I sit here with a watercolor brush in my hand, running my fingers through the bristles. How long has it been? Ten years? Fifteen? Twenty?
In the 1980s, I was a prolific painter. I worked in oils, and painted mostly portraits. The smell of turpentine and linseed oil was all I needed for inspiration to search out an interesting face to capture on canvas. But, in recent times, I produced my work in the digital world.
Santa Cruz, California was my home then, and many artists from the Monterey Bay were my friends. Our little painter posse traveled together attending workshops or simply gathered to paint when our collective radar picked up the telepathic message that we needed to meet.
That all changed in 1988—June 30, 1988 at 7 a.m., exactly. That is when my husband and I sold all our possessions and moved across the country. We thought we would be getting a better education for our son and a cheaper place to live. We were wrong.
The nightmare began after we exhausted our life savings to buy a home in Florida. When we arrived, we found that the previous owner had taken the well pump, all the fixtures and hardware, and never divulged that the plumbing and electricity did not work properly. We had no choice but to go into debt to get the place livable.
That is when I started losing sleep, my appetite and interest in everything I once loved. I had no friends, and felt marooned in a wasteland that was full of poisonous snakes, alligators and oppressive heat. To make matters worse, our new gun-toting neighbors shot everything in sight—including each other.
Eventually, we left and moved to Texas, which was a bit better than Florida, but not much. In spite of our best efforts, our financial problems grew worse and as if that were not bad enough, we lost our business, our relatives abandoned us and we lost a close friend to cancer.
A few years later, we managed to move from Texas back to California. Although we arrived broken and battered, we were ready to start fresh and focus mainly on our finances, which did not leave much time for any artistic pursuits.
The desire to paint again did not emerge until my life’s puzzle began to reassemble itself, and the creative pieces reclaimed their rightful place. One day, as I browsed the Internet looking for inspiration, I came across a blog that included an art journal. The paintings were in watercolor over an ink drawing, and something about the lines spoke to me. It was as if a finger came out of the page and beckoned me to come in and take a peek.
As I read the blog, I found that the artist offered online workshops. My heart began to soar at the thought of actually signing up for one. But, insecurity and doubt clouded my mind. To register meant that I had to commit. I would have to see it through to the end, and there would be no more excuses for not picking up a brush.
The first lesson arrived in my e-mail. I opened the link with both reservation and anticipation.
First assignment—still life—set up some fruit—draw what you see. I set up two pears and an apple. I stared at them. They stared back at me. I wondered if my eye-hand coördination would still work. Follow the outside edge of the object, the instructions said as if whispering into my ear. I whispered back to myself, come on you could do it!
The pencil fit comfortably into my fingers as I picked it up and began to draw. With the first line, I felt a familiar rush that only came when I attempted to record what I saw. At that moment, the stark white paper lifted the darkness where I had lost all my hope, faith, money and reasons for existing.
I sit here now holding a watercolor brush and running my fingers through the bristles. It is time to add paint to the drawing. I take a deep breath. I dip the brush—first into the water, then into the sunny yellow pigment and stir it slowly. The brush moves as if by its own power from the paint to the paper.
The first color is down.