Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I was going to write the other day about what art meant to me.  I have been working on the art for our studio classes for March, and have had this running dialogue in my head for the past few days about why I love art, and what it means to me.

But as I started to paint, I suddenly experienced a moment from the past so strong, that I could hear, smell and see it in my mind.  It was as though I was transported back in time.  And I knew in the instant it happened that I would share it.

The painting I have been working on is a copy of one I did when I was 12 years old.  It is one of the first two or three oil scenes I painted.  I had painted the sky, the mountains and had started on the tree line in the background when I was whammed by a memory so strong I stopped and just stared.

All of a sudden I was 12 years old again.  I was sitting at an easel in a small, dusty studio, surrounded by painting paraphernalia.  I could hear the hum of the air conditioner, and smell the accumulation of dust, and wood, oil paints, and turpentine.  And I could see Erma Washburn standing in front of me, a rotund little woman with hair that was askew as though she had just run her hands through it quickly, because she had better things to do than comb it.

I could see the photo she showed me that I would be painting .  I was afraid and excited all at the same time.  She was a kind person, and had a soft but intense sort of voice.  And we got right down to business, because my great aunt Phoebe, and then my Grammy, paid for me to take lessons with her. 

So she squeezed out the oil paints I would be using onto my palette, to show me how to not use too much at one time.  Paint wasn't cheap.  Then she told me how to draw in the outline of the main shapes, and got me started on the background.  I loved the feel of my brush against the canvas.  Oil paint gliding on, blending it, mixing bits of this and that in to get the right shade.  The paint medium I used to mix with my paint was a secret formula she said she had gotten from the "master" artist who had instructed her.  In my young mind, that could only have been DaVinci (I know now she wasn't THAT old, but to a 12 year old with a fertile mind, that was where my thoughts landed).  I never did learn what that formula was.  She guarded it like gold.  And of course made a nice profit on every bottle of the concoction she sold to me.

As I painted, I thought all these thoughts and more, and I felt for a little while as though I was living on another plane of existence, and had one foot in the past and one foot in the present.  I could remember how she told me to paint the treeline, then the shadows of the trees, and finally I was working on the birch bark of the trees, adding white and shading with darker gray, making the bark look as though it was ready to peel off in my hand.

Finally I was adding the leaves to the trees, and the dried grass to the foreground.  Then a bit more work on the shadows and I was finished.  And it only took me a couple hours this time to paint what took me a few weeks last time.  Of course, acrylic dries much faster than oil paints, and I have been painting for over 46 years now.  Gone is the child of yesteryear, the girl who first picked up a paintbrush with no idea what to do with it.  Also gone is that first rush of excitement that comes with the newness of a thing...the excitement of the unknown.  I miss that sometimes...

But I realize that in the place of that has come a deeper love of art, an understanding of who I am as an artist, my passion for painting, and the knowledge I wish to share with others.  This journey isn't over yet.  I still learn every day.  And I still grow as an artist with every piece of work I create.

Thanks Erma.  I think you'd be proud of me.

*Today: I am sharing a link to another blog that I enjoy... My Paintings by Hinda Toufga.  She is a prolific writer with a wide variety of topics on her blog, and she is also a marvelous artist with a fresh eye and the curiosity to try different kinds of art media.  Visit her and tell her Cath sent you.  And be sure to check out her paintings, and don't forget to leave a comment if you enjoy her blog...

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