“There’s really no wrong way to do this,” said Annette, dabbing her brush on the paper around the outline of a petal. “Don’t think about trying to make any kind of composition. Don’t worry about letting the paint dry. Just keep moving your brush around.”
She’d brought in a bunch of Shasta daisies, and held one in her left hand as she painted with her right, making quick blobs of color.
“I encourage you to work larger than you usually do,” she added, putting down her brush long enough to hold up a big sheet of Arches paper. “I notice many of you like to work on quarter-sheets. Try a half-sheet.”
“Yeah, at $3.65 a sheet?!” One lady grumbled good-naturedly.
I like to think of myself as a receptive, open, relaxed person, but deep down I know I’m more of an uptight, to-do list, what-will-people-think type. I wasn’t sure I could do a big, free painting, but I was willing to try. I remembered one of my former teachers, Lia, a compact woman who works on canvases taller than she is; I remembered my VONA drawing, which I filled to the edges to symbolize my resolve to take up more space in the world. Picking up my biggest brush (a #6, half the size of Annette’s favorite #12), I worked quickly, with minimal pencilling and the boldest colors I could find. (Which reminds me: I need to buy more paint.) Big and bold for me is a scant quarter-sheet… but that much I did, and I’m incredibly proud of it. I think I’ll even hang it on my wall, if I can find a frame for the weird-sized paper.
I’m not as happy with my second painting. I made the mistake of comparing my first painting to my classmates’, and since it wasn’t as free as theirs, I tried too hard to make the second one “better.” I like the movement and bold brushstrokes in this close-up flower, but there’s something about the edges that still feels too timid, too anxious to be pretty and pleasing. Still, it photographs beautifully, and has many good points. After years of bitter envy, I’ve finally realized that it never works to compare my own style to others’. No matter how good I get, I will never make work that looks quite like other people’s… but that shouldn’t be cause for lamentation. I am myself, and just as it’s true that I will never draw like Juanjo Guarnido or paint like Chiura Obata, it’s also true that
no one else can ever reproduce what I do. I can learn from other artists, but it’s pointless to try to be them, because whatever greatness I may achieve will come only from that which is unique and irreplaceable about me. And that is what I should be working on perfecting: not copying, not comparing, but uncovering and refining and expressing that which is most fully me. Now that’s a worthy goal!