I spent a few days in Italy last week attending Squamitalia. I wasn’t teaching a class so the plan was to just chill my boots and take a painting class with the very lovely Flora. I did some painting back in the day at art college, and have dabbled here and there over the years, but I had no expectations for the class other than it might be fun to mess around with paint on a hillside in Abruzzo.
Here’s what I discovered: I am not a painter.
Not that I ever thought I was, you understand, but there must have been some small assumption floating around in my sub-conscious that because I am so creative in most areas of my life the painting thing would probably come naturally to me.
Well, it didn’t.
In fact, it totally sucked.
Sure, I got some nice colour-combinations and had fun splodging paint on in a random way. But when we switched from random to doing something with a bit more intention, it suddenly became difficult. There was no ease. The paints were too dry, or not the right colours, or maybe I couldn’t figure out what the right colours were. The paper felt too big. I tried to let go and painted over bits I liked only to regret it. I felt like a monkey wearing boxing gloves. It was ungainly and awkward and not fun at all. It was frustrating and annoying and I didn’t like being a beginner.
Just as I was remembering what it was like to be a beginning blogger the other week, I was once again presented with an opportunity to start at the beginning of something I do not know how to do. And maybe I could improve if I painted twenty, thirty, forty more paintings. But here’s the coolest thing I got from the entire experience: I really don’t want to. When I finally realised this I wanted to whoop and shout and jump in the air:
I’M NOT A PAINTER!
I don’t have to be good at this because I’m good at other things… things that bring me a lot of joy and satisfaction and contentment. When I realised that I didn’t have to finish the painting, that I didn’t have to try to be better at it, I honestly just wanted to run to my laptop and cameras and hug them tightly. I have my own beloved tools and the love I felt for them in that moment was big and profound :)
So, once again, the teacher had to learn to be the beginner. There’s been a lot of that happening this year and it always sloughs off a few more layers. I certainly wasn’t expecting my painting to be perfect, but I hadn’t been prepared for the discomfort; it dovetailed perfectly with what’s been bubbling in my head lately, the fears around this next stage of my life and the general fatigue I’ve been dancing with these last months. There were a few tears, and friends to witness them, which was just what i needed.
Italy was sunshine-y and gorgeous and I was happy to discover I still remember a few Italian words and phrases (though considering I spent 10 years with an Italian boyfriend you would have thought I’d know more, but anyways…). The retreat was fabulous, as they always are when Elizabeth spins her magic, bringing together like-minded souls and inspiring teachers (Flora was truly amazing, holding the space for us all and sharing her process without being intimidating in the slightest — I bow down before her paint brushes!). If there’s a Squamitalia next year I highly recommend signing up if you can — you won’t regret it.
Below: my classmates — you guys rocked it! xx
Last photo by Elizabeth