Updated: Mar 18, 2022
The “Paint and Sip” class would have been more accurate if labeled, “Copy Someone’s Else’s Painting While You Drink Some Wine.”
Days earlier, I’d been invited by two women friends to take an evening art class at a spiritual retreat center not far from where we were all living in northern Wisconsin. Normally, I would have declined. Driving thirty miles on slippery winter highways in the dark, isn’t my idea of a good time. I’ve never yearned to paint an angel either, but I agreed to join these women because I loved them and thought it would be nice to make a memory together. My motives weren’t all selfless. I wanted to prove to my friends that I was fearless, flexible, and open-minded since they had, at times, accused me of being the opposite.
The fluorescent lit, carpeted classroom consisted of round tables and chairs. The tables were set up as if for a meal, but instead of dishes and silverware, each place setting consisted of a portable paint easel, a small paint brush, a jar of water and a few paper towels. I spotted the wine bottles and stemmed glasses right away. They were set up on a counter in the corner of the room, near a steel sink adorned with a wash rag and bar of soap. Not exactly aesthetically pleasing.
Once all the participants were seated, the instructor pulled out an 18”x 24” painting of an angel and set it on tall easel in front of the class.
“Oh no,” I thought. “THIS is what we are going to be painting?”
Not having read the class description carefully, I’d assumed I would be doing my own interpretation of an angel. The portrait the instructor expected us to paint was that of a smiling, young, pale and pretty woman with long dark hair. Her white robe matched the color of her large, fluffy, angel wings and she held a bouquet of red flowers. The minute I saw her, I knew she had no future hanging on any wall in my house.
I clenched my teeth and as I did, a tiny, Tinker Bell voice inside me whispered, “Barbara, stay open. Remember your friends are watching.”
I sat up straight, flashed a fake smile at my friends and fellow painters and gave the teacher my full attention. She explained how we would paint our angels step-by-step, following her directions. On the table, in front of each of us, the teacher placed six little paper cups, the kind you get at a restaurant for sour cream or ketchup. Each cup contained a different color of acrylic paint: white, blue, yellow, brown, red, green and black.
The instructor said, “Okay everyone. Dip your paintbrush in the blue paint and watch what I do. See how I use soft strokes when I spread the paint with my brush?” My classmates and I nodded and imitated her painting technique like programmed robots.
“Next,” she said, in what sounded like a kindergarten teacher voice, “wipe off your brush, dip it into the yellow paint and add it in the same way you added the blue.” She repeated this step with the white and the black acrylics as well.
Though I did mostly what the teacher had instructed, I couldn’t stop myself from taking a few artistic liberties. I swirled my colors like a child at play and when I was done, my painting looked a bit like Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” minus moons and stars.
“Mm-m, maybe this class is going to turn out okay."
The teacher then explained, “The next step in your project will be to paint the angel on top of the background you just painted.” I resisted. I liked my celestial picture just as it was, but Tinker Bell returned and reminded me to be flexible.
The teacher gave each of us a template of the angel’s outline and said, “Trace this on top of your background using a light touch with your pencil.” I did as I was told, but the lines I traced were hard to see. Not being a particularly patient person, I skipped retracing the angel and slapped two fat strokes of white paint on the canvas, majorly trespassing the outlines.
No gentle whispers arose from my conscience this time. Instead, a different voice inside me said, “Man, Barbara, you really messed up!”
Since there was no way to correct my mistake without ruining my Van Gogh background, I stopped listening to the teacher’s directions and unleashed my frustration with the only weapon I had: my paintbrush.
Ignoring the remaining trace lines, I continued to slap on paint with quick and carefree motion. My moment of fearless ecstasy vanished when I realized that my angel's wings had begun to look like feathery corn shocks.
I looked from side to side to see if anyone had noticed my mistake. My classmates remained focused on their own paintings. For a moment, I felt relief, but the dread of future embarrassment hung over me like a devil waiting to pounce.
Tinker Bell reassured me. “Don’t give up on your angel. Take a deep breath. Forget the others’ angels. This is your angel, not theirs. Look at her more closely.”
Despite her mutilated wings, my angel’s unfinished face and robe were still intact. I leaned in, studied her, looking for something of merit. Her face appeared to be sweet and unassuming and had a translucent quality that seemed a bit ethereal to me. I kind of liked her.
The teacher said we would finish up by painting a small bouquet of flowers for our angel to hold. Though my resistance to following the teacher’s directions had waned, I wanted to protect my angel’s uniqueness. Instead of a bouquet of flowers, I painted a little valentine heart for her to hold.
As my classmates finished their paintings, they began to walk around, sipping their wine, viewing each other’s artistic efforts. I remained at my easel, pretending to be adding finishing touches while I eavesdropped, listening with envy to the various compliments directed toward others’ paintings.
“Oh, how nice…how beautiful...”
“Why, I just love her hair!”
“Your angel is so-o-o pretty!”
My fellow students stared in at my painting in silence although one person, I suppose, attempting to be kind, remarked, “M-m-m, interesting.”
I began to get a headache, but not from drinking wine. I hadn’t had a single drop although it might have helped me relax. Instead, I indulged in a few whines of my own.
“This class is ridiculous! This isn’t true art! Who has the ultimate knowledge regarding what angels look like anyway? Blah, blah, blah…”
Tinker Bell returned. “Barbara, Barbara… listen to yourself.”
I paused and replayed my defensive, inflexible, narrow-minded thoughts. I didn’t like what I heard. I looked around the room at my classmates, my friends. They were smiling, laughing.
I looked down at my imperfect angel. How could I not love her? She and I had a lot in common.
The gift of self-awareness reveals itself in many ways…
Sometimes it is delivered with the help of an angel.