I gave up on painting when I was thirteen.
I used to have an active interest in art, and I was prepping for a drawing exam in 2002. The Intermediate Grade examination was introduced in 1880 and the idea behind the examination was to encourage young kids to develop an interest in the arts. Amazing!
However, I grew up in a middle-class family in Mumbai. There was always “implied” pressure to do well academically and ace every examination.
So naturally in my mind like every other examination, this one too had very black & white outcomes. If I did well in this exam, I know my shit and if I don’t, I’m shit. It was an exam spanning two days and had six categories: still life, nature drawing, memory drawing, design, freehand, and geometry. And each of them was timed between 2-3 hours.
Usually, one would want to paint to get away from the stresses of life and just have fun. To use the canvas as a playground to experiment freely without constraints. But here I was appearing for a timed exam with a definitive letter grade with 200000 other people.
It was the perfect setting to crush this hobby.
It was day two and I had finished four of the categories. I didn’t feel great about the previous tests, but the worst was yet to come. The design section had a Mondrian-style test. We were given a list of shapes and you would have to compose your painting with those shapes within 2 hours.
I managed to come up with a design that was reasonable, but I noticed that I had used up most of my time in designing and only had 45 minutes to finish painting.
With 10 minutes to go, I still had to finish 40% of the painting. So, I made a judgment call and poured the paints on the paper right out of the bottle and watched the horror unfold. (Ironically, I have been experimenting a lot with fluid pours recently)
I was so certain that a glorious F awaits me, that I didn’t even bother looking at the results when they eventually came out. RIP painting hobby!
In 2019 It had been 2 years since I had been diagnosed with Systemic Lupus.
All those years of self-hate had manifested into an autoimmune disease where my own immune system was trying to kill me. Even the medication I was using to treat it (hydroxychloroquine) started to have some serious side effects like brain fog, anxiety, depression, etc.
So, I signed up for a Rapid Recovery program called Goodbye Lupus with an emphasis on healing through nutrition and overall wellbeing. It was a 6-week hyper nourishment program, where I was on a raw plant-based diet. I was downing close to 3 litres of green smoothies every day containing at least a pound of power greens (spinach, kale, and chard). Fun fact: in 2019, I consumed twice my body weight in green leafy vegetables.
Another important facet of the program was self-care. Carving out time every day doing things that enrich you.
In the first couple of weeks, I meditated every day, spent time reading, I even went for a pedicure with my ex. It was glorious! In week three, I noticed that one of the group members was using painting for self-care. I wanted to give it a shot as well. Initially, I faced a lot of resistance. I’m not a painter. I failed that exam almost 20 years ago. Also, my ex was an amazing artist so there was a lot of impostor syndrome.
Finally, I decided that I’m just doing this for its therapeutic value. I am detaching from the result. I gave myself permission to create junk.
Most creators probably wouldn’t want to show you their starter work which is why I’m in this unique position where I am tempted to show you what I painted after all these years. Here goes nothing:
My ex’s birthday was coming up and I had planned a trip to crater lake one of the most beautiful places one can ever witness. It was a surprise, but I wanted to drop a subtle hint to keep her interested. I painted an abstract rendition of Crater Lake in 10 minutes.
SPOILER ALERT: She couldn’t guess where we were going from this painting. Phew!
Sure, I didn’t create a masterpiece, but I did experience 10 minutes of pure bliss from a part of me that I had abandoned 17 years ago.