Life lessons learned from painting

Esther Noe
Recently someone asked me what I do in my free time. Well, one of the things I have been experimenting with lately is acrylic painting. 
Painting is rather messy. You get paint on your hands, arms and clothes. As a result, it somehow ends up on your desk, wall and the outside of the paint tubes. Then, your brushes get sticky and your pallet gets goopy. Many artists even need reminders that the mug on their desk is filled with brush wash water and not coffee. 
Regardless, painting is still a timeless pastime. People paint for pleasure or for work. Paintings are given as gifts or sought after for a perfect centerpiece in a room. Meanwhile, painters on YouTube have literally millions of people regularly watching their videos. We are drawn to the textures, colors and strokes that bring beauty to the world. 
I’m no exception. Since middle school art classes I have loved painting. It gave me an opportunity to express myself, try new things and take a few risks in a controlled environment. I also discovered it helped me unwind after a stressful day. All these things are still true for me as an adult. 
However, painting also teaches valuable lessons about perseverance, patience and perspective. 
When painting, every professional artist warns that there will inevitably be a point where your work can only be accurately described as garbage. It looks bad, and I mean really bad. The colors are smeared together in rough blends, the background looks like a blob instead of a mountain and in case no one can tell, that scraggly bit is supposed to be a tree. It’s discouraging and a little embarrassing honestly, but it is also part of the process. 
It looks bad because it isn’t finished. It looks like a blob because the details haven’t been added yet. And the only way to get through the mess to the masterpiece is to persevere. You add another layer, some shadows and a few highlights. Rough spots can be smoothed out with the proper techniques, but you have to keep going. 
Isn’t this true for other areas of life too? When your house is an unorganized mess, all you can do is pick one area and start working. When that school subject is impossibly hard, you get help and keep pushing forward. When that dream is thwarted, you start brainstorming solutions. You persevere. This skill is so important to learn for nothing worthwhile is accomplished without perseverance. 
Another thing painting teaches is patience. There are times when you need to work quickly while the paint is wet. It creates beautiful blends and punchy textures, but then you need to let it dry. If you try to come back too soon, the previous layer of paint could be damaged. Sometimes a few touch-ups can fix the mistake. But other times it requires wiping off portions and starting again. 
This happened to me the other day. I created a pretty winter sky for the background of a painting. Only instead of waiting for it to fully dry, I decided to work on a different part of the painting. This generally works well. However, when I picked up a new tube of paint, it slipped and fell on the center of my background. It left a big mark, and the paint was no longer wet enough to cover it up. Instead, I had to do a completely new layer of paint. What should have saved me time ended up costing me more time in the long run. 
Isn’t that a painfully familiar truth of life? Sometimes in our desire to see progress or finish faster, we rush. Nevertheless, some things simply can’t be rushed. A cake will still be runny in the center if removed from the oven too soon. A hurried job usually leaves loose ends and mistakes. Instead, patience is often key to a job well done. It takes time, but it is worth it. 
Painting can also teach you a lot about perspective. In the middle of a project, you tend to zoom in. The focus is on individual details or the next step. As a result, you are only seeing part of the picture. At this point, the painting may still feel messy because the pieces are out of context. However, when you step back and look at the whole project, all the pieces connect to reveal a product much closer to completion than originally expected. 
This happened to me the other day when I was painting a figure walking down a path in a forest. During the process I focused on individual details like the tree branches, leaves, shadows and rain sprinkling down. Up close everything looked a little imperfect so I kept tweaking things. However, when I changed my perspective and looked at the painting as a whole, I could see how the depth and texture of the individual details worked together to enhance the entire piece. 
Sometimes our perspective in life gets skewed too. We’re simply too close to see clearly. Our focus is on individual things. But when we step back, we can see the bigger picture. Only then do we notice how different moments of life have connected, various situations have improved or our perspective has brightened. 
In the end, I still love painting. It is hard sometimes and there is a lot to learn, but I’m making progress. I’m practicing perseverance, developing patience and gaining some perspective. My hands still have paint stuck on them from the last time I painted, but I don’t mind the mess. After all, life can be messy too. It’s all about your perspective. 

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