Painting freehand?! Talk about risking life and limb! That might sound like a bit of an overstatement to you, but look at it this way: you’re risking the life of your canvas and if you’re using a wooden paintbrush then you are risking snapping a small tree limb in half out of frustration. Doesn’t sound so far out now, does it? Good, now you’re in a place to sympathize with the tortured artist. Just to be clear, I am not a tortured artist, nor will I ever be. I simply don’t take myself seriously enough in the art department to fall under that description. The tortured artist in this scenario would be my longtime art teacher, who I’m sure suffered deeply each time she tried to come up with something to say about my work. I’m mostly kidding, but the running joke in class was that her top three remarks about my art were in fact “Interesting” (which speaks for itself), “Luscious” (which is the new interesting) and “Colorful” (which can also describe a two year old’s finger painting that they made out of their own food).
Now, I don’t say any of this to elicit any sympathy for myself or to imply in any way that my teacher was not supportive and wonderful (she was). I say it because I do art purely for the enjoyment of doing it, and part of the enjoyment comes with poking all sorts of fun at the disparity between what I’m trying to paint and what actually makes it onto the canvas. I like to call what I do “Casual Art,” or what you get when you only attend a weekly class once or twice a month, giggle almost the entire time that you are there, and still manage to finish your piece before everyone else.
A few weeks ago I decided to push this “Casual Art” to a new level, and paint directly onto the canvas without sketching a draft first. Yes, yes, I know, very edgy. Sometimes I can’t even handle how thrilling my life is. Don’t worry, no canvases or tree limbs were hurt during the making of this painting. In fact, this little man holding a watering can was actually accidentally created on my painter’s palette due to my unorthodox mixing habits.
Now, back to the issue of freehand painting. Please, try not to fall off the edge of your seat as I describe this process. The first stroke on a blank canvas is always the hardest, but once you take that first step and notice that no one in the room has spontaneously combusted due to a misplaced paint splatter, it starts to get easier. (Unless, of course, you were hoping to witness spontaneous combustion, in which case I suggest you put the brush down and go pick up some Charles Dickens). The wonderful thing about paint is that unlike colored pencil, it is relatively easy to paint new layers over the old. If you don’t like how something comes out the first time, you have room to change it. You can be sure that I have several (hundred) layers of paint on my canvas. But as soon as my painting got underway, I stopped worrying about how it was going to come out. I wasn’t painting to meet an end goal or to come up with something worthy of Monet. I was just painting for myself. I could feel my mind start to relax and recharge with each new stroke. Outside the confines of pre-drawn lines, it became all about the feel of the colors, not about the logistics of what went where.
You don’t have to be amazing at art to enjoy it. All you have to do is just go with it. Granted, for those of us who aren’t art prodigies, the “go with the flow” method can lead to what I call a “Forrest Gump’s Box of Chocolates Composition”: you never know what you’re going to get. You might spend weeks on one colored pencil drawing and conclude that the best place to hang it is in a trashcan, or you might spend a few hours on a painting and deem it worthy of the MFA. But what I’ve discovered over the years is that it’s all about how you feel when you’re doing it, not the product that you end up with. There are pieces of mine that I dislike for no other reason other than I didn’t fully enjoy the process of creating them. I spent two days on my freehand painting shown above, but in my opinion it came out better than paintings I labored over. The old saying really is true: you never know until you try. But the best part of it all is just letting the art happen, because when you do, you stop thinking, you stop worrying, and you just start living.