A few years ago, I spent some time writing out 100 things I would like to do in my life. The idea was popularised by Laura Vanderkam in her book What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast and based on an exercise developed by Caroline Ceniza-Levine.
The short version: write down all the things you really want to do – absolutely all of them, from ‘write a poem’ to ‘win the Nobel Prize in Literature’ – then start doing them! You’ll find that some are much easier than you thought, either practically simple or inexpensive and that by starting with the smaller items, you might change your mind about bigger plans.
Despite my good intentions, my list remained just a list, sat on my website and a word document on my computer. I had a turbulent two years pass me by faster than I realised until I felt in a strong enough position to start looking forward again.
One of the few dreams from my original list I have achieved since publishing it was to paint a landscape. Last year I took two classes on landscape painting in acrylics and over the course of a few weeks each time produced my first two paintings
As with everything I’ve ever written, I swing smoothly and reliable as a pendulum between pride and embarrassment at them. Catch me in the right mood and the right distance from them and I think they came out well, especially for my first attempts at painting. You can tell what they are meant to be. Perhaps if you’d been there, you’d even recognise the settings.
As the clock ticks though, my perception changes. I see the rough attempts and want to hide them away. The buildings lack detail, the sheep are just swirls of the wrong colour. I looked at those in the class around me and saw incredible detail and skill on the easels. I need a calendar not a clock to measure the distance behind them I feel.
Despite that jealousy, it was the people that I most enjoyed from my lessons. All had been painting for years, many of them decades, so their constant encouragement kept me going on the weeks when I had spent two hours making my riverbanks worse.
They weren’t the people I had expected to meet. As well as aiming to tick something off my 100 dreams list, I wanted to find new people in my life. Being very quiet for a few years meant I hadn’t kept in good contact with the small group of friends I had and outside of work I didn’t have anything of a social life. I thought that an evening class from WEA, billed as an introduction to acrylics would appeal to people a lot like me, leading busy lives and wanting a way to make a few friends and learn something after work for one evening a week.
I arrived at my first lesson a little anxious and unsure of where to go, a woman I’d guess in her 60s pointed me in the right direction. I walked down a high school corridor, glancing at the displays stuck to the walls and feeling nostalgic for somewhere I’d never been. About five classrooms down I could see a light on and a little laugher echoed towards me. A man came out and walked past me with an empty ice cream tub (off to get water I’d later learn). Entering the room, I met my classmates for the next eight weeks. Not a person within twenty years of me and more than a few more like forty away. I was welcomed immediately by Joan who asked my name and told me where to sit, soon Joe the artist handed me a course leaflet and asked me about my experience. Both were surprised to hear I’d never painted before and had next to no equipment.
I checked that I was in the right class as the website had said in the first lessons I’d learn about the right kind of paints and kit to buy. I was in the right room, there just hadn’t been a new student for a while. They all knew each other, all signed up to the next term after the last to paint together year after year by the sounds of it. It couldn’t have been a kinder group, all offering me advice and giving me their brushes, pots and rags to keep. Each week Joan had a new sweet, sometimes chocolate or coffee flavour, and Joe taught me a new technique, how to blend colours or which brush to choose.
I soon looked forward to my evenings at painting, jumping in the car after work and driving south down the A1 with a quick sandwich to keep me going. My first painting was of Morpeth from across the river, where week by week I felt I could really paint. I couldn’t make the second set of lessons with work but returned for the following term towards the end of 2018 where we worked on the winter scene of sheep braving the snow for their feed.
Sadly, with the new year I couldn’t make the lessons anymore, I had just moved to a new house and I needed to focus on the renovations there. I left painting landscapes for painting walls for a few months and haven’t been back to class since.
I’m please my first go at achieving a dream rewarded me with more than I expected. I’ll continue to paint landscapes and hopefully teach my kids a few of the skills I learned from Joe. Even better, whenever I can help someone with anything I know about, I’ll use some of the skills I learned from Joan.