As I lift this proverbial pen to write my first blog entry, the blank white format stares back at me in silent, taunting mockery. (Well, it’s silent anyway.) As I begin this challenge, I’m reminded of another time when I felt myself both in dread of and drawn to a challenging task. It all began on the first day of a painting class some time back with a photograph of a small and seemingly simple object. A barn.
The assignment was to choose a photo from the stacks on the table and, over the course of the class, we would complete practical exercises using this same photo each time. I sorted thoughtfully, careful to avoid winding streams, complicated city scenes or, heaven forbid, anything depicting a human form. I thought I had chosen an easy photo with simple shapes and obvious values. Little did I know that this barn would make my life a misery for many weeks to come and leave me scarred by said structure for months. As I tried in vain to complete the assigned exercises, the barn turned away just enough to skew the previously simple perspective . Next, its jaunty roofline lost its geometric balance and the innocent tree that once framed it loomed overhead like a big shapeless blob, destroying the entire composition. Regardless if I drew my palette knife, pen, pencil or brush, it seemed to dodge and parry with me until I stormed from the room in frustration.
My blame fell squarely on the demon barn and I vowed never to attempt one again until an unusually cold and windy day in Cheney, Washington many months later. I had set out optimistically that morning to find something to paint. I looked at the colorful kite-like tents and assorted trailers, the picnic tables sprinkled beneath the black pine trees and then I saw it. Across the highway it stood, looking all charming and sweet. It was almost as if it spoke to me. “Nancy, look what a cute red barn I am! Do you see my precious little white trim and quaint situation in a pastoral, grassy field?” And then it blinked its lashes seductively. (Well, maybe it didn’t do that but it was being very alluring.) The doubts surfaced in my mind, the memories of that impossible barn from my past, how easy it had seemed! I dropped my camp stool and gouache kit to the ground viciously and began setting up to paint. “Listen here, barn, I’m not afraid of you!” (But I really was.)
As I slipped in my ear buds and began mixing my colors, the cold wind and noisy traffic slipped away and it was just me. Just me and the barn. I wasn’t sure what would happen, if it would slap me around again or if we could be friends. I took confidence in the fact that surely I knew more about barns than they knew about artists and that gave me even more courage. Some time later, when I was roused from my quiet battle by my husband peering over my shoulder, I stepped back and looked at my painting (stepping back almost always helps). And then I looked at the barn. And then I looked back at my painting . . . and smiled.