outside the lines

In my ongoing effort to explore new areas of creativity, I recently discovered what I thought would be my next artistic endeavor – a paint-by-numbers kit. “Simple!” the package cried out. “Create a masterpiece as easy as 1-2-3!” it extolled. “You’ll be painting in minutes!” it promised. And I, who have spent my entire career writing engaging ad copy to convince people to buy products ranging from Champagne to baseball cards to nail polish, fell for the engaging part. The kit proposed, I accepted.

Too soon, it seemed. Let me the count the ways:

First, after getting the kit home and unpacking it, I realized why one shouldn’t judge a book – or anything else, I guess – by its cover. While the outside of the carton showed a beautiful representation of the artwork within – a legendary masterpiece by one of the world’s best-loved painters – what was missing were the three magic words: Enlarged for detail. That is, the numbered spaces on the canvas were much, much smaller than they appeared on the box. Combined with the fact that the “canvas” – a thin, plastic-coated sheet – was printed so lightly with the pattern and numbers that I had to bend my desk lamp way, way over it in order to see what to paint where. Way over, as in leaving about two inches of space between lamp and canvas. Which might work if I were gifted in brush handling, but which resulted in my painting the lamp numerous shades of blue, green, and purple instead because I am not.

Second, “Brushes included!” the package claimed. That part was accurate. Except that the two sizes of brushes were either too big to allow for filling in the spaces on the canvas without going way over the lines or too small actually to be effective. The result – uneven patches of paint in some spots, streaks in others, and something only a five-year-old would be proud of overall.

And third, the paint. You know the frustration of completing a jigsaw puzzle only to find that the last piece – the very last one in the box, the only one needed after 999 pieces of a 1000-piece puzzle have been locked together – is missing? Yup. Of the myriad of individual containers of paint needed to create my work of art, one color went awry. No, not missing. The indigo blue was dried out completely. As in useless. As in there was no other shade I could use to replace it without dramatically altering the image. As in I would have cared more if the rest of my project were anywhere near resembling the painting it was meant to replicate.

In short, I was having no fun. Zero. And the more I looked at the included color printout of what my finished project should look like, the more of a failure I felt. There was no joy but a whole lot of self-judgment. (“Feel really bad about your painting abilities!” should have been featured prominently on the box.)

But. While I was cleaning up the mess it occurred to me that maybe the joy, for me, wasn’t meant to come from staying inside the pre-printed (although barely visible) lines. Maybe it lies in painting without constrictions or limitations. (And with a brush and paint that work, of course.) Maybe the freedom to brush colors onto paper in whatever random design I choose would be a better experience. (That’s probably why I liked finger-painting so much as a kid.) Maybe the only one who needs to feel good about whatever I paint is me (even if that means getting almost as much paint on myself as on my canvas).

Maybe that five-year-old, who would have been proud of my paint-by-numbers mess, was onto something – pursue your art with your heart, not your head. Paint yourself out of a corner.

Easel does it.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

3 comments on “outside the lines

  1. It sounds like something that was promising, wasn’t . Sorry, but A for trying.

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