It is at once simple and profound. All colour is light and all light is colour. Colours are dull on gray days, vibrant on bright days, pale in the morning, warm and rosy in the sunset. Which do I like the best? Even the dullness has a mournful beauty. Shades of green and yellow in the summer; white fades to gray and purple-black in winter twilight.
The shadows and the light go together. Otherwise an image has no texture, no meaning. Without shadow, everything is flat, dimensionless. Shadow gives context to the light.
Interpret that how you will. I’m still chewing on it.