Comparisons are odious.
“And then you take the middle brush — or the small one if you want — dip it in some yellow paint, and it’s time for the gym class stroke again,” the instructor says. He turns back to the canvas, swirling the yellow paint onto what is shaping up to be the sun.
“At least it’s not the bock stroke again,” I mutter. “I’m all bocked out.”
I don’t know if Justin and Eva can hear me, but the guy sitting next to me smirks. He’s a stranger on a date and has come to my rescue once already when I dropped my brush on the floor. He picked it up and pointed out that my floor length coat was fanning out behind me in a way that basically turned it into an area rug for people shuffling through the bar.
I sip my pinot as a quick escape. And realize with a sudden panic that I’ve forgotten the instructions that the teacher has just given.
“What color paint did he say?” I ask.
My companions answer.
Again, they chime in with what I should be retaining but am not. My focus keeps getting thrown. The paint won’t cooperate. The deeper dark water of my river ends up somehow looking more rough and more dramatic than intended. My sky colors seem uneven. I learn later that I’m not adding enough water to the canvas as I’m going along and it’s drying up. Oops.
But in the moment, I attack the canvas again and again. “I’m a hard bocker,” I joke. “Bocking all the time. Bock and roll baby.” It’s a bad joke that I make multiple times. Never quite sure if anyone has heard me or I even want them to.
The bock stroke is called that because it’s a motion like a chicken pecking. Bock, bock, bock. The quick semi-stab that Bob Ross would use to make his leafy trees. I bock hundreds of times for my pines.
My final product is somewhat tortured. I can see the mistakes. The crudeness. But I snap a photo to send to my friends, who text back that I did great and “your trees are so gooood.”
I take a look at Justin and Eva’s paintings, and they’re so different than mine. Much more sophisticated to my eyes.
The paint is beautifully even on Eva’s. It looks professional. The color of her grass is the most vibrant green, and the way her river curves around the bend is gorgeous. Her water is perfectly shaded.
Justin’s trees are amazing. I compliment him on a cluster of branches on one of the larger trees and he laughs. He tells me that was a part where he struggled. He looks at it and sees a mistake.
And I have the same thing happen to me when a stranger happens upon my painting and compliments me on my moon. The moon that was a fucking disaster. When I bocked it with red paint as the instructor said, I’d ended up not with a “moon made of cheese” look — but something that looked infected. I’d pecked at my moon like a chicken until it caught chicken pox. Or broke out in zits.
While everyone else was finishing up other parts of their portraits, I’d grabbed the water and blended my moon until it looked somewhat more natural. A smeared look at first but eventually a nice yellow-orange and a texture I was satisfied with.
A near crisis I averted is now the most notable thing about the painting.
As we stand there talking about our paintings with other students and each other, it becomes evident that everyone’s blind to what’s beautiful about their paintings. Fixated on the flaws. The parts that were hard when we did it. And we can’t help but compare the highs of other people’s paintings with what we think (wrongly) are the lows of our own.
It’s not helpful, yet we still do it. Same old story, different setting.
I stand back watching it unfold before me, the self-criticism and unexpected compliments, and even though I can see the flaws in my own painting, I smile, feeling a sense of peace I haven’t felt in a very long time.
Books by Page Turner: