I had an amazingly creative night last week when I attended one of those wine and paint nights. Not that the painting we were scheduled to paint was amazing or creative but when I sat down that night to paint with my friends, I felt like I was channeling my artist friend Jess Nichols. Jess had recently painted this abstract painting and turned it into a silk scarf and an iPhone case (and probably a few other items) that she is now selling on Easy. I was incredibly inspired by her artistry and talent. While out for my morning exercise at dawn, I was eagerly anticipating our Paint Nite and that evening and decided that I wasn’t going to follow the instructions. The last time I had tried to do anything remotely like that led to a disastrous effort.
Many moons ago, maybe even before kids, it is so long ago I can’t even remember… My sister-in-law and I had taken a knitting color workshop with Kaafe Fasset in a lovely San Francisco yarn store . We started the day with a little exercise to each quickly pick a postcard that appealed to us from a large pile in the middle of our circle. I picked out one that was a sailboat that was docked in a beautiful blue harbor at sunset. It had oranges, blues, browns. Then we were supposed to use that as inspiration for our knitting in many colors (in intarsia, which turned out to be a moment of “is this all there is?” because the second item I had ever knitted used intarsia.) Needless to say, I spent all this time and energy creating this swatch (about a 6″ square) of color knitting to try and follow the colors in my chosen postcard. When Kaafe came around to inspect our work and comment on it, he was speechless when he got to mine, and not in a good way. He was struggling to say something positive. Not a “positive” experience for me to say the least… although I (we) will never forget that experience. This was a slightly longwinded way to say my friend Jess inspired me to do something creative and the “Kaafe Fasset” experience reminded me that I need not follow instructions so literally!
Back to Paint Nite – I was one of the last to arrive and thankfully my friends had saved me a spot at a table for four. And, more importantly, they had already ordered wine. People were socializing and getting acclimated to the setting and the apron/painting smock and the idea of painting something, probably for the first time since grade school. The lady running the event asked a few questions, like who had painted before. Then more questions, like when was the last time you had painted? I can’t be sure, but I think I was the only person that had painted that same day. By coincidence, I had painted that afternoon with twenty 9th and 10th graders in a theater class I was teaching. We had painted sets that day – not what I would call exciting or creative painting, but painting nonetheless. I couldn’t recall doing any creative painting since 5th or 6th grade. I think the last thing I had painted was an india ink drawing of a Japanese pagoda which was full of indigo blues. After continuing to rack my brain to figure out when the last time I had done any creative painting, I ordered wine and we continued to socialize.
We listened to the format of the evening and a few more instructions and the minute I heard the instructor say this is what we are going to paint but if you want you can paint anything; you aren’t obligated to paint this design if you don’t want to. Then she made us swear to a bunch of stuff by repeating an oath to not criticize our work or ourselves or to utter works to the effect that I made a mistake or can’t do it, etc. The whole oath reminded me of how little time we spend just playing and creating instead of judging and trying to achieve perfection. And I consider myself a creative person – I knit, quilt, and make costumes and hats, mostly from my own designs or using something that I morph into my own creation. I look at patterns as a mere guideline (come to think of it, that is how I view recipes, as well. Not something to be followed slavishly step by step, but a general guideline). But when it comes to painting, I know next to nothing about technique or colors and I can’t draw for shit. (OK, enough of the self-flagellation). Unfortunately, the oath brought out a lot of nervous laughter and giggles. The oath hit home and it was a sad commentary on our society that it had to be said as part of a creative, fun evening. What a sad state of affairs we have achieved as a society if we can’t appreciate the process of creating and the final product without judging.
We started with the painting and I paid attention to the instructor to understand more about how to paint and how to achieve certain looks. But I went off the rails from the moment I dipped my paintbrush in the black paint and decided to paint what was in my mind (and has been for the last few weeks of ruminating). I didn’t take any pictures of the first few minutes of painting, but now I wish I had. The painting had big blocks of blues and blacks and greens. Then I started experimenting with the brush and brush marks, covering some of the geometrical shapes I had made. I ended up covering the entire canvas in brush marks and blobs of paint combos. After awhile, I decided I should probably stop painting and be. Now to just hang out and talk.
Then the instructor said it was break time, so I figured I should take a picture of my art. Once people got up and started looking beyond their own canvas and table, they started admiring the works around them (and simultaneously criticizing their own work). The instructor reminded everyone to only say things to yourself that you would say to a friend (of course that is waaaay kinder than what we say to ourselves. In fact, I use this exact point in a training program I do, and it is nice to see it used in this context too).
The best compliment of the night was when my friend Joyce, who was sitting next to me, said “I’m getting braver sitting next to you.” What if we could always be braver, even if we didn’t have someone sitting next to us to spur us on or inspire us. How powerful and creative would we be? What if…?
For the second half of our painting session, I added a bit of red into my palette. I was looking to add deep purple to my painting. But I didn’t end up using much of it because I was afraid of adding red into and not purple. Hmm, maybe I have a lot to learn still.
I posted several pictures of our night on Facebook. I labeled mine as “My masterpiece,” because that is how I felt about it. When I started painting, I spilled out what was in my mind – everything, all dark and swirly. I worked on different techniques with colors I love. I was definitely going to hang that on my wall in a place where I could look at it for long periods of time.
I posted another picture and said “Which one is not like the other?”
Remember my sister-in-law from that disastrous (for me) color class? Well, Alysse made an interesting comment that this whole paint night thing rubbed her the wrong way – everyone doing the same thing; expecting it to be perfect the first time you do something new. I get it. I wanted to experiment before I attempted to paint something that resembled reality. I think I prefer painting abstract things that don’t have to be “seen” as anything or “reconciled” with how we think it should look. I think we should do a paint night where we finger paint or experiment and don’t have the expectation of coming away with anything, unless we want to.
I really enjoyed the evening – sharing wine with good friends and painting, doing something creative, it was fun. I wanted a picture I could hang on my wall. I really appreciated the Christmas gift that Amy had given me and another girlfriend. It was a fun and creative experience and a very enjoyable way to spend an evening.