With time looking both more precious due to the pandemic and more endless during the recent lockdown, I decided to take up a new activity: oil painting. It was actually round three for me.
Once upon a time I dabbled with acrylics while studying fine arts. A decade ago I took an oil painting class offered by a local artist who I admired. Pleased with my progress in her eight-week class, I stalled when on my own. At the end of long workdays I just didn’t find the energy or feel the fun.
I know I quit painting because I’m not a natural and I didn’t want to invest in learning after a hard week at work. I wanted a hobby that would transport me, not something difficult. I packed things up and convinced myself that this would be my retirement activity.
So, when we retired in Spain, I made sure to pack my art supplies. Then, three years into retirement I still hadn’t picked up a paintbrush. This was in spite of the fact that when I wrote my annual New Year’s goals, painting was always at the top of the list.
I had a good excuse. I’d stumbled and cried my way through a few downward spirals as a beginning Spanish language learner. While I always got back in the saddle, language study proved taxing enough. I repeatedly shelved painting.
During Spain’s draconian Covid-19 lockdown I needed a new activity. I pulled out the paint box and said, “Painting, it’s your turn.” Because I didn’t remember much of my training, I started by watching YouTube videos. For days. And more days. Then even more, more days.
Something was holding me back. It took another week of quiet meditation to address my fears honestly.
The turning point
I have a little problem. I spent my entire working career trying to meet my internal idea of perfection. I was an obsessive over-achiever. It sucked the energy out of my life.
Retirement has damped my hyperactivity and taught me to take pleasure in long periods of doing absolutely nothing at all. I’m still fussy about practically everything except my passwords and computer files (the only things that Jamie is super fussy about). No room for conflict there!
I pinned all my hopes on the belief that a retired state of mind was all I needed to enjoy paining. It wasn’t.
If I was going to paint during the lockdown, I had to reframe my perfectionism. I had to be willing to crank out junk and be okay with that. I came up with a few good old Ground Rules that worked for me and some version of them might work for those of you who struggle with never being good enough.
My Painting Ground Rules
Rule 1: Don’t worry about outcomes. I can throw it in the trash, paint over it, or never show it to anyone but my cats.
Rule 2: Take all the time needed. There are absolutely no deadlines.
Rule 3: Joy is all that matters. Spend a half hour. If it’s fun…continue. If not, stop.
This approach has given me the freedom to paint. I’ve even produced a jewel or two along with a lot of ”good efforts” and a bit of sheer junk. Furthermore, it has boosted my level of JOY in all my daily activities -- cooking, yoga, Spanish language study, and blog writing. That was a tall order during a lockdown.
What an epiphany. This is how it feels to be free of self-judgment. It’s high time. I’ve finally realized joy is good enough.
Susan writes about the things that make life meaningful for her. This includes places we’ve been and what we’ve experienced as nomads these last several years. And now, includes finding a place to call home.
As we come closer to a “settled” life, Susan will begin to emphasize aging gracefully with a plant based diet, plenty of yoga, and physical activity. She is certified to teach Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga. Adaptive and Senior yoga certification is coming soon.
These are so good. Know the feeling of fear of picking up that paint brush. You should have no fear me not so much. You have a natural talent. You get that from your Mom ❤️
Do you have any of her artwork. I have 3 pictures she painted in 1940. If my kids do not want them I hope to return them to you some day. the pictures were a gift to my Mom and Dad for their wedding. You Grandmother Lucille had her paint them for her or so the story goes ❤️
Thanks for writing, Belinda. I think your talent is extraordinary and love seeing your work when you post it. I do not have any paintings from Mom. I remember only one painting in the house and it was framed and hung next to the China Hutch. I don’t know what happened to it. It’s fun to hear the story of the gift. Please hang on to them. I don’t know when I will be settled down again.
Susan, what a lovely insight you have had about writing. I enjoyed getting to know another side of you.
It’s ironic how you start to get to know someone when they are moving not while here and wished you had done it sooner.
Life is too short to miss those opportunities and I thank you for making it known to me.
I’ll finish that paint by numbers painting, frame it and hang out in the wall.
Your paintings are wonderful. What talent you have.
Thank you for your kind words, Phyllis. If this year taught me anything, it is to take immediate advantage of opportunities. I agree with you. It’s one of the reasons we decided to begin exploring even though being in one place for three years makes it so difficult to leave new friends. I look forward to tracking you and Richard and your future activities.
What lovely paintings! Your post really spoke to me. My husband and I waited out the pandemic in Panama, waiting for the first chance to hightail it here to Valencia, and I was desperate to find some sort of craft to help me de-stress. I resorted to adult coloring books for lack of choice or availability, but as soon as we arrived in Spain at the end of July, I began to research where I could get my hands on embroidery materials. I am rediscovering the art of embroidery some 50 years later, and the minute I complete a piece, I’m anxious to start another. Your rules are so spot on! I am doing this for me, mistakes are okay, and I’ve ripped out a few attempts to begin again. Joy is enough! By the way, after reading about the Jardines del Real on your blog, we have enjoyed visiting the park a number of times, and last week I finished an embroidery of the giant Jacaranda tree with the umbrellas underneath.
Kim, you are a woman after my own heart. I am delighted to read about how you de-stressed and awakened your creativity. Welcome to Valencia. We are embarking this week on a move to Andalucia so our paths may not cross. But, you never know. Please stay in touch via the blog. I know we will have much to write about in our new location.
Susan! Your paintings are wonderful. I too used to paint when I was younger. Some oil but I enjoyed pastel pencils the most. No drying time I think was the biggest draw. If you haven’t tried them, you should give it a shot. My paintings were mostly of wildlife. I love that you are painting your pets. I love your advice as well! Maybe I’ll give it a go again.
Well, fellow retiree, you’ve been doing some art. Larger art – redecorating. I always thought I would like to be a landscape painter but the landscapes I painted were true junk. I did better with the pets and still lifes. We have to leave the paints behind and so are traveling light with oil pastels (I’ve never used them), colored pencils, and regular pencils. And a couple of really good e-books on drawing. Should be fun.
What a nice post for me to wake up to, this morning. I must say, you have a wee bit of talent, especially capturing personalities. You must have been painting for years in your dreams. Love the one with sweet Lizzie. I am curious how many paintings you “discarded”? Love that you are channeling energy into something beautiful. Thinking of you. ♥
Thank you, Shirley. I probably discarded 2/3 of the paintings. But, due to my ground rules, it didn’t bother me in the least. I just let them dry, sanded them down, gesso’d over, and started again. I had the most fun painting Lizzie and the boys so I think that’s why they were successful. Thinking of you too!