My pop was an artist. As far back as I can remember, he tried giving me and my sister lessons. My sister jumped in; I was too stubborn — it didn’t take. In my 20s, during my extended adolescence and while searching for direction, I took an art class at the local JC. Took a few more classes with a particularly encouraging instructor. He thought I had some potential. But I knew too many starving artists. I didn’t have enough fire in the belly to just paint and not worry about taking care of the practicalities. So I hatched a plan: I’d go back to school, work part time and paint along the way.
Then, life happened. For almost 40 years, I barely picked up a brush. It seems I needed space — in my home, in my mind and in my schedule. I retired five years ago, after 10 years as Sonoma County’s chief probation officer. The painting fantasy was still stuck in the back of my mind. I slowly gathered some old drawing and painting supplies in a spare bedroom. I started occasionally walking into that room and threw down some marks on paper. It grabbed me — now I have an actual studio and spend many hours a week there.
What’s it like? Do you play golf? It’s like that. It can be addicting; it can be hard; it provides moments of excitement and also frustration. You get into a flow, and the rest of the world goes away. Every time you start a new painting, just like teeing off on the first hole, you’re hopeful: “This is the one, man; I’m gonna get it just right.” Alas, a painting will never be perfect, nor will a round of golf.
Neither the painting gods nor the golf gods like it when you think, even for one moment, that you have it figured out. And just when you’re about to give up, one blessed stroke draws you back in. Now that I have the humbling experience that some folks seem to want to hang my paintings in their homes, I can say I’ve learned a few things: I do it because I enjoy it, and that helps. I love the experience of putting paint on the canvas, of just making marks. The canvas is my playground. Being fortunate to not need the money from art allows me to be freer with my work.
And what I thought were limits may not be. One reason I always hesitated to jump in was that I’m a bit color-blind. But I relearned that most things are helped by limit-setting. So, I use a limited palette — and I’ve been told I’ve turned this limitation into a strength. In some ways, my work has been less about learning the new rules, regulations, techniques (policies/procedures?) than about stripping off the old ways of approaching the world. My favorite sign to myself in my studio says: “Don’t be careful!”
Want to try venturing into a new world with a philosophy that’s the opposite of what we’ve been used to for our whole working lives? Type “beginners paint set for adults” in Google and for a hundred bucks or less, you can join me. Come on in — no rules, except to make a mess. And if you make a mistake, no one gets injured, sued or IA’ed. Feel free to trade thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What hobby helps you unwind from stress on the job? Send a photo and short description to us at email@example.com.