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Apr 7, 2013 Uncategorized

My First Art Class

My First Art Class

When I need a creative outlet away from the computer I often turn to baking.  It is a great way for me to let my right brain percolate and to allow the plot twists to work themselves out.  The downside to this approach is that I end up with too many cookies to tempt and a kitchen that is a wreck.  So I decided this time instead of reaching for the pots and pans, I’d sign up for an art class.  I know nothing about art so I selected a mixed media class ‘open to all levels.’

The instant I received the supply list from the instructor, I knew I was out of my element.  It took three craft stores, several hours and lots of questions before I’d assembled the basic supplies.  I didn’t like not knowing what I was doing.  I missed my cooking classes where I felt at home with the equipment, terms and techniques.  But I reminded myself that this was about creativity and sometimes being creative means trying the unfamiliar.

So what did I learn?

Sketch Book.  I didn’t realize how much artists preplan what they are going to create.  Many keep a sketchbook that they hold close at hand.  That book is where they can experiment and try different ideas without worrying about review or criticism.  Reminded me a lot of the notebook (or scraps of paper) I carry around when a story is brewing.  I am forever making notes, crossing out ideas, and most often reworking the concepts for greater depth and meaning.  And just as our art teacher would not share her sketchbook with us, I would never share my notes and scribblings even after the book is finished.

Exercises.  We started off class with a few art exercises.  Kind of like warm up for the primary piece we would work on in the afternoon.  This was our time to not only get used to the paints and papers but to figure out what appealed to us.  These exercises were all about discovery.  What colors did I like?  What shapes resonated?  Did I prefer pastels to ink?  Reminded me a lot of free writing…those pages I write in the morning before tackling the day’s work.  Free writing is my chance to experiment, to discover.  Instead of paints and charcoals I’m dabbling with point of view, setting, character motivations, or literary devices, but the concept is exactly the same.

Failing.  When I started writing years ago, I expected the words to flow perfectly.  Of course they did not.  And it wasn’t surprising that my first attempts in art class were dismal.  I didn’t have the right paper, broke two sponge brushes in the first five minutes, and got paint in my hair.  But with a little borrowed paper, more brushes and a promise to wash my hair, I kept working.  After a while I got more and more comfortable with the techniques and images.  Now I didn’t produce world-class art but I did get better over the course of the class.  I was reminded of something I often say to would-be writers all the time when our art teacher said, “Failings are lessons.”   You can’t let failures stop you.

The day ended up being great fun.  I not only came away with a few pieces of art and the desire to try again, but with a few more plot twists and turns for the latest book.


  1. Good afternoon, Mary. I found your blog on BookTalk, which I found via a Bing search. Wanted you to know that this story of your step into the strange new world of art was inspiring to me. I am a brand new author with my first children’s book in the process of being published. Just like you said about feeling out of your element at first I, too, feel awed and overwhelmed with this new focus in my life. However, I’m hoping/planning to improve and enjoy the whole process. Thank you for sharing this story.

  2. Hello Mary Ellen, I just wanted to say I discovered your book here in our library in Wellington , New Zealand, what a great read. COuln’t put it down. A refreshing storyline.
    Particullary liked the line phrase on page 303,
    “Now put on your big girl pants”..
    My girlfriend & I use the phrase puton your Big Granny undies..

    Can’t wait for your next book

  3. Mary,
    Thank God for adventurous souls like you! I am NOT a good baker, so reading about it is completely fascinating to me and I’m instantly drawn in. I’m currently enjoying The Union Street Bakery, simply for loving “hearing” about baking, and I love your written voice. Kudos on taking a leap of faith and signing up for an art class. I appreciate your candidness in the fact that you gave yourself permission to fail. I give myself this same permission when I write. Hopefully I’ll win Sweet Expectations! Thanks again for sharing this post and for the Contest. ~Megan

  4. I just read Union Street Bakery and Sweet Expectations. I hated for the book to end. I wanted it to keep going. I can t wait for your next book.

    I have never written to an author before. I was expecting a list of books in print.

    I’m retired and baking , reading and traveling are my passions.

    Thank you for 2 great books. I look forward to more.

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