“Paints, brushes, palette knife, canvas panel, solvent . . . paper towels!” I exclaim to myself (or perhaps aloud). Only the cedars lining my driveway know for sure. And, seconds later, with an apple held firmly between my front teeth, I’m heading south on Bainbridge Island en route to the Winslow Art Center. I fight my way around the traffic lined up to catch the 9:40 ferry to Seattle and screech to a halt on Winslow Way, meticulously recording my arrival time. The “Parking Nazi” enjoys his job far too much and I’m not keen on another $50 ticket for going five minutes past my time allotment. And for my next trick, the supplies that took four trips to load into the car will be carefully balanced on my person in an attempt to make it to the Art Center in only one trip. And with the aid of a nimble pinky finger, the toe of my boot and my right hip, it’s up the stairs and in the door.
The smell of oil pigments and coffee permeates the room as I search for a clean spot to stash my gear. From experience, we have learned that all it takes is one minuscule blob of paint to infiltrate your entire being. A smear on your elbow will end up on your face, your bag and sometimes only places your husband will question later. As I wrestle the metal easel into submission and claim my space, I notice that everyone is still wearing coats and hats. Hilary has launched into a lecture about the dangers of space heaters and extension cords. Tannis is standing quietly at her easel, probably wondering what is taking everyone so long to set up. Gigi makes a passively aggressive comment meant to inspire people to put away their own chairs. After a few years of this, I can’t help but smile at her determination. Diana pushes her knit beanie back off her face and makes a not-so-passively aggressive comment about the choice of music. Martha, the owner and operator of the beloved art center, is on her way out the door with a cell phone in one hand and a set of brushes in the other. Who knows if she will be speaking English, French or Italian but what you can be certain of is that she is probably wearing a smear of paint above her left eyebrow (usually ultramarine or cad red). Somehow she manages the balancing act between instructors and students, classes and workshops both at home and abroad.
As I dig tubes of paint out of my bag and squirt the creamy colors onto my palette, I spy the instructor in the corner. He’s sitting on a tall stool with a cup of coffee in his hand, one hiking-boot-clad foot swinging casually. It’s a rare moment when someone isn’t asking him how to mix a certain color or what kind of brushes he uses (amongst other things). I glance up at him while I’m arranging my brushes and conclude that he’s either contemplating some art concept or else where trees get their mass or perhaps the motion of the tectonic plates. Someone forgot their palette paper and wants to borrow a sheet. Joanne is offering intimate advice on the best use of one’s time when the power goes out (which is a regular occurrence on our little island). She answers our shocked looks with a pleased smirk, “What?” She says shrugging her shoulders. “I’m Italian!”
Eventually, the room falls into a quiet hum of creativity. Amidst the concentration, there are quiet conversations. Someone’s daughter is coming to visit next weekend. Another person had to put down a beloved pet. And then it’s silent besides the sound of a brush clanking in a solvent can in time to Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing. As the day wears on, artists stop to stretch sore muscles, to offer advice, or refill coffee cups. One person is pleased with the morning’s toil; another scrapes their canvas cruelly and begins again. Abba’s Dancing Queen pops from the scratchy old iPod and singing and dancing spontaneously breaks out. Perhaps someone has something to celebrate and a champagne cork takes flight. And then it’s time for cleaning brushes and packing up. And it’s, “see you next time” and “nice painting this week” and “I hope your mom gets to feeling better.” And as I trudge to the car with all my gear, feeling tired and dirty and sometimes a little discouraged, I know I’ll be back. For, in spite of the clashes and challenges, this is a place filled with artists – a place charmed with the spirit of creativity, inspiration and kinship.