I have a degree in Visual Communications with a concentration in studio photography from Ohio University. Visual Communications encompassed quite a few disciplines including photography, design, editing and writing. I feel fortunate to have been able to take some diverse classes taught by gifted professors. It has been quite a long time since I was in school. I won’t share exactly how long it has been since I stood in line for the Burrito Buggy uptown. There is one professor who I will always remember, and in particular, one defining moment in his class. Have you ever read the book, The Right Words at the Right Time by Marlo Thomas? Well, Professor Gary Pettigrew, my painting professor said the right words at the right time. I only had one class with him but the effects of it are still with me today.
As I sat on the paint streaked wooden stool/easel the first day of class, I felt a little out of place. I had never really been much of a painter. I loved to draw. I still remember my favorite Crayola color, sky blue. In high school, I had started using pastels and loved to mimic Toulouse-Lautrec. Along with my mom, I attempted watercolor classes at a local art center but loved sprinkling salt more than the frustration of trying to control water and paint. So, even the smell of turpentine that day in a college studio was a little intimidating to me. The professor gave his background in painting and talked about the different paints we would be using in class and the different surface options. He was friendly but it was immediately obvious he had a lot of knowledge to share.
I am not sure what sparked the topic one day. He was talking about focus and discipline as we painted. He explained that he paints even when he doesn’t want to. He talked about how he wakes up early and puts paint to canvas whether he feels inspired or not. Just start creating and the inspiration will come. You can’t wait for inspiration to strike and then create. Those moments are rare.
In the words of Despicable Me’s Gru, “light bulb!”
There I sat in my dad’s old shirt covered in paint and turpentine with a giant light bulb hovering above my head. Or was it fireworks exploding from my head. I wonder if anyone else felt this in the class. I mean, really, no one ever said that to me before. Create BEFORE I’m inspired?! Start creating when I’m tired, lacking in focus, or just plain feeling lazy? I had always thought of the great painters as painting because they constantly felt the need to release their genius. It never occurred to me that they might not WANT to paint but did anyway. Could great works have come about because these painters forced themselves to pick up a brush even when they didn’t feel like it? How cool is that?
I have carried this ingenious notion into most aspects of my life, not just art. For example, I really didn’t want to write this blog today but I started and he’s right. Once I started, passion eventually took over. Exercise? Often I don’t WANT to exercise. Many of us don’t. But once I start, I eventually get in a rhythm and feel pretty damn empowered. Even something as mundane as doing the dishes, once I start, I get in a nice little zen groove and come up with creative ideas as I clean.
Thank you for saying the right words at the right time, Professor Pettigrew.