I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m redesigning this blog. The reveal is scheduled for September 1, if not sooner. Between now and then I’ll be writing some basic reference posts in the hopes that both new and regular readers can find what they’re looking for. This isn’t a ‘reference’ post per se, but it will give you a little back story as to why I paint the way I do and why I believe anyone, with a little practice, can paint too.
I started painting professionally in 1995. By ‘professional,’ I’m referring to getting paid, not necessarily the quality of my work. I actually started as a little girl. As the youngest of five children I was always the willing recipient of some art kit or paint-by-number set from my brothers and sisters.
In college, it seemed perfectly natural to take an art class – Art 101 or 1A or whatever. Basically you buy a ton of art supplies, everything from charcoal and oil pastels, to watercolor and oil paint, and spend a couple of weeks with each medium. I didn’t do well, however. My teacher wasn’t impressed with my ability to make my drawings and paintings look “real”. He wanted something more “interpretative”. I can’t remember what grade he gave me but it couldn’t have been very good.
I quit painting until 1995, twenty years later.
It’s funny when you look back at your life and see how seemingly simple coincidences are actually life-changing moments. In ‘95 I started working at Beverly’s Crafts, a California-based crafts chain. I was their floral/display designer but started playing around with “faux finishes” for display backdrops, faux marble, faux rust, faux verdigris. Glazes and specialty paints weren’t readily available so I just used craft paints and Floetrol. Coincidence #1.
A year or so later a Beverly’s customer hired me to manage a little home & garden boutique and she took me on a buying trip to Los Angeles. Great fun, loads of work. At the time, anything “Classic Pooh” was hugely popular and my boss bought tons of it. She asked for one of their display signs, but they charged $35. Thirty-five dollars!?! She was incensed because she’d ordered thousands of dollars’ worth of product and they wouldn’t give her a sign? Coincidence #2.
I was a bit embarrassed at her reaction and tugged on her elbow. Pssst, Lisa? I think I can paint that for you. Whaaa? She looked incredulous but it stopped her tirade, and my desire to creep into a dark corner somewhere.
As soon as we got back home, she gave me a Pooh box and said have at it. Now, I hadn’t painted in years, short of a few crafty things, so all I had were some craft paints and brushes. I flipped over a piece of junk mail and painted Pooh then asked Marlon what he thought.
“Where did you get this?”
I showed him the little box and my raggedy ol’ paintbrushes. I painted it.
I tried to explain, and justify, that this was a really simple painting and not a big deal at all. He just shook his head, leaving me to wonder if he was impressed or disgusted.
Back upstairs I found an old piece of posterboard and set out painting the Pooh sign. (Note: NEVER paint on the posterboard! Worst painting surface for acrylic paints ever.) It took me the better part of the evening to paint it and then I went to bed.
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” Marlon boomed, waking me out of a sound sleep. Being a night owl, he’d come upstairs later and found my rendition laying there.
“How dare you have this God-given talent and not use it! What are you thinking?”
Huh? I seriously remember this as if it happened last night. He was incredulous. I was dumb-struck. I tried once again to explain that this was not a big deal. Pooh is just . . . well, Pooh.
Oh, btw, I took the poster into my boss, who didn’t have quite the same reaction, I might add, but she did proudly display it in the shop. No, I don’t have photos. Yes, I started painting again. Every.single.night. I’d flip thru a magazine, find a pic that caught my eye, and paint it.
Painting became my escape, my refuge, my sanctuary from everything, including teenage boys and everything associated. Somewhere along the line I decided to paint on a wall. Don’t ask me why. I just did it.
This topiary is my very first wall “mural”. Egads. Whatever possessed me to paint on a wall with two electrical outlets (and not paint over them!)? But, there it is. And it was fun. Really, really fun. There was something about painting on a wall – it felt freeing to paint on such a large scale.
So I did another one. . .
A bit more involved, eh? I used a photo from some catalog and tried my best to “copy” it. I used good ol’ craft paints (which I still use to this day) and fumbled my way thru everything for a good two weeks. At one point, after I’d ‘highlighted’ the italian cypress trees, I asked Marlon and Son’s opinion. Son bluntly replied, “it looks like snow.” Not quite the look I was going for. So, some more paint, this time with yellow, and I called it quits.
Two wall murals and then I tried some glazing on a wall. This was fun. It was almost like fingerpainting. I had no idea what I was doing, or how. I was just having fun. After a small get together, one of our friends asked if I could paint something for her. And then another friend.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Wellll, not so fast. The wall mural I painted for my friend took nearly a month and I think I charged her $400, and I still thought that was probably too much. I had no idea how to charge, not to mention how to paint!
It was all O-T-J training (on-the-job). I learned as I painted. It took years and loads of practice. And I still have a lot to learn, believe me. Do I realize I have ‘talent’? Of course. I realize I can look at something and translate it with paint.
Do I paint faster than I used to? Definitely. But I can still obsess over each painting. I’ve just learned over the years to take breaks, walk away, then come back with a fresh ‘eye’.
But, do you want to know when I really learned how to paint? I learned the most when I started teaching “Indoor Garden Painting” at Beverly’s. Sometimes I’d teach as many as four classes each week, sometimes with 10-12 students. Yes, I do realize the irony of me teaching painting classes after having such a horrible experience in college Art class.
Lemme tell you, there’s as much to learn about teaching as there is to learn about painting. But my students really taught me. They’d play ‘follow the leader’ with paint and I turn around to see how they were doing and always be amazed at how each person translated my words and how their own painting looked. But they all painted and they always left class with, what I thought, was a lovely painting.
Which brings me to now and this blog and the hopes that you will also enjoy painting. Yes, enjoy painting. Because, no matter what, I know how it feels to doubt, question, criticize yourself and your work. I still do it. Nearly every day. But not every day. And that, my friends, is a huge improvement.
So, tell me, have you taken an art class? Or do you prefer to try it on your own?