A journey in purple (part two)

Day seven: We can only use seven pigments of watercolor paint: Cobalt Blue Hue, Prussian Blue, Cadmium Red Hue, Rose Madder, Lemon yellow, Cadmium Yellow Hue and Payne’s Gray. I spend lots of time thinking about (but never researching) if Payne’s refers to a possessive person, place or thing. I spend very little time using Payne’s gray.

The class is in the middle of my work day so I show up looking like a professional. My work clothes are almost exclusively black, navy, white and grey. I’m noticing that this is somewhat curious because I love color and my room is filled with vibrant plants, brilliant mementos from travels abroad, and accent pillows and throws that remind me of things like the Moroccan sunset and the Swiss countryside. As if I need something else to advertise that I don’t belong, my wardrobe certainly promotes the difference between me and my classmates. By now, they probably think I’m a boring adult. By now I think maybe I am.

Day nine: Ironically, watercolor paint is one of the only truly permanent and toxic paints. My professor recounts how he once accidentally dipped his brush into his cup of coffee instead of the cleaning cup, then took a swig and had to have his stomach pumped. I take very close care to avoid drinking the dirty paint water.

I’m having a tricky time narrowing down the places I want to paint and I am incredibly nostalgic for travel. I traveled to 21 countries in six years, but I haven’t traveled internationally (or even domestically) in the past year, which is an incredible source of frustration for my life. Some days, I think that my memories from traveling might have just been dreams.

I still haven’t made any friends. But, I’ve also picked up on the vibe that most of the people in the class very purposefully don’t interact with each other. Must be an art student thing. Business students were always chatting, networking, connecting – which I hated. I think these moody introverts are actually my people.

I’m also starting to think that taking this class is having a self-help effect on my life. It feels like a counseling session where I simultaneously have to ask and try to answer some tough questions. How did I end up here? What am I doing with my life? What do I want to accomplish? What do I want my legacy to look like? The class period is over though and I have to go back to work. I decide to avoid existential crises for at least another week.

Day eleven: My professor is always telling us to get in and get out of the painting. “Keep it loose; don’t muck around.” I like the theory of these directives, but I find myself constantly mucking. I want to catch every single detail of every single monument that I’m painting. Another thing I’m struggling with is creating the tension between light and shadow. At the beginning of the course, we talked briefly about color theory and how to notice that shadows around us are rarely black or grey. Often, shadows are a blueish hue of the color of the item that is being shadowed. My professor helps me add some shadows to my painting of a bicycle on a bridge in Amsterdam. The added shadow really does add an element of depth and realism. It is also an amorphous blob that doesn’t at all resemble the actual shape of the bicycle. This frustrates me. I chose to paint inanimate objects because their distinct shapes provide structure for my cartoonish attempts at imitation.

The painting also makes me sad because my visit to Amsterdam included a visit to Anne Frank’s house and I remember how emotionally draining it was to experience a piece of history in such a tangible way. I also remember that the same trip included an afternoon at the Dachau concentration camp. These somber memories give me pause to consider that not all travel adventures are fun and light-hearted. Not all moments of life are joyful.

Day thirteen: For some reason (probably my perfectionist tendencies), I’m unable to accept the concept of drafting when it comes to art. I am very unwilling to start over on a painting once I’ve started. My painting of the Sydney Opera House in Australia has a purplish tone to it that my professor helped me create and I’m fairly positive I will never be able to produce purple again. Initially, my book was going to feature international places I’ve been to, unique modes of transportation and welcoming words in the various languages that my main character – the envelope – traveled through. However, I struggle to properly recreate the serene fields of French lavender (that elusive purple again) as the background to a box truck. I have even more trouble with an airplane flying over the Caribbean waters of the Dominican Republic. The hard-earned shadowed bike in Amsterdam is abandoned with regret. I do decide to repaint the Eiffel Tower because my original painting size doesn’t match the rest of my paintings. In some ways, the new tower is better, but somehow gloomier. I don’t think I used enough Cobalt Blue in the sky. I do remember that the Parisian sky was grey more often than not. Actually, it was either grey or cotton-candy pink. Someone told me the pink hue was caused by pollution. I chose to believe that it was an extra bit of magic in the City of Light.

Day fifteen: We are half-way through this class and it’s becoming really obvious who is on top of their book and who is not. I’m auditing the class so it doesn’t actually matter if I do well, but my top-student, perfectionist mindset has not died from earlier academic pursuits and I’m determined to do my best. At our bi-weekly progress check-ins, I get sneak peaks of my classmates’ paintings. I’m always benchmarking myself against the other students, which is neither helpful nor joyful. I try to remind myself that this is not a competition, that I’m not an art student and that I’m here to grow personally, not relative to others. However, that doesn’t fully absolve me from my shame that though I am older and wiser, there are some freaking geniuses in this class.

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