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Painting eases pain and brings back memories

I recently had surgery and had to take it easy for a few weeks. For those of you who know me, you’ll realize that is easier said than done. I am a very active person and find it extremely difficult to remain still. But I tried to be a good patient and do what the doctors ordered. After all, I certainly didn’t want to go back under the knife.

The first day had not even passed before I was bored out of my mind. I just had to lie in my bed and wait. Doing that was a far cry from my cycling classes and almost daily gym visits.

I took painkillers as directed for the first day or so. They kept me in somewhat of a thick fog, allowing me to slip in and out of sleep. It wasn’t until I felt tiny bugs crawling all over me that I opted to discontinue their use.

About three days into my convalescing, and after I was completely bored with everything on television, I decided I simply had to do something creative. So, I pulled out some canvases, brushes and paints. I knew what I would do. I would create some paintings. Inside me, there were several paintings that have wanted to come out for a long time but, because of my schedule, had been placed on the back burner. This was a perfect opportunity to use my recuperating time to be productive.

It had been a while since I painted just for the sake of painting. There were no rules here. I could paint whatever I wanted to.

I stared at the blank white canvas with a bit of intimidation. Being in that position, with a brush in my hand, is sort of like the feeling I get in the pit of my stomach at the very top of a roller coaster ride. I can’t wait to do it, but am a little nervous at the same time.

I can remember first feeling this way when I was a small child studying art with local art teacher and legend, Houser Smith. I started taking lessons at 8 years old.

Every Tuesday afternoon after the last bell rang at regular school, I would load up my art supplies and head over to Houser’s for my two-hour class. There I spent almost every Tuesday afternoon until I graduated from high school.

Tuesday afternoons could be fun or totally dreaded. It depended on what I was creating at the time. Houser started me off by using charcoal on newsprint paper. Then I graduated to oil paints and canvas.

As I stood there the other day, slightly in pain and with a brush in my hand staring at the complete whiteness of the stretched canvas, my thoughts went directly back to my studies with Houser. “Don’t be scared of that blank, white canvas!” Houser would say. “It is not going to bite you. It is just a piece of fabric.” I could hear his words just as clearly as the day he first said them. I smiled at the memory and began to paint.

Paintings that had been only in my mind started coming out of me like words and melodies from a soloist. I got so involved in the process of creating that I forgot about my pain. In fact, I have created four paintings over the past couple of weeks. It was healing for me in more ways than one. For me, painting was much better than any pain medicine.

I have painted so many works of art over the years that I lost count a long time ago. But one thing I haven’t lost is the feeling that comes over me when I paint. For those of you who paint, you know exactly what I am talking about. It is truly a magical process to go from a blank white piece of canvas to a colorful still life or landscape.

After I finished painting the third work and had almost completely forgotten about the pain from my surgery, I decided to visit an old painting in my house. I dropped by my son’s bedroom, which is now a guest room, to study an oil painting I did when I was 16 years old and studying with Houser.

It now hangs over the bed in that room. It’s first location was my mother and daddy’s house, where it hung for years and years. It was only after their passing that I was able to get it back. It holds so many memories for me that I have to keep it around to remind me of where I have been and how far I have come.

As I stood there in front of my painting of a still life, I closely examined the taper candle in a silver candlestick on the table. There was no flame on top of the candle. Back then I had decided to paint it as if it had just been extinguished. All that was left was a small wisp of smoke that trailed up to the top of the painting. As I stood there, I remembered Houser being so proud of me for opting to paint it that way instead of with a full flame.

I smiled, took a deep breath and immediately went back to painting. I felt as though I had just returned from art school. The only problem was that neither Houser nor my mom or dad was here to see my current work or, for that matter, to visit me while I was recuperating from my surgery. I sure do miss them, but am so grateful for the lessons I learned from them. Those always help me feel better — no matter what!

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Mark Allen Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA; fax them to (478)474-4390 or call (478) 757-6877.