I knew it was going to be ugly. I was 50 and smart enough to know what I was good at and what I wasn’t. While a return to college at the age of 50 was exhilarating it was also demoralizing. I was the oldest person in class by decades and despite my love of learning I felt conspicuous. Worse yet, I needed a humanities credit and oil painting appeared to be the simplest avenue. Before the class even started, I knew it was going to be an unpleasant experience but I vowed to tough through being both old and a lousy painter.
The class started with people pairing off into groups which, for me was like being the last person chosen for the elementary school dodge ball team. I dreaded the day we’d actually have to paint. But when the day came to start painting something happened. I found myself so drawn into what I wanted to accomplish that I forgot that I was old and out of place. Instead I found myself straining to master the elements of communication in a medium I’d never experienced before. If I painted a round, orange sphere what would cause that sphere to appear to be an orange rather than a planet or a rubber ball? In my mind it was a puzzle and I was hooked. I drove home wondering how I’d mix the colors of the clouds and started to view everything around me in terms I’d never before considered.
At the end of our first assignment the class gathered for a critique with our instructor. When my painting came up the professor was kind and encouraging, but before the review of my work ended a young girl spoke up and said, “I love it. I would totally buy that and hang it in my apartment”. My feelings of being the odd, old student left and I suddenly felt relevant in a way I never had before. My paintings became conversation pieces with fellow students often gathering to see what was on my easel. In the end, I earned an A in a course that I expected to squeak through in 2011. The following year I sold 8 still life paintings to private collectors. Since then my paintings have continued to find new homes and in 2013 I completed 2 commissioned works in still life, and landscape painting for private collectors.
At the age of 50 I thought I had a firm grasp on all I liked and didn’t like, of what I excelled at and what I didn’t. Yet, I had no idea I could paint. What’s more, I didn’t know how much I would love painting. I never fathomed that, at the ages of 51 and 52, I would wake up excited in anticipation of the time I’d spend with a canvas on my easel.