A number of years ago, while attending a college for design, I was faced with a number of challenges both spiritually and with my abilities as an artist. At that time I didn’t have a solid understanding of what identity in Christ means. This became abundantly clear during some of my college courses, such as the life drawing class.
My struggle wasn’t the nude people I was supposed to be drawing, it was my ability. I was so wrapped up in what I could or could not do that I lost focus of what I needed to accomplish. I wasn’t secure in the true foundation of identity. Instead, I gripped onto secondary identities that I longed to master.
I knew the Sunday school answers when referring to who I am in Christ, but that’s where my understanding of identity in Christ ceased. When I came to a place of discomfort, where I needed to let go, I couldn’t. This lack of understanding hindered my ability to let go of what other people thought or of what I thought of myself.
During my college years, I needed a creative way to unwind from assignments. Painting with oils and acrylics captured my heart, though not very gifted in painting I found it to be relaxing and fulfilling. In an effort to expand my love of painting I purchased my first set of watercolor tubes. I sat down at my table to experience what I imagined being an enjoyable and productive event. Wrong.
Watercolors and I went on just two dates and realized we were not made for each other. I love watercolor, but my ability was less than a kindergartener’s. I felt it was best to admire the work of others who have the gift of painting with such an unruly media. I packed away the paints thinking that someday I might try again and turned my attention back to oil and acrylics for momentary escapes from daily tasks.
Two decades later with much life lived between college years and the present I’ve unpacked my identity struggles and my watercolor tubes. I opened the tubes, some had dried so I shook out a few crumbs of paint, added some water with my decrepit brush, and to my surprise they had a little life come back to them. I put brush to paper in no particular direction. The pigment gripped portions of the rough paper as it spread wildly. It was in this moment a bit of dormant life in me took a breath and began to awaken.
I found myself unsure of my next steps; if I would only paint watercolor washes or if something more was to come. I thought about stepping away to protect myself from failing again and pulling out my trusty oils and acrylics, but no, I need to grow in this technique. I need to work through the process to discover what is faulty and where my strengths, if any, exist. It is important that I be still in this and learn all that God has to teach me through watercolor. I need to trust what I’ve learned about what identity in Christ means and not let the fear of failing prevent me from moving forward.
I decided it was time to take a leap and jump in feet first with eyes shut! I acquired a free dresser to use for storage in my studio that was in good shape, but not the look I was after. I painted it with a vibrant flamingo pink chalk paint and then penciled in the rough outline of flowers along the dresser top. I had no idea if I would succeed. My plan was to repaint if it was unappealing to look at. I’ve never painted flowers like this before and past flowers were always a dismal failure. Needless to say, I was not hopeful, but I was determined to try.
Instead of using watercolors to paint I chose a different type of paint that shares similarities with watercolor, but is better suited for this type of project. I began using it with hand-painted wood signs and dirty pours which allowed me to be quite comfortable with how it behaves. Unlike watercolors, this paint is quite forgiving. What is this wonderful paint you ask? Well, it’s not a paint in the traditional sense. It is actually labeled as a gel stain and has the super fun name, Unicorn Spit. Upon completing the flowers I was left with mixed feelings in regard to the outcome, but decided to go ahead and seal the dresser.
A short time after settling the dresser into its new location within my studio I began to scour the internet for watercolor tutorials and supply information. I purchased new brushes, better paper, and high-quality watercolors. Avoiding quality materials will leave you with sub-par results regardless of which media you prefer to use.
With my watercolors and brushes in front of me, it was time to begin. Yikes! I chose to paint a small stem with a few leaves and when that didn’t flounder I moved onto an eye level field of lavender. For this, I loosely followed an online tutorial. Throughout the process, I had moments of frustration where I was certain a muddy mess was going to to be my end result. I chose to keep pushing forward until the painting was completed. I found myself a bit surprised, it wasn’t a mess, it was fairly lovely.
Could it be that I have misjudged watercolors? I joined a few online watercolor groups in hopes of learning from those far more experienced. I found myself taken-back for a moment when reading some rules for one of the groups. One of the rules is that you can not post any paintings from a tutorial. As I dug deeper I found this to be more than a copyright issue, though that is part of it as well.
During my conversations with fellow artists, I found that there are many who view those who use tutorials or online classes as feeble in regard to artistic ability. This is ludicrous and discouraging. Did you notice the quilt in the photo with the dresser? It’s a collage quilt that I made. Yes, I followed a pattern, but that doesn’t make the work any less mine. It’s not any different with the paintings produced by following a class or tutorial.
I momentarily bought into their notions. I allowed myself to wrongly believe that because I needed a class to learn, my paintings were not my own. It was not my work or my effort that produced them. I found myself stepping back into the corner because I was not clutching tightly to the foundation of my identity. I was allowing the expectations of worldviews to attempt to push away the gospel-truths rooted within me.
Feeling as though I’d be forever dependent on tutorials to produce anything that dared to resemble lovely, I set out to rest in imago Dei and discover what ability I may or may not have. I threw caution to the wind and set out to apply what I have learned. My husband was confident I’d do well. We were not in agreement with the expected results. I selected a photo (copyright free) of two connected cherries. I chose them because I like red, my husband likes cherries, and the process to paint them would be similar to what I have learned from a prior tutorial with a pear.
The end result was much different than I anticipated. While I’m certain there is room for improvement I am quite pleased with my cherries. Being able to rest in knowing who I am, instead of what I expect myself to produce allows me to enjoy the struggles and successes throughout the learning process. Had I not participated in the pear tutorial this painting would have come out very differently. Learning is vital for all growth.
I am thankful for those who value education and developing skills and techniques. I am excited to continue moving beyond my insecurities and growing my skills with watercolors through future classes. Whatever abilities I have in any area of my being is only because they are a piece of imago Dei. Resting in the roots of my identity brings much peace.