For the second time this year I had a group of wonderful students in my painting class. All of them were starters. Two of them already did a lot with drawing and other techniques, but never with acrylic paint. The other one was totally blank. My goal with the course is to make people paint from within theirselves. To give them confidence to listen to the artist in them and just… play!
That’s how it was for me, when I started painting almost 15 years ago. It was like a great adventure that brought me to new levels, layers and landscapes each time I pick up a brush. Teaching this course I discovered that this is not that simple for everyone. And that’s good… No one’s the same.
I was wondering why especially this group of women was so careful in their painting. They took little steps and it seemed they found it hard to take bigger decisions, that in my opinion their work was asking for. Mostly I let them go, let them struggle a bit, let them watch their work from a distance, let them turn their work around to see if its composition is in balance. Most important is to let them be their own judge. But in this stage, there was no artist’s voice. There were a lot of things hanging in the air that I still felt after they were gone. No, this time I was not satisfied about my lesson.
Last summer I gave exactly the same painting course. We worked outside because of the good weather and all sessions everything went smooth. There were questions I could answer, techniques I could share, and there was so much inspiration. Sometimes there were thoughts of doubt about the paintings, or about the used colors, about composition… In this course it easy to be a teacher.
What made it so hard this time? I was thinking and thinking. Maybe it was the fresh air… Energies can simply go their way when you paint in the garden. Working in my rather small studio is sharing the same place with a couple of adults who need their own space. How are we supposed to work outside in autumn when it’s a sad rainy day? At a sudden moment my students got a little lost. Or – at least – I had lost them a bit. What was going wrong?
They did not play! Like my other classes with kids, I feel the joy students have while making art. Like I did (and still do) when I’m painting myself. These students had no joy! It was like they were on school and had to do something they didn’t like. And I was the one who let them do this.
So this is what I did: I gave them homework… How scholastic! But yeah, it worked. The task was: take a moment for yourself, take the paint you really want to work with, it can be watercolor paint too. Paint with your fingers. Feel the joy and play! Don’t think about the result, make it ugly as you want.
Then, two weeks later, all students came in motivated while not everyone did their homework. That was OK. It seemed like only receiving my message was enough to change the mindset a bit. The energy was fresh and light. Especially when one student in particular shared a wonderful story. She didn’t want to make the task but felt the need to paint. She made herself a little studio with an easel that could stand there for a while, packed out her brushes and painted. An extra detail: she uses the art supplies from her husband who passed away. Sitting there, with the brush in her hand, this thought came up in her mind: ‘I can do this, I give myself permission to paint. It’s not stupid that I paint, I am in a learning process and I love it!’. She started working and she really loved it.
Now, that story was really great to listen to! She exactly made the point: when we allow ourselves to do something, even if it’s new to us, it’s working. This was the first time she really let it all happen. It made me aware of little steps, of little thoughts in ourselves to be changed. And of course, they come back from time to time. It’s a process we’re all in. Sometimes there are hard parts… The only way is to get through and then find joy again! But by allowing ourselves to do it – and not thinking too much – we’re allowing ourselves to let go of expectations and create an open space where everything is possible!