I must admit that, though my mom died well over a year ago, I haven’t fully dealt with all of her belongings yet. I mean…my sister and I have gone through all that we are aware of, but there were times where certain things got the “to be dealt with more fully later” stamp. One group that got that stamp was all of her art supplies.
Many years ago, my mom shared how she wanted to paint…she felt that she might be decent at it. Given that one of my roles with her was lifelong cheerleader, I took that confession as an opportunity to facilitate that desire. Paints…brushes…an apropos French easel…she had her own personal kickstarter campaign.
Relatively early on in the whole process, she painted a lovely winter scene…and got a lot of positive reinforcement for her work. Everyone who saw it was impressed and complimented her. It should have been a great catalyst to continue exploring her creativity.
But while she did paint some…it was more accurate to describe her as someone who wanted to paint rather than a painter. “Are oils too much work? How about acrylics? Watercolor? Maybe pastels or charcoal?” I would bring home all different mediums for her to try, but many remained untouched. I tried hard to understand what was standing in her way.
Excuse after excuse would always pop up. “If I had that wall shelf installed, then I would be able to set things up like I want…” Shelf installed…no painting. “I just need better lighting…” Special easel light bought…no painting. Even an art class didn’t do more than help her complete the class project. No matter what obstacle was overcome, for the most part, the canvases remained blank.
“Mom…why aren’t you painting?” She never really answered the question. One day I asked her if the blank canvas made it too hard for her to begin? Was it too intimidating and asking for more than she thought she could do? Did she feel like each attempt had to be something “good”? Yes, she admitted. She was putting pressure on herself to do something good…and that pressure was resulting in doing nothing rather than just doing something.
I encouraged her to just…paint. Just put something on the canvas as practice with no pressure to have the outcome be anything at all. Just…paint.
I could empathize with her because I know the blank page of a writer can feel just as daunting. Just…write.
Ultimately and sadly, she let the blank canvases win. There was no amount of cheerleading or facilitating that could make her face whatever it was that kept her from moving from wanting to doing.
Later in her life I brought her coloring books so that she wouldn’t even have to think of the blank page and only choose the colors, but by that time she could no longer concentrate or keep her hand steady enough to stick with it for more than a few minutes. Her window of creativity was closed.
My mom’s choices in her efforts at painting are a metaphor for too many of her life choices, as well. She often chose the road of inertia rather than risk…and that meant she left a whole lot of life unlived that could have been so much more. Empty, missed opportunities instead of beautiful experiences of color and texture and joy. You may think I’m being hard in my assessment here, but trust me…I knew the woman. The metaphor fits.
This past weekend, I went through her art stuff. There were a small number of pieces that she had worked on over the years, but they were far outnumbered by blank canvases.
Stories that were never told.
And so I decided I’m not going to leave them blank.
Though writing is where I feel most at home, I am going to fill those damn canvases.
I don’t know with what or how, and I guarantee the results won’t be pretty…but at least they will indeed be.
The above photo includes all of my mom’s paintings—except for the winter scene that I mention as her initial try.
10 thoughts on “Blank Canvases”
Such a good lesson in so many ways. Absolutely on spot about not letting the build up overwhelm the build out! Just keep swimming…painting…writing 🙂
I love this quote from Danny Kaye: “Life is a blank canvas, and you need to throw all the paint on it you can.” 🙂
Nice job, Sis! Well said! For those of you who may read this comment, my sister is NOT being harsh in her assessment of our mom! 🙂
Lis, if you have any left over canvases, I know someone who could really use them for good! 😉
Lol re Mom backup! 😉 And…my goal is to fill the canvases myself, Sis (unless you want to join in!)…otherwise I’ll let you know.
Lisa … thank you for this reminder not to leave our lives a blank canvas … but to fill the spaces with color and joy … albeit imperfect. This reminder really rings true for me as I embark into the “final quarter” of my life.
Thanks, Karen! Final quarter? That’s a compelling way to phrase it. Makes me think of a football game…where wild things can happen in the 4th quarter!
Yes. A friend of mine coined the phrase ( will be blogging about it soon!) because as I find myself a few years into the 6th decade of my life, I am sobered to recognize I can’t be captain of how much time I have left. And, that recognition inspires some urgency around how I’m going to play out the last quarter because I have less time to squander! I am definitely hoping that some wild and wonderful thing will happen over the next 20 years!! Thank you again for the blank canvas metaphor! 😊
Had to go through my own mom’s belongings after she passed a few years ago, and it is not easy. The few paintings your mom did do would be very precious. As one who is now in my 60’s, there are lessons for myself. Try new things, as daunting as they may be.
Sorry to hear about your mom’s passing, Carl. Thanks for your kind comment.
Thank you, I appreciate this!