My friend and I followed the signs down the driveway to what must have been a former coach house. As directed by the sign on the door, we carefully opened it so as not to let the cat out. We went up the stairs gingerly and were greeted at the top by a beautiful whitewashed space, large windows, and a woman that looked the epitome of “artist.” This was not so surprising as today was Open Studios in Northern Dutchess County. Basically, artists open up their studios for everyone else to come inside and take a look.
“I’m not sure if I’m supposed to knock or just walk in,” I said.
“I don’t know either,” she responded. She stood in her kitchen, her jet black wavy hair only mildly under control and seemingly wanting to splay itself out so much more. She wore bright purple and an artists smock, eyeglasses perched on her nose. “This is the first time I’m doing this,” she explained.
“How’s it been going?” I asked.
“Well, good so far. Though I kind of wish I could see the other artists studios myself!”
I laughed. “Have you been getting a lot of people?”
“A couple hundred so far, but they come like in Noah’s ark – two by two. Which is good because I had this vision of my studio being overrun with people.”
Her work wasn’t anything I was particularly attracted to initially. But I was still only standing at the top of her stairs. As we looked around, she told us her story. And you know how I love a story.
She takes vintage wooden things – from boxes to tables to those inserts men put in their good shoes to keep their form – and she paints them. Well, that’s cutting out a few steps. She sands them down, whitewashes them, and then paints them. As she’s telling us this, I step through into her dining room and fall in love. With a table. I can see that it was vintage as she’s left some of it’s original coloring on the legs. But after she whitewashed it, she painted two lines of black swirly design down the sides of the table top. Then she outlined the whitewashed chair seats in black to match. It was elegant yet simple.
“You know,” I said, “I don’t have a vision for this kind of stuff. I would have seen this table – the original one – in an antique store and never would have imagined it could turn into this.”
“Oh,” she said, “I can’t either.”
What?? I thought. I was shocked. I thought that’s how the process worked. Artists can see something and envision what else it could look like.
“When I’m looking for something, I’m just making sure it has good bones,” she explained. “Then, I take it home, sand it, whitewash it. And then the wood speaks to me.”
Yes, she said it speaks to her. And I didn’t for one second doubt that it did. In fact, I fully believed (and still do) that the wood would speak to me, too, if ever I tried this particular art form.
She went on. “You know what I mean – it tells you what it wants. Like that table over there.” She points to what may have been a makeup table at one point. It’s now a pale green with tiny white flowers on it. “I never do flowers,” she said. “But that table wanted something simple. It told me it wanted flowers.”
Her words – that she didn’t have a vision when she started out – stopped me. And made me think. I always thought I was not destined to do much with art as I thought I needed vision. I pictured artists having a vision of what they wanted, and then they made it happen. And now I realize it doesn’t have to work like that. In fact, isn’t that what I learned when I started writing? You don’t have to have an idea of what you’re going to write. You just start, and see what happens. How many authors have I seen interviewed who have said they had no idea what was going to happen in the book when they started? They just kept writing and the story unfolded. Isn’t that what I discovered in my collage class the other day? And isn’t that how life is? You don’t know where the day is going to go, let alone your life. You just start, and see what happens.
And by the way…that artist teaches a class locally. I’ve never painted anything in my life (unless you count walls, fingernails, and fingerpaint). So I’m sure you won’t be surprised that I signed up for her class. Just to try it;)