A Mind Shift and Small Act

“If you are self-taught, how did you start painting?”

I’ve been asked this a lot lately, especially since meeting so many intrepid locals and travelers through my Airbnb.com Experiences workshop.

My answer involves the biography of Frida Kahlo which I read in my early 20s.  She was in a horrible trolley accident when she was 19 and impaled by a pole which left her bedridden for months, in chronic pain and infertile her whole life.  Before this accident, she was active, adventurous, curious, sprightly, and likely heading for an acting career.  In bed, in pain, that potential future came to an abrupt and tragic end.

As a result, she began to paint. No, she hadn’t painted much before and she wasn’t awesome at it either. She was stuck in bed, in pain, her life completely ripped away from her and extraordinarily, with the choice between despair and action, she committed to what she could do with no intention of becoming famous doing it.

Frida’s story lifted the bias that I needed talent and genius to begin. Not at all.  I didn’t want to be hospitalized to motivate me to try either.

But there is another edge to the question; “How did you start painting?”

Upon reflection, I understand now that many people really mean is; “How did you ACTUALLY start?”

Frida began by doodling on her cast.  She had a pen, she had a cast, and not much else in the way of choices.  She started her career in art, doodling on her cast, just like kids in 5th grade. There was no greatness involved.  A doodle is a doodle.

One Small Manageable Step and a Mind Shift

It is cliché, but baby steps are magical.

I had no large ambition when I started.  I knew that I liked art, I liked to draw, I admired painting and really loved watercolor.

Ultimately, I had a desire to be creative.  The desire was necessary.

I gave myself permission to be a really bad artist and committed myself to learning.

Importantly, I committed to the smallest and most indistinguishable act as progress in my pursuit of a creative life.

I counted anything close to learning to be an artist as part of my curriculum:

  • A doodle.
  • Admiring a painting and the world’s beauty
  • Keeping a sketch book in my purse.
  • I checked books out at the library and read them.
  • I tried different watercolors until I learned that I love professional quality pigments and Arches paper.
  • I learned I disliked colored pencil and watercolor pencils.
  • I tried to sketch a cat, that was funny. Then I tried some more cats and people.
  • I painted a lot from photos; anything from my wedding and honeymoon, the garden, animals around the house.
  • I read books like The Artists Way, How to Think Like Leonardo Divinci, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
  • I found my voice with abstract painting.
  • I updated my style as I tried something different.
  • I found time; while watching TV, in the morning, or at night when I couldn’t sleep.

It really didn’t matter exactly what I did, just that I stayed curious, tried something new and added to my practice. This moved me a little closer to mastery but more importantly, to enjoyment of the process. I love the act of painting; it is a pure, focused moment in Now. It is the curiosity at the center of creativity.

Ultimately, a painting is a product and culmination of small decisions and actions over time. This includes; making mistakes, fixing them, experimenting, practicing competence, enjoying expertise and trying something new.

No painting is born from perfection.

Every painting is an experiment in learning and curiosity.  An artist asks; “What if I do this….?”, tries it and truly engages in the outcome.  That is a creative endeavor.  

Be Curious. Experiment. Learn.

How will you learn to paint?