Life by Numbers: A Lesson in Art

Learning happens when you least expect it.

There are very few people who know that one of my favourite pastimes and ways to decompress mentally is to pick up a brush and paint. And when I say paint, I mean acrylic paint on a canvas, not to be confused with builders beige on drywall. I’ll be honest though, I don’t consider myself a great artist with a brush – in fact, I’m still learning and I still have a lot of practice in my future. However, neither am I discounting the fact that I do have some small shred of talent and skill.
I want you to understand, I am an amateur who loves what he does.

However, as happens with many things in life, I was starting to feel a little static; like my skill wasn’t progressing or maybe I was just bored with the paintings I had recently finished. I can’t really remember how I got there actually, but I do remember pressing the purchase button on the Amazon marketplace for an adult paint-by-numbers kit; a simple impulse purchase I thought would keep me occupied while I tried to figure out what my next project would be. A time filler – nothing more. Or so I thought.

Lesson 1: Do not underestimate anything until you’ve experienced it.

After pulling the canvas out of the package, I realized that I may have made a small error in judgment. Everything was carefully labeled with all of the numbers corresponding to the 21 individual pots of colourful paint, but there was must have been well over a thousand individual spots to paint, ranging anywhere from huge sections to tiny little bubbles. Regardless, I mustered my courage and began what would inevitably end up being more than just a little side project. I’ll admit, I was impressed by the scope of what laid ahead.

Lesson 2: Sometimes the smallest amount is enough!

One of the first things I noticed when I pulled everything out the package, was just how small the pots of paint were. I remember thinking to myself that this couldn’t possibly be enough the finish the 16″ x 20″ canvas I was working on. How wrong I was! As I finished each individual colour, I started to realize that I ended up using only about half of each pot. Thinking about my own practice, I started to think that I was most likely putting too much paint on my palette.

Lesson 3: We are far too hard on ourselves.

I wasn’t happy with the way some of the painting had turned out. Some of the colours were far too translucent, while others didn’t seem very different from one another. Only 6 colours in and I was ready to call it quits! I began to get grumpy about the whole thing; there was a lot of swearing involved and possibly telling myself that I would write an angry letter to the manufacturer. I blamed myself. If others had managed to do it, why couldn’t I? Then I remember a friend once told me to “trust the process.” With renewed faith in what I was doing, I continued to work on the piece.

Lesson 4: Things don’t always work out the way you think they will.

As I continued to paint, I ran into a lot of difficulty with certain areas and colours. The biggest issue I ran into was that two of the pots of paint had dried out entirely. This hurdle left me in a position where I could either contact the seller for replacements or forge ahead and try to fix the problem on my own. Being stubborn, I chose the latter. I slowly mixed water back into the dried out pucks, reconstituting them over a period of 24 painstaking hours to the point where they were useable. Although it took a few extra coats of paint, I made it work and the project continued.

Lesson 5: Some things take time, and that’s ok!

When I started this project, I thought it would only take me a few weeks to complete. I will admit, I didn’t work on it as often as I could have, but I will tell you it took a lot longer than I had originally thought. From start to finish, the process took me almost 3 and 1/2 months to complete. I could have stopped. I could have moved on to something else. I could have half-assed it. But I didn’t. I was going to finish it and I was going to give it my proper attention. I was patient with myself. I had to believe it would be worth it in the end.

Lesson 6: This piece of art is ultimately yours and yours alone.

By the time I finished, I had something that resembled what was advertised when I bought it but it wasn’t 100% exactly the same. Oddly enough, after all the effort I went through to finish it, I was extremely happy with what I had made. True – it didn’t fully look like the picture on the website. But that’s what was so great about it. Even with the knowledge that there are multiple copies of this painting, this one was mine. There was no other like it. The brush strokes, the mistakes, the pieces of brush bristle that got stuck in the paint. This was all me. This was evidence of the time, frustration and care I put into the canvas. I was proud of it!

So what can an artist learn from a paint-by-numbers kit? Everybody may have a different answer.

Me?

How to live.

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