Every grand journey has its share of mishaps, pitfalls, and bumps along the way. Lost reservations, missed connections, and bad hotels, while frustrating at the time, add to the flavor of the experience. And so it is with my artist’s journey.
Each assignment in class takes me to a new destination, and planning the most recent one sounded simple enough: Research one of the Old Masters. Choose a painting that features fabric, and recreate that fabric on canvas. I sat perched next to my painting instructor as she thumbed through an art history book like it was a hotel brochure. With her as my travel agent, I was sure to find the perfect room with an amazing view in a five-star hotel. We perused the paintings, analyzing each one, commenting on why it just wasn’t right for this particular assignment. We gasped in unison when she turned to a page featuring a photograph of Albrecht Durer’s “The Four Apostles.” One of the apostles was draped in an ivory robe. He stood with one hand outstretched and the other hidden in the folds of what seemed like a fine 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheet. It was simplistic, realistic beauty. The robe flowed down the apostle’s body, creating striking shadows and highlights as it gathered over the crook of his arm. I could practically feel the soft fabric as I ran my hand across the page. Yes, this was the perfect destination–first class all the way. I smiled as I imagined myself sliding between those sheets after they had been turned down by the skilled housekeeping staff in the Presidential Suite at my five-star resort of choice. “I’m painting that robe,” I proclaimed.
I unpacked my art bin, organized my paint, and arranged my palette as I imagined Durer would have. I prepped my canvas, and pulled up the image on my laptop. My planning was impeccable, and I couldn’t wait to start my journey. I began to mix my paint, but the colors were not coming out exactly as they appeared in the original painting. A simple bump in the road. I’ve survived turbulent flights and crazy taxi rides. I would survive this, too. I loaded up my brush with newly mixed paint and set off on my ‘first class’ assignment. As I confidently brushed paint over my canvas, I slowly began to realize something wasn’t right. My proportions were off, my colors weren’t accurate, and my brush strokes looked forced and awkward. This was no ‘first class’ destination, and this wasn’t the room I had booked. I had requested a premium ocean front view–not a parking lot/dumpster view. I felt panic begin to set in. I painted faster. More paint! More paint! The dollops on my palette were starting to dry, and the paint on my canvas was setting faster than I could blend it. I sat back on my chair. It was starting to feel hard and uncomfortable, much like the granitic mattress in my crappy hotel room. I propped my canvas up against a wall across the room. Maybe it would look better at a distance. It didn’t. More paint! More paint!
I could feel a sickness brewing in my gut–the kind brought on by the cruel realization that the stunning brochure photos were doctored up with a healthy dose of Photoshop. I tried using a different brush. No–it still wasn’t right. The brochure I looked at featured a beautiful flowing garment–My painting looked more like a ratty old bath robe. Where was my 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheet? The monstrosity I had created was a dirty prison sheet. Perhaps I could still save it. More paint! More paint!
And then I stopped. I put down my brush and took a long hard look at my work. It was bad. I had to admit to myself that my first attempt at painting fabric had been a dismal failure. I couldn’t save the painting, but I could still save my sanity. I thought I had planned out every step of my journey perfectly, but life doesn’t work that way. I wanted first class, but I got coach. I’ll still arrive at my destination, and I’ll still have amazing experiences on my journey. Along with the five-star moments, I’m going to experience bad service, and lousy hotels with over-starched sheets. Those lamentable experiences might be annoying at the time, but one day, they will make for great stories. And when my ‘fabric’ assignment is hanging on the critique wall next week, I will tell one of those stories.