A couple of months ago, I started painting and drawing. Just like that. Before that,the last time I had painted something was in high school art class. The last time I sketched something was a few years ago when I bought a sketchbook and some graphite pencils from the UK because I was reading a book called “Drawing on the right side of your brain”. But I got to a difficult chapter, life got in the way and my sketchbook ended up in the bottom drawer of my bedside table with barely 5 sketches in it, along with all the other discarded projects I abandoned.
So you can imagine my surprise at finding out that I can draw.
Art was something that just happened. There was no gradual easing into it. I stumbled upon art the way one stumbles through an open door or out a window. I was struggling with so many things in my life, the fact that I was in my late 30s, motherhood (always motherhood), life (rather survival) in Egypt, my place in the world. I was starting to feel irrelevant, like I’m sure all stay at home moms feel at some point in their lives. Which is ironic when you think about it, because there is no more important person in the lives of the people around her than a mother.
I decided I wanted to do some artwork for my daughter’s nursery, went to my local art supply store, on a whim bought a set of acrylic paints, some brushes and a couple of canvases and dove right into it.
I started with acrylics, a happy coincidence as I read later that acrylics are a very forgiving media to start with. Canvasses are sturdy and a mistake can always be painted over or incorporated as an element of texture or detail. They’re also easy to wash out and they’re non-toxic.
I also started with small canvasses. Another lucky coincidence because I learnt to draw small and work on detailing with a media that is typically more suited to larger canvasses and more expansive brushstrokes. Many people are actually afraid to draw on such a small scale and prefer to work on larger pieces, where more often than not, the details are masked. But I like the details. God is in the details.
Armed with my modest art supplies, I painted my first canvas. It wasn’t museum-worthy or anything, but good enough for a toddler’s nursery. So I decided why stop at nursery artwork? Why not paint a few pieces for the whole house? I’ve been wanting to dress up those empty walls for a long time. I went ahead and did another and another until I discovered I’m actually good at it, and what’s more to the point, I like it.
I love the space art takes up in my life, or rather the space it makes in my life. A space where no one intrudes, and no one knows my name. But it’s more than just having found something that I can be completely absorbed in (often spending the whole morning painting and listening to music, stopping only to go and pick up my daughter from the nursery). I found the daily grind of marriage and motherhood infused with color such as phthalo blue, cadmium red, burnt sienna. It was always there, hiding beneath the pile of never-ending tasks. I suppose the daily grind was the catalyst that pushed it to the surface.
It also taught me something about myself: that even at my most vulnerable, I had the strength and resourcefulness to pull out new passions and interests, rescuing myself from drudgery and a stagnation of the spirit.
I’m still struggling, I still feel anxious and the wheels in my head are still turning, but I’d like to believe they turn just a little bit slower when I’m bent over a new piece that I’m working on. They must. Otherwise, how will I get this particular mix of colors just right to capture sea green? Or darn it if I can’t get the right perspective or lines on this house that I’m sketching?
Suddenly I’m excited about something. Sometimes I stay up late into the night watching painting tutorials. Sometimes I lie awake, tossing and turning, before finally giving up the fight and succumbing to a few hours of Pinterest browsing for inspiration for my next piece. Now I know the difference between a toned canvas and a gesso primed one (WHAT!!). I obsess for days about the perfect combination of muted colors to capture pre-dawn light.
I try not to overanalyse this new found talent too much. I try to quiet the critic inside of me that says I’m nothing more than a human copy machine. How hard can it be to look at a reference image and draw it? Or watch a YouTube tutorial and follow the instructions (even though after the first few minutes of getting the colors right, the tutorial is just background noise for me? But I’m still not at that stage where I can render an image from my imagination onto the paper or the canvas without some help. But then again, until a few months ago, I thought I couldn’t draw a stick figure and now I’ve done the half marathon of the inktober challenge (16 pen drawings in 31 days) when I never thought I could draw in pen, and had real artists on Instagram admire my work. I even had a couple of museum curators contact me.
There is a picture in the center of my vision board of a woman (I suppose she must be in her 50s) fiddling with her camera. Just above the picture are the cut out words: “Learn a new skill”, and above that I wrote “Always explore, never stop learning.” It’s funny. It’s only when I started drawing that I realized ever since I made that vision board almost a year ago and despite the cacophony of images on it (that can be distracting sometimes) that my eyes have always been drawn to that particular image, or rather they always lingered on it, longer than on the others. I guess I always found it inspirational that you can learn new things about yourself at any age.
That’s the wonderful thing about self-discovery. You don’t have to know what you want or like, even if you are an adult living in the real world with real responsibilities. You don’t have to have it all mapped out. Before I had children, I had ambitions but I was complacent about them. Now I am awake to all the possibilities. So what more could I want after marriage and motherhood? Well, so much more. And that’s ok.