HHave you ever forgotten to buy a birthday present for a loved one? Here’s a tip. Get a card, then draw a picture inside yourself by giving them the gift you intend to buy later. It is a lovely promissory note, impossible to resent. I’m not the best in hands or faces, so the result often looks like demons in hell, throwing themselves at each other, which is not what everyone wants to see on their birthday. Especially when you forget to buy the gift later. To rescue a flawless system, I came to an outdoor painting class to perfect my dark art.
MasterPeace Studios promises to unlock anyone’s inner creativity. To prove it, the managers tell me to choose a personal photograph that I would like to paint. I select a photo of my Amish friend Tom, at a pizza party we recently had. In the picture, he is rolling dough with his graceful fingers, the sunlight hitting his face. It’s extremely photogenic, which I don’t care about. But is it great for painting? Why isn’t there a word for this?
Zena El Farra, my instructor, connects my phone to a light box and projects the photo onto a canvas. It’s a nifty tool that allows me to lightly trace an initial outline in pencil. Next, he shows me how to prime the canvas, that is, wash it with color, using a cellulose sponge. (A plain white background is the reason many hobbyist paintings have a childish look.) I want to make a vivid and unforgettable art, so I stain my work with yolk yellow. There are 15 other beginners in London’s sunny central courtyard, sipping cocktails and chatting quietly. I doubt their work is vivid enough, but they seem to be living proof that painting is good for mental health. (This is an idea that the El Farra founder rigorously tested, leaving a job in finance to focus on the company six months before the closing came, moving to home paint kits when everything closed.) I look at my work. Washing has erased my line and I have already lost my hands. For the sake of stains.
As for me, I don’t think alcohol and paint mix, unless you’re cleaning brushes. I start by drawing a pair of emergency hands. They are pretty good. I show my tablemates, Philly and Mike, that they agree, before going back to their canvases. I later learned that they both have a large following on Instagram, where they sell their art, so they could be described as doorbells. But I dont care. I decide to have a drink after all.
All materials are provided. Five instructors float around, offering guidance. Mixing acrylics on my palette, I point to the scarlet in the pasta sauce, the ocean green in Tom’s eyes. It is difficult to capture its alabaster skin. How is white made? I ask. El Farra looks confused and asks me to repeat. “You are really challenging the idea that there are no bad questions,” he responds. It is true that I am gaining confidence. What does she think of my Kahlo-style effort? “Okay,” he says, referring to the fine arts. Does she understand what she has come across? It begins to realize that I am very, very talented painter.
I return to the original image, checking the mimesis. Height, apron folds, long limbs, cheekbones, healthiness. White face paint looks a bit anemic, so I put more ketchup on it. It is the best feeling, to be among others concentrating, expressing the deepest part of themselves. Opposite, Mike is drawing an eye up close with a delicate, kaleidoscopic color gradation in the iris. Some would say that it is classically beautiful, but it is only one eye. I am doing a whole body.
The Farra dots a giraffe, using a paintbrush to splatter strokes of color. The technique adds spontaneity, vivid feeling, movement. I’m taking some of it. I aim my brush at the portrait with vim, Philly ducks for cover. “Things tend to be more zen than this!” says El Farra. My stippling doesn’t look like hers, the effect is necessarily unique, but it’s perfect. Others gather to assimilate what I have done. El Farra is speechless, perhaps understanding that the student has surpassed the teacher. She should take all the credit – my personal creativity feels unlocked.
“You better stain the whole thing with a red hand,” El Farra advises, laughing strangely. I see what it’s headed for: making pizza is tricky, it’s all about hands, just like painting. It’s a visual joke. I dip my whole hand in paint, a luxurious feel, and run my fingers along the grain. The effect is vivid. “This is why I changed careers,” he finally says, quietly. It’s good to give it that moment.
A week later, in a yurt on the Isle of Wight, I present Amish Tom with his portrait, to commemorate our pizza party and our friendship. It makes a noise I’ve never heard before. Happy birthday, I say, because – turn! – that’s the day it is. There is no need to buy him a card. Now that I am a master painter, I will never be without a gift again.
For whom is this?
“In the confinement, I found myself vacuuming the ceiling. Something needed to change. “Crazy Philly speaks for all of us. Who doesn’t need this?
Points of presumption
High. Gauguin would definitely do it. 4/5
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism