Edgar Degas said, “Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”

Easy for him to say.

I would never have gone to a nearby paint bar had I not been assigned by my editor. I don’t know how to paint–why would I go somewhere to paint?

“I think this could be a fun story idea,” he said.

But – I can’t paint, I thought. What I said was, “Great!”

Because it was an assignment, something I could experience from an analytical, how-am-I-going-to-write-about-this perspective instead of something I chose to do as if I actually belonged anywhere near a paintbrush and canvas, it didn’t take long for me to agree with my editor that it seemed like a fun idea. Fun assignment idea, that is.

It wasn’t something I wanted to do alone, so I asked my husband if he wanted to go on a date. He said yes, and to the paint bar we went a few days later, where we had spring rolls and pizza and beer and wine. We, along with about 30 other people sitting at their own 16×20 canvases, made our own unique (-ish) version of the instructor’s “Bended Tree.”


(That little leaf I’m painting there is on one of two branches I added with wild abandon. The original had no such small branches.)

While painting, Ian and I would peek at each other’s canvas. We’d nod thoughtfully. “Hm. Yes. I like what you did there.” We’d watch the instructor, follow her technique instructions, and amend them to work for us. Peek again. “Oh, I like that!” and “I wish I’d done that.” (Ian made some falling leaves on his that I scowlingly envied.)

It felt like Kindergarten, or even high school art class, when the blank surface in front of me was nothing but possibility. Back when being “good” didn’t even occur to me and I just wanted to make something.

Painting that night with other people who couldn’t paint and who didn’t care was so much fun that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. I woke up fantasizing about painting. I had ideas. So many ideas! Naturally, in my imagination, they were all perfect, and easily (oh, sure) something I could do if I just had the paint and the brushes.

Finally, after a week, I was pretty sure I really knew I wanted to maybe try to paint at home. On my own. Unguided and afraid.

One of the first ones would be “Cat in a Beer Glass,” inspired by this picture I’d taken through beer of my cat:


But then I reminded myself: I’m not a painter. It’d be silly to waste money on all th–

  1. Acrylic paints, because that’s what we used at the paint bar, so that’s what I “know” (yellow, white, black, turquoise, green, orange, red, brown)
  2. Brushes (6)
  3. Paint palette (and oh, yes, I did get “that” kind – it’s the one of cartoons and movies, and I had to have it)
  4. Canvases
  5. Tabletop easel
  6. Basket to hold all my new paints and brushes that would surely someday create masterpieces (No! Not masterpieces! Fun projects. Only for fun. Jesus, can’t you just enjoy yourself?)


I brought all my new artsy stuff home and immediately made a little artist’s station:


It sat there, untouched, for two days.

“I don’t have time right now,” I told myself. When I reminded myself that it had only taken 2 hours to paint the Bended Tree, I “Pshaw”ed and remembered the this and the that I had to do. “Maybe tomorrow,” my inner boring grownup afraid of failure mumbled like a depressed Ross Gellar on ‘ludes.

I decided to anvil-squash that voice today. Not using the paint and brushes would be the real waste of money, after all.  (“It’s going to suck it’s going to suck I know it’s going to suck…”).

My fears were not, as it happens, unfounded. My first painting, “Cat in a Beer Glass,” truly sucks. It was fun, anyway. Maybe even more fun to do it knowing it would suck.



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About Kris Tsetsi

Kristen J. Tsetsi is the author of the novels "Pretty Much True..." and "The Year of Dan Palace" and the short fiction collection "20 Short Stories," all published under the name Chris Jane. Website: http://kristenjtsetsi.com


lessons learned, life, Writing


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