I have always been creative and artistic, but I don't know that I saw myself as an artist. I had talent, but not training. It is easy to talk myself out of trying new things because I am not an "expert." To be safe, I often stick to a reference photo. These photos help launch my talent and sometimes stimulate my creativity, but creating something from the heart, that is risky. It's vulnerable and threatens my safe little world of contained creativity.
Recently my mom reminded me of a childhood memory of me in preschool. We were given little pussy willow buds that we were to glue onto brown branches that we colored with crayon. I apparently didn't want to do that, and instead I drew a fence on my paper and glued the buds on the fence. I added little ears and tails, and made them cats. That has always been my way, to see something outside of the thing asked. I didn't care that it was different. I just had fun.
I never thought much of that story, but over the years, I can see that I began to fit myself in to categories that felt safe. A teacher. A mother. A wife. These are my most treasured roles, but somewhere along the journey, I lost that spark of creativity. The joy in creating something new just for me. For Christmas, my daughter got me some watercolors and good water color paper. It was on my wish list, but if I'm honest with myself I didn't really take myself seriously as an artist. For the last few days, I've been playing around with the brushes and colors and remembered a life lesson from my Uncle Ted.
When I was 6, I went to visit my uncle and aunt in Florida with my mom and dad. My Aunt Marion and I had a very special bond. She definitely was someone who didn't live inside the lines of life. She was independent and inspirational. It was her husband, Ted, though who taught me the value of being ok with making mistakes.
He was a talented artist and while we were visiting, he let me paint with him. I was six, so the easy thing would have been to give me some paper and crayons, but he did the unexpected and set me up to paint with oil paints. He set up an easel and took me seriously. He gave me the tools to create my first masterpiece. He gave me some tips on brush strokes and mixing colors, but mostly sat back and just let me paint. There were no reference photos, just my imagination. It was a small little canvas, maybe 4 x 6 inches, but it was special.
I remember being so proud of myself and calling him in to see my work. As I turned to put the brush away, a large red blob of paint got added to my beautiful work. I was devastated and so upset that I ruined all my work. He looked at it and said the most comforting words, "we can make any mistake beautiful." With a few strokes of white and black, Uncle Ted turned my mistake into a red barn. He added brown lines around it like a frame, and suddenly, my mistake became art within the art.
I have used that life lesson from Uncle Ted in the classroom, in parenting, and in my marriage. I am now learning to use that lesson with myself in my pursuit of hope rising again. Most of the time, mistakes make me want to hide or run. They make me want to avoid the truth of their glaring appearance. They can't always be turned into a piece of art, but they can give me the courage to try again.
Sometimes life gives me reference photos that feel safe and sure. Sometimes life gives me a blank canvas that seems too spacious to make any moves. When I let that little girl come out to play again and make her art from her heart, she can only make things that are hers. There will be messes when I make choices. There will be times all I can see is the red blob on the canvas. There will also be times to make my mistakes beautiful, so I can find hope to rise again.