Last month I went on and on about what a talented artist my brother is. And he is. But as an older sister it was just a matter of time before I challenged myself to see what kind of artist I am. I realized I was setting myself up for relative failure; anything I would create would pale in comparison to the work of Daniel Mahlman, but I thought this exercise would help me become more comfortable with doing something just to do it, not to perfect it.
Last week I attended “So You Think You Can Paint,” an event held at the Copley Society of Art, the oldest art non-profit in America. The gallery’s Circle Board (I am a member) sponsored the event where the very talented artist Rosalie Shane inspired a group of us to flex our artistic muscle. Rosalie is well known for her oil paintings of cupcakes with a heavy application of paint creating very realistic frosting. It all started when she painted one for her granddaughter’s first birthday. Eight years on she has painted hundreds of cupcakes, and last week she attempted to teach a roomful of would-be artists to do the same.
I sat down with a small canvas and my model, a Pepto-Bismol pink topped cupcake, which Rosalie was so kind to make for the occasion, and set out to prove that the artistic family genes had not gone exclusively to my little brother. I started out by drawing a cupcake on the canvas. It looked more like the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki than a cupcake, but I convinced myself that I could improve its shape with paint.
I mixed a bright (imagine that, me utilizing a bright color) shade of teal to create the background for my cupcake, then I used a light gray for the table on which it would sit. But when it came time to paint the actual cupcake I was paralyzed. I was worried about messing up. I called Rosalie over several times to discuss technique and approach. I went over and over every detail with her. I looked at the white silhouette where my cupcake should be with my paint brush poised to paint, but unable to begin.
After several more minutes, Rosalie moseyed over again, put her hand gently on my shoulder and said, “This is art. There is no right or wrong. It’s supposed to be fun.” That was exactly what I needed. I felt my old perfectionist instincts melting away. I told myself that I was painting a cupcake, not finding the cure for cancer. Plus, it was paint! I could always cover any mistakes with…yes, more paint.
It was at that point that I rolled up my sleeves and got dirty, literally. I started with the base of the cupcake. My model cupcake was chocolate, but because I am allergic to chocolate I took some artistic liberties and made mine vanilla. I mixed a light yellow to bring the cake to life. I then heaped a generous dollop of pink oil paint on top with a pallet knife. Rosalie encouraged us to slather the paint as if it was actual frosting and the technique proved effective…and appetizing.
When it came time to add the sprinkles to my cupcake I took a tiny brush and dotted the top of the cupcake using a quick up and down motion, as if my hand was the needle of a sewing machine. This technique proved so effective that a fellow-painter sitting across from me asked how I was creating such perfect sprinkles. I told her and then she used the same technique. Not only was I an o.k. painter, someone else thought I was even better than o.k.! I put the finishing touches on my painting (a dab of brown on top to create a Hershey’s Kiss and a few stray sprinkles littering the table so the scene wouldn’t appear too perfect) with a sense of reckless joy, unafraid that I would “mess up” my little work of art. This was what the event was supposed to be about: non-artists enjoying making art. Once again, when I stopped worrying about failing, I succeeded.
My final product was cute and fun, and perfectly imperfect. Just like me, and that’s pretty darn good!
As I mentioned, I am involved with the Copley Society of Art, but I was not compensated in any way for this post.