I started painting three years ago because our new-old farm house
had large wall spaces; wide, paneled surfaces.
I started painting because we couldn’t afford to buy art to
Driving home from the grocery store one day with the twins
buckled in to their car seats in the middle of the van, I eased around a
corner, down a steep hill in a wooded stretch of road and saw several large
framed paintings and prints in a stand of overgrown brush, leaning against a
tree. I quickly pulled over to the side
of the road, popped the trunk, and pulled the paintings inside. Two, in wood frames with glass, showed hunting
scenes, ducks rising out of wooded brush.
Another was a large print of a
white wicker basket overflowing with pink, teal and baby blue flowers,
something your grandmother might have hung over her couch in the eighties.
I bought magenta paint, turquoise and midnight blue and started painting over top of the prints and on other found canvases. I borrowed more colors from a friend.
I started painting because the bright colors made me
happy. The slick movement of spreading
paint across a surface was calming, like coloring with crayons, like trailing
your fingers through fine sand.
I painted words because I didn’t believe I could paint
images and because the words in my head and heart needed space, needed a place
to land, to become incarnate, objects of permanence. I painted words because I saw a tutorial
online about how to do it well with sticker stencils.
I painted words and hung them on the walls of our house like
Last week, a real painter stopped by our farm house. He paints in oils, sells his work in
galleries. He wanted to know if he could
take pictures of our chickens, our polish rooster in particular.
“I paint,” I said, “I just started this fall.”
“It’s always nice to meet another artist,” I said.
He showed me pictures of his oil paintings, scrolling
through the images of landscapes and farm scenes on his phone. I didn’t show
him my paintings, which suddenly felt like child’s play.
“I paint words. I’m a
word person,” I said.
Later, after he left me with his business card in hand, I
looked him up online. His website is
outdated. I found grammatical and
spelling errors and was pleased. He, at
least, is not a word person.
I wondered if his visit was the encouragement I had prayed for
fervently that morning; prayers filled with longing, prayers beyond words. But after he left I looked at my own work
with a cutting eye. It’s hard to write
when you’re discouraged, hard to create when you don’t believe.
When I returned to my studio, my computer, I saw that a
friend had sent a message about a job opening – an opening for a position I
have kept an eye on for years. I looked
it up. The job is full time, in my field. It would
leave no time for painting, for writing, for working at the library. But, in exchange, there would be money,
status, a title and many other things I image are more substantial, more
valuable, than words tattooed on walls with stencils and acrylic, words strung across
pages, hung like spiders’ webs, simultaneously sturdy and insubstantial.
I had asked the painter whether he retired before painting
full time. He smiled and said, “In a
way.” Then, he explained that they live
off of his wife’s job. I told him about
my husband who works for the state.
“It’s a good steady job,” I said, “but we’re not getting
rich.” I didn’t say what I meant, which is
that we’re not making ends meet.
I told him about working part time at the library, about adding a tab
on my website for design services. “But
how much can I do?” I asked myself aloud and him, because he was standing
there. “How much can I do and still be
able to write?”
He didn’t have an answer.
But he said he’d stop by sometime to take pictures of the chickens, the
view of the fields, the distant mountains across the street. I told him if he was going to take pictures
of the hens, he’d want some of our handsome black cat too. Maybe he will set up his easel here sometime and
paint plein air. The kids would love
that, I would too.
A letter came in the mail recently, notifying us that the
farm land across the street is in the process of being rezoned; if the local
vote passes, it will be protected farmland, unable to be sold or divvied up for
development. We never expected to buy a
house like this with its view of open fields and rolling hills in the
distance. We’ve often assumed it would
someday be sold for development like so many of the surrounding fields.
I mentioned the rezoning to my Dad the other day, over lunch. “It’s good for us,” I said. “Value-wise,” I
I don’t know why I said that, though. Maybe because that’s the way he thinks, the
way he talks, in dollars and cents. But,
the truth is, we don’t want to lose the view to progress and development
because we love it. It’s something like the way I don’t
want to lose my life with words and paint to a paycheck and a title: I love it.
I started painting and writing because I needed to.
I’ll keep painting and writing because it’s still true.