I started painting three years ago because our new-old farm house had large wall spaces; wide, paneled surfaces.
I started painting because we couldn’t afford to buy art to hang.
Driving home from the grocery store one day with the twins buckled in to their car seats in the middle of the van, I eased around a corner, down a steep hill in a wooded stretch of road and saw several large framed paintings and prints in a stand of overgrown brush, leaning against a tree. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road, popped the trunk, and pulled the paintings inside. Two, in wood frames with glass, showed hunting scenes, ducks rising out of wooded brush. Another was a large print of a white wicker basket overflowing with pink, teal and baby blue flowers, something your grandmother might have hung over her couch in the eighties.
I bought magenta paint, turquoise and midnight blue and started painting over top of the prints and on other found canvases. I borrowed more colors from a friend.
I started painting because the bright colors made me happy. The slick movement of spreading paint across a surface was calming, like coloring with crayons, like trailing your fingers through fine sand.
I painted words because I didn’t believe I could paint images and because the words in my head and heart needed space, needed a place to land, to become incarnate, objects of permanence. I painted words because I saw a tutorial online about how to do it well with sticker stencils.
I painted words and hung them on the walls of our house like tattoos.
Last week, a real painter stopped by our farm house. He paints in oils, sells his work in galleries. He wanted to know if he could take pictures of our chickens, our polish rooster in particular.
“I paint,” I said, “I just started this fall.”
“It’s always nice to meet another artist,” I said.
He showed me pictures of his oil paintings, scrolling through the images of landscapes and farm scenes on his phone. I didn’t show him my paintings, which suddenly felt like child’s play.
“I paint words. I’m a word person,” I said.
Later, after he left me with his business card in hand, I looked him up online. His website is outdated. I found grammatical and spelling errors and was pleased. He, at least, is not a word person.
I wondered if his visit was the encouragement I had prayed for fervently that morning; prayers filled with longing, prayers beyond words. But after he left I looked at my own work with a cutting eye. It’s hard to write when you’re discouraged, hard to create when you don’t believe.
When I returned to my studio, my computer, I saw that a friend had sent a message about a job opening – an opening for a position I have kept an eye on for years. I looked it up. The job is full time, in my field. It would leave no time for painting, for writing, for working at the library. But, in exchange, there would be money, status, a title and many other things I image are more substantial, more valuable, than words tattooed on walls with stencils and acrylic, words strung across pages, hung like spiders’ webs, simultaneously sturdy and insubstantial.
I had asked the painter whether he retired before painting full time. He smiled and said, “In a way.” Then, he explained that they live off of his wife’s job. I told him about my husband who works for the state.
“It’s a good steady job,” I said, “but we’re not getting rich.” I didn’t say what I meant, which is that we’re not making ends meet.
I told him about working part time at the library, about adding a tab on my website for design services. “But how much can I do?” I asked myself aloud and him, because he was standing there. “How much can I do and still be able to write?”
He didn’t have an answer. But he said he’d stop by sometime to take pictures of the chickens, the view of the fields, the distant mountains across the street. I told him if he was going to take pictures of the hens, he’d want some of our handsome black cat too. Maybe he will set up his easel here sometime and paint plein air. The kids would love that, I would too.
A letter came in the mail recently, notifying us that the farm land across the street is in the process of being rezoned; if the local vote passes, it will be protected farmland, unable to be sold or divvied up for development. We never expected to buy a house like this with its view of open fields and rolling hills in the distance. We’ve often assumed it would someday be sold for development like so many of the surrounding fields.
I mentioned the rezoning to my Dad the other day, over lunch. “It’s good for us,” I said. “Value-wise,” I added.
I don’t know why I said that, though. Maybe because that’s the way he thinks, the way he talks, in dollars and cents. But, the truth is, we don’t want to lose the view to progress and development because we love it. It's something like the way I don’t want to lose my life with words and paint to a paycheck and a title: I love it.
I started painting and writing because I needed to.
I’ll keep painting and writing because it’s still true.