Nikos with Glass Bottles
Watercolor on Cold Press Watercolor Paper
I took my first painting class, through an adult education evening program at a local high school, in 1991. I was thirty. The class was so crowded that the instructor only spoke to me personally once over the ten weeks the class was held (he never spoke directly to some people at all!)
Each week the instructor brought a box of cut-up magazine pictures and let us go through them to choose something to paint. Other than that, he was pretty much hands off…no demonstrations and no advice on what to use for paper or pigments or brushes.
I was painting a cherry tree in full bloom when he made one of his rare trips around the room. As I dropped red and pink paint into the cherry blossoms, he stopped behind me. "You paint like an illustrator," he said, and then he moved on.
I was elated. He couldn't have said anything nicer to me.
The women to my left patted my shoulder. "He's just in mean mood," she said. "I like your cherry tree."
"I do too," I said.
"He wasn't complimenting you," she explained
"He didn't mean to," I said.
The woman to my right was still grappling with what the instructor had said to me. He had already returned to the front of the room.
"What's the difference between an illustrator and an artist?" she asked.
"You will learn to recognize the difference," he said. "After you have enough experience."
"Maybe it's the colors you use," the woman on the right whispered to me the next week. "They are awfully bright."
"I'm a child of the sixties," I said. When I was growing up, my mother sewed me clothing with fabric printed with Peter Max designs. I hated the clothes, but that is beside the point.
"I always thought illustrations tell a story," the woman to my left said. "Maybe that's what he meant."
"But you can get a story out of any painting," I said.
"Well, unless it's abstract," said the woman on my right. We snuck glances at the instructor. He hadn't shown us any of his work, so we didn't know where his interests lay.
At the end of the ten weeks, the woman on my left offered to give me her paints. She was done.
I kept painting on my own. I didn't paint well, but I painted often.
After a few years, I signed up for another painting class. This time I lucked out, and ended up with a teacher with solid technical background, Bill Griffith. Just as importantly, a few my fellow students became friends. Over the last few decades we've exchanged knowledge, techniques and feedback.
This painting of my cat Nikos was the first one I put into an art show, in 1993. I was trying to capture how the light shone through the glass bottles. I wasn't successful, but trying made me learn. Nick's nose wasn't that bright pink in real life. I like the painting fine, as it helps me remember Nikos. But I think it would have been a more interesting painting if I had shown what Nick liked to do: knock all those pretty glass bottles straight to the floor...
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