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An Introduction to Oil Painting Part II: “Wanna See My Panda?” October 10, 2013

This last week exposed new depths of talent which, to me and my family, were hitherto unknown.  Namely: I painted a panda.  For most artists, this is no great feat.  For me, it was the height of creative achievement… largely because I had no idea that I was painting a panda at the time.

It had begun with my instructor handing me a visual aid containing an abstract grouping of streaks and blotches in varying shades of gray.  The piece, she informed us, was entitled “The Birth of a Planet” and, despite my best attempts, I failed to see anything resembling a planet in the painting.  Still, I’d never painted with oils (or anything else) before, so who was I to question an expert?

I set to work, filling in broad sections of the canvass with the proper paints, working hard not to apply any of them so thickly as to leave a textured look.  According to my teacher, the great artists painted initial vistas exclusively in earth tones, using paints they’d mixed themselves from the local soil, before applying far more expensive colored pigments.

Aside from stops to correct me for holding my brush too close to the canvass (“Stand back from your painting,” was her repeated mantra), to show me how to use turpentine to neatly remove misplaced paint from my picture, and to remind me of the difference between “background” and “details”, it seemed I was doing fine.  So fine, in fact, that she even asked me if I’d ever tried oil painting before!  (I doubt that she really wondered about this, but it flattered my ego just enough to get me past the abstract art which was filling my canvass.)

Once we had finished, she moved between the pictures, examining each one, then instructed us to please turn our artwork onto its side.  “What do you see?” she asked, carefully daubing black eyes, a nose, and an extra ear onto the work of one of the students.

My heart leapt inside me; It was a panda!  I had painted a panda!  (And a pretty cute one too!)  Grabbing a tiny brush, I followed suit, adding in the real details down to the nails on the panda’s toes and the whites of his eyes.

Of course, this was all that my family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and passing strangers heard about all week.  Partly, of course, because I was pleased to discover that my father’s repeated repossession of my crayons had not actually played any role in inhibiting my artistic opportunities and partly because I was so tickled at having actually painted something that looked identifiable.

At the same time, I couldn’t quite get past the lesson to be learned: in life, just as in art class, we can’t always see what we are creating.  The strokes and colors don’t always make sense to us and we aren’t guaranteed to like the half-painted picture on our canvass.  In fact, we may even be tempted to give up in frustration!  But just because we don’t see where we’re headed, doesn’t mean we should lose hope.  If we trust the Master Artist, the end result will be far more than we could ever hope or imagine!  If you want proof, just ask to see my panda!



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