Trading the Pen for a Brush

I am not a patient man when it comes to art. There’s a reason I gravitate toward digital photography and pen and ink drawings, it’s because I can crank ’em out. From inception to completion I’m looking at two to three hours, for the most part. That’s not to say they’re easy, trust me, there are plenty that never see more than fifteen minutes of work, and plenty more that get the full treatment and could’ve been created by my dog Buster. But generally speaking, if something has too many steps or requires that I create, sit, create, sit and then create again I can sometimes force it. And that’s not good. Whatever you do with art, I’ve learned, don’t force it. Painting has been a sacrificial lamb for this reason.

I am in awe of painters. I know a couple professionals (see Frank Stockton at, and they have a calm, a steady demeanor that comes through in their work that I don’t know if I could ever have. I just don’t think it’s in everyone’s constitution to be a painter, and have used this as a convenient excuse for a long time to avoid trying it. Of course now, being unemployed with time on my hands, my excuses are few and far between, but it is still rather intimidating the idea of laying out on the floor with a canvas (since I have no easel or large workspace to sit at here) for hours and pulling out a handful of brushes, acrylics and that round thing that you pool the paint in…what’s that called?

Oh, and then there’s the obvious element of painting that I have yet to address: color. Me and color have a complex relationship. As a kid I dabbled with color pencils, and if I do say so myself, was rather good at it. It felt natural using color pencils. In a perfect world I’d probably just do all my art with pencils, color or not. And then there’s photography. What I love most about photography is the color. I think it has filled that void for me over the years. But beyond that, color has kept a safe distance from me. It needs more love and attention than I usually can make for it. While I have patience and love for my wife, who can be quite colorful, luckily, she isn’t literally a color.

As you can probably tell by now, I am trying my hand at painting now…a little. I did a painting a few months back of my dog. It was okay, but every time I see it I see a kid in high school art class treating painting like color-by-numbers. It doesn’t do anything all that interesting, and it’s very obvious where I ran into issues I just had no idea how to break through. However, I was proud of myself because I didn’t let the hurdles keep me from finishing the painting. As amateur as it felt and looks to me, I was patient and worked through my apprehensions to finish it. I should have taken a picture of it and slapped it up here…maybe next time.

However, I tried my hand again this past week. What inspired me was a story my wife wrote about the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge for (check it out at Essentially, the refuge is this huge warehouse graveyard of illegally killed and smuggled animals brought to the U.S. At least, that’s my lay interpretation. It’s a sad, fascinating place. Reading it, and seeing photos from it left an indelible stain on me. The things we, as humans, do to our world is haunting, and these animals are the most frightful ghosts of our behavior. To see animals and their parts used as decoration and prized trophies at the potential expense of their species points to a side of humanity that makes me ashamed to call myself human.

But I digress. I’ll save my political rant for another time. In talking with her about the story and the refuge, one of the most prized animal parts commonly trafficked around the world is ivory. In case you weren’t aware, ivory is not some precious stone mined in the mountains. It is mined from dead elephants (yeah, I said it). These large, beautiful creatures that we associate with Babar and as smart and friendly creatures are on the verge of extinction because we like jewelry made of ivory. That may be a bit simplistic, but it’s basically true. Can you imagine our grandchildren’s generation living in an elephant-less world because we couldn’t curb our desire for bracelets and necklaces made of their beautiful tusks? Well, it could happen.

Needless to say, I wanted to somehow show my love for elephants, and not being the craftiest with words, thought I’d try my hand at painting. I actually took the time to think about how I wanted to represent the elephant, and took a few days to ponder how I’d put it together and create. I didn’t want the work to be violent, but I did want it to be more than just a cool painting, even if the meaning was only known to me. I’m not going to get into what I was trying to convey, though the meaning is pretty transparent (context clue there).

Before I post it, let me say this: it is not a great painting. I am still not a painter, but what I did find is a way to incorporate my way of drawing into a painting with color, using a brush, which is the first step in getting myself to paint more…fingers crossed. And, it succeeded for me, I see it and I feel. I like to think if you read my wife’s story and look at it, you may too.

So, here’s my crack at painting. Hope you like it. I hope that there will be more to come in the (near) future.



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