Copying a Copy

Last week,  I sat down to come up with a simple image for the classes I teach.  One of the perks of working for the organization is that you can submit paintings to their database that any teacher in the company can use to guide classes.  Well, that is, if they like them.

I thought long about what to make—the popular ones are usually stylized nature scenes or sunsets, maybe a still life or flowers, wine glasses, sometimes cityscapes.    I thought back to when I became serious about painting.  I taught myself by setting up still lifes in my parent’s living room.  I tried to paint what I saw the masters had done in museums.

It seemed natural to teach still life to beginners.  I secretly wanted to take actual fruit and ceramics to a class and have them paint from life so that we all didn’t have the same painting but I quickly reminded myself that this is not a traditional art class. This is a fun night out with the girls- at a restaurant- with wine! and painting!!  It is fun,  there’s no judgement- it’s about the experience- as art should be.  It’s about getting your brush wet and being creative. 

It’s hard to shake the intuitive sense I get that people have more talent than they realize and I wish I could challenge them more.  When handed a set of tools and guidance I always see the spark of learning in them.  It’s amazing to watch people create something they never thought they could.  The sense of collective empowerment and accomplishment in the room is refreshing.  So, I set out to create an original still life for them to copy with the intention of encouraging them to: “Yes! please try this at home folks- by building your own real still life!”

So I began to compose a vase and some fruit and flowers on my canvas, and I quickly got discouraged.

This needs to be really good if I actually want to teach people how to paint a copy of my own painting, I thought.  

The same insecurity showed up that I get every single time I make something.  Annoying.   How egotistical of me to have an entire room full of people paint my painting, I thought.  I pushed past the silly voice in my head and continued — but it wasn’t working—I needed help.  The frustration was dense, a good composition eluded me.  So, naturally, I turned to google for answers.   I searched “still life by masters” and started to look through endless gorgeous paintings with exquisite color and composition.  I looked through them, got some  inspiration and started to compose again.  Then the internal dialogue came back —Why would I teach people who wanted to learn painting from my own work when I could teach them from a master painting?  The really old stuff is all in the public domain—it’s fine as long as I don’t try to say I made it.

So, that’s what I did.  I blatantly copied a Van Gogh to teach from.  I wrote down the exact steps of how I built it from a blank canvas to a pretty Van Gogh-esk painting and I feel surprisingly good  about it.  I listened to the voice that stopped me from creating my own thing and I still wonder about my real motives.   I thought I might feel slightly bad about it but I don’t because my justification is so valid.  If I can help put more still lifes with Van Gogh’s colors and composition in the world and show people how they are made as they learn to paint—that can’t be a bad thing.

A tiny part of me  wonders if my justification for copying this master painting is my mind’s creative way of avoiding rejection by not putting my own original work out there.  If no one likes it, I can always remind myself that I didn’t really paint it.   They aren’t really rejecting me– they are rejecting Van Gogh.

Either that or I was just being lazy.  I’m not sure which is worse.   Now I know l have to come up with an original creation for the website just to see if it feels different. . . . . and better. . . .




You don’t suck.

Everyone thinks they suck, and it doesn’t matter.

I teach people who have never or barely painted, and I noticed something. As soon as they pick up the brush, they comment on how bad they are at it. I hear “I suck,” “I’m the worst,” and “I can’t paint,” floating throughout the room —every single time.

It’s universal. I thought about all the times I have this thought.

I tell them “don’t worry, everyone thinks they suck, it doesn’t matter.” It’s universal. I hear the same thing from professional artists all the time. They believe that they suck too sometimes, but they choose to ignore judgment and do it regardless. They are not more talented nor do they think they are better than non-creatives, they just ignore the internal and external critics. The people that make stuff do it regardless because they know the payoff of creativity.

It is worth it.  I see it in the eyes of the people I’ve just guided through a painting each week.  The payoff is the process. Witnessing people get out of their heads and away from stress as they focus on shapes and color while making something each week is my proof. The energy in the room is different. I see a light in their eyes. They don’t care anymore if they suck- they are enjoying the process. They are looking through a different lens.

Last week I happened to catch a Bob Dylan concert, and I thought about whether he ever had these thoughts. I wondered if he ever questioned his talent and I wondered how others reacted to him at the start of his career. He had such an unusual singing voice for his time; he must have gotten some criticism, but he made the music regardless. Imagine if he hadn’t. Imagine if he never created his incredible body work and we all missed out on it.  To create, you must ignore criticism, your own or anyone else’s. It is always there. It does not matter.

The payoff of creating things and putting them in the world is worth more than whatever minor ego bruising that occurs from you or someone else’s opinion of it. The feeling of making stuff alone is worth it. Every successful creative person knows that for every good piece of art, music, writing, dance, business, application software, or sauce, etc. they’ve created, they have also made piles of bad ones. They do it regardless, and you should too because it is worth it. The only way to know this is to start making stuff.

Imagine the world if everyone was creative.  It’s a muscle we all have and the more we use it, the stronger it gets.  Imagine the kind of world we would live in if everyone was creative.


Art is Everywhere. Art is Universal.

A moment of synchronicity came to me in a cab a few days ago.  We were parked at a red light outside of a boutique on 5th avenue and I was silently noticing the store’s window display.  Just your everyday mannequins hanging out in average preppy clothes but amongst them hung puffy cotton clouds from invisible thread.  The clouds were well done, they looked hand made.  Looking at it gave me an ethereal sense of floating.

I began to think about how often people can be on the same wavelength without realizing it having just finished a painting full of clouds myself.  I was thinking clouds too-just like the window display designer had.   I borrowed the idea to paint clouds from Michelangelo’s last judgement.  He was thinking clouds years ago.

PIeople are more connected in their thinking then they would probably like to admit. This is a good thing.  Coincidence is comforting.  Coincidence is everywhere.     

Coincidence is comforting.  Coincidence is everywhere.     

“The perspective in those clouds is way off”, my cab driver says to me out of the blue in that exact moment.   Wow, amazing.  How did he know I was looking at that?   Apparently, the cab driver was on the cloud wavelength too.  I looked deeper at the display.

“You think?”  I replied. “How so?”

“He should’ve put more detail in the front,  and smaller ones in the back— it confuses the eye”,  he said.   He had an accent that I couldn’t quite place.

“Hmmm,”  I studied the cloud window closer.  What an unusual conversation to have with this random middle aged cab driver, I thought to myself.   I probably didn’t have much in common with him culturally or otherwise.  The randomness of the moment delighted me.   

“I see what you’re saying,” I said.  I did see his point, but I didn’t think it mattered for the effect.  “I’m sure it could be better—but that part doesn’t bother me—I think it’s working,”  I said.  “I like it.”

“Yes, it is good,” he said.   “But there will always be criticism,”  he replied in a thick middle eastern accent that somehow made him sound like a wise old Sufi I had probably seen in some obscure old movie or documentary once.  Who is this guy? Weird.  He made an interesting point. 

I told him I had just finished a painting—with clouds in it.  I told him I was inspired by Michelangelo’s last judgement.  He knew the painting.  I showed him a snapshot on my phone of it.  He looked at it—he absorbed it— he could see how I had been inspired.  He didn’t say much else.  He was a critic.  There will always be one.  

I was at my destination and had to get out, and felt deeply saddened that our conversation had to end so abruptly.  I knew I could have had a really interesting discussion about art and probably many other things with this person.

That’s the thing about art, literature, music, etc.  It’s neutral.   We all can absorb it and have opinions and a conversation about it.  It’s a bridge that connects us as humans.

On the surface, it wouldn’t look like I’d have much to talk about with this cab driver but we ended up having an insightful connection.  When I look beneath face value of a person I usually find an unlikely connection.  The common thread is always there.

Creativity is your birthright

Everyone around me has kids or is about to have kids.  The ones that don’t yet seem seriously worried about it.

I’m not concerned about having kids. 

This seems odd.  Society tells me I should be concerned,  but. . . .  I’m not. . . at all.      Why?

Dreaming about motherhood has never been my style.  Figured my maternal instincts would show up some day.   They haven’t.  Why?

When I was little most girls played with dolls and fantasized about being moms but I never did. I hated dolls. I had no desire to take care of a tiny human whatsoever, it didn’t seem that interesting.  I was more content to play with lincoln logs or legos.   I could make stuff out of them, build things.  Dolls just sit there. Tiny humans just sit there, helpless and screaming.  Not for me.

Then college came and went and early adulthood and eventually all the girls started to entertain the idea of having a tiny screaming human of their own.  Even the tomboys like me were getting on the baby boat yet I still couldn’t picture it for myself.   What gives? What is it about having kids that everyone has to do it?  Would I be missing something if I didn’t?  

Ehh, I figured.   My clock will kick in one day.  

It hasn’t. It should have years ago. Why?!? What is it about me that I don’t feel this burning desire to reproduce.   I love kids—they love me—It doesn’t make sense.

I’m not against it, I just don’t think it is that big of a deal.  It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing and I’d probably be good at it but. . . . I’m not dying to.

The human race doesn’t need to procreate for survival anymore. So why do we still do it?

lightbulb.   I realized why I am not obsessed with procreation. 

I create all the time.   I fulfill the urge to create by making stuff.   I believe we all have the internal calling to create things, yet the world we’ve been living in hasn’t always been  encouraging of this.  Having children is one of the most obvious and natural acts of creation that we have on this planet and it’s socially acceptable.  It’s expected.  The calling to create backed by society’s stamp of approval is hard to resist.  Now I get it.

Doing your own thing and making your own stuff hasn’t always been acceptable, yet we all have this desire.  We need encouragement to flex our imaginations and create all kinds of new things, not just people.   Creativity is our birthright.  

 Embrace creativity everywhere.  Let’s start strength training the muscle we all have called imagination.  It’s a natural part of being human.

Somehow, many of us seem to have forgotten about it, but I assure you it is still there.

Think back to the days when you got a dollhouse for Christmas, yet all you wanted to do was play with the cardboard box that it came in– because duh. . .it was obviously a spaceship that could take you to the candy planet. . . . or when you built a fort out of couch cushions. . . I know you did. . . 

Let’s come up with new structures, new models, and new businesses.  Let’s build a new society that encourages creativity.  Let’s build a sustainable future for our tiny screaming humans.

Let’s  build tiny barbie boats out of popsicle sticks– today!!  Barbie and Ken would love a romantic ride in the tub.   I’m serious.  You have to start somewhere.  The possibilities are endless.