Art in My Life: Unfinished

As a child, I drew as I sat in the floral upholstered chair in front of our old 14-inch TV in the living room while I watched comedy shows like a popular sitcom, I married Joan.

I was encouraged by my freshman art teacher in high school to continue drawing. She told me to make sure to sign up for the art committee for the school yearbook. I did neither. 

I did draw several pictures for my Catholic nursing school yearbook: the Blessed Mother Mary, a student nurse holding rosary beads in one hand and a diploma in the other, and a caduceus.

When I went back in school to get my baccalaureate degree in nursing, I took two extracurricular courses: appreciation of art and clay molding. My clay dog was stolen in class as it was “drying out.”  While I admired the thief’s good taste in art, I never did another clay animal. 

When my two children were babies, I drew their sleeping faces. I kept notebooks filled with sketches as they grew. I took my first painting class—in oils. The class was held in a high school my children would both attend in a few years. We had a substitute. He was mostly silent except when we asked for help. Maybe he figured he would let our talent bloom rather than be stymied by instruction. I never went to the last class. I schlepped the 20 by 16 oil portrait of a nobleman though all our moves. His picture was from the cover of a magazine called American Artist, November 1965. I liked it. But I never finished it. 

Oils at that time proved too messy. I took a long hiatus while I worked full time as a nurse. Some time in my forties, when we lived in the DC area, I attended classes sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute. The instructors were impressive and talented. I was not. 

Soon after I retired, I took art classes at a Senior Center. The instructor played classical music while we students followed along by copying what he was painting. From his classes, I brought home partially completed canvases, mostly seascapes. I couldn’t keep up with the instructor, a former street artist in New Orleans, who put out ocean scenes with sea oats and seagulls gliding across blue skies. The hordes of passing tourists gobbled up his finished canvases. I had been planning to finish mine for years. But how many seascapes did I need? 

I have one good picture. It’s of apples. It took me a year to finish. The teacher, a man in his 80s, circulated among the students, individually giving instructions, or more often, sat beside us, took our brushes, and painted on our canvases while he told stories of his life in Budapest during WW II. Most times, I took the picture home with me and painted over his work. If he noticed, he never said anything. However, we all loved him. During class, as I waited for him to get around to me, I socialized among my fellow students. I took his classes for a year until he died. I didn’t finish another painting other than the apple painting, but I did make a lot of friends. 

I’ve never had a room of my own to paint in until five years ago when we moved to a town house. Now I have an office with a table on which I can leave a mess of art paraphernalia. My closet is filled with half-finished canvases, and blocks of various papers along with tubes of watercolor and acrylic paints plus pastels and charcoal, colored pencils, ink pens, many brushes, one standing and two table-top easels, and a portfolio carrier. I could give art lessons to a class of Kindergartners for a school year and still send them home with supplies over the summer break.   

I sit in my office finishing this essay. Outside my window, our neighbor’s crape myrtle wears its autumn coat of burnt orange leaves and brown berries. The bright sun makes diamonds of the leaves as they toss in the wind.

I decide that I’ll assemble my abundant painting supplies and capture the sight. This time I’ll complete the picture. 

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