Five to Try Update…I Survived Art Class!


I did it…made it through my very first art class ever! I must admit, silly as it sounds, that I was really nervous walking up to the Carrollwood Cultural Center from the parking lot last night for my first session of a Sampling Art Media class. I didn’t know what to expect, all of these visions and voices from 30+ years ago were sweeping through my head… Like all of the times I was told to do a better job coloring inside lines or my elementary school art teacher Mrs. Danieley perpetuating my insecurities about not being able to cut a straight line with a pair of scissors (which still linger to this day) or completely bungling a Christmas art project. All of those self-doubts that had accumulated in the base of my brain over the years about being incapable of picking up a pencil and writing or drawing with any style, grace or fluidity were rising to the surface for me to deal with, just about one minute before I walked through the Center’s doors and knew there was no turning back.

Earlier this month, I had taken on the challenge of learning five new things every month in a new creative project I’m calling Five to Try. Haven’t tried anything new this month yet, so this was to be the official christening of the endeavor. Would I be able to get through the evening without falling into my usual mode of frustration with myself for “being bad at something” or for what I perceived as being “slow to learn?” Would I be kind to myself tonight and just go with the flow, something that in foreign environments has always been very tough for me? I did after all make a commitment to gaining more knowledge this year, and not just from books or documentaries, but knowledge about myself, as well. No time like the present.

My teacher Gainor Roberts was easygoing, and I was immediately relieved. She laid out the plans for the next six weeks and proceeded to introduce us to the kinds of materials we’d be using. I must admit, everyone was so quiet and nodding as she spoke, that I began to fear I was the only one in the room that had never picked up a paintbrush for anything beyond a little watercolor play as a kid (and later in life as a marketing communications manager – you do a lot of goofy games and activities on the job to stay creative, you see…)

When she turned to the five of us after going over the curriculum and her own background and officially declared it “time to paint,” I froze. Both physically and emotionally. Gulp. This is it. I’m actually going to be painting something. Here. Tonight. In front of all of these people. (Just a reminder – there was a total of six of us in the entire room. Yes, clearly my sense of reality had escaped my brain when I exited my car in the parking lot.)

What if it sucks? What if I’m no good at it? What if I make a mess? (That last one wasn’t really much of a stretch. I was quite known for making messes, even in those areas in which I was a real pro like eating, working, golfing poorly, breathing, etc.)

It’s time to paint.

The words hung out there in the air like when Wil E. Coyote is scrambling after the ludicrously swift Road Runner and finds himself up over the ledge and just about to drop to the ground. That was me. Wil E. Coyote. There was no place to go now. I guess I was going to be painting.

Hoping to alleviate some of my own personal fear, I put it out there to the rest of the universe – that is, the other four squiriming students. “Has anybody here ever done anything like this before, painted something?”

And just like that, the mood lightened as each of us realized that we all shared the same tentativeness about what we were about to do. No one was an ace painter who simply wanted to learn about other media. Heck, no one even acknowledged being an amateur hoping to improve. Nope, we were all newbies in every sense of the word, and for this, I was grateful.

We picked an inspirational photo from Gainor’s vast collection of beautiful images. I knew that mine would have to be something basic – a bird, a tree, a leaf…aah, a flower, that’s it. In fact, the woman next to me, Bonnie, picked one, too. One student chose a landscape, another a piece of art from Gainor’s own portfolio to replicate, one student had the forethought to bring in an image that had caught her attention. 

I slowly selected my materials still uncertain if I was really choosing what was best. Okay, pick up a palette, don’t forget the charcoal piece. Some paint. What paint? Oh I don’t know…something magenta, maybe a little gold, some green for the leaves, I guess. No idea what will really work here. Back to my spot. Oh yeah, the canvas, that would be helpful and maybe some brushes and the turpentine solvent.  Again, back to my spot.

Okay, now what?

Oh yes, I have to sketch it first. Well, the last time I did any sketching was end of high school, early college maybe, and I was merely replicating some great Bloom County and Doonesbury characters that piqued my interest for their shapes and expressions. (Does that count as serious art?) I didn’t have any charcoal back then when I was merely copying a drawing style. I quickly learned that charcoal does get on your hands when you sketch with it. Why did I wear an ecru turtleneck tonight? Was I even thinking when I dressed?

I drew my flower. And if I can be blunt here and I hope, not offend, it looked like,… well, it looked like an array of male genitalia fanned out in just about every direction possible. Now, please understand that I don’t have a dirty mind. I really don’t think about male genitalia all the time or even on a frequent basis but somehow or another I had taken this beautiful flower – a hibiscus, I think – and made this hidiously bizarre creation. I should have taken a picture of this piece of art, I know, but I couldn’t even bring myself to reach for the camera. I learned firsthand that the paper towels we had available were a special kind that easily wiped away charcoal from the canvas. In a flash, my phallic phenomenon was gone, and I was starting over. I tried once more but it was useless.

I needed a different flower.

I scanned the photos again, another flower would work. I picked out another beautiful magenta flower – what exactly, I don’t know, I’m not a gardener, but I knew there was absolutely no chance I would travel down that slippery slope again if you catch my drift here.

I sketched, I painted, I made an absolute mess of my palette, my brushes, my hands…surprisingly not my ecru turtleneck, and when it was all finished, I got this.

Okay, granted, St. Pete won’t be celebrating MY new art museum anytime soon, but do you know the best part of all? I continued. I didn’t quit. I didn’t let my own criticisms in my head stop my hands from finishing that painting. I looked down and saw a funny-looking flower but when my teacher placed it up on the stand from across the room, do you know it actually looked pretty good? No, not great, but pretty good for someone who merely writes. I was proud of myself. I was proud of all of us. I especially loved Bonnie’s work, my fellow flower child in the bunch.

Pretty nice, huh? I’d be happy with that for a first piece.

When we started working on our pieces that evening, we were timid and unsure, but by the time we left, all of us seemed to carry a little bit more confidence about what we would do next week. Some would be continuing on their paintings after the first oil dried, adding in backgrounds or details or even texture. Others like me, didn’t really have plans to do anything more with the first painting, so we’ll be bringing back new blank canvases to start again – and our own inspirational photo or still life items.

Five ladies who didn’t know how to paint left as little artists last night – Beth, Bonnie, Ellen, Jennie and Chris.

Can’t wait to see what we come up with next week…and yes, I’ll be wearing darker clothes. Lesson learned.

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