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Painting with my father

January 20, 2016

Dad and I in his studio. One of my paintings is visible on the table.

Dad and I in his studio. One of my paintings is visible on the table.

I recently had the opportunity to visit my dad in Vermont. He’s 82. He has been painting all of my life. I grew up with the smell of linseed oil and turpentine. He wasn’t the only artist I knew. I had two aunts who also painted. When I was little, I thought that being an artist was a real job you could have, even though my dad’s “real job” was as a physics professor. Sadly, when I announced that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, I was told it wasn’t practical.  Considering that all the artists I knew grew up during the depression, I’m not at all surprised at this response.

During this visit, my dad told me that he still has my very first painting, framed. I think it was called “kitty cats” and was a masterpiece in watercolors: several very washy lines on the back of a piece of some business paper. But then, I was probably 3 years old at the time. What I hadn’t realized until recently was that he has always secretly been very proud of my drawing and painting and art.

Place an oldest perfectionist child with an oldest perfectionist parent and there are some challenges with understanding. I know now that when my dad looked at my paintings as a teen and gave advice, he wasn’t criticizing. He was trying to help. But I couldn’t hear it that way. I stopped painting before I hit college, too afraid to make mistakes. It has been a slow journey back.

When I was in my early 20’s I lived with several art students. I didn’t dare show them my work, because I knew it was inferior to anything they could do. That is until the day a roommate saw a sketch I had done of another roommate’s dog. Her comment, “That’s a great start,” was revealing. In my mind, the sketch was finished, not very good. Her comment gave me permission to keep working on it. So I did. I worked on it until I was satisfied that it really did look like Teddy, under-bite and all.

Over the years I would dabble in various art forms with my kids, but I never did “serious painting” in oils or acrylics. There are lots of practical excuses for that.  The reality is that I was afraid.  A couple of years ago, my dad started encouraging me to start painting again. I hemmed and hawed. Eventually, with the encouragement of another art school grad, I tried a landscape. I worked on it for several sessions. I was happy with what I was able to do. But that was it.  For some reason, I didn’t do another. I was still afraid of imperfection.

So what changed? It’s taken a long time, but I’m beginning to be able to live with imperfection.  So when I had the opportunity to paint with my dad, how could I pass it up?  It’s only taken us forty years to get to this place.

I can’t post this without bragging a bit about my dad.  He spend his career in the academic world.  As such, he was told that his art was a distraction.  So he has painted under his Nom d’Artiste, Mutin for as long as I can remember. Finally at 82 he has his own studio and has been showing his art publicly for the first time. You can see his work here:


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