To Paint or Not to Paint. It’s No Longer a Question.

Deer painting

Painting of a buck by 10-year-old me.

When I was 10 years old, my mother recognized that she had a kid who loved to draw and was not half bad at it. She decided I could use a bit more challenge than the art classes at my elementary school, so she enrolled me in an oil painting class.

Oil painting might seem an odd choice for a 10 year old, and maybe it was, but I am forever grateful. The weekly classes were held in the home of the instructor. There were only four or five students at a time, so we each received good individual attention. Each spring, she hosted an art show  and invited the public to come view and purchase her students’ artwork.

I never wanted to offer any of my paintings for sale…funny kid that I was. I’m sure my family members would have bought some of them to support their blossoming young Picasso, but I just wanted to keep them all. I did part with one painting of a giraffe when a friend of my parents admired it, but it was a gift. The other paintings, honestly, are hiding in my attic to this very day. I love looking at them from time to time. I think I may even re-frame a couple of them to hang on my wall someday as a nod to young me.

After about a year of lessons, my painting instructor moved away and the lessons ended. I’m not sure why my mom did not pursue another avenue for continuing my art classes, but I have a feeling it had something to do with me entering my completely horse-crazy phase. I really wanted to do nothing more than sit out at the barn with my horse and my equally horse-crazy friends.

1980 horse

A sketch by college-age me.

I did still take art classes in school and kept it as a hobby into my early twenties. I didn’t paint much, but I sketched a great deal and took a couple of art classes in college. All for fun. All because I just loved the process of taking a blank page and creating an image.

And then at some point I stopped. This time I suspect that the culprit was the pursuit of my career and other “adult stuff” that took front and center in life, while I let my love of creating artwork go dormant. My writing career became my focus, and still is. It has been my source of income, my place for self-expression, and my passion for decades now.

But the artist in me was still alive, if somewhat buried in cobwebs. She emerged just a bit when I went with friends to a painting party at a place called Pinot’s Pallet. This is a fun place where everyone creates paintings and drinks wine. Unleash the creativity through alcohol! What a concept.


A painting of Howie by nifty-something-year-old me.

We did the pet portrait class.  You submit a photo of your pet, and they help you cheat a little. They transfer the outline of your pet onto the canvas and then you paint over it. It allows people of all skill levels to capture their beloved dog, cat, horse, etc. The artists on staff wander through the room helping people with color and form…and save a few canvases from certain disaster.

As for me? I found myself totally and completely lost in my painting. It was as if I had moved from the noisy, chatter-filled room into a soundproof booth where I could just focus on putting color on canvas. A seed deep inside me bloomed again and I had to work hard to remain a part of the party that night. The wine helped.

After that experience, I knew I wanted to paint again. I also knew I was afraid to paint again. Silly, isn’t it? You think to yourself, what’s the big deal? You paint a picture. If it’s good, great. If it’s not, keep trying. It’s that simple, right?

But it’s not that simple, at least it wasn’t for me. I allowed myself to be paralyzed by the fear that I wouldn’t be able to paint. I was afraid that I would have an image in my head, but wouldn’t be able to interpret it well—if at all—on canvas. I allowed fear of failure to keep me from painting. FDR was completely right…we truly have nothing to fear, but fear itself. The problem is that fear can really be a powerful thing if you allow it to be.

So my inspiration was being squashed by irrational fear. Was, that is, until I found my courage. I belong to a wonderful online group, the Open Group for Bedlam Farms, that was born to be a community of encouragement to artists of all disciplines. It is a self-proclaimed ministry for the support and nurturing of the creative spark that glows within each of us, whether we know it or not.

On a daily basis people in this group put themselves “out there.” They share first essays, fledgling photography pursuits, fiber art, and any and every form of expression. Those with experience in each discipline share their craft while also offering encouragement, guidance, and constructive input. It’s a beautiful thing to see and share in.

So I took the plunge. I dipped brush into paint and revived a lost love of about 30 years. My first effort would be a gift for a Christmas exchange between members of my online group. It seemed fitting that  my first painting would be something intended for someone else—a mission 10-year-old Nancy would have never allowed!

painting in boxI tried for a whimsical interpretation of the recipient’s dog from photos I found online. I finished the painting, let it dry, and before I could question myself (doubt myself?) too much, I wrapped it up and sent it away. Oh the feeling of walking out of the UPS store knowing there was no going back. Perhaps that seems overly dramatic, but paintings are very personal to me and in some ways, feel like a child to me. So letting go…especially when you’re not sure if what YOU see on that canvas is something anyone else will appreciate…is a big deal.

First painting done, I was ready to dive back in to do another. Another for someone else—for  the founder of and driving force behind the Open Group at Bedlam Farms.

Red paintingYou know what? It felt great. I knew it wasn’t the most masterful painting in the world, but it just didn’t matter. It was by me, from me, and it had meaning. The process was a gift to myself, the end result a gift of thanks to someone else.

Now I’m hooked. Time just ceases to exist when I am painting. I’m lost in the process, in the colors, in the interpretation of image to strokes of paint. I find an inexplicable joy when I am painting.

I know I will not go down in history as a famous artist. I also know I have a bit of skill, though, and it deserves to be nurtured. My initial paintings are not masterpieces. They don’t display technical genius. But they have unleashed a source of joy and expression that has been ignored for too, too long.

In support of my rediscovered hobby, I received an incredible Christmas gift from a dear friend—a box filled with blank canvases and more paint colors than I ever knew existed. I am very grateful to this friend, to my online tribe, and  to Jim who always knows just the right suggestion for making each painting a touch better.

So 10-year-old Nancy is alive and well, messy as ever, and finding challenge and bliss through color and images. I will work to develop my personal style. I will enjoy every brushstroke.

My next painting is going to be one just for me. I will not put it away in the attic. I will hang it prominently on the wall, because I now know that it really doesn’t matter if anyone else thinks it’s good, as long as I do.

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