“I still don’t understand proper techniques like underpainting, layering or glazing. But I understand the way white oil paint always smells a little like buttered popcorn and red is slippery and thin and brand new brushes get messy faster than I’d like to admit.”
But I joke that I’m not really an artist. At least, not in the way other members of my family are. Don’t get me wrong, I’m handy with a paintbrush and I can wield a mean crafting knife. But my skills can be mostly attributed to a steady hand and an unabashedly wild imagination.
It’s just that I’m not terribly emotional about the pieces I create.
I meet artists who FEEL SO MUCH in their art. They have brush-strokes of sorrow crossing lines of excitement and dripping with their own sins and celebrations. Their gift comes from a place deep deep in their gut.
But my art just jumps from my fingertips all willy-nilly. It’s not deep. It’s not painful. It’s just some smooshes of paint filling in a rough canvas.
And when I’m done, I’m done. No tears. No feelings.
I’ve always had this idea that artists are something … something more.
My older brother could write a four-movement symphony—every part, every instrument. Each sound, a piece to a grand tale—probably about humanity and suffering and Christ’s redemption.
My younger brother could paint something vibrant and wild and confusing and as I’m blinking back at it, he’ll explain that it represents conflict and heartbreak or something like that.
Meanwhile, looking at some mess I dumped onto a canvas, a friend asks, “Sarah, what were you feeling when you painted this?”
And in snarky-Sarah-style I respond, “See the rain there?”
“It was raining that day.” I inform them.
“Why did you make the umbrella red?” they prod.
“I had red paint.” I reply.
You see, I’m not deep. Not in that way. If you want me to paint a peacock feather, I’ll paint a peacock feather. I don’t feel imperialism or tragedy or royalty. I feel paint swishing between my fingertips and mineral spirits wafting toward my nostrils. I feel accomplished when it is finished and bummed when I get paint on my new jeans.
But the art? I don’t know how to feel that.
I don’t even know how to paint. I mean, I can do it (sort of). But I don’t know how. I never took a class and I don’t understand formal technique.
I tend toward the practical more often than the spiritual, but can I tell you a secret?
I can almost guarantee my creativity is a God-infused gift. I was always—as far back as I can remember—creative, innovative, clever. But I stumbled into artistry in a time when I really needed my life to be something more.
I lived alone in a one-room brick house in New Orleans and I was lonely and the place was quiet. I poured my life out every day into construction sites and outreach in the housing projects and came home tired of giving so much of me.
Then I started to paint. Images I never thought I’d create spilled out all over the place. Lilies and doves and saxophone players. A couple dancing, a woman’s hair, an African tree.
What I discovered was that I couldn’t paint when I wanted something to hoard for myself. It didn’t work that way. The things I wanted to paint for me came out looking like preschool art. But when I just let myself paint what came up in the moment, then it worked. And at the last stroke I always knew, this one isn’t for me.
I only own one piece of my own art. The rest have each been given away to its rightful owner.
And I still don’t understand proper techniques like underpainting, layering or glazing. But I understand the way white oil paint always smells a little like buttered popcorn and red is slippery and thin and brand new brushes get messy faster than I’d like to admit.
I’m not the best. I’m not even great. But when I paint, my heart is peaceful.
Maybe that’s what God had in mind for me in the first place.