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How I Painted My Masterpiece

I’d always wanted to become an artist. Finally, I found someone to show me how.

                        Related
                        • Watch students in action
                        • Cultivate your creativity
                        • Artists share their secrets

Hugh Delehanty painting on large canvas

That was just the beginning. The next project was an exercise in automatic painting on a 5-by-3-foot sheet of paper with two or three colors of acrylic paint. The idea, said Aimone, was to create a painting without thinking about what you wanted to create. He encouraged us to use the large muscles of the body more than the fingers and wrist. When you work with those small muscles, he explained, you have a muscle memory of writing — and that triggers thought. (Poor Vermeer.) But when you use the arms and shoulders, you tap into deeper, more subconscious sources of knowing.

Aimone instructed us to stand about 10 feet from the paper taped to the wall, load up a brush with paint and then lunge toward the paper with no preconceived notion in mind. “The first thing that comes to you, do it,” he said. “Don’t analyze. Don’t worry. Just do it.”

Next we were supposed to return to the 10-foot mark, take the painting in for a few seconds and go at it again. “It’s like a dance,” he said. “You go back and forth, back and forth, until you like what you’ve done, or nothing else occurs to you about what to do. Then stop.”

I couldn’t wait. I loaded up my brush and attacked, slopping a giant blob of black paint over the left side of the surface. Yes! I loaded up another brush and splashed a burst of bright red into the upper right corner. Boom. My body was tingling. Black. Red. Black. Red. Someone said I looked like a lead guitarist performing a rock solo.

After the exercise was over, Aimone asked us to walk around the room and come up with words to describe what we saw. First, we looked at the book publicist’s picture: an elegant, flowing drawing resembling Japanese calligraphy. “Sensuous,” one person said. “Rhythmic … curvilinear … feminine,” others added. How different from my drawing, which my classmates described as “explosive,” “aggressive,” “powerful,” “masculine.”

The therapist, who had grown up in Nazi Germany and lost most of her family in the war, was particularly moved by my painting. She said it reminded her of her childhood.

I didn’t know what to make of her remark, but I was thrilled with my creation anyway. Most of the work I’d done before was soft and understated. Here was a bold, in-your-face blast of male energy staring back at me from across the room. It was exhilarating.

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