Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper

While I love to paint, I’m never 100% sure of myself in painting class.  Acrylic is a new medium for me, and I find myself in a constant state of internal conflict over my work.

This week’s class assignment was a full color still life. It consisted of random objects placed together on a fabric-covered table.  We were instructed to use a planar style of painting–more impressionistic than realistic.  I watched our professor’s demonstration, made precise mental notes, and got right to work.

I mixed my colors carefully and made short directional strokes that defined the planes of each object in the still life.  My instructor complimented me on my progress, and my confidence soared. I proudly forged ahead with a new-found certainty in my brush strokes.

Madi, a fellow student and accomplished painter, strolled in late, set up next to me, and began painting the still life.  Our professor encourages us to look at each other’s work, but when I glanced at Madi’s beautifully blended oil painting, I panicked.  Suddenly, the acrylic impressionistic piece I was so proud of looked primitive and crude.

I was instantly transported back to a junior high test, thinking I had written the perfect paragraph-long answer to an essay question until I looked at my neighbor and saw her page-long response.  I instantly began to write more.  I had to fill the page!  Longer is better, right?  Blended is better, right?  I frantically squirted out a glob of “Matte Medium” and began to blend away all of the impressionistic strokes on my canvas.  I could feel my professor standing behind me, and even without looking back, I could tell that her head was cocked in disapproval.

“What happened here?” she asked.  “Everything got sort of blended together.”

“I looked at Madi’s beautifully blended work,” I confessed.

“It is beautiful, but Madi missed my demo.  She doesn’t understand what we’re supposed to be doing today.”

“Oh…” was all I could manage as I mentally prepared to correct the damage I had inflicted on my painting.

As I fell from the heights of Compliment Mountain to the lowly Valley of Corrections, I realized what I had done.  I had let another student’s work define my own.  Just because someone else’s work is longer, prettier, or more beautifully blended doesn’t mean it’s right–or better.  I need to have more confidence in my own work and trust myself instead of always painting in a state of uncertainty.  And maybe, until I’m a little more comfortable with this new medium, I should keep my eyes on my own paper.


“We Three Kings”–my acrylic, planar, impressionistic still life–unfortunately, still in progress!


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