Saturday, November 25, 2006

Yes, But

I don't smoke, don't gamble, hate to lose money and can hardly tolerate hotel food, so what was I doing in Las Vegas? Painting was an excuse to escape our very wet Winter and Spring, so there I was, outdoors, at a time when even outdoor pools are closed in Sin City, with my 10 x 14" Lanaquarelle block and my tiny color box. I walked quite a bit during that sunny morning looking for a spot that would not be too exposed to the cold wind, and that could afford me an interesting view, and I found... the poolside at Caesar's Palace. No one was out there that early, they were inside, eating breakfast at the buffet restaurant. I could see them, but they could not see me. Security checked me out. I saw a couple of managers discreetly take a peek at what I was doing, but I guess I must have passed, because no one spoke to me until I was almost done.

A middle-aged woman approached slowly. "A painter," I thought quickly, as they are the only creatures daring enough to disturb The Artist At Work. I had noticed her husband warning her it wasn't a good idea, then remaining at a prudent distance, least The Artist be in a bad mood that morning. "Watercolor," she diagnosed, and paused for a moment. "Do you paint?" I replied simply. "Yes, but." I stole a quick glance at her hesitation. She had arrived at that critical moment when you are placing the darkest values in deserving spots, and I could not afford to study her expression. "But what?" I shot back, not looking at her this time.

"I'm afraid to paint outside." She looked at her husband for a second, who was gesturing for her to leave me alone. "I am very shy or very lazy, one of those two. I would love to do landscapes, or the streets in my town, but I can't handle strangers judging me." "But you are not judging me right now, are you?" "No, but that's because I know what it must feel like being out here." She turned her head to the statue I was painting.

I asked her how long had she been painting watercolors, and learned she had been doing it for years. She had even gone to art school. Suddenly it hit me. I had been too distracted by the painting. "Did they do critiques in art school? Were you terrified of those?" "Oh I hated them, but I was too young to rebel." She waved for her husband to go inside the hotel without her. "Well, don't you think this is the reason you feel uncomfortable painting in public places?" Long pause, then "Must be, but now it's too late." Why is it that some people believe their life is over as soon as they hit forty? "It's never too late. You need to get out there, but slowly, with much encouragement, and stop being your own worst judge. Some of my paintings are good, some are bad and some are neither. I have had to force myself to stop judging my work, and stop being afraid of what others might say."

We went on to talk about materials, technique, and finally, selling. By then other hotel guests had started to come out to see if the pools were indeed closed, and the loudspeakers had begun blaring a multi-generational mix of hotel fare. My watercolor was finished and my butt hurt from sitting on a rough granite slab for 90 minutes, so we shook hands and she went in to look for her husband.

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