“My First Painting” by Cate Maniscalco
Today I’m proud to feature an extended BLOG by my wife, the courageous Cate Maniscalco.
Wednesday morning, the sun shining bright on a warm, beautiful mid-November day, tearing ourselves from one another, I realize the time. Oh my, Rob’s painting class starts in five minutes. No excuses this time, save the fear of being a poser, a groupie or an unglamorous failure. I have heard stories from his former students about how he challenges and encourages them to stretch beyond their limitations, while at the same time harnessing these so-called “limitations” to help them develop their own style.
This didn’t sound relaxing or glamorous to me; it felt hard, like math. Yes, math, that brain cramping physical pain that I experienced at the blackboard of my Junior High School Algebra class. What was really behind my fear of putting oil on canvas anyway? Painting with intention, structure, values, shadows and the dreaded juxtaposition of complimentary hues. Juxtaposition?! Ouch, I felt that cramp! He is my husband, after all. He loves me, no judgement, right? In this five minute calm before who knows what, I decide to just let go, to be the student; to listen and be present.
The setting was open air (en plein air) facing the marsh. What to paint? “Let nature speak to you,” a fellow student suggested, referencing a comforting pointer she had learned from her (our) instructor. Gazing out onto the Ashley river, the sky and the trees, nothing spoke to me. It was then I looked down and recalled my conversation with Rob a few days before about the broken, dilapidated fence that borders the marsh. I’d suggested we toss it into the fire pit but Rob expressed how beautiful he thought it was, decaying so gently and becoming one with nature. How beautiful. The fence was speaking to me loud and clear.
Painting over a dark imprimatur, a previous attempt at painting, I boxed in my target and closed the corners of Rob’s “Magic Window” around the composition that was calling out my name. My depth perception is not the best and the device made it easier to see. So, using my brush to compare angles with the horizon and a plum line, I easily determined the lines of the fence. Some of what was coming out of me was the result of the shear desire to paint, an innate need to say something about what is meaningful to me. But there was a lot to be said about the techniques I was absorbing from watching other students, what I was getting from listening now in class and the insight from observing and admiring my husband while working in his studio. When Rob instructed me now to refine the shapes in the painting, I took his meaning of shapes literally and was incorporating hard edged shapes of triangles, diamonds, crescents, etc. “No, Hon,” he explained so gently. “I was talking about the unique abstract shapes of forms, as revealed by the light and shadow. Did you know no two shapes are alike in all of nature.”
“Ahah,” I said.
Time was passing and I was completely lost. Not lost, as in confused by mathematical complexity. No, it was the good kind of lost, for which we all, as humans in this world long. Letting go of all ego, I surrendered to to the defenseless fence.
The following week I stood at my easel, in the classroom of nature, almost dancing with nervous energy. Very quickly I became lost again in my connection with the world of my painting, the forms and colors dancing in front of me and in the gentle instruction of my amazing teacher/husband. He encouraged me to maintain the shapes I’d discovered the week before as I refined and added more recognizable features. He encouraged me to “cross-pollinate” the paint from one area of the canvas to the next. This was really fun. Finally it felt finished, which meant that it was finished.
This past Christmas, I gifted the painting to my sister Barbara, who last year crafted for me the most incredible tapestry, rug-hooked in wool which she sheered and dyed herself. I enjoyed giving the product of this amazing experience away as I realize the things we hold so dear are only a symbol of the experience we had while making them. The circle of creativity was now complete.
If you like the ideas expressed in these blogs, you probably should get a copy of Point of Art – Second Edition, or download it today. Also, check out The Portrait – a painting video. and The Power of Positive Painting, the original portrait painting video.