I have the honor and privilege of teaching a class called “Creative Expressions” to residents at a local retirement home. I say honor and privilege because every time I teach, I always learn and receive so much more than I give. This week I witnessed how incredibly beautiful and important each person’s unique expression is.
When I arrived. I was greeted by six ladies sitting and ready to paint. After handing out their watercolor sets and paper, I drew a large circle in the middle of their papers. I encouraged them to begin making shapes with color on their papers inside the circle. About half of them began painting without any further instructions. Another half said, “What do you want us to paint?” I told them to paint anything they liked because it was their painting. For some, this was a risky thing. If they didn’t have anything to copy or look at, how would they know they were doing it correctly? “When I’ve painted before, I’ve always copied something,” said one of the ladies. I told her she was going to paint something original, something unique from her imagination. She wasn’t sure she could do this but gave it a try. She was glad she did. Each new color and shape, gave way to the next shape. Once she started, she entered that creative zone where it was easy to focus and relax.
One woman just came to observe. I encouraged her to paint and give it a try. She told me she had never painted before. I told her that it was never to late to start. After watching the other women enjoy themselves, she changed her mind and decided to paint. She began by filling the bottom part of her circle with red marks until it filled about a third of the circle. She had to steady her hand with her other hand since she didn’t have much strength. Then she started adding shapes that looked like fruit on top of the red half moon. She completed her painting with a bow at the top of her basket of fruit. I took a picture of it and showed it to her in my iphone. She giggled with joy when she saw it. I told her how beautiful it was and that she was most definitely an artist. She smiled. As I was assisting other women, I heard her say to the woman next to her that Grandma Moses didn’t start painting till she was 80. “She just painted from her heart”, she said. I smiled and told them that all of them had been like Grandma Moses and painted what was in their hearts today. Each one said they had enjoyed painting and wanted to paint again next time. Their art was evidence that they could create something beautiful, something unique and something that gave them great pleasure. It inspired them to continue to create and even be like Grandma Moses who painted amazing paintings despite the fact she had no formal training. When we are asked to create something without copying something else, we tend to create something that originates from inside our hearts. A copy is never as good as the original.
Deborah Nell is a full-time artist and paints primarily on Yupo paper with acrylic ink, acrylic paint and gouache. You can see her artwork on her etsty store at http://www.etsy.com/shop/expressivepaintings