Saturday, August 04, 2012

Painting Over Perfection

This is my first painting. My first acrylic painting; if I'm honest, I have to admit to the terrible, embarrassing watercolor I painted in my 20s, trying desperately to perfect the art and medium in a mere two classes. My father is an artist, and was teaching a class during the time I was living at home with my parents in Oregon, having once again upended my life in Los Angeles. Once again, I was a 20-something, back in my old bedroom, where the contents of my closet, 35mm cameras, high school yearbooks, and one well-loved and worn teddy bear reminded me that I was stuck in time, back under my parents' roof.


When my friend Jamie invited me to an art class for beginners last week, I made a pact with her, and myself, that I would leave my perfectionism at home. I warned my roommate that I would likely come home with something that looked like a paint-by-numbers done by a five year old, and I was perfectly happy with that.  I was inwardly terrified of what our subject would be, that it would turn into a psych ward in my head if the teacher told us to paint our dreams or our fears, and I'd be paralyzed and paint a cartoon puppy, or create something so dark and twisted I wouldn't be allowed back. 

We arrived on a Friday night at 6:30 and took seats in Ann Bridges' lovely studio, the top floor of an old art deco building on Wilshire, in Koreatown. As the late afternoon sun filled the studio, Ann taught us about light and color, squirting acrylic paints onto our palettes, and showing us how to create shadow hues by adding the contrasting color to the pure primary color.  I felt relaxed already; Ann was exactly whom I'd hoped for in an art teacher, a bit scattered as she flit between her four students, giving individual lessons and critiques, her curly hair coming out of its tie, her casual clothes a bit spattered with paint. She was encouraging but direct, funny and open, and played a good mix of music in the background.

Directing us toward a still life, she had us "interpret" the greens of the background, the red of the apple, the turquoise of the cup. As I outlined the shapes and shadows, mixed colors and made mistakes, I felt free to make mistakes and cover up them up, which I think is why I like painting with acrylics.  There really are no mistakes, just choices to tweak and change, a lesson I need to translate into my life now, and looking back at my mid-20s. Making choices to live abroad, to go broke spending my meager savings on an experience, then have to move home and work a dreaded job as a server, with aching feet and hair that smelled of a deep fryer, none of those were mistakes. As a dear counselor advised me, as a writer, I rewrite stories constantly. It's critical to allow myself to the freedom to rewrite my own story.

Working on the shade and highlight of the apple to give it depth, I found more and more peace in the process, freedom to make changes, to work within what I had already created, to be proud of the outcome, even if it wasn't "perfect."

"Painting is a faith, and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion." ~Vincent van Gogh

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