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How to Find Your Inner Artist at Any Age

Posted on 
January 29, 2020

Written by Hélèna Katz for Next Avenue

My parents' duplex is like a shrine dedicated to our family's artistic talents. One sister's paintings, sketches and collages decorate the walls. Another's drawing holds a prominent spot in the dining room. A cabinet displays my father's sculptures and my mother's handmade dolls, which are outfitted in 19th-century costumes that she designed and sewed herself.

My home, by contrast, is littered with what looks to be an array of kindergarten art projects. Which sounds kind of cute, except that they weren't made by 5-year-olds. They're all mine.

A tour of my house reveals a host of unfinished, mangled, amateurish attempts at "art," all testaments to my stunning lack of talent, which to me always suggested I might be adopted.

A RUNDOWN OF MY FAILED ARTISTRY

In a moosehide-drum-making workshop four years ago, I needed so much help that when I show people the final product, I feel compelled to give the credit to someone else. The fused-glass workshop was a fun bonding experience with my best friend and her daughter. But the mismatched colors inside my chimes would lead you to conclude the pieces were chosen at random from a bag of hardware-store color swatches. And though the catalog assured me that it was impossible to flunk Basket Weaving 101, my efforts in that workshop were an unmitigated disaster. (I have yet to finish the base.)

My kind husband never said much when I showed him the "fruits" of my labor, and he even hung a sad little mosaic I'd made in our front entranceway. I'm not sure if that's because he genuinely liked the image of our farm or because we're childless and never had the opportunity to display actual kiddie art projects.

In spite of all that, I continued to attend arts and crafts workshops at midlife, searching for my inner artist — and any shred of artistic talent that might link me to my creative family.

A CREATIVE TURNING POINT

One day two years ago, while casually reading a Canadian lifestyle magazine, I came across an article about the award-winning edVentures program in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The month-long summer event features more than 100 crafts and culture workshops, which last from half a day to five days. Determined to find something I might be good at, I signed up for a two-day introductory silk-painting session.

En route, I visited my parents and the "shrine" in Montreal, then boarded a one-hour flight to Fredericton. I was excited and hopeful that the workshop would finally help me to unearth some hidden talent. But I also feared it would wind up being yet another artistic dead end.

The workshop at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design began with instructor Melanie Mitchell demonstrating some classic Japanese Shibori silk painting techniques. Then she explained that we'd be creating designs on white silk scarves, which would be our "canvases."

The methods seemed exotic, yet simpler than what I had imagined. One involved wrapping a scarf around a piece of a pipe, crisscrossing it with string and then painting it. This technique produces white lines wherever the string touches the cloth. Another involved placing small round items, like coins, on a scarf and painting around them to create a pattern of small white circles.

Flipping through Mitchell's collection of painted scarves, I spotted one that looked like an abstract watercolor painting. I asked how she did it, and she said, "I just scrunched it up like this." She picked up a corner of the scarf, twisted it and let it fall back onto the table. Then she grabbed another part of the scarf and did the same thing. I was fascinated — scrunching up pieces of silk seemed like something I could handle.

THE ARTIST AT WORK

I headed back to my table and grabbed a corner of the white scarf stretched out before me, bunched it up and let it slip between my fingers. I grabbed another corner and did the same. I didn't like the shapes the cloth created when it landed, so I flattened the scarf and started over.

After several attempts at scrunching and swirling, I was able to create delicate folds. Carefully, I painted the edges of the cloth purple and applied pink to the tops of the folds. I watched with satisfaction as some of the boysenberry-colored paint dripped unevenly down the sides of the folds and formed wavy lines on the cloth.

A small group of participants had gathered around me, raptly watching. "What an artist," one exclaimed, her eyes glued to me hunched over my emerging masterpiece. A few others wandered over to take pictures. And for the first time in my life, for one fleeting moment, I actually felt like anartiste.

After I got home, I kept unfolding my scarf to admire it. It looked even better than when I'd first painted it. I couldn't wait to wear it in public. I bought a black summer sheath dress to go with the scarf (its simplicity would make the design pop) and wore them to an evening reception.

People admired the accessory and paid me compliments. I was proud to tell them that I had made it myself. I guess I am my parents' daughter after all.

WHERE TO FIND YOUR INNER ARTIST

The sky's the limit when it comes to arts or crafts classes and workshops. Local colleges and artisans, art schools and YMCAs offer one-day sessions, ongoing courses and sometimes private instruction. And art doesn't mean just painting. You can work with wood, clay, glass, jewelry or textiles. Here's a sample of what art schools and studios across the United States can offer:

  • Mosaics and stained glass
  • Glass-blowing
  • Pottery
  • Traditional Native American art
  • Jewelry
  • Woodworking
  • Quilting
  • Photography

Discover More From Falcons Landing

Falcons Landing is home to many artists, writers, musicians and singers providing their talent within the community and throughout the greater community and beyond. We invite you to meet one of our resident songbird couples who spend much of their time on the road and in numerous choirs performing beautiful tunes for large audiences.

Meet Bob and Suellen!

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