Painting Makes Me Cranky

by Kee Kee on June 22, 2013

in Inspiration,Texas

blank canvas

I was cranky yesterday. Hugely cranky. I’m usually a naturally happy person, but not yesterday. Actually, I haven’t been myself for a week now. It’s been a slow build of general irritability over the past seven days. I’ve known why, but there was no way that I was able to stop it. This happened because I was dreading a party. A party you ask? Yes a party. But this wasn’t just any party. This was a painting party. The kind where you are given a glass of wine, a blank canvas and a set of brushes and told to paint. You do this while other women are sitting all around you laughing, talking amongst themselves and swirling colors together as they paint brilliant beautiful art on their canvases. To most anyone this probably sounds like fun. But not to me.

You see, I suck at painting. When I say suck, I truly mean suck. I suck even when painting stick figures. I love painting walls, and have actually spent the past few days painting the interior of my house. But when it comes to painting pictures, I give a new definition to performance anxiety. I start to tremble while I numbly stare at my blank canvas, my brain freezes when I try to think about where to begin, and then, I become really cranky.

This all comes down to me being a perfectionist. I like to do things well. The first time. I know this is completely illogical. The 10,000-Hour Rule is quoted constantly for a reason. How can I be good when I don’t even practice? Yet why would I practice something I have never enjoyed when I know there is no way on earth I would ever become good at it? Not even if I put in those 10,000 hours.

My girlfriend Ole and I arrived at the party last night to find a bunch of happy women mingling about with their wine and hors d’oeuvres. My crankiness had already gripped me to the point that I had to force a stiff smile when I was being introduced to the women, and then I stood mute amongst them while waiting for the painting to start. I had nothing to say. I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE played in constant rotation in my head, and it took every bit of will power not to tell Ole that I had changed my mind and was going to abandon her and go home.

Instead, when the teacher told us all to take our places in front of our easels, I obediently shuffled over to my stool. With shallow breaths, I put on an apron and sat looking down at my palette of colors, while wondering how in the world I was going to get through the evening.

final paintingThe first sign that things might not be so bad was when I realized that we were going to be copying a print of a row of houses, and that the teacher was going to initially talk us through each brush stroke. Okay, this wasn’t total free form, perhaps I would be able to do this after all. As I sat painting, and as my Dixie Cup of wine finally started to relax me, I realized the obvious. My problem is that I don’t want to admit that I suck at painting. I take myself too seriously, trying to not suck as I paint, when I clearly do suck. I began thinking that if I could only become one with the fact that I suck, then I could finally relax and just have fun.

At the end of the evening I realized I had an empty space on the far right side of my painting. I had started to come to the conclusion that painting wasn’t as painful as I had thought it would be, which meant I had started to relax, which meant I broke from the script. I free-formed. I painted a tree in that empty space that wasn’t on the print of the painted houses that we were supposed to be copying. I actually mixed colors to create a new green and a new brown, and then, in wicked fast brush strokes, I free-form painted a tree. I actually really like my tree. It’s by far my favorite part of my painting.

Ole & Kee KeeTo my friend Ole, I apologize for how cranky I was, and I thank you for giving me an experience that I needed to have. I can’t say I’ll eagerly accept an invitation to another painting party, but I can say that I’m glad I went. I’m hanging my really sucky painting in my garage (where no one but me will see it) so that the tree I painted will remind me to relax and take myself a little less seriously. I’m not perfect, my painting is far from perfect, and life certainly isn’t perfect.  But that’s okay, because life is a lot more fun that way.


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Randy June 24, 2013 at 12:51 pm

“Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best.” – Henry Van Dyke

This is my favorite post so far. So much honesty and for many of us, so much of our adult happiness riding on the rail of your words: “Yet why would I practice something I have never enjoyed when I know there is no way on earth I would ever become good at it?” As adults, we know time is precious, so our aptitudes guide our attempts. We can’t waste time doing something poorly. It’s not fulfilling. And there’s the rub — if the end result isn’t excellent, it’s a waste of time.

However, that’s not what we expect of the children in our lives is it? We know they lack skills and we don’t care. Why? Because they’re only beginners. We know they lack the aptitude, so we continually encourage them. Did they draw an oval instead of a circle, who cares! “Great try!” We say. But we don’t give our adult selves that same courtesy. We judge. Not by the standard of our improvement, but by Van Gogh’s Starry Night or our neighbor’s work, who by the way has been painting since childhood. How will we ever discover or grow if we don’t try the novel. If we suck, we suck — and we’re going to suck because we too are only beginners.

This post struck a chord because my perfectionist streak restrains me at times. I’ve minimized the effect over the last few years by trying many new things. I learned that my perfectionism often covered for a lack of courage. If I don’t do it, I won’t be bad at it. I also learned that my perfectionist ways have value. They drive me to perform at a high level. The key is to combine them; courage and 100% effort with no expectations. Then see what comes of it, usually fun and a new perspective.

I accept that I won’t be great at everything I do. Sometimes, I’m going to suck — but leaving the empty spaces of my canvas untouched because I lacked courage would be a shame.

Kee Kee June 26, 2013 at 7:55 am

Randy, I think your comment sums up a lot of what I was trying to say better than I did..especially the last two sentences: “I accept that I won’t be great at everything I do. Sometimes, I’m going to suck — but leaving the empty spaces of my canvas untouched because I lacked courage would be a shame.” Thank you so much for sharing this!

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