“You draw what you see, not what you think you see.”
This, my mother says, as she takes a sip of her wine and leans in towards her canvas to fix a smudge of paint on the edge of a leaf.
We are at a fun painting class, one where you drink wine, eat cheese and crackers, and listen to a kind voice guide you through a painting of whatever you choose.
This time, we are making water lilies in a beautiful glass vase. I squint at the painting in the front of the room, the example we’re supposed to follow with its perfectly proportioned lily petals and reflections on the glass vase, and cringe.
Up close, my petals looks like little blobs of white, yellow, and blue.
“Not what you think you see,” my mother says again, leaning towards my painting and pointing at a leaf.
I squint again, and see what she’s saying. The leaf I’ve drawn doesn’t exactly exist in the example; I just drew it because I thought it was realistic, thought it would make the lower half of my painting look more like stems in a glass vase then lines of black and white and green.
You draw what you see. Isn’t that the same thing for life? I find myself suddenly lost in thought. I’ve always been one to make my own paintings, to draw myself the life or relationship I want, rather than what I have right in front of me.
I try to smooth the edges and creases, try to make what I have sparkle just a little more, shine just a little brighter, look just a little prettier than blobs of paint on a canvas.
I try to take what I have and make it better, believing that who I am and what I have isn’t quite good enough yet.
And I keep doing this until it completely cripples me.
Until I feel like I’ll never find love, I’ll never be enough, my life will never be as wonderful and put together as someone else’s.
Until I’m sitting in front of a canvas, a glass of wine to my lips, biting back tears because everyone else around me seems to know what they’re doing and I’m just stuck.
I draw what I think I see, rather than what’s there.
I try to fit my life, my heart into a pretty little box, into a flawless drawing rather than leaving it complicated and messy and imperfect—which is what’s truly real.
I try to make things look beautiful rather than authentic and flawed because I don’t yet realize that I’m sitting a little too close.
That my nose is pressed against the canvas, searching for imperfections, when really I could take a step back and see that my painting is beautiful. Just the way it is.
Imperfection is real and raw. And I want that.
I want a painting that’s a little blobby and spotty and messy, but artistic and impressionistic, rather than something that merely hangs on a wall and looks ‘how it’s supposed to.’
I want a life, a lover, an existence that doesn’t always make sense, but is absolutely wonderful because it’s mine.
I take another sip of wine and brush away the stupid green leaf in the corner of my vase. I squint at the example again and try to draw what I see—lines of black and green that are haphazard, blobs of white and yellow and blue that form into petals.
I take a step back and examine my painting. From further back it’s beautiful, messy, real. It’s pointillism. It’s art.
My mother steps back and puts her arm around me.
“That’s much better,” she says. And she’s right.
It is better when I stop trying to be perfect, when I stop trying to make my life into what I think I see rather than what’s really there. When I embrace the real, raw, wonderful, and complicated painting that is me.
That is art, all on its own.