I had some fun the last few months taking a painting class in an old house that has been repurposed into a teaching studio and is right on the beach! When my partner-in-crime artsy friend Monika asked if I was interested in this class I pretty much jumped at it. It’s been a few years since we’ve taken any painting classes and I was hungry for new knowledge and feedback, and the friend time with her was icing on the cake. We were blessed with sun every single Tuesday, a minor miracle in my damp neck of the woods, and made a routine of stopping for chai/coffee, maybe picking up some cheap canvases at the dollar store, and then sitting on the beach before class. A few times after too. Complete luxury in a busy life.
I was so quick to sign up that I hardly listened to what the class was about. The title was Daily Painting so I wondered if it might be about painting quickly and efficiently so that you have time to squeeze in a painting a day, and it sort of was just because in two hours we each had to get out tables, easels and lights, set up our subjects and fiddle, sketch a rough drawing, paint, furrow brow, grimace, take it all back down again, and have a bit of time for show and tell.
But it was about so much more than painting quickly and efficiently. It was like learning a new language, and getting a new whacked out pair of eyes, learning how to really look at what I was painting and see that there are so many shadows, and they are so many colours, and there are shines and reflections. The first few classes were exhausting from looking so hard, constantly translating in my head between what I thought things looked like and what they really do. Really exciting though. I usually paint from photos so even having to engage with real things sitting there waiting for me was a little scary, even if they were just chili peppers!
This was my first effort and I went home afterwards and wiped my brow and lay down on the couch.
Another big new learning front in this class was how to use a limited palette of paints. Just seven tubes to mix everything! I’ve read about this but have never figured it out on my own. I think I love it! I was threatened by the thought that none of those tubes were black. I use a lot of black. Sometimes I think I eat and bathe in black paint. But I had read that some find it cold and distracting and I do find the dark colours I mix to approach black are so warm and grounded that I think I can do it. Mostly. In general the colours I mix with the limited palette just seem to sit together and talk to each other more than when I’m working from a million different mixed colours. Less paint to buy too. I think I’m converted.
Setting up these little tableaus to paint was fun but I started dreading the folds in the pillowcase that I used underneath most weeks, and would do my best to spread it out flat before adding the subjects on top.
The painting I’d been doing before the class started up had been feeling too serious and angst-filled, so in the class I wanted to just have some fun and make some mistakes. The short length of each class helped because I had to move fast enough that there wasn’t time for too much hand wringing. I hung onto the word “study.” I was working on “studies.” I like that word. So forgiving and encouraging and full of possibility. It let me sometimes work quite loosely and not think too hard and man I had fun.
I’m not sure I’d try working from this dark purple back painting again, and it perplexed my teacher a bit, but it was fun fun fun just letting go and seeing what came out of the canvas. I confirmed something about myself: if I work from white canvas I’m completely cowed by it and sit back submissively or lean forward to make tentative watery little marks and ask the canvas if that was OK. Very very tentative. When I start from a darker background I feel like I’m entering into a really playful game with the canvas of covering up some and letting other bits stay, leaving lots of rough areas and texture, and it feels like a partnership.
Oh, I know. Artsy fartsy. I can hear my eldest’s eyes rolling. He and I are having fun living on the opposite ends of the spectrum right now, me descending more into hippiedom and he stretching his business-like conservative muscles. The difference sort of delights me, and I enjoy playing up my side of it.
I have to work on my drawing a bit. Funny how this cup changed shape. I’m sure it was perfect when I painted it!
I don’t think I want to hang any of the studies on my wall and they’re very unpolished — which was great because just when I was getting to that polishing phase that I don’t really like it would be time to pack up!– but I have been leaving them around on windowsills. And my goodness I’m still looking at the world through those different eyes. Wow I had no idea how many shadows there are everywhere!! I drive down the highway and there are tree shadows stretching across in front of me making such beautiful patterns! When I was watching the World Cup soccer I couldn’t stop looking at the weird little shadowy men attached to the players’ feet on the field. How come I don’t usually see that whole other set of players? At the gym when I’m on the torturous treadmill I have started studying the shadows of a row of small trees outside, what angle they’re at depending on the time of day and what shade I would need to paint them. It’s mesmerizing. Anytime I find myself waiting somewhere I find myself settling in and looking around at something I would barely have noticed before, and starting to try to figure out the lines and colours and shading. Just what a distracted daydreamy person such as myself needs! Arg.
Don’t even start me on reflections. Because we were lighting our setups with a small lamp but in a room with windows across the front and that beach there were sometimes reflections that would come from there. The blue on the farthest right fork is the blue sky outside. One day a white reflection that was giving me all sorts of trouble turned out to be from my Starbucks cup sitting in front of me.
It was just the most fun.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that our teacher, Sheree Jones, is one of those treats who is relaxed and cheerful and always positive, so fun to be around that it took a few classes to really start noticing just how incredibly much good stuff she was teaching. That kind of teaching that slips in there without you even noticing it. All these nuggets of really smart advice that, when I’m staring at my brush trying to figure something out, pop into my head in Sheree’s voice, casually spoken a few weeks earlier. My life of painting and seeing filled up with those a-ha moments of discovering something and then feeling a tickle in my head that explained the reason it works and probably why I tried it. Really a lovely way to learn things.
On the last day Monika and I went out to sit on the beach afterwards and there was a find waiting for me there in the form of the sign below. I ooohed and admired the beat up wood and shade of blue but wasn’t going to pick it up because sometimes I just feel a little too out there and that day it felt a bit too much being the odd lady picking up beach debris with plans to hang it on my wall. Beside the old blue door from my Grandma’s old bread cupboard. And the little chunk of blue driftwood in the bathroom. I have a thing for weathered blue wood I think. But Miz Monika who knows me well bent over and picked it up, admiring it and asking why I wouldn’t take it. Made me feel ok and quirky, not weird. I reached out for it, wondered aloud what the letters on it meant and maybe I could google them, and with that opened a spot for it in my heart and soon one in my home. I did google the letters and found that there’s a local company called Island Tug and Barge which it must have come from, off a barge or maybe a log boom, and that made it even better. A souvenir from a sweet and smart time.