7 o’clock on a Wednesday night, I had forty pages of reading for sociology, forty pages for zoology, and three chapters for organic chemistry; I couldn’t sit still and I didn’t want to do any of it. I was lost. Not physically, but mentally. This happens to me on occasion when what I want to do is different from what I feel obligated to do and no matter what I do I end up staring into space contemplating the universe with a disconnection between heart and mind. Getting out of this state takes more time and energy than I’m generally willing to exert. However, in this case I just didn’t want to do my homework. Solution: find something else to do.
I turned my whirling thoughts inward and asked myself a simple question, What do I want to do? It’s not an easy question to answer. We live in a society where what needs to be done trumps what we want to do or what makes us smile like the sun. So there I was, sitting cross-legged on my bed, staring morosely at the opposite wall, my ten-pound zoology book open on my lap, and the gears whirring sluggishly in my brain. What makes me happy? I began to make a list: writing, didn’t feel like it; puzzles, don’t have one; games, no one free to play; painting? Painting. There was that large canvas under my bed that I kept meaning to start, that I had meant to start over six months ago but school got in the way… Nothing was stopping me now.
I heaved the textbook off my lap and slid carefully from the bed to the floor four feet below to retrieve the unopened 18”x24” canvas, my reference image, and a pencil. It was 7:30. I’ll just draw the image , I thought to myself. By the time I finished that it would be an acceptable time to go to bed and I would have accomplished something, it was the perfect plan.
As I sketched, all the gears in my brain began switching into this new medium. Its not a particularly describable feeling, but if you’ve ever spent several hours doing math or planning you may know how all your thoughts seem to get crowded and stuck to the front of your brain and when you stop and look up and move on to something else, its like a dam breaking; suddenly you’re aware of everything in all parts of your brain again. This is a little bit like that. But instead, all your thoughts and feelings gather in the back of your mind, nestling into the subconscious until you’ve become a slave to instinct and process, detached from concepts like time and emotion.
I drew the image and the pieces of myself began lining back up again. The chaos of thoughts and feelings that had plagued me for weeks was filed away into neat little boxes, my mental environment calming and tidying with every stroke of the pencil. The grid method I was using to keep the proportions correct was working surprisingly well and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face or the bounce out of my knee. I’ll just do the under painting too . I thought. It’s only eight; I’ve got time.
Eyes alight and adrenaline spiking, I hummed along to the music streaming from the open computer and pulled out my brushes, blue and white paint, and pallet, quickly mixing up various shades of blue to mark out the shadows on the canvas. It’d been nearly two years since I’d painted with acrylic on canvas and needed to use an under painting. Two years since I’d lost myself so completely in this hobby of mine. Of course, I’d painted, I’d drawn, I’d used watercolor like once a week over the summer. But there’s something different—more satisfying, more calming, more focused—about acrylic on canvas. At least for me. For two years I’d been using mediums where I could have an entire image done in four hours max. Which I loved because I could start and be done and move on, but at the same time because the images don’t take as long, the connection of soul to work is lessened greatly.
Now I was finally embarking on a long-term project and my brain was aligning itself to this process I loved with fervor, sending my heart and soul through my brush and bringing life to my canvas. I checked the time, 9 o’clock. I could go to bed now without embarrassment. But I was in love. My heart had left me and woven itself into the canvas completely, connecting to me to my work, drawing me like a magnet. I’ll just do the dress too . I thought, grabbing yellow and red paint to add to the pallet to make orange.
The brilliance of an under painting means that all I had to do was mix the one color of orange, paint the entire dress with it and because of the blue already painted underneath, all of a sudden folds and shadows appear without any extra effort. It’s a miracle unfolding like those coloring books in Cracker Barrel where you color the image with the one colorless marker and worlds of color appear. I painted the entire central figure of the piece and it looked good . I snapped pictures of it from every angle and sent them off to all my friends. I didn’t want to stop. But I had class in the morning and it was 11:30 at night and I was at a perfect stopping point. So I skipped and bounced about, smiling and singing as I washed my brushes and made my suitemates look at my masterpiece.
Just before crawling into bed, I looked at it again, drying in the open drawer. This is who I am , I thought, looking out the window into the night sky where the stars twinkled and burned. I am and always will be an artist. No matter where life takes me or what it throws at me, that will never change.