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Kara Iliff

College Comp I

Mr. Reynolds

Braided Essay

Empty Canvas

I’ve always been artistic. Things like drawing and writing and music always came

easily to me. It started with just drawing. Sketching. My mom has saved binders

overflowing with pages full of doodles and more serious drawings that I’ve done since

elementary school. Up until this year, I thought that drawing would be my main faucet of

self-expression. But I discovered a whole new dimension to my artistic side this year

when I signed up for Magnet Expression School of the Arts. To take courses from this

program, there are a of couple classes you’re required to take before you even apply:

Drawing and Painting. Of course, I took Drawing as soon as humanly possible. But I put

off painting for awhile. Honestly, it had never interested me very much. I saw what other

people had done in that class, and I was impressed, but it just didn’t strike me as

something that I would really get into. But because of Magnet, I was forced to take it. I’m

not saying I’ve never painted before, but I had just never been challenged to make the

things we did in class and make it look good. And boy, did I learn.

Clearly, I have not been painting for very long. Therefore, I haven’t had very

many monumental moments regarding my paintings. But I’ve had several small

victories with them, and so far, that’s been great. They’ve helped me stay

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interested in painting and actually made me want to improve at it.

“Could I buy a copy of that?”

Recently, Zach, a friend of mine, asked me that question about one of my

paintings. As far as displaying my paintings go, I’m not that picky. Find a nice

spot on the wall, make sure it isn’t crooked, and I’ll call it good. If it’s entered in

an art contest, as long as it isn’t hidden in a corner and you can see it properly,

I’m fine with it. But Zach wanted my work displayed in his house. This was new to

me. In fact, I had a bit of an epiphany at that moment.

Would more people actually to want to buy my paintings?

“You’d actually want a copy of this?” I asked him. Just to make sure he

wasn’t kidding.

“Well, sure. I . . .”

Once we started getting into acrylic paints in class, I never actually wanted to

leave the art room. There was something so incredibly amazing about being able to add

a whole new level of detail to my piece with color. I was so used to the black and white

pencil or charcoal on paper. But the paint on the canvas was fantastic. At first, I would

have been happy to put anything on that large white space. A blank canvas reminded

me of an empty notebook. When I get my hands on one of those, I can hardly resist the

urge to write or doodle or just scribble on it. There’s so much potential on every one of

those pages. The canvas is exactly the same. But instead of words, it hungers for color.

A smear of black. A few drops of blue. A splash of red. Anything. So as I began my

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first painting, I was completely pumped. I learned that there was no feeling like getting

totally absorbed into a painting and not noticing a few hours fly by at a time. It was

hypnotizing. Only after my back ached from sitting at the easel for so long and my eyes

were burning and tired from concentrating could I bring myself to stop.

When I’m painting, I find that I can produce some of my best work when I really

get “in the zone.” That is, when you’re doing something you enjoy and you start to lose

track of time without realizing it. Obviously, everyone has different hobbies or passions

that trigger it. For me, it’s painting. That’s one of the reasons I’ve grown so fond of it - I

can truly relax when I’m painting. But whatever it is you do, it’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s

almost like you’re doing something without even trying - it just seems to take over and

you become totally absorbed. When you’re in that state of mind, it feels like there is

nothing else around you. You’re in the zone.

But it isn’t always easy to get there. Usually, it can take a bit of time and even

more patience. For someone like me, who isn’t always the most patient, it was

necessary to find a few ways to get there faster. There are no shortcuts or cheats to

getting there, but I’ve found there are definitely techniques that help a lot.

I don’t exactly recall what Zach said after that. I was kind of lost in my

excited thoughts for moment. My first sales pitch, and I’m not even paying

attention. Very professional.

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Wow. This is pretty awesome. I hope I can do the original painting justice.

What if he doesn’t like it when it’s finished? I don’t want to over-charge him for it,

though. Or under-charge, for that matter! A profit would be nice. Not necessary,

but nice. But how much would a canvas cost? Maybe I should just stretch my

own canvas. But those don’t always look as nice. Oh! Maybe I should say


“Yeah, that would be great! I’d love to do one for you. I’ve been meaning to

start a new project, anyway.”

So that wasn’t exactly a big-bang moment, and it only took a couple

seconds, but it was kind of a turning point for me. We discussed prices, where I

would get the supplies, and how long it would take for me to paint a whole new

copy of the painting. It was definitely exciting.

When you start a painting, the first, and possibly most important, thing you

should do is clear your mind. It sounds kind of cliche and maybe a little hippie-ish, but it

works wonders. Regardless of if you’re painting or writing or what have you, getting in

the zone is close to impossible if you’ve got a million worries and concerns clouding

your head. When you’re worried and distracted, a painting can turn out much differently

than you might have planned. I’ve learned that firsthand. What can happen is you’ll end

up rushing without realizing it, and that can lead to mistakes. Which are a real pain to fix

most of the time. That paint can be pretty unforgiving if it isn’t put on right the first time.

So just relax! The whole point of painting this way is to unwind a bit and enjoy it. And if

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you are not doing that, well, then you’re missing the point, aren’t you?
As long as I can relax - meaning no deadlines were tacked on - painting works

as a great stress reliever for me. But the best thing is that it’s simply art. It has no rules

or limitations. It doesn’t even have to mean anything. Or it could have some obscure

meaning that could only possibly be figured out by the artist themself. Nobody has to

know the difference. It can be the product of a spontaneous thought or a well-planned

process. I guess it all depends on where you get your inspiration. My inspiration

generally comes from the things around me: music, friends, family, or that strange lady

walking out of Wal-Mart with a trench coat and a feather boa. But my favorite source is

that sudden idea that flies into my head out of the blue. We’ve all had ideas that just

seem to knock you upside the head while you’re daydreaming and practically make you

fall out of you chair from excitement. Even a random object can give me a sudden spark

of an idea. Sometimes there are faint glimmers of an idea that I’ll have floating around in

my head for while, just mulling around and taking its sweet time, before I can totally

visualize what it will be. But anyone or anything interesting can have a potential effect

on my inspiration, so I try to pay attention to things happening around me.

So once you’ve calmed yourself, properly disposed of negative thoughts, and

found some inspiration, you are going to need a place to paint. At the very least, room

to fit your easel and the rest of the supplies is needed. But that’s just the bare minimum.

I guess you could paint in a storage closet if you really wanted, but this process will

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work a whole lot better if you can find a nice open place to work. For me, clutter is really

distracting if I’m trying to paint. So find a comfortable spot for you and settle in. Set up
your stuff: easel, paints, brushes, and that wonderful blank canvas. But wait - don’t start

just yet.

I don’t often have my artwork on display outside of home. But now, it could

be displayed on other people’s walls. I never would have expected that. Career-

wise, I always thought art would a be little unstable. Unrewarding. Financially, at

least. I still think that unless you’ve got some mass-produced, mainstream

artwork, it would be very difficult to make much of a profit from it. But since Zach

requested a copy of one of my paintings, it’s given me an idea that maybe there is

more of an opportunity for an art career. Even if it wouldn’t make a sensible

career, who knows? Maybe there’s money to be made from it as side projects or

something. Either way, that was definitely one of the most flattering and exciting

moments in my short history of painting.

What you’ll want to do after you’ve set out your stuff is to get rid of any other

distractions. Sometimes if I’m particularly excited about a painting, but not very focused,

any little distraction can throw me off. Then all that excited energy gets focused on

something else. So do away with the distractions! Clean up the room a bit if you need

to, kick people out, shut off the computers and phones. For the teenagers who don’t

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know how to shut off their precious cell phones, just hold the little red button until the

screen goes black. Voila! No more texts, no more distractions. There’s a cycle that your
brain goes through when it is focusing on something, and if you’re checking your phone

every 30 seconds, that cycle is going nowhere fast.

But for every distraction, there’s a motivator. So do anything else that you would

normally do to help yourself focus. A good one for a lot of people is listening to music.

But only as background music! It helps if you turn the volume down a bit. Scrolling

through songs on your iPod is just as bad as the cell phones. I suggest getting

speakers for it and putting it out of reach so you don’t end up grabbing for it every time

you don’t feel like listening to that particular song. Honestly, the song won’t even matter

if you’re doing this right. You might end up forgetting that music was playing in the first

place once you get in the zone.

Another small victory of mine was when I was just starting a surrealism

painting, called Teamonsters, for my painting class. I kind of fell in love with the

concept right away. I didn’t have the entire idea at once, but it just pieced itself

together over time as I designed it. I couldn’t tell you what was so appealing

about a picture featuring teacups hanging off of strings from a moonlight sky

with sea monsters crawling out of the cups into the sea below, but it seemed

endlessly interesting to me. Although that short description doesn’t do it much

justice, painting it was a whole different story.

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No matter how well you may try to plan it out, one of the most interesting things

about painting is that it has a tendency to turn out much differently than you expected.
Sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. It can have a mind of its own. There

have been times when I’ve worked halfway through a painting when I realized that the

whole feeling of it has been changed because of tiny details that you might not think

twice about in the first place. The ironic thing is that you’re the artist - you’re in control of

the art, right? Not always. Sometimes a painting kind of has to do its own thing. It’s

surprising what you’ll get.

My perfectionist side definitely came out while I painted Teamonsters.

Every detail seemed totally monumental at the time; the gradient of waves, the

moon reflecting off the sea monsters’ scales, the knot on the strings the teacups

hung off of. I found that the more I added, the more I liked it. But what felt the best

were the comments from classmates.

“Kara! That’s amazing!”

“I can’t stop looking at it.”


I don’t like to brag. And this is not one of the times that I’ll say that and

then go and brag anyway. That’s called being a hypocrite. But the compliments

felt great. And they surprised me. I was still pretty new to painting that sort of

thing at the time, so I wasn’t really expecting it. I thought that by my standards, it

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wasn’t too shabby at all. But I can never tell what other people will think of it.

That’s why art is so interesting - you can get different reactions out of different

Watching a painting become what it will, whether it’s your own or made by

someone else, is one of the greatest things about it. Truth be told, I can get a little

obsessed when I’m working on a painting. Especially if I like how it’s turning out. But it’s

very easy for me to get impatient when I’m working. Not that I just want to get it over

with, but I get so jazzed up thinking about how it will look when it’s finished that I forget

that actually painting it is the fun part. I don’t really feel like doing many other things

when there’s a half-finished piece waiting to be worked on. It never bothered me to stay

a few hours after school to work on a painting most days. Hey, I would have painted

those things anywhere. It was just most convenient to do them there.

Now you’ve cleared your head, gotten rid of distractions, and inspired yourself.

It’s time for the best part: getting down to the nitty-gritty and painting that bad boy. And

hopefully reaching some sort of near-nirvana at some point. So go ahead and paint.

Don’t rush and don’t dawdle. Rushing can cause hurried errors while dawdling and nit-

picking over every detail can be awfully tedious. Either way, it won’t be very enjoyable

and you definitely won’t get into your zone very quickly, if at all. Just paint whatever

your little heart desires at a pace that keeps you engaged. A method of painting that


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well for me is to tackle large, un-detailed portions first - like the background - and work

your way into more and more detailed parts as you go. As you’re getting into that zone,

working on the detailed parts gets much easier.

I guess that those few small moments were some of my best moments

regarding painting because they gave me the idea of using art more in my future

as more than just a hobby. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do when I’m older

or even for what - or where - I’m going to college, but now I’m keeping art open as

another option. I know it would be something that I could enjoy for a long time.

If you can get focused on the painting and not be distracted by anything else,

after awhile you might get that unattached feeling. The best word I can find to describe

it is

“floating.” There’s no effort to what you’re doing. For me, it’s like some sort of second

nature takes over and practically does the painting for me. I sometimes forget about the

things going on around me. It’s kind of a strange phenomenon, but it is a great feeling.

You’ll be able to work for a lot longer than you might have otherwise and you might not

even notice the time going by. There’s no stress or distractions. You just flow through

the work like nothing. Even if painting just doesn’t cut it for you, some of these methods

can be carried over into different hobbies. But painting has become my release, and

floating is one my favorite things to do.

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Because I took such a liking to it, I never minded staying after at school or

staying up late to finish a painting. Those paintings felt like part of me because I’m not

the type of person to express all of their feelings by just saying them. I figure I could turn

them into something more impressive through art rather than flapping my jaw and

having them fall on deaf ears. Paintings - or any other art form - are based off of
emotion, anyway. You might as well put them to good use. Getting into a new form of

art really helped put one of my favorite quotes by Edgar Degas into perspective:

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

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