I’ve always loved art.
I so enjoy getting lost in the reverie, the flow, that artistic expression brings about. I’d be happy living in art museums. And at my favorite art supply store, I want to purchase everything.
Yes, I’m an art glutton, easily seduced by pencils and brushes and easels and colors and the feel of brushing oil paint on canvas.
Art was important to me before cancer and my divorce, but it has become a lifeline after these major life tragedies. Art calms me like nothing else.
When I separated from my husband, I moved to an apartment that was literally next door to a Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store. In fact, my bedroom window overlooked the front of the store. So fitting.
Hungry to create art, I eventually ventured into the store. I bought a few oil paints and a few small canvases and did some rough paintings of cups and saucers, a vase of flowers, and so on. I loved the feeling that painting gave me.
Then, one day, the Hobby Lobby advertised weekly oil painting classes and posting the supplies needed. And it was only $10 for a 2-hour lesson, $35 in advance for four two-hour lessons. I called Hans, the art teacher, and he told me to bring a picture of a scene that inspires me.
My first painting, Smoky Mountain Snapshot
I love the Smoky Mountains, so I brought a calendar with a picture of the Smokies to my first art lesson. And that was my very first oil painting under the guidance of an artist. I was his only student for a year, and I learned a lot – from how to properly hold a paintbrush to mixing colors to using various brushstrokes.
I painted continuously at home – from landscapes to animals such as predatory birds to vases of flowers to portraits.
When I painted, I felt a freedom I never felt before.
When I painted, cancer and divorce didn’t exist.
I couldn’t be happier.
Art Teachers Gone Bad
About a year after my first lesson, two other students joined, and they were quite talented. In fact, this is when things between me and Hans broke down. The students drew and painted better and faster than I did, and while I accepted that, I couldn’t accept Hans’ favoring them.
Teachers are not supposed to express partiality. As a writing teacher, I know to treat all students equally, find their strengths, and help each student feel more confident in his/her writing abilities. I am positive with my students, not harsh.
Unfortunately for me, Hans became enamored of these students’ artwork, and he became harsh with me. When I painted a Monet reproduction at home – for fun – and then brought it to art class to show Hans, he looked at it with disgust and said, “This is bad.” Not only did he hate Monet, he bullied me for trying to reproduce one of this artist’s works.
Although he apologized for what he said, his attitude toward me didn’t change. He overly praised the other two students and criticized me – for everything. He didn’t allow me to experiment with abstract art. He said I “ruined paintings.”
I was caught in a whirlwind of despair and indecision: do I quit art class or stay? I didn’t even think to pursue other art classes.
Eventually, the decision was made for me. I would get “artist’s block.” I would sit at the easel and feel stifled. Hans made it seem that it was my fault I could no longer paint. So after two years of attending oil painting classes, I quit, feeling like I had no place in the art community.
Years later, I was excited to be taking a 6-hour intensive oil painting class, hosted by my favorite art supply store and taught by an outside artist.
The problem: the teacher was an asshole.
When I arrived, he insisted I didn’t belong in the class, even though my name was on the roster. He was used to only his “regulars,” the students who always took his classes. I was the outsider. Each time we painted, he’d walk around appraising our work. He’d praise others’ work, but when he’d appraise my work, I’d cringe.
He accused me of falling too much in love with my painting (don’t know where that came from). I painted but started feeling a familiar paralysis; I couldn’t be myself. He must’ve sensed I was having difficulty painting and dished out abuse. At a break, I said nothing, just packed up my stuff and left.
Later that day, I complained to the host art store. The store manager told me he had had his doubts about this art teacher and my call confirmed these doubts. To make amends, the manager would leave a coupon for me at the store – for 30 percent off everything on my next shopping visit.
Somehow that didn’t fully appease me because I view art as sacred to the soul. And while a coupon is nice to have, this teacher temporarily broke my spirit. And this is unforgivable.
Kinder, Gentler Art Teachers
Despite my difficulty with a couple of loser art teachers, I took another chance at art, this time at a nude-figure drawing class at a local college. I yearned for art, but I hoped this class would help me face my lumpectomy-caused body-image issues. I translated some drawings into oil paintings.
Diagnosis, one of my nudes translated into oil painting
The professor was marvelous and helped me grow as an artist. She did this by complimenting my style and by challenging me to use different techniques. I stayed in the class until my bilateral mastectomy and returned about a year after the surgery. But I wasn’t the same person and had severe body image issues. So I left.
My best art teacher, however, was an amazing artist whose paintings were in the Pentagon and in various famous venues. He gently challenged me to use new techniques and depart from my comfort zone, while being positive about my artwork. This wonderful teacher undid all the damage the other two oil painting teachers did to me. I became confident and no longer felt like I didn’t belong in the art community.
These days I continue to draw and paint on my own. When I focus on artwork, I stay in the moment, and the disturbing realities of life don’t exist. I’m now teaching Ari art techniques and we paint together. I know better than to stifle my daughter’s creativity. And I hope she, like me, will love art forever.
What do you do for relaxation? I would love for you to share your hobbies.
What do you do to alleviate stress?
My first draft of Ari with elephant bells