The Cranky Art Teacher

Yesterday morning I was feeling fairly satisfied with my painting progress. I’d added the finishing touches to one picture, and later in the morning I dabbled a bit with watercolor, actually liking the results. Although the painting isn’t finished yet, I seemed to be heading in a good direction, especially considering my previous attempts at watercolor.

Mostly I was patting myself on the back a bit as I thought of all I’ve learned in recent weeks. It’s nice to be at a point where I can see genuine improvement in my landscape paintings. The key — for me — has been in taking more time, being more observant of colors I’m mixing, and making deliberate choices about how I approach a scene, what techniques would be most appropriate, what specific brush strokes will likely give me the results I want.

So, all was well and good yesterday in my art world… right up until about noon. That’s the time I usually start fixing dinner, but I had this artistic itch. You know, that urge to grab a brush and start painting.

With several paintings in progress, it was easy enough to find something to work on. On Wednesday morning I’d blocked in a bit of color on one landscape, and so I decided to spend a little time on that painting.

First, I grabbed the new palette I’d made earlier that morning — another reason why I was feeling so accomplished — and started laying out the primary colors. I put red at the top, grabbed a tube of yellow, and very nearly put it in the wrong place. I had to stop and think about the color wheel, and about that time this horrible voice started nagging at me.

“Well, you’re sure not much of an artist, are you, if you can’t even remember the basic color wheel.”

I did my best to ignore the voice, and to make it easier, I grabbed a pencil and wrote out each of the colors — primaries, secondaries, tertiaries. Then I started mixing pigments. I was on my way. Time to put paint to canvas.

With a nod toward the rough outline of a tree I’d sketched in, I began mixing a green hue. I added a touch of violet to darken it and started painting in leafy branches. All the while, I guess I was also thinking about the time, fretting a bit about dinner, and worrying that my husband might be home before I’d even turned on the stove.

Within minutes, everything started going wrong, and there I was — stuck with a crabby, cranky art teacher who didn’t have a kind word to say about anything. One big disadvantage of teaching oneself, you see, is that occasionally that mean, impossible–to-please, downright awful art teacher shows up. She wasted no time and started in on me.

“What do you think you’re doing? Haven’t you paid any attention to what we’ve been talking about in class? You’re supposed to start with the local color first, not the darker shades, and look at the way you’re holding that brush! You’re doing it all wrong. Oh, for heaven’s sake, you’re not even trying. And what are you doing with that paint thinner? Don’t confuse thinner and medium, and you’re not even mixing enough paint to do anything. Honestly, I don’t know why you even try.”

That was just the beginning.

I tried to gather my wits about me, and I grabbed a rag to wipe off the paint I’d applied. The color was horrendous, and that cranky art teacher was fussing about that, too.

“You didn’t even try to come up with the right color! You didn’t check it. You know you need better lighting when you’re mixing colors, but, oh, no, you had to think you could just do it right without bothering to pay attention. Now, you’ve ruined the painting, but it wasn’t much to begin with anyway.”

I tried to appease the voice by starting over. Cranky art teacher wasn’t having it. She continued to point out every mistake I’d ever made with painting, all the while asking again and again what made me think I could ever be an artist.

The only way I was able to shut her up was to grab my keys and get out of the house. I made a trip to the store, picked up a gallon of milk and a couple other things. It felt good to be away from that nagging voice. Of course, no real art teacher would ever berate a student the way my critical inner voice berates me, and we can all be thankful for that!

Once I returned home, I lessened the pressure on myself a bit by tending to dinner first. My husband called to let me know he would be late, and I cast a glance back to my easel. Yep, that picture was awful, but maybe I could do something with it.

I stopped fretting about it, played around with different colors, and decided to just call it a practice piece — really, all my paintings are practice pieces — and why worry about it?

No, in the end, I didn’t find myself creating a masterpiece. It’s still an ugly painting with lots of mistakes, but I learned long, long ago — within the first few weeks of beginning my art journey — to celebrate even the smallest success. No matter how bad a drawing or painting may be, if I can point to one thing I like, I can walk away feeling pleased.

So, I photographed my canvas, cropped it down to show only what I did like. My cranky art teacher self might consider the picture a failure, and that’s all right. She was just having a bad day.

Cranky Art Teacher Framed

Maybe tomorrow I’ll tweak the colors a little more. Maybe I can even salvage the rest of the painting. If not, oh, well. I’m still learning, still growing, and still seeing progress day by day. That’s something I can be pleased about — no matter what that cranky, disagreeable art teacher says!


  1. I think the beauty and grace of creative endeavors are that they allow us to practice , regularly , mindfulness . I bet you learned to silence the inner critic with writing ! Same approach applies here , too !


    1. The art critic is a thousand times worse than my “inner editor” ever was. The editor and I became good friends. This cranky art instructor is downright cruel-hearted! Fortunately there’s another “inner teacher” who is much kinder. I hope to spend more time with her and less time with Miss Crabapple — sounds like a good name for the meanie, don’t you think?


      1. Oh, my goodness! I bet Miss Crabapple has roots in all that scorn our generation heard in grade school when we tried artistic endeavors , that if we didn’t start out like Rembrandt why even bother Then there was that idea that arts were frivolous for all except “geniuses” (who of course would be rich and famous ) and a general denial of the idea that arts belonged to everyone , and every human is creative! And don’t even get me started about the intolerance of “mistakes” when learning back when we were children ! Yup , Miss Crabapple would be right at home in that old tired milieu !


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