by: Staci Stallings
Life is interesting.
First, back in 2014, my niece, Veronica, started coming every so often to talk about life. She, like many young people today, was trying to figure out college and how to get her feet on the ground. She was working through a lot of internal messaging that had culminated in her getting stuck on paths that were just not working for her. I remember specifically her saying that she wished she could just find a guy, get married, have kids, and everything would be okay.
Yeah. Life doesn’t work that way.
Fast-forward to last August, when by a crazy God-twist, my son’s high school was desperately looking for a math teacher. Veronica lived 9 hours away at the time. Knowing she was looking for work as a teacher, I asked what her specialization was, and lo and behold, she could teach what they were looking for. Forty-eight hours later, she was living with us and teaching at my son’s school.
Over the last year, she has gotten an apartment, finished out the year teaching, gotten a second job as a lifeguard at a pool (her ultimate dream is owning her own pool), and she re-found her love of painting. While she was here, she painted A LOT.
Now painting is not something I’ve ever been around. I always assumed I was bad at art because I couldn’t draw to save my life. I can do stick-figures, but that’s about it. So watching her paint and being around as she painted and got other people to paint was something really new to me.
About the time she moved in, I was working on the books “Making Believe” and “When You Sing a Love Song.” In those books, the lead character, Taylor Grayson begins to be friends with an artist. When she goes to this artist’s house, they either look at paintings or they paint. That, of course, was funny because I have never painted in my life…
The other night, my daughter who is getting married and who is best friends with Veronica, decided to have a painting party with her bridesmaids. They invited me (since it was going to be at my house). I kept telling them that I don’t know how to paint and I’m not good at art.
However, just prior to the party, I randomly found a painter that I fell in love with. As only God can, He tossed this painter’s work onto my Facebook feed, and I was fascinated. His name is Leonid Afremov (afremov.com). When I started looking at his work, I found so many of his paintings that I just loved. They were exactly how I had seen the artist from the book’s work.
That Sunday, I used one of his paintings to try out my art-making skills with paint pens. It was great fun.
When Wednesday came around and it was time to do the painting party, I again tried to get out of it, explaining that I’m not an artist and I’ve never actually painted in my life. Didn’t work.
So I sat down with all of them around a table and I chose another of Afremov’s paintings as my inspiration. As the others talked and laughed and joked, I painted. I wasn’t lying. I had literally never painted in my life other than a couple of paint-by-numbers when I was ten (that I don’t think I ever actually finished). But what I had learned from Veronica was that painting is done in layers, not like paint-by-numbers.
I painted the background first, knowing as I did that it would be covered up almost completely. That was new to me. Before, I wouldn’t have wasted my time on that. But I knew it had to be there in case there were pieces of it later. Then I did the land, which I later found out was snow. Trust me, it didn’t look like any snow I’d ever seen, and if you had told me to paint snow, that’s not how I would have done it.
Over the background, I painted the sunset colors, trying to mimic Afremov’s color choices but often going off-track from that. It was strange how many colors could be in one simple painting.
After that, I started tackling the tree trunks, which was interesting because pre-Veronica, I would have painted them all brown—because tree trunks are brown. But what I’m learning is that your understanding of things often gets in the way of really seeing them. So you think, “Tree trunk. Brown” when what you’re seeing may be gray, brown, mahogany, black… So I didn’t paint them all brown, I painted some browns, some gray, some kind of red, some black.
As I was painting, the others would say, “Wow! That’s really good!” To which I said, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t think it’s that great.” I knew, however, that if I stopped, I would talk myself out of finishing it. So I didn’t stop, for hours.
Finally, I worked on the leaves that created the top of the painting. In the painting I was using for inspiration, once again, the “leaves are green” did not hold. They were pink and purple and orange and green… and blue and gray…
I painted and I painted. I painted so long that most of the others ended up doing two paintings in the time I did one.
Down the table, my daughter asked to see it. When I showed it to her, she said, “Mom, I don’t think you realize how amazing that really is.” They asked to hold it, so I sent it down that direction. It was about five minutes later that one of them randomly turned it so I could see it from faraway, and WOW!
I had no idea.
It was truly gorgeous!
So now I have a much greater understanding of the painting process for my books, which is very helpful. AND I know that painting is really great (though not relaxing… I had a headache for three days afterward!). Veronica said my brushstrokes are “very timid, like you’re trying not to touch the canvas,” which I would call an absolutely accurate assessment.
All in all, it was an amazing experience!
Okay, dear readers, what is something you dared to do either because you’d read about it or because someone pushed you to try it? Something that turned out way better than you thought it would when you were doing it or before you tried it. I’d love to hear!