Art classes began again in our school in Philadelphia. Luke is taking sculpture from a great teacher and I have returned to the little lofted room that overlooks the rooftops of South Philly with all the novice artists squeezed in there around the still life set-ups. It feels good to be back.
Last year I was always a little nervous driving in, getting parking and navigating the highways and bridge. I don't know why, I've driven into Philadelphia my whole adult life and was a regular passenger to Reading Terminal Market, the Academy of Music and other hot spots as a child. Having a family though has morphed me into a bit of a chicken when it comes to travel or cities or...leaving the house. 2008 has sure whipped me into shape. Between Luke's lessons and Seth's appointments I've driven hither and yon all year and am beginning to enjoy the freedom and adventure. I also love my GPS which presents so many destinations beyond where I'd venture myself.
This year has been all about busting out of my comfort zone and painting has been a key factor. Though my son is a natural artist from whom works flow like crystal pure spring water, art has always been a bit scary to me. I wanted to be good, but lacked the skills and belief that I could create. This class basically pushes us to the edge and then off.
Two Saturdays ago I was excited to get started in color. Up until this point Louise, our teacher, has had me working in shading, dull colors indicating light and dark and form. She told me last spring that I'd be ready for color in the fall, so I began making my rusty orange colored radishes a beautiful magenta. She came over and told me to finish shading in my urn first, taking the wind out of my red sails. But I did it and of course she was right. When I finished shading my urn I realized how much it did need it.
This past Saturday though, Louise was busy teaching the first class to some new parents so I returned to my luscious radishes. I painted each one scattered about my table cloth this beautiful color, an amateurish mixture of crimson alizarin and cadmium red, the only two reds I own. Then, where the darker shadows pull to one end of each one, I blotted and rubbed burnt umber with the blunt end of my shader brush. Catching the bright light embracing the curved faces of my happy radishes was more of a challenge. They quickly turned pink, a glaring dot difficult to blend into the rich magenta. I didn't have a fix. I had no idea - yellow? White? Nothing seemed right and Louise's voice in the hall was busy helping the new nervous parents instead of us.
So I plugged on. I decided to finish one radish, just to experiment, just to see what completing one thing on my canvas felt like. One grayish white blunt spot where the knife had cut off the hairy root. The dark, dirty underbelly. The bright top curve kissed by the lamp clamped above the still life. I could see a radish. I completed a radish.
The lady behind me, who earlier had nosily rearranged me and the other painter who shares my still life, leaned in as I stood back from the canvas for some perspective. "Oh," she started, "you shouldn't highlight till the very end. You're just doing form and color right now." I smiled. "But," she added, buffering her harshness, "yours looks better than mine so why am I talking?" I don't know, I thought. I am just painting. I am just trying to experience painting one radish.
Next week, Louise may tell me the same thing. It was just something I needed to do.
Painting seems like one of those things people do at a certain time in life. Maybe it's a time to experiment with trusting yourself. Or learning how to listen, stop, look. Or jump in and get totally immersed in something you've never done before. Or, like raising a baby, nursing something through stages of development until it can shine for itself, allowing you to simply stand back and admire.
My painting will be framed for this reason. I want to glance at it as I carry laundry and smile to myself, I nurtured that. I dared.