Just Paint

I attended college at Arizona State University, where I studied studio art in the School of Fine Arts. I distinctly remember my second year/first semester there. After spending my first year taking mandatory classes on composition and color theory, I had progressed into more specialized study. The class was something like, "An Introduction to Painting," and the instructor was Mr. Woods. I'll refer to him by his last name only because I cannot, for the life of me, remember his first name. I think it was James, but that sounds like the movie actor and consequently ruins it for me.

In any event, it was our first lesson- to paint a still life with the subject matter of our own choosing. I decided to paint my backpack, which was the only thing I had on me, at the time. I went ahead and rendered what I thought was a really colorful representation of the backpack with a contrasting, bright background; the work had a very slick feel to it- more along the lines of graphic design than fine art, per se. As Mr. Woods circulated through the class, offering feedback to everyone's work, I could feel my confidence build a little, as I was sure he would praise the creative excellence in my work. He paused in front of my painting and flatly remarked, "And what is this?"

My ego was so stunned by his blasé reaction, I could only stand by, lamely unable to answer the rhetorical question. After categorically breaking down my painting technique, he candidly told me to stop coloring in my work.

"Just paint," he said. I don't think I've ever been given better advice, even though it's taken me many years since then to fully understand those seemingly simple words. I'm still learning, but I carry that gentle reminder with me every day. Thank you, Mr. Woods- wherever you are.