What happened when I tried to give up painting
“I miss painting,” I whispered to Corey. My eyes filled. My heart ached. It was a Friday evening, and I was at a restaurant with my family. Our two young daughters were coloring their paper menus with crayon nubs from a plastic cup. We were waiting for our food to arrive. A couple days earlier, I’d had a planning session with my sister about a website for her landscape paintings. Painting was on my mind.
Since I can remember, I wanted to be an artist. I imagined painting all day in an expansive warehouse-turned-loft surrounded by beautiful industrial decay, canvases, and the scents of linseed oil and turpentine lingering in the air. I wanted art to be my life. But I was told it wasn’t practical because I needed to be able to support myself. Fine art doesn’t pay. It’s not a career. How will you pay the bills? Painting can be a hobby. I nodded, and I kept my fantasy.
But I didn’t want painting to be just a hobby. I didn’t have any role models that made that path appealing. The artists I studied–Cezanne, Dali, Duchamp, Ernst–didn’t paint on the side. Art was what they did all the time. Growing up, I witnessed people that said they wanted to be artists but I didn’t see them making art. They were teachers. Or full-time parents. Or did some other job that paid the bills. They didn’t paint much, if at all. And they didn’t seem happy. I knew I didn’t want that. Painting is much more special to me than an occasional hobby to dabble in when I have a little free time. If I couldn’t live and breathe painting, why bother?
The closest I came to my vision of life as a painter was a few months in New Orleans — that city of magic and old world beauty where creativity sprouts from every mossy crack. I was doing freelance web design work after losing my job at an underfunded tech startup. I was climbing out of a chasm of heartache after a devastating breakup. My schedule was my own. I was alone, and I painted. I unleashed an explosion of creative passion. I lived in an old brick building — dating from the 1800s — in the French Quarter. Stacks of canvases leaned against my apartment walls. My space was dedicated to creating art. For many months I painted origin stories, Mother Earth, beginnings and endings, and the cycle of life and death. I painted from the depths of my soul.
But I couldn’t stay in New Orleans. My painting world was vibrant, but the rest of my life was broken and had no way to mend. I left New Orleans and brought my paint supplies and my visions to Boulder, Colorado, where I healed my body and my broken heart — and paid off my financial debts. For a while, painting was a regular creative outlet. Then it faded into a “sometimes” thing I did when the mood struck me. I found other ways to satisfy my artist’s spirit — writing, designing, building a web team, and starting a family. My life was full, and painting didn’t fit.
Three years ago, I intentionally said goodbye to being a painter at all. I certainly wasn’t a full-time painter, and I couldn’t call it a hobby even if I wanted to. I hadn’t painted in years. I would never be a painter the way I’d dreamed. It hurt, but I didn’t see a way I could paint. I was founder and owner of a digital agency. I had employees. I had children. I had a lot going on and painting wasn’t part of it. I decided to close the painting door. I wrote about saying goodbye to painting. I’d find creative outlets in other ways — like writing and art projects with my kids.
As I made time for these creative outlets my life shifted. Cracks appeared. I wasn’t fulfilled by my company any longer. Now, I’ve closed my company. I have no employees. My kids are in school. I have time to think. What about now? Could I paint now?
“I miss you painting,” Corey replied from across the table at the pub. A tear slid down my cheek. “Do we still have my easel?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “I know exactly where it is.”
We talked more. I reminisced about my old studio. We admired a friend who’d shown his work scorning the art establishment. We laughed at some awkward performance art we recently sat through. Then, I confessed my fears that I couldn’t see how painting could be useful and efficient. I’m so used to running a business, and cramming everything possible into my time to be productive, I didn’t see an outcome for my painting that made sense. I started spinning with rationalizations.
“Hold on.” Corey stopped me. Then, he asked me the questions I pose to my professional clients about their projects. “What’s the goal? Why do you want to paint?”
I sighed. I want to paint because it is part of me. Not because I need to sell my art for income. Not because I need to prove that I’m an artist. Not because I need my work in a gallery to validate I’m good enough. I don’t need any of those things. In fact, seeking those outcomes would discredit the true reason I want to paint.
I want to paint for myself. I need to paint because it is the strongest, truest, deepest passion I have. I have a hole in me without painting. I need to paint because my life is otherwise incomplete. I must paint because it is who I am. I am an artist. I am a painter.