The days my ex-wife hated the most were Costco days. It was the same drill every time. Me frustrated, parked in the parking lot at Costco, passionately painting the interior of the car with the most brilliantly colored expletives as I thumbed through the folder of pictures I had just picked up after having them developed. I was a budding photographer then and due to circumstances, I did’t have the time to be anything less than a perfect photographer right from the start. I also didn’t have time to take a course, read a book, or study under a master. I needed to be a self-taught master…today.
The pressure was self-imposed. I had started a business, a website back when the internet was in it’s infancy, that was devoted to fitness, and I was the photographer. I was also the writer, the webmaster, the receptionist, the janitor…I did it all. On Friday night I bought my first version of photoshop and a program that would help me build a website. On Sunday I launched the website and my photography was front and center. I allowed no time for a learning curve, I had a few days to go from zero to great.
Even though it didn’t start off perfectly, that website eventually did very well. At one point we had over a million unique visitors a month, a podcast with over 50 thousand downloads per month and I had become a well known fitness industry writer and photographer.
A few weeks ago I got the urge to start painting, something again that I’ve never done before. Both of my kids are painters, my mother painted, my uncle is an incredible artist. I on the other hand can barely draw my own signature, yet I decided I wanted to paint. I figured, “how hard can it be?”. There was a time when I couldn’t take a picture worth looking at to save my life. Surely I could knock this out without too much trouble.
I picked up all the supplies yesterday then last night I got all set up and started my first painting. I had decided, while daydreaming about how incredible my first idea would look, that I would not sell this first one. I would keep it for posterity. Yes, that thought actually crossed my mind. In fact the idea of putting a brush to canvas and it not turning out to be incredible didn’t even Cross my mind.
By bedtime last night I was right back in that Costco parking lot again, but without the ranting. I hated my first painting.
I went to bed and I dreamed about hordes of people seeing my dismal first attempt, pointing and laughing at it and me. It was worse than my naked-on-the-toilet-in-public dream by a long shot. I woke up traumatized and wondered why the heck I ever thought I could paint.
I’m learning to articulate feelings I am not proud of so I told Ana about my dream and how I felt.
This woman that I love so dearly and admire so completely put it all in perspective for me. She told me that last night when I was painting she saw me lost in something creative. Not the same as when I write or shoot pictures but a new thing that wasn’t so easy, something that I had to struggle with but was engrossed in. She saw me working with the brushes, the paint and the trowels, experimenting. She also said she saw me do all that without being frustrated but just letting it be what it was as I moved paint around the canvas.
She described what she saw in what I had painted so far. She talked about passion, movement, shapes and space and choice of colors. She then said something that I have told so many others but couldn’t see for myself.
She told me that if no one outside of our home ever saw my paintings, I must continue to paint. She said it’s not what you make and how that measures up to what someone else has made that matters, or someone else’s opinion of what you made. It only matters that you are doing it. Expressing yourself, getting lost in what you are doing, seeing your ideas come to life then letting them evolve into something you didn’t plan, simply because you are putting your feelings onto a canvas. She said “I was watching you paint and for that time all the problems of the world had left you and you were just yourself creating something.”
She reminded me that there is no pressure to create anything. Just an opportunity to create something. Not for someone else to judge, or for me to measure against someone else. Comparing ourselves to someone else is the least precise way to measure our worth as no two living things are alike enough to be compared. It’s far more important to live, to try new things, to explore, and to push our limits while refusing to believe anything is impossible until we give it an honest try and find out for ourselves if it is or isn’t.
As of last night, I am officially a painter. A novice one. I won’t be selling this first painting when it’s done. I don’t know if I will ever reach the point where that will be an option, or even matter. I probably won’t show it to anyone outside of those few that I know love me and appreciate what that painting truly represents. My wife Ana, and our dogs. Maybe one day I will paint something truly great, but that’s not the goal. Painting is about stepping out of my day, picking up my brushes, and with no one looking or caring but Ana and our dogs, take what’s in my heart and put some paint on a canvas.
Then, when I’ve done enough, I’ll go to bed with my loving wife, and our dogs, and sleep as peaceful as a baby.