Slinging paint is empowering

Last Friday night, I did something I haven’t attempted since high school art class - I painted a picture. Using actual paint. On a canvas. At an easel. It was fun. Lots of fun.

And while I don’t expect to be fielding any offers on my creation from the Louvre, the Arkansas Arts Center or even a garage sale bargain hunter, I’m pretty proud of it. Was mine the best painting in the class of about a dozen people? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Did I have more fun than anybody else? Quite possibly.

Over the past few months, I had started to see photos of acquaintances and other folks at these “painting parties.” In the pics everyone was smiling and holding their completed artworks, and they all looked pretty good. I wondered just how that could be possible.

Eventually, a couple of people I knew well started going to these parties, or classes, and I grilled them thoroughly to get more details about the process. They all said it was fairly easy, and even if they didn’t think their finished product was perfect, they still had a great time.

I had wanted to go to one of these events, but every one I heard about was either on a night or day when I was working or had already made other plans. Finally, though, things worked out for me to go to a painting party with two of my close friends Friday night, and I’m so glad they did. We all had a great time, and remembered how good it feels to create something with your own two hands.

It works like this: Everyone gets a blank canvas, an easel, various brushes and paint colors, and an idea. At the party I attended, we all painted Christmas ornaments. Our instructor/leader showed us a sample, although she didn’t let us look at it too long because she didn’t want us to just copy what we saw. She gave us construction paper templates in a variety of shapes so that we could trace the ornaments themselves, but the placement on the canvas, number, color, designs on each and ribbons/hangers were left up to the individual.

There were almost too many choices, but, knowing I only had a couple of hours, I decided to just follow my first instincts and see what happened. I traced several ornaments, picked out a background color, and just started slinging paint right and left. It’s been awhile since I’ve had that much fun. There was food and drink, and Christmas tunes were playing, but I got so into my painting that I hardly looked up. I was busy mixing colors, trying techniques, and thinking about what I was going to do next or how I was going to correct this or that mistake. I was completely engaged and using parts of my brain that don’t often get dusted off. For those three hours, I felt like an actual artist, and that’s a great feeling. There’s this wonderful quote from Andy Warhol that perfectly summed up my evening: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

I love that quote, but now that I’ve had time to “think about making art,” I’ve decided that I got a little too ambitious for my skill level. I was trying to give my ornaments texture and depth, and make them look like they were peeking out from the boughs of a Christmas tree, but I should probably have dialed it back a couple of notches. I looked at my neighbors’ paintings, and found that theirs looked nothing like mine. They were almost all bright, cheery and happily two-dimensional, whereas I tried to build up layers of paint and create shading for more of a 3D effect. As a result, my classmates’ paintings all looked great and perfectly suitable for holiday display. Mine looks like a heavy-handed 9-year-old’s effort.

But you know what? I don’t care. I still like it, and I keep thinking of ways I could make it better. I am inspired, and plan to get a few tubes of paint and take another run at it. After all, don’t they say that paintings are never really finished?

I suppose we all could go out and buy our own canvases, paints, brushes and easels, but that’s a lot of trouble, and not very practical. The thing that’s great about the painting parties is that all the boring stuff is taken care of for you, and all you have to do is create. You don’t have to gather all the supplies, put the dropcloths on the table and floor, or even come up with a subject. All you have to do is set aside a few hours to spend in the company of friends and other fun folks, reawakening, or maybe awakening for the first time, your inner artist. And even if your artist isn’t going to be displayed anywhere, it’s good to develop a relationship with her and find out what she brings to the table. You never know, it might be just what you’ve been missing.

<em>Beverly Burks is the former editor of the Advance-Monticellonian. She can be reached at</em>

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