The Gift of a Good Friend
A little over a year ago, my dear friend and talented artist, Donna Tuten graciously invited me to paint at her art studio at 202 Market Square in Downtown Roanoke, Virginia. She suggested that I bring a photograph of a painting I admired, and she’d give me a mini art lesson. We would also have lunch and visit. It sounded like a fun day! So, I brought a picture of a bucolic painting by Lynne Wilkinson, an English artist from the Cotswolds. Donna and I each painted our versions of the original painting as an educational exercise with Donna explaining color mixing and various techniques. During the day, various people, including other artists stopped by to visit and chat. When afternoon arrived, we took a break for a late lunch and some wine. The day flew by, and by the end, I’d completed my painting…which appeared to be
wine-goggled somewhat impressionistic in style. 😉
Anyway, it was a great experience and a fun way to spend a day. I thanked Donna and told her how much I enjoyed it. She suggested that I think about taking private art lessons from a former teacher of hers, Mrs. W., a retired art teacher who lives in my area. Donna gave me Mrs. W.’s phone number and encouraged me to call her. I took the card and tucked it into my purse. Months went by, and although I thought about it, I didn’t call. I felt embarrassed to take a class for something I wasn’t sure I could do. I didn’t want to waste Mrs. W.’s time.
In January of this year, I stopped by to visit Donna at her art studio, and the topic of taking art lessons came up once more. I explained to her that I was a bit intimidated by the art class. Donna was very kind and generously pointed out why she thought I’d be okay and probably do fine with the class. She strongly encouraged me to “just try it.” Donna went on to share what a wonderful and patient teacher Mrs. W. is and how much I would learn from her. Once again, Donna encouraged me to make the call.
A couple of weeks went by, and Farmguy asked if I’d called “that lady” yet about art lessons. The answer was…not yet. I kept thinking about it, and finally, one day, I just picked up the phone and dialed her number. When Mrs. W. answered, I introduced myself and explained that I’d been referred by one of her former students, Donna Tuten. Mrs. W. immediately recognized Donna’s name and remembered her as a very gifted student, and now, a professional artist. I agreed that Donna’s an exceptional artist who paints beautifully; however, I had an overwhelming need to warn Mrs. W. that I wasn’t a Donna Tuten in training. What I really wanted to say was, “Yeah, don’t get too excited about me, because I’ve only completed one painting in my whole life. Also, I haven’t had an art class since 8th grade; and, the only thing I vaguely remember from that class is a color wheel and something about ROY G BIV. I really don’t know what I’m doing.” But, I controlled my anxiety and didn’t say all that I was thinking. I just shared that I had little experience and would benefit from some very basic art instruction. Mrs. W.’s voice was warm and reassuring as she encouraged me not to worry, saying she could teach anybody to paint. Mrs. W. went on to say that she mainly taught group art classes with 3 or 4 people, offered Monday and Tuesday evenings 6:30-8:30 for $25.oo. She explained that she gets everyone started, and then they work independently with her giving feedback as needed. I swallowed hard at the idea of painting independently in a class with others (others who could actually paint). But, I agreed to Monday evenings. Before we said goodbye, I asked if she would like some fresh, farm eggs as I raised chickens and had extra eggs to share. Mrs. W. thought that sounded wonderful and suggested that we barter eggs for art lessons. I knew then that I was going to like her.
One of my first assignments was creating an “inspiration notebook” of images and artwork—ideas for future paintings. First, I chose some artwork by an English artist, Lynne Wilkinson. I love her art for its loose, informal brush strokes that evoke a sense of movement and freedom as well as her use of vibrant colors. I also included a copy of one of a series of Monet’s Water Lilies that I tore from the The Lady magazine. And, I added a few country landscape images that appealed to me.
So, with a dozen eggs, inspiration notebook, and painting supplies in hand, I headed off to my first official art class in years. I decided to start with a landscape painting complete with sky, trees, a barn, and a meadow. After my first class, I was off to a decent start. I had a base coat of paint on my canvas; sectioned my canvas into foreground, mid-ground, and background; painted sky and clouds, outlined and made a good start on the trees, and started on the meadow. I was nowhere near finished, but at least it resembled the actual painting. When I got home, Farmguy was supportive and encouraging of my art class endeavor. I worked on my painting over the next week and completed it by the next class. Mrs. W. was very kind about my efforts and pointed out some modifications to the painting: change the perspective on the barn roof a bit, vary the tree line, add some trees, and increase the meadow space around the barn. I worked independently during class, and at the end, Mrs. W. thought it was complete. I felt somewhat surprised and a bit relieved about my painting, especially since it kind of resembled the original. 🙂
My next assignment was to paint a famous work of art upside down. Mrs. W. explained that this was a valuable lesson as it encourages the painter to look at color and light and not rely on the structure and form of the image. So, I leafed through my inspiration notebook. The only famous work of art I had was of a painting in Monet’s series of Water Lilies. Mrs. W. thought that would work fine, and with 15 minutes left of class, I got started. Looking at the picture upside down, I felt daunted. I wondered if I’d just gotten lucky with the first painting. Then I thought…. this is going to be hard.
I went home and worked on my painting over the next few days. It was weird painting upside down as it looked abstract; however, when I finished and turned it around, I couldn’t believe it. All of those bits of pink, green, white, and yellow paint had come together into something I recognized. I was so surprised. When I arrived at class with my painting, Mrs. W. gave me positive input and didn’t have any suggestions for improvement. So, I started on my next painting, a favorite by Lynne Wilkinson—a fabulous rooster with groovy brush strokes and beautiful color. I couldn’t wait to get started.
Here’s the thing: You just never know about something until you really try. I am so very lucky to have a dear friend like Donna Tuten. She opened a window into my world that I didn’t even know existed. Not only is Donna kind, generous, talented, gracious, and humble; but, she’s also one of the most authentic people I know. When I was having a hard time believing in myself…..she did. When I dropped the ball on the art lessons, she picked it up and handed it back to me, encouraging me in that nice, but “don’t be a chicken s#!t, Tonya” kind of way. Because of Donna’s friendship and encouragement, I’ve discovered something new about myself and a hobby that I love—a beautiful gift, indeed. But, the best gift, of course, is my friend, Donna.
Here is what I’ve painted so far…..
Please check-out this post about Donna Tuten and her lovely artwork. Thanks!