At the beginning of this year, I took a painting class (acrylics). It did not go well.
There are many, many, many reasons why it did not go well. Suffice to say, once the class was finished, I retired my brushes beneath my bed.
I had signed up for the class because I really did want to learn how to paint. Unfortunately, I mostly learned that acrylics are too advanced for me (at least they were taught in the class I took). But perhaps a more “simple” style of painting might be more manageable for me? I kept my eyes open for possible opportunities – not really knowing what it even was I might be “looking” for; but trusting I would know it when I saw it.
Last month, our quarterly community education catalog arrived in the mail. Much like I always scan the “junk mail” for coupons, I always flip through the community education offerings, just to see if there’s anything available that might be fun. (As an aside, I have had some wonderful experiences through community education – Indian cooking, belly dancing, thyroid education, and yoga to name just a few. In fact, a 6-week community education course is how I found my local yoga studio. And as another aside, the acrylic painting class was not offered through community ed. But I digress…) Anyway, as I leafed through the pages of the most current catalog, I saw a sumi-e paining class in the Arts section. Okay, noted.
A week later, I came across an article about sumi-e, which explained the meditative aspects of the art. My interest was piqued. I returned to the catalog, and saw that the class met on a day and time conducive to my schedule, that the instructor would provide all necessary materials, and that the price was right. Awesome. A few clicks online, and I registered. Done and done.
This morning was the first class session, and trusting the note I read in the catalog (i.e., “Material fee payable to instructor”), I arrived to the room armed with my purse, a notebook, and a pen. However. As the other students arrived, I realized I might be in a bit of trouble. They came dragging small carry-on luggage bags behind them, stuffed with supplies. (Literally.) Umm… wasn’t this supposed to be a simple, meditative style of painting? Still, I stayed calm, and waited for the teacher to arrive. Certainly she would take care of me.
That thought was about 60% accurate. Yes, the teacher did sell me the four absolutely basic must-have supplies (namely, rice paper, an ink stone, ink, and a brush), but that was all she had for me. And apparently for this style of painting, you also need an absorbent surface (usually a piece of felt), an old towel to wipe your brush on (makes sense), a paper weight (who knew?), a small bowl (to remove excess ink from your brush), and a container for clean water. Well. Finding an empty plastic cup was easy enough, but the rest…?
The teacher called out to various students and asked if they had any extra supplies they could loan me for this first class; and after 2-3 minutes, I was situated with what I needed to at least be able to complete today’s session.
Okay, great. However, at this point I encountered Wrinkle #2: I was the only neophyte in the room.
Apparently this class isn’t so much a “beginner” class as it is a work time for anyone interested in sumi-e. And while the teacher knew I was literally brand-spankin’ new at this art form (and indeed, at painting in general), for whatever reason she chose to start the class by working with someone else, and asked one of the other students to “help get me started”.
Okay, don’t even get me started on this approach. So unfair (to the both of us) for so many reasons. Yet the other student handled it very well, and politely instructed me for 20 minutes (!) on how to make ink, how to hold the brush, and how to do two basic strokes. The class is only 2 hours long, so for this student to spend 20 minutes of his time teaching me (instead of spending that time on his own painting) is significant – and very kind. I verbally thanked him for helping me, and I internally thanked him for being so gracious about helping me.
Okay, so the class goes for another 90 minutes, and then we start to clean up. As I’m washing my brush, one of the other students in the room approaches me, and hands me a new, unopened packet of paper. He says, “Here is some student grade paper you can use if you’d like. It’s not as good as the paper we use in class, but it works really well for practicing strokes. You can have it if you want.” I look at him, surprised. I ask, “Are you sure? You won’t use it?” He answers, “Oh, I have tons of it at home. You’re new to all of this; here, take it.” A completely unsolicited gift; what an amazing gesture. I smiled at him, and thanked him for the unexpected offering. He smiled back, and left to clean his space.
I returned to the table I was working at, and collected the various items people had loaned me for the session. I then located each individual, and handed the appropriate item back to them. And each of them looked at me and said, “Oh, you can keep that.” What? But it’s yours. I’m very grateful you let me use it today; but I knew it was a loan, not a gift. I didn’t expect to leave the class this morning with your possessions. However, the response was the same with every person I encountered: Keep it. You’re new. You don’t have anything. I have plenty. It’s yours.
I was stunned. I honestly don’t remember the last time someone gave something to be, completely void of all expectations. And these people literally do not know me. All they know is that I’m new, and unprepared. And, they know that they can help. They have something they can give. So they did.
Now, jaded individuals might dismiss the offerings, pointing out that the items I was given aren’t anything big or special – just an old piece of felt, an old towel, and a cheap little ceramic ramekin. My only response: I’m grateful I’m not jaded. I’m grateful that today, I got to see beyond the stained piece of fabric, the ratty old towel, the little white bowl – that today, I got to see the generous spirit embedded in these physical items. I’m grateful that some old, cheap supplies were able to carry such love into my heart.
P.S. If anyone wants a set of acrylic paints with all the fixin’s, they’re for the taking. : )