Mar 21

I don’t paint.  This is not to say I can’t paint.  Though I’ve never really tried.  I took a drawing class once at LACMA. Some words I might associate with the class:  ”tedious,” “frustrating”, “i’m a failure.”  The dude would say, “here’s how to draw an eye,” then proceed to draw the most amazing life-like eye.  Then i tried.  Not an eye.  I would have to write “an eye” underneath it so you’d know it was an eye. “Eyes are hard” the dude said.  But so are ears, legs, shoulders, noses, anything really when you’re working in portrait.  My almost-wife-Rebecca’s focus lately has been portrait.  And as she excels at the form, I’m left to wonder if i should even try.  It’s not like I have some great compulsion to be a painter, but as an artist in other disciplines, I’d like to think I could handle a brush, kind of like I’d like to think I can play the guitar.

Sometimes Rebecca will email me photos of six things she’s painted before lunch.  So I leave the painting to her, the way people should leave the comedy to the comedians. And then one day she got stuck.  She only comes to me for an opinion when she knows something’s off. And though I can’t/don’t paint, I can often spot the area that’s sticking her (the blessing and the curse of always having an antagonistic relationship with the work).  In this case, it was the lips.  They didn’t go with the angle of the face.  And not in a Picasso sort of way: more in a ‘the lips don’t work with the face’ sort of way.  And as I stared at the painting, something happened.  I was overwhelmed with a sort of artistic confidence; an all-knowing omnipotent approach to the canvas. And for the first time in this young painter’s life, I knew that I could paint.  And she let me.  She must’ve recognized that often the best way to get past our road blocks is to let someone else drive for a minute. So I picked up a paint brush and I went to work on the lips.  I sat there for probably the most focused 30 minutes of my ADHD riddled life.  Not only did I reshape the lips, but I found a rhythm in the texture, in the pressure and line of the brush, so that the lips weren’t lips at all, but a series of carefully made decisions, all equally necessary to get the lips just as I saw them.  And if that 30 minutes was any indication of the bliss that’s possible in the process of creating, then it’s no wonder you hear so many stories of depressed artists finding salvation in their work.  And when I stood up and stepped back, I had nailed the lips.  Rebecca still didn’t like the painting and has yet to finish it (maybe my lips suck), but for me, it was an astounding occasion: one of those moments you have in your twenties when you’re stoned and have an epiphany and the universe is music and all things are possible.  But now I’m 40, and though I have moments of artistry in my work, I find most of what I do is craft building: it’s skill, it’s practice made visible.  It’s a giant muscle born from repetition and hopefully good taste. But rarely, do I get to paint the lips.

Check Out The Lips

originally posted on Rebecca’s blog, The Art Life.

2 Responses to “PAINTING THE LIPS”

  1. I love how you describe how you painted the lips.

    “found a rhythm in the texture, in the pressure and line of the brush, so that the lips weren’t lips at all, but a series of carefully made decisions”.

    I used to paint in high school and I was pretty good, but I always knew the only reason anything on my canvas ever turned out right was because of my perfectionist tendencies. You word it so beautifully though. It makes me feel nostalgic.

  2. Thank You. Keep painting!

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