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We Choose to Do These Things Not Because They Are Easy, but Because They Are Hard

Despite spending almost my entire life as an artist, including 6 years of art classes in junior high/high school and 3 semesters in college, I’ve rarely painted anything. I was always a pencil/charcoal/pen-and-ink guy. And when I did paint, it was usually because I had to as part of a school assigment and it was usually watercolor, but not in the way that watercolor was meant to be used (I was guilty of flat and even color application with no exploitation of the inherent characterisitics of the medium). I might as well have been utilizing poster paint.

I can’t say why I avoided it so much. Comfort level was definitely a big part of it. There’s a greater sense of control using a pencil or a pen as opposed to paint and a brush, and for a not-terribly diverse artist like me, it’s very easy to avoid delving into that whole medium. And once you start avoiding something, it’s that much easier to keep avoiding it. Which is a shame, really, since painting comprises the vast majority of what the average person considers art.

So flash forward to late 2006, and I still hadn’t tried to paint anything. But it was nagging at me; it was kind of like playing golf but picking up your ball after your drive and moving on to the next hole because you’d never chipped or putted before. Well, then you haven’t played golf.

Compounding matters was that not only had I never seriously painted anything before, but I also had no knowledge of the required materials, be they paint, brushes or canvas. I had assumed I’d be using oil paints, but after doing some research I found out that acrylics are much lower maintenance, although they lack the richness and blendability of oils. I live in an apartment with two small kids and no studio space, so ease of cleanup and no worries about toxic fumes rank high on my list of priorites, thus oils were out. So I picked up a bunch of tubes of student-grade acrylics, some brushes, and a few pre-stretched canvases from the local art store. Being paralyzed by not knowing which brand of brushes to buy or what type of canvases to get was a potential problem, but then I realized that the only reason I know what kind of charcoal I like or what kind of paper works best for which drawing is because I learned it through doing. So I just said, “Screw it,” and bought nicer brushes and cheaper canvases. Because in my limited experience I know that a good brush can make all the difference, and I’d be using them again and again, whereas any canvases I bought were going to be wasted on my learning curve. The undertaking was more important than the result.

So I painted the Pedro picture above, not having any idea of what I was doing. I think it shows, but on the other hand, it will always mean something to me because it represents doing something simply because it was there to be attempted. And I enjoyed it, and the felt the urge to do more. So I’ve expanded my repertoire.

Of course, for all of that, I didn’t attempt another painting until 10 months later, but just one piece removed from my Alan Shepard/Freedom 7 moment, I think you can see the differences in approach and brushwork. It’s not finished yet, but hopefully it will be soon (it’s a little out of focus because I killed the flash to lose the glare):

So there you go. All it takes is the decision to actually get started.

Know What I Miss?

Once I got my first post-college job — the first time around, we’re talking art school here — I was flush with cash, relatively speaking. Very few financial commitments, just rent and a mild student loan payment (going for only two years will do that). The company I worked for used to let their employees go at 1:00 on Fridays as some sort of perk for having your spirit crushed into dust on a daily basis, so I’d drive from Canton back to Brighton in little-to-no traffic, all the time in the world to take care of the administrative crap you always put off, and the two stops I always made on the way home were to browse some CDs and pick up some beer.

I’d get to my apartment by 2:00, maybe 2:30 at the latest, put on my new CDs (if I had bought any), crack a beer and climb out onto the fire escape and wait for 5:00 to come, when my other roommates would get home and the usual drunken silliness would ensue. That was some¬†quality time right there, that 2:30 to 5:00 Friday stretch. Try to sort some shit out (which never worked), map out a battle plan for the weekend, and embrace the solitude that only music, some beer, a fire escape and the sun can provide.

The point was that anything was possible. Of course none of it ever came to any fruition, but Friday afternoons had short memories; each weekly three-hour chunk of time was its own Nina, its Pinta, its Santa Maria. The soggy grey embers of Sunday afternoon were an impossibility, despite being inevitable.

Flipping CDs on the racks in the record store, fingers dancing over the ridged edges of each jewel case. Clutching the metal door handle to the cooler in the packie, reaching in and grabbing a 30-pack as the refrigerated air stole around you. Driving to Foster Street, brown Newbury Comics bag riding shotgun, a squat box of thirty cans of beer on the passenger-side floor, that weekend’s future laying before you like so much asphalt being eaten up by your tires. Maybe you were going to talk to that girl. Maybe you were going to tell your roommate to go fuck himself. Maybe you’d wake up on Monday morning in a new job, with a new life, in a new you.

Maybe.

But what you did know was that you were going to put on some CDs when you got home, some new shit you were really looking forward to listening to, and you were going to taste that sharp and crisp first gulp of beer, a black metal railing warm under your forearms as you rested them upon it, leaned over and looking down Comm Ave as you waited for the sun to set and your life to begin.

That’s what I miss.