I used to visit art supply stores and stand and gaze longingly at the rows and rows of paint tubes and brushes. I’ve done that for years. I wanted to paint so badly, but it was completely overwhelming for me. I had no idea what brushes to start with (what if I used the wrong one?) or which kind of paint did what (what’s the difference between watercolour and acrylic?), and besides, I could barely draw a stick figure, so what made me think I could paint?

Friends would take up painting, and I’d be so jealous, but I never signed up for a course. “I’ll probably fail,” I told myself. “I’m not very artistic.”

That was before my year of living fearlessly. This year, I knew I couldn’t let those layers of fear and doubt stand in the way of something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child. This year, I would paint, even if I accomplished nothing more than a stick figure and a tree that looked like a 6 year old’s fingerpainting. This year, I wasn’t letting failure stand in my way.

I signed up for a class and started buying supplies. But every time I took my supply list into an art supply store, I got that overwhelming, choking feeling again. What was a #1 brush? Was I supposed to buy the paint in tubes or in little cakes like the kindergarten paints? I bought a few supplies, but put off most of it until the night before the class.

Then the worst happened – the night before the class turned out to be the night OF the class. I’d looked at the dates wrong. I had to rush to the only store within easy driving distance, grab whatever I could find, and show up at class 15 minutes late with only half of my supplies. My heart was in my throat. This was NOT the way to start something this scary!

The first 15 minutes of the class were horrible. Others had already started and I didn’t get the instructions right. Plus I had to borrow a few things from my seat mate. If Marcel hadn’t dropped me off and left me without a car, I might have packed up and gone home.

But then, when water mixed with paint and paint started hitting paper, a transformation began to unfold. The paper, the paint, the paint brushes – they all took hold of me, lifted me out of myself, and the stress began to seep out of my body drop by drop. How incredibly good the paint brush felt in my hand! How incredibly right! I almost started crying right there in that high school art room. This was what I had been waiting for all these years!

My very first watercolour painting

Even though we only painted in monochrome that night, and the result was hardly worth bragging about, I knew that I had fallen in love. For too many years this passion had been waiting for fear to loosen its grip so that it could be born – now it was time to let it see the light of day.

Five classes later (too quickly it passed), we were getting ready for the final class. “Bring in a picture to the second last class,” she’d said. “Something that is special to you. You’re going to paint your first masterpiece during the final class.” I selected a few that I thought I was capable of (some easy landscapes and silhouettes), and threw in the one I really wanted to paint but doubted that I could – one of my favourite photos from Ethiopia. “These are easy,” she said, flipping through the top of the pile, “you can paint these.” Then she looked at the last one – the special one. “You want to paint that?” she said, a little incredulously. I felt the doubt rise again. Maybe she didn’t like it. Maybe she thought I couldn’t do it. Oh what was I thinking – of COURSE I can’t do it! I nodded sheepishly. “Yeah, I think you could probably do that if you tried hard enough.” Really? “You probably won’t finish it in one day, and you’ll have to do the sketching before the class so you use the time in class well.”

Gulp. Was I really going to try? What if I failed? Would I want to come back for another class next session, or would I give up? Maybe I should just do the silhouette of the acacia tree from my Kenya pictures. It was so much easier.

But “easy” wasn’t what I’d signed up for. I decided to try regardless of how it scared me. I did the preparation work and showed up at class early this time. I was determined. This was not going to be the end of painting for me. I was not going to let fear hold me back. I was determined, but nervous, and almost positive I would fail.

And then, the minute I touched paintbrush to paper, I entered that zen-like state and got lost in the painting all over again. The hours drifted away while I let the paint carry me. Bit by bit, I watched the art unfold. First grey sky, then the landscape. That was the easy part. Would I be able to paint convincing people? The first one turned out not bad. The second was even better. By the third one, I began to believe that I could actually DO this!

I didn’t finish that night, but the next night, while Marcel was away and the girls got to watch a little extra TV, I finished the last piece – the baskets. When I was done, I stepped back and… well, it was GOOD! I had actually painted something I could be proud of!
Watercolour, sixth and final class

I have been on cloud nine ever since. Who knew I could paint? Certainly not me!

(If you want to see my progress throughout the classes, you can see all of my attempts in a slideshow here.)

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