By Katie Marshall
Lately, I’ve been painting.
I am not a great painter. I do not say this to be humble. I say it with some difficulty as a reformed perfectionist. I say it with acceptance. I say it because in a world of immediate gratification and speedy social media attention, it is important to have things in your life that you love, but are not immediately good at.
My art style is reminiscent of that Paint computer program that you could use for real things, but most of us use to draw a smattering of squiggles that serendipitously criss-cross into shapes that are then filled in with varying colors. That’s how I paint, with Michael’s On Sale brushes and paint that my mom got me five Christmases ago that I thought I would use immediately, but instead went unused for years.
Time is a funny thing. Often, we don’t realize that “immediately” can mean “exactly when it needs to happen” which can actually mean “much later than originally planned.” I didn’t need paints five years ago. I needed them two or three months ago, when I was looking for a way to both speak and listen to myself in a peaceful and loving way. I decided to act like the kind of person that I would want to hang out with, and that included doing art, regardless of skill or innate talent. I needed an outlet where I could learn to listen to my instincts in a deliberate way.
Draw this line here. Turn this into a triangle. Use turquoise. Step back. Look at what you’ve done so far. You’re done with this one. Get a new page. You’re done with this one for now. Leave it until you’re ready to spend time with it again.
We’re here in this big world, connected in astounding ways, looking for whatever acknowledgement we can get. How often do we give ourselves acknowledgement, especially in a pressure-free environment? How often do we prioritize self-care over self-achievement? Both are important. However, I often find myself seeking opportunities to be seen – posting photos of myself at trendy dinners with big groups of people online, telling everyone when I went on a vacation or publicizing when I volunteer or donate to charity. All of it serving as an orchestral plea for others to see me and to acknowledge that they’ve seen me.
It is important for us to acknowledge each other. Acknowledgement is an essential human need. We need to be seen. However, it is also important that we see ourselves, and that we address our own wants and needs without telling anyone about it on a regular basis.
Things are still real even if we are the only ones who acknowledge them.
So now, on sporadic evenings, I use my Old Christmas Paints to create lines that turn into shapes, and I fill them in with colors and meaning of my own choosing.
When painting for the good of your own soul, it is important to remember that the first line, the first impact on the paper is always the hardest. Even when you want to paint, it is the hardest, similar to the first word, first step, or first piece of creating anything. A blank piece of paper is pristine – an untouched blanket of snow resting with quiet assurance in its beauty.
The fear in altering a blank page comes from the fear that whatever I add to this pristine object will not be better than what is already there. In fact, this paper might be more beautiful without me doing anything to it. The art I make won’t be great or even Instagram-able. Worse, it could be ugly or childish or even unimpressive, the worst possibility for my ego.
But to every fear there is an antidote.
My antidote to this particular fear, the “first-paint-mark” fear, is that while a blank piece of paper is beautiful, it was made to be impacted. It was made to be drawn on, folded up, written on, cut and pasted into something new and different. Paper was made to be made into something more.
Sometimes we are the paper. Sometimes, we are the paint.
When we live like the paper, we allow ourselves to be changed by the people and events in our lives. When we live like the paint, we allow ourselves to celebrate our own colors. We grow into our own beauty. We create and co-exist with the art of others.
Still, other times, we are the art enthusiast, visiting the museum just to see, acknowledge, and appreciate.
I am learning how to live like a canvas and soak up and appreciate the colors of people in my life, some warm yellows, stunning blues, soft sea foam greens, down-to-earth browns and showy purples.
I am learning how to grant myself the permission to be my own color and to find the everyday courage required to make an impact on the blank piece of paper that is my life.
I am learning how to step back and appreciate my own art history. I am learning how to cultivate my curiosity and interests in the entire experiment that is life from art.
Just for now, I know this: I am interested in what happens when paint meets brush meets paper. I am interested in what impact we can have verses the impact we actually make. I am interested in the lines we draw and why we choose to draw them that way. I am interested in the extra paint on the brush, on the spots heavier and lighter than others, in the extra lines that snuck in when we thought we’d painted past them, in the spots that can’t be erased. I am interested in the lines we leave behind.
We are not only one – canvas, paint, or enthusiast. We are all three. After all, life at its truest form is art. And so are we.