The canvas was huge. Much bigger than anything I’d worked on before, even in art school. It sat leant against the wall for weeks, and I advanced and retreated, marking things out faintly in pencil, studying its scope. Plucking up my courage.
My paints cracked and wept like broken sores when I opened them. They had gone bad from lack of use. Painting was abandoned, guiltily, mercifully, for another day, and the shadows in my heart lengthened as I tried to remember when I had last picked up a paintbrush.
Back when I danced. Back when nights ended at two in the morning and my dance heels were my prized possession. I carried them in my bag so that I wouldn’t tear the soles up walking them to the venue. They only knew the smooth floors of dance halls, tucked away at the end of each night. Back then, I was cordially invited to join people on the dance floor, hands extended like gentlemen of old. For the duration of the dance, they were fascinated by me, and I would tease them with snapshots of my life. The bohemian. The artiste. I laughed, and shared my dreams like medicine, loving how they splashed people with colour. Filled them with excitement. Courage. Ignited their own desires.
Through the long, golden afternoons I painted, and when the sun went down I danced, and life was full of music and flower pollen and dust motes in the sun. Before I got hurt. Before twisted knees and heartbreak and failure stripped my lustre and made me brittle. Afraid.
I still know the language of the dance, it still sings to me sometimes in the car radio or down the aisles of a supermarket, and makes my heart soar and ache. Approaching the canvas, on the other hand, was like meeting an old friend and discovering they had become a total stranger. The quiet sinking in the stomach, like missing a step on the stairs.
I considered sending the canvas back, declining the commission. But times were lean and the money was good. Fear or not, I needed to eat.
So – new paints, a new day, and no more excuses. I worked the paintbrushes gently into the pigment, feeling them stretch and loosen like tired muscles warming up. I tried to stop my hand trembling as I approached the canvas, seeing in kaleidoscope across my mind all the ways the piece could fail. I would be rejected. Humiliated. Proven a failure and sent home unpaid.
And then the brush was on the canvas. Tentatively, I stepped out into the unknown, sweeping the brush out into the expanse of white – and found myself on familiar ground.
Inch by inch the canvas filled, spreading from the centre like a flower in bloom. Slowly at first, finding my feet again, feeling the rhythm of the sweep of the brush, the turn of my hand. But at every turn there was a new surprise and delight, rediscovering something old anew – the pleasure of a particular brush stroke, the way colours bled into each other, the sweep of a bold line as satisfying as being swept across the floor by a masterful partner. Like sensation seeping into numbed limbs, I felt the pins and needles of excitement, joy, prickle through me. I felt the splash of colour seeping into me.
The day vanished into joy and flow and focus. When I finished, I stepped back from the canvas, my arms aching, and laughed aloud to think of the fear that had weighed on me before I had started. How could I have been so worried? At the end of the day, painting was just like dancing.
Happy #WritingAdvent! The prompt for Day 12 was to write 1-minute bursts from single word prompts. The words I worked with were: Brush, Footwork, Bluntness & Bizarre. Working so quickly I found I mostly ended up writing about my own experiences – my biggest art commission, ny lost love of dancing – and amalgamated them into the final piece above.
Have a go yourself. Pick out some random words and write for one minute on each of them. Be strict with yourself. When you’re done, see if there’s a way you can meld them into a complete piece. And then send me a link to it 😊 Happy writing!