What a week this has been. Throughout the hectic schedules and running around to a million places, I knew I had to complete this week’s Lifebook lesson. Of course, I didn’t have to, but I am at a place where I have to dig deeper within myself and pursue my passion, challenging any excuse or time stealer.
As I followed this week’s lesson, “The Person I Know Best”, taught by the talented Misty Mawn, I knew I was in for some trouble. Her lesson asked to paint a portrait of ourselves, not focusing entirely on depicting us perfectly in every feature, but bringing forth the person we are inside, or the one we want to bring to life. This portrait signifies the connection we have within ourselves, knowing we’re never alone as long as we are in tune with who we are. That itself wasn’t a huge challenge, but a task I welcomed entirely. The problem was the call to work primarily in acrylics.
Now, I love my acrylics, I really do. They are smooth, rich, and full of life…if you know how to master them. Misty worked with them in such an effortless way, merging shades and hues in harmonious connection. After my initial sketch, I selected my colors nervously. An hour into the portrait and I looked down at the paper with horror. My painting was streaky and plastic looking; graphite lines were blending with each color stroke; the entire portrait looked like a mash of shapes and blobs of paint.
I began resisting the process. How could I be expected to do something so advanced in only week three? I thought of my familiarity with whimsical painting, where your subject needs to look less realistic and there’s more leniency in using different mediums. I sought refuge within my art group, fellow Lifebook participants. I voiced my concerns and frustrations, which many shared as well. But there was also positive encouragement, a reminder that it’s about the process, not the result. I posted a picture of my early picture, showing them just terrible it seemed to me. Should I scrap this? I asked. The answer was a resounding no. A fellow artist told me to push through it, see where the process leads me, and learn from it no matter the outcome. I decided to listen to them, but first I needed to walk away from the project entirely.
I couldn’t stare at her, the girl who was supposed to represent me, without a pang of anxiety. I did want to scrap her; but I was also drawn to her. She looked messy, cracked, and flawed. But so was I, at so many points of my life. She was endearing, asking for help, asking me to see through all that streaky noise, where her true beauty waited. So I left her on the table, thinking of her often and wondering if she’d ever come to life.
The next day I visited my art desk again, where she waited patiently. As the streaky mess had dried into rough patches, she had a different look about her. She was still flawed, but those rough spots showed a resilient, thick skin. Where the paper had peeled and shredded while wet, it was now whole and harder. The shadow lines that lined her features seemed more like layers of years lived. The sad smile, the dull look in her eyes, somehow they seemed to reflect a certain wisdom about her, as if she held the entire meaning of life. She was still there, flawed and cracked, but beautiful nonetheless. So I went back to work.
The next few days I worked in several layers. Coating after coating, I watched her transform. She was reddish and dark at first; then she turned a mild yellow with shades of brown; her features kept changing, her chin straightening out; her eyes growing a little more vivid with splashes of gold; her smile turning less sour and more peaceful. I watched her evolve and finally it hit me. She wasn’t always beautiful or wholesome or perfect. She kept changing, molding day by day, doing exactly what was asked of me: give life to the person I was, am, and will always be. I realized that just like my portrait, I am this strong, flawed, solitary, ever changing human being with a story to tell. So she isn’t perfect. That’s what makes her beautiful.
I have learned so much during this process. Perseverance through the dark stages of painting—or life—can show you exactly who you are. Embracing the ugly mess, loving every flaw, not giving up at the first challenge, not only makes you a better artist, but a better human being.
I started not knowing who the girl in the painting was. I thought it wasn’t me, it couldn’t be. I didn’t recognize the features or who she was trying to be. By the end of it, she told me exactly what I needed to know. She is, after all, the person I know best.
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