Why I Paint

Peas_paintingFive years ago, I took a drawing class.  I had a simple idea:  I wanted to be able to sketch what I saw in my garden.  I had kept a garden journal on and off for years–in fact, that journal was the inspiration for my first book, From the Ground Up:  The Story of a First Garden.  But a garden journal needs illustrations, and I wasn’t up to the task.

I had always seen art as a mystical process that required some special kind of genius.  You either had it or you didn’t.  But to my surprise, I found that it is actually possible to teach someone to draw competently.

It makes sense, really. A hundred years ago, art and music were practical, work-a-day skills.  A well-educated person was expected to know how to pick out a tune  on the piano or do a decent sketch of a flower or a building.  Art is another one of those handy skills that we’ve lost.  But sit in a class for a few weeks, and pretty soon you’ll know how to draw an apple.  Once you can do an apple, you can do a house or a bird or a pair of pea pods.  And then you’re off.

The same is true of writing, really.  An art student can learn perspective, shading, negative space.  A writing student can learn how to assemble a scene and how to construct a sentence.  Both require a great deal of humility, and a willingness to scratch it all out and start over again.  And the most important thing that an artist or a writer can do is to simply show up every day and do their work.  It’s like running.  You don’t lay around dreaming of the day you’ll win a marathon. You just get up in the morning, lace up your shoes, and hit the pavement.

So now I’ve moved on from drawing to oil painting.  It’s not a medium that lends itself to gardenLilies
journals, but I continue to paint what I find in my own backyard:  fruit and flowers, chickens and eggs, leaves and seeds.  My painting teacher is Linda Mitchell; every Wednesday night she opens her studio to a group of women and we get together to swill cheap red wine, tell gossip, and get a little painting done.  I’ve found that painting is good for my writing. It gets me away from the computer, and it forces me to set words aside and exercise a non-verbal part of my brain that otherwise wouldn’t get used much.

(It’s also interesting to note that the cover of From the Ground Up is an oil painting based on a photo I took of my garden in Santa Cruz.  It’s a lovely little painting; I bought the original from the artist after the book came out.  The artist is Joan Griswold.)

But what I also love about painting is that painting is a hobby to me.  It’s not my job and it’s not the thing I was born to do.  Because of that, I get to do it when it’s fun and not do it when it isn’t fun.  I get to admire other people’s art without thinking, "I’ve got to figure out how to paint like that."  I get to go to galleries and museums without thinking, "My art should be hanging on these walls."  I have no goals or ambitions or burning desires related to painting that I know I must gratify so that I won’t someday leave the planet unfulfilled.  If I got bored with painting and never did it again, that would be fine.  It’s wonderful to have something that I can do in such a relaxed, not-attached-to-the-outcome way.  So wonderful that I’m thinking of setting up an easel in my attic so that I can paint in between Wednesday night classes, an act that would no doubt give my painting teacher a heart attack.  She’s been trying to assign us homework for years to no avail.


BUT–after five years, the paintings have started to stack up–literally.  They sit four or five deep on a row of bookshelves that runs the length of my office.  I invite my friends to take them home, but still they stack up.  I’ve been inspired by a group of painters who are posting small paintings on their blogs and selling them on eBay, allowing them to generate some income between (or instead of) gallery shows, and giving them the pleasure and daily practice of completing smaller works as they finish larger, more complicated paintings.  (To find out more about this movement, visit Duane Keiser or the Daily Painters Guild.)

So I’m thinking of selling some of my small paintings on eBay (and my blog), too.   It’s not easy making a living as a writer, and sometimes the expense of oil paints and canvases can be a little hard to swallow on a freelancer’s income.  So I figure that anybody who buys a painting would get a piece of original art to hang on the wall, not to mention the satisfaction of helping to keep me in paints and brushes, and away from that dreaded day job, for a while longer.

I’m mulling it over, and going through my paintings in search of eBay-worthy work.  I’ll keep you posted.

6 thoughts on “Why I Paint”

  1. I think you should try selling your small works … you could also start an “Etsy” shop (www.etsy.com), which many artists and craftspeople do.
    I love your peas… when I first started reading your post, I was struck by how I started taking watercolour classes so that I could paint flowers in the garden. I finally started classes last November and am loving it. My drawing skills need a lot of improvement.
    Like gardening, painting is fun … not work and that’s what makes it so special.
    Keep on painting and think seriously about selling!!

  2. I would buy that pea painting! I like Duane Keiser’s work, I have a giclee print of his, but the paintings are too high for me now he’s gone to ebay.

  3. Hi Amy,
    I like your paintings. I wish I could paint.
    I’m writing because I have a gardening question that I hope you can answer. I live in Eureka too and I have little bits of foamy white stuff all over the lavendar, mint, rasberries, apple trees, pretty much every plant in my garden. I thought they were eggs of some kind. When I pulled some off today with my hand I found a little green sqishy pupua of some kind inside the mass of foaminess.
    Do you know what kind of bug this will grow up to be? Is it bad or good? I also noticed this stuff all over the scotch broom in the gulch near my house where I take walks.
    If it is bad, i’d love to know so I can kill it because when these things hatch they’re going to be EVERYWHERE. I’ve lived here six years and I’ve never noticed this much of this stuff before.
    Thanks so much for your reply. Sorry to post this on an off topic thread. I searched around online but I couldn’t find anything helpful so I’m hoping you know.
    Thanks for your blog(s). I check them every day.

  4. Very cool! Now I can’t wait to take a class. By any chance do you know artist Lisa WAters in Arcata? (www.watersart.com) She’s related to a good friend of mine; love her stuff.

  5. Ok, now I’m starting to get really ticked. You’re making a living as a fabulous garden writer AND you can paint? Don’t you have any vices or inadequacies we can revel in? Do you suck at bowling? Do you bite your nails? Give us something… please. 😉
    Seriously, though, you should sell your paintings on ebay like Duane Keiser. His blog is really beautiful and it’s just a simple Blogger blog. Imagine… buying art without the frou frou gallery serving cheap wine and sweaty cheese. Not that I have anything against cheap wine…

  6. Amy,
    I find it hard to believe that you are not a natural born artist. Your art work is very good and I speak as one who was born with a paint brush in my hand. It is apparent to me that you are gifted. By all means you should sell your art. It looks as good or better than some I’ve seen hanging in expensive galleries ! I say, go for it.

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