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Learning life lessons with each brush stroke

"Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

A few years ago I reached a point in my life where my children were a little older and a little more self-sufficient. I had a more time to think about what I did and who I was. But I was doing the same thing, day after day. I hadn't reached the point of insanity, but repetition wasn't propelling me in a favorable direction. It was backing me into a corner.

It was time for change.

An artist-friend encouraged me to try painting. "Oh, I don't think so," I protested, explaining that the pinnacle of my art skill was displayed the day I drew a Pilgrim hat for my kindergartner many years ago.

After months of prodding and aborted visits to purchase painting supplies, I began breaking out of my mold, and confronting the question that my close friends had repeatedly asked me: "Why not?"

It was then that I realized that my family was still going to love me and support me whether I was drawing Pilgrim hats or the next Mona Lisa. Since then, I have come to love painting, regardless of my skill level, and what I'm learning with each stroke.

I have to admit, a few people were incredulous about what I intended to do; some even implied that I was having a midlife crisis.

Crisis. It sounds so negative. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines crisis as "the turning point for better or worse." Perhaps that is the case, since I am slowly learning about painting and about myself at the same time. In the eye-of-the-storm calm I find while painting, I have discovered that many of the art lessons I have learned apply to life as well. My acceptance of these lessons has been a great turning point.

Life Lesson No. 1: Have a plan, but remain flexible. Your plan doesn't have to be elaborate, but a rough idea of what you are aiming for helps. A plan lays the foundation for the simplest of choices, whether it is color or career. You can deviate from the plan later if inspiration strikes you. You followed your outline and the result needs some livening up? Add some detail and some action.

A sketch will help you to see where to put the trees in your landscape painting, just as a general life plan will help steer your life in the direction of your long-term goals. That direction will, for instance, help prevent you from wasting your money on a pile of things you didn't need, when your goal is to save for a house down payment.

Life Lesson No. 2: Composition is important. In life and art, what you omit is almost as important as what you include.

The way in which you arrange the elements, of the alternation of white space with the brush strokes, will affect the impact on your life and painting. Will it seem frantic? Will it be placid?

In life, the blank space of relaxation grants rest for the mind so you can judge situations clearly and energetically, just as white space on a canvas allows rest for the eyes, giving the painting's objects more emphasis.

Life Lesson No. 3: You are going to make mistakes. Trying a new technique or training for a new job will take some trial and error, except for the rare stroke of genius.

In painting my first landscape, as careful as I was, the perspective was incorrect. Through practice, I have learned to show perspective more accurately. Correct mistakes where you can and learn to accept the things you cannot change.

Life Lesson No. 4: Perhaps the most important lesson I have gained from my painting is to learn when to take a deep breath, just walk away, let it go and say, "It's done. It's the best I could do."

I have been painting for almost a year now. I am choosing my brush strokes thoughtfully and learning the lessons as they come.

Crisis? Perhaps so, but I can paint my way out of that corner.

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