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.
“I’ve never painted before.”
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
One of the women expressing herself through painting.
I had heard about how the imagination is the last part of the brain to die. Today I saw with my own eyes the miracle of that truth. I held a Creative Expression Class for three elderly women in a retirement home this morning. They could hardly talk or hear and were wheelchair bound. Two of them kept falling asleep in their chairs. I placed a paper in front of them and asked them to choose the watercolors they wanted to use in their paintings. That’s when they woke up and pointed to the various colored watercolor tubes. I squeezed them out onto their paper plates. I drew a large circle on their papers and told them they could paint whatever they wanted inside the circle. Once they chose the color they wanted to start with, I prepared a paint-filled paintbrush for them.
I was not prepared for what followed. Once I placed the paintbrush in their hand, they came to life. They scooted closer to their paper and began applying the paint to the paper. For about 25 minutes they were focused and alert… they were painting. They decided where to put the paint, what colors to use and they created a painting.
Something clicked for them as they felt that paintbrush in their hands. That creative part of their brain turned on and they utilized their imagination.
Being creative is natural to all of us because we are made in God’s image and He is The Creator. It’s in our DNA to be creative. But this morning I saw that reality unfold before me.
When each woman finished their painting, they sighed and signed their work. Their paintings will be laminated by the staff so they can look at their creations.
I look forward to the next class with them. They may not even remember painting today but when I place that paintbrush in their hand again, the paint will flow once more and their creativity will come alive again. That watercolor brush is truly amazing!
To see some of my paintings go to www.etsy.com/shop/expressivepaintings or
This is an example of my work on Yupo paper painted in 2012
For the last seven years I’ve been painting almost exclusively on Yupo paper. “Yupo” prounounced “you poe” with the emphasis on the “you”, is a slick, synthetic white paper that lends itself to lots of experimentation. The paint is not absorbed into the paper like most papers, instead it evaporates. That’s how it dries. And the wonderful thing is that while the paint is wet, you can move it around and manipulate it. Probably even more amazing is that the paint will do unexpected things completely on its own. Due to the slick surface, the paint tends to move and not stay where you’ve placed it.
Now, I love that part about Yupo paper. But there are some artists that really don’t like that unpredictability. As an artist painting on Yupo, I have to give up a great amount of control and just see what the paint is going to do. For that reason I never know what I’m going to paint when I start a painting. I choose some colors, turn on my CD player and start listening to worship music and begin applying the paint to the paper. Over the years I’ve learned various techniques and have come up with a few of my own. As I “play” with the paint I eventually see an image and then further define it. If the image doesn’t work out, it’s not a problem. I just wipe it off and start over.
I first learned about Yupo paper from an abstract artist named Paul Kirby who is a member at Hanover Area Art Guild in Hanover, PA. He was demonstrating how he blew acrylic ink with an atomizer onto Yupo paper.
This is an example of a painting of how I used to paint before Yupo paper.
I was fascinated. When he said he was giving a class, I immediately signed up. I took two classes from him and fell in love with this amazing paper. My brain is always looking for images. I see images in clouds and trees and random things. It’s not something I have much control over. There is no doubt in my mind that the use of Yupo paper opened up a whole new world and expression for my creativity. My style completely changed when I started painting on Yupo. Prior to Yupo, my work was comprised of realistic portraits painted from photos. I painted on canvas with acrylics and sometimes oils. Now my work is comprised of people, but mostly women. And their faces tend not to have features at all. If I don’t see the features of the face, I don’t put them in. Unintentionally, I developed a style that is unique and recognizable by most people. That was a nice benefit of painting on Yupo.
What is Yupo paper? It is the vehicle that God has used to allow my imagination to fly and be seen. What previously was only in my mind is now painted with acrylic inks, acrylic paints and gouache on hundreds of paintings. If you haven’t tried Yupo paper, I would highly recommend you try. If you live near Hanover, PA, I will be teaching two workshops on Feb 22, and March 1st at Hanover Area Art Guild. Contact HAAG to register. Their website is www.hanoverareaarts.com Their number is 717 632-2521 No previous art experience is necessary, just the ability to “see”.
- Artist and Maker: Elly MacKay (munrosheadesigns.com)
- Part 1: Direction (junerollins.wordpress.com)