One of the things I've wanted to do this year is to draw or paint more -- to stop my damned fear of performing less than perfectly.
Yesterday, I was thumbing through a magazine and found a picture of Fort Ross -- a place I had never heard of before, but with a little restored church that caught my eye. The idea of sketching it immediately induced a panicky paralysis ... so I opened my Paint program on the laptop and began slathering sloppy virtual paint on a blank screen.
What ensued was not great art, but it was fun. I have no great expectations of myself in Paint. And I kind of liked the surreal sky.
So today, after I'd dithered around the house doing almost nothing, I went out to the studio and grabbed one of the stack of canvases Alex got me for Christmas a couple years ago.
Shakily I put a timid sketch on the white canvas. Then something unexpected happened. Lillian came out to the studio and began to ask me questions. "Is that paint poisonous? Why is there oil under that blue paint?" She was plainly lusting for my oils, but I'm a witch about sharing art supplies, so I didn't care. Instead, I got her a heavy sheet of watercolor paper, found her family's oil pastels, and invited her to art along with me.
Lillian is so bold in her art, and so uncaring of convention that I found myself liberated, and just flung real paint onto the canvas. When I opted not to use colors on the roof that were representational, Lillian piped up that she really liked the red in it. "My cannon looks more like an eel," she said, smiling, not minding that it did. When she began to color her foreground, I noted that she didn't use the color in the photograph, she used a brighter one -- because she liked it better.
When Lil had covered her paper, I showed her a magic trick: my paint thinner could transform her oil pastels from sketchy lines to solid color. She was just able to finish her foreground before we went inside to cook dinner, where she was truly helpful, keeping an eye on and stirring the asparagus and mushrooms in their skillet while I focused on frying catfish.
After our dinner, I went back out to the studio to continue painting. Alex and Lil opened the garage door and brushed both shedding dogs, then the Queens all went for a walk. But then something else unexpected happened. One of the kids from next door, Philip, appeared in the driveway with his basketball.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Playing. I don't paint enough, so I'm out here playing with my paints."
"Cool. Did you do all those?" He nodded toward the unfinished stuff on the walls. "That's a lot. They're really good."
Obviously Philip is not an art critic, and he has no idea of what all art I've done, or of how much art I've avoided doing. But he was not the loud and obnoxious punk I've been irritated by in the past. He was absolutely rapt by my brushstrokes; quiet, polite -- indeed, nice. I found I didn't mind him at all, and even pulled out an empty underpainted canvas to show him how using a white canvas was going to make me work more to cover it up, whereas the underpainting of the other canvas (here I sketched some grasses in dark green) actually made things look more interesting.
He left reluctantly at sundown, which was good because I didn't want to send him away, but I did need to get indoors out of the mosquitoes. Bemused, I remembered wondering this morning how on earth I could rise to Pope Benedict's suggested theme for this Lent: "Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works."
So I get an urge to paint, and God sends me someone I haven't liked much, and the two make a positive change in the world.