My friends remind me of who I really am

betty ming liu Art, Inspiration, Relationships 11 Comments

I need to paint again. Although the feeling’s been there for a long time, it was easy to ignore because I’ve been insanely busy with other priorities. But that was before having dinner the other night with two artist friends I used to paint with on a weekly basis. They made me realize that my easel has to be hauled out of storage very soon.

The trick now is figuring out how to get painting back in my life. For a few years, I was doing it every Friday, all day, in a class run by Karen O’Neil and also attended by the artist Jean Chemay.

The other evening was my first time seeing them both in 14 months. Over sushi, I explained that I’ve been caught up with work and running my household. Plus, my kid’s a high school senior applying to colleges. The last time I picked up a paint brush was when I was in the studio with Karen and Jean at the end of 2011. Hearing this, they looked so shocked that I was suddenly stunned too. Gee, has it really been that long???!

That’s the thing about friends. They see you go through stuff. They remember the specific highs and the lows. They knew you when. They make you face yourself. Thankfully, they also offer solutions.

Now I’m inspired to actually paint again. Not like before, given my schedule. But I’ll admit it: I’ve missed the ritual of laying out my palette, squeezing out tubes of rich oils in the most eye-popping colors and going at a blank white canvas with my brush and palette knife…

At the very least, Jean said, I need to come to her backyard when the weather warms up so that we can paint together.  Sounds like a plan.   :)

On the bright side, even though she and I hadn’t seen each other, she has still been with me in the form of a painting she made back when we were both in the studio. One day, while I was wrapped up in doing my own thing, Jean dashed off a little portrait of me without me realizing it.

I had to have it! In exchange, I traded her one of my mug paintings, very similar to the piece here:

For the past year, the two works have sat side by side on my kitchen book shelf. Thanks to their togetherness, Jean has still been with me every single day. With my coffee mug piece hanging in her house, she’s been saying a daily hello to me too.

Going forward, I’m excited about the possibilities. Coming back to anything after a haitus is always a rich experience because it bookends all the growth that has gone on in between. That was true for me in 2012 on the journalism front, went I went back to full-time reporting after a 16-year break.

It’s been fascinating to adapt my old school newspapering skills to the lightening-paced online world of digital news. By the way, being a painter has helped me in the visually-driven new journalism because I’m pretty good with taking photos and video. And since making art is highly intuitive, knowing my way around a brush has probably helped my interviewing techniques as I pace conversations with people.

Now, I can’t wait to fold some actually painting activity into the mix. As Karen used to say in her painting classes, whether we’re talking journalism or art, it’s all about the enduring challenge of communicating a message clearly. Given that context, I’m sure that my updated journalism skills will surely help my painting because I’ve sharpened my ability to strip down storytelling to its modern-day essence. Hmmm.

Getting to this new adventure is just the latest example of why I need the support network provided by good friends. The people who really care about me are touchstones, sounding boards, kindred spirits, anchors and mirrors that keep me from losing myself. Hearing about their lives always jolts me into thinking about other possibilities.

Soooo, I hope you’ll also send me some good energy as I make room to reunite with yet another piece of myself. Anything can happen — and probably will.


Comments 11

  1. After all the intensity you put into it back then, I was wondering if you were missing painting. Glad to hear you are coming back to it.

  2. Betty: I am certain everyone who reads your blog will agree that your paintings have brightened our days in the past and we look forward to them doing so in future. Also, painting is a great way to occasionally slow down and stay grounded when one is part of “lightening-paced online world of digital news.”

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    Amantha, as one of your subscribers, I love getting the notices about your art shows. Thanks for keeping me going this past year — and now, with the new burst of energy you’re sending my way!

    Gerry, miss you too! I recently found a book at the library called “One Drawing a Day” by Veronica Lawlor that’s filled with unfussy exercises to get the pulse going — watercolor, pencils, graphite and ink pens. It might be a low-pressure way to get started. Thanks for the encouragement!

    Karen, you’re the one who has kept all of us going. You are the inspiration and the rallier of the troops. xo

    Toby, it means a lot to me to hear you that nice things about my paintings. Honestly, the journalism experiences of the past year will add something, not sure what. But will keep you posted. :)

  4. On-off, up-down. That’s the way it all works. Yin yang.
    So glad to hear you are painting again. If you’re like me, the more you broadcast the greater chance at sticking to it! Blogging is mega-broadcasting!
    I love Jean’s painting of you – what a great treasure. And you get to literally SEE yourself as a painter everyday. That’s awesome inspiration! Have fun!

  5. What a delightful post! It was so great to see you. The painting bond is such an enriching feeling. That painting of you now looks tragically unfinished to me, though. You best not let me in your house!
    I’m going to pester you for some Sunday sessions. And there might be some opportunities at the Ossining Arts Council, who are trying to put together some workshops in their firehouse space. I’ll keep you in mind.

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    Dorothy, it’s so funny but when Jean used to tell me that the loved painting people, I didn’t get it. But as you and Karen say, the ability to see myself every single day captured in a painting….what a powerful, soothing gift. No wonder commissioned portraits of rich people were so important to the evolving early days that led to modern painting.

    And Jean, DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH MY ORIGINAL JEAN CHEMAY PAINTING!!! Haha. Yes, would love to hear about upcoming opportunities to paint. So nice to hear from you all. xo

  7. Betty,
    I’m excited to read you spent the afternoon – or whatever – with Karen and Jean. I can hear the delightful sound of your voices in my mind’s ear. Yes, it is time for you to open your paint box and slap it on nice and thick. The world needs more of what you create out of paint and canvas.
    What do you think about getting an Artist Date together with your wonderful readers (Karen, Jean, Gerry, Tatyana, …) to go to an opening or museum somewhere local or in the city? That would get the juices flowing! :)

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    Carrie! Thank you for the encouragement. An Artist Date would be great — if you could stand to do the organizing. I would opt for local because it would mean one less logistical hurdle it’s entirely up to you. Would also love to see your latest work. So glad you’re still painting! xo

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