Wednesday, August 19, 2009
A transformative moment
Steven over at The Golden Fish has invited people to write about a transformative moment. It’s been interesting over the past few days thinking about moments that have changed me--and I’ve experienced quite a few. But looking back I see that many of them are steeped in loss. Now I do know that without experiencing pain and loss we do not grow, but rather than revisiting these times today, I’ve chosen to tell about a small moment that opened a long-closed door for me.
For as long as I can remember, I loved to draw and paint. As a child I dreamed of being an artist. In high school I took art classes and then after a couple of years of university I enrolled in art school. But for me it was kind of a negative experience. I attended for a few months but didn’t feel confident about painting. In fact as weeks went by I became more and more frozen and eventually I left art school knowing that I would never be an artist. I returned to university and in 1969 graduated with a teaching degree. I still did the occasional drawing but I completely stopped painting.
Fast forward twenty years, through a short stint as a teacher, a failed marriage, the loss of a child, many jobs, a second marriage and a new son, Jamie, born in 1988. By then the dream of being an artist had faded far into the background.
When Jamie was three years old he decided he wanted to be a frog for Halloween and so I had to figure out some kind of a frog costume. I decided that I would make a frog’s head out of paper mache and using flour and water paste, just like we used to do as kids, I created a kind of helmet mask complete with google eyes. It came down over his shoulders and he looked through the wide smiling mouth.
When it came time to paint the frog mask, I went to the art supply store and bought some paints. The moment I opened those jars the smell of the acrylic paint transported me back to art school days. I was so excited to pick up the brush and plop the paint onto a board and mix the colours. I just loved painting that frog mask. I was so happy playing around with the paint. And I realized that I wanted-- actually, needed--to do more painting. I didn’t want to do a painting; I wasn’t ready to tackle a canvass. But I could use paints to decorate things. So I built paper mache forms—bowls and trays and urns—and I painted and sponged them with layers of colour.
Once the door was open I began to expand. Before I knew it I was taking an evening painting class, which led to a two-week painting intensive, which led to life drawing and printmaking. It was a concentrated time of self-directed art discovery. Painting that frog mask for my son’s Halloween costume allowed me to break through my fear of painting and begin a seven-year path rediscovering my artistic side. It culminated in two paintings being selected for a juried art show where one of them was sold. The other one (seen above) still hangs on my wall to remind me that left-behind dreams can be picked up again.
Post script: This process of defining a transformative moment has had some transformational effects of its own. Ten years ago we got our first Border Collie, Maggie, and I was catapulted into the dog owner world. Because there are only so many free hours in a day I left art making behind (again) as I learned about dog sports, training, dog behaviour and got involved in an organization that advocates for dog owners. But recently I’ve been feeling a pull to get back to art making. And thinking about the thrill of painting that frog mask is again inspiring me to take some time to for drawing and painting again this fall. Thank you Steven for encouraging me to open that door, once again.