Artsy, at Last

By Diane DeVaughn Stokes

Finger painting: I loved it in kindergarten, even more than lunchtime, and for me, who loves to eat, that’s saying something. And throughout the years, I always felt there was an artist in me trying to burst out, but I never had the time to open the door.

Sadly, I attended a Catholic school that did not offer many courses outside the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic, so I finished all my education, including college, without a single art class, except for art appreciation, the study of the masters. But how can you appreciate the really good stuff until you’ve tried it yourself? It looks so easy. I remember looking at some of the “greats” and saying, “What’s so great about that?” Picasso? Yuck. Certainly, his work looked juvenile and warped in every sense of the word.

Oh yeah, I have been described as “artsy” over the years. I made posters for the football team as a cheerleader, served on the decoration committee for the prom, helped in the design of the yearbook in college, did macramé and decoupage till I was blue in the face, but never lifted a paintbrush.

I’ve crocheted about twelve afghans, made one quilt, done some decent floral designs with fresh cut flowers, stenciled some lilacs on a wall in the loft and created some nifty wall hangings using seashells. And in 1994, while I was home recuperating from my hysterectomy, I designed some of the most gorgeous Easter eggs, blowing out the liquid, covering them with bits of colored tissue paper, egg dye and sparkles. I called them “HysterEGGtomies,” and they still adorn my table every spring. So yes, I am creative. But I never felt “artsy.”

In my career as a TV and Radio Host, I have interviewed thousands of artists, founded the local Arts Council and currently chair the City of Myrtle Beach Cultural Arts Committee. Therefore, the drive to get artsy and paint has become stronger, but other than painting the walls in my home, I still did nothing to pursue it.

In the early eighties, my husband bought me some watercolor paint and brushes, and I admit spending a couple of days “splatting” paint on paper, as I like to say. A dribble here, a dribble there, interesting eclectic designs, but what I realized was that I could not draw – not one bit, nada. Not only had I never had an art class, I had never learned to draw – duh! So, I decided to stick to what I was good at, and spend my spare time writing, eating, talking, cooking, eating, talking, oh did I mention eating? I mean if you are going to spend your free time doing something, you want to feel good about it, right? So the watercolors dried up.

This past December, a fifty percent off coupon to a local art store was calling my name. Calling, nothing; it was screaming like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, so I took a deep breath and headed to the oil painting aisle of the store, as advised by a dear friend of mine who is an artist. He said oils were easier than watercolors. So I bought one of those kits complete with a DVD outlining every single step. It was a Christmas present to me, and what fun I had trying to mimic the video instructor as I painted a tree, a mountain, a stream, clouds and even a boat. I found myself giggling out loud at times and stepping back from the 8×10 canvas to see the magic I had created. Wow, I was finally painting.

I decided that 2012 was going to be my “year of art,” so I signed up, quickly before I backed out, for twelve oil painting classes through the OLLI program at Coastal Carolina University. Wouldn’t you know that everyone in the class, except me, had tons of experience and were all there to brush up on their skills. But I stood tall and tried hard not to let that intimidate me. Danny McLaughlin, our wonderful instructor, together with the other students, encouraged me and supported my basic efforts every step of the way. Danny said you don’t have to be able to draw, you just had to be able to look at a photo and transfer the shapes to your canvas. He then introduced us to some of the tricks of the trade.

My first painting was another mountain scene from a photo my husband took while we visited Ireland. Since mountains were the only things I had ever painted, thanks to the purchased DVD, it gave me a little confidence to paint something familiar. I struggled with every single brush stoke, but soon realized it was just paint, and I could re-paint over it if I did not like it. I began to relax. I started to enjoy it. The bothers and frustrations of the outside world disappeared. I was consumed. And even though it took six classes to finish it, my husband recognized it as that magical place we once experienced on our Ireland vacation. He loved it, and bragged that it was a wonderful first attempt, so I framed it for him to hang in his office.

Serves him right for fibbing!

During the last six sessions, we were told to paint things that we loved, because in doing so, we would produce our very best work. I love my husband, my cats, my nieces and nephews, but I knew that I could never paint their beautiful faces and do any of them justice. I stressed, big time, about what I should paint. I was overwhelmed.

Well, the bottom line is this. I’ll surely never be featured in a museum, and no one will ever want to buy my work, but my bouquet of red tulips and my Caribbean beach scene, complete with a lovely palm tree, both now hang in the kitchen, reminding me how I braved the elements, without fear, to join a class of successful artists. Okay, I’ve got to admit, there was a ton of fear. Let’s edit that to remind me of how I conquered my fear to pursue a passion that was ignited while finger painting fifty-five years ago, realizing it’s never too late.

Finally, I feel “artsy” and proud.

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