Painting with a Beginner’s Mind

Painting with a Beginner’s Mind

Painting with a Beginner’s Mind

Painting with a Beginner’s Mind

Painting with a Beginner’s Mind


©Alicia R Peterson, Shadow. Acrylic on canvas, 18 x 36 inches, NFS. Photo: Peter Scheer

I have not made one line on my paper in twenty minutes. It is still glaringly blank. I am at the Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James, NY  in a lovely studio, on a warm summer night in 2016. Talented artists hard at work surround me. This is my first class with Kevin McEvoy, a renowned realist painter. Kevin is the Director at the Atelier and one of the teachers, and I highly respect him.

So what is wrong with me? I have been painting for 22 years. “Alicia,” I say to myself, “get a grip, and make a mark!” The timer rings for the end of the 20 minutes pose. There is a model in an interesting position, well lit and just waiting for me to capture him on my paper. But no, I feel paralyzed, unable to put pencil to paper. Kevin comes by and says,“Nice work.” After a comedic pause and a sphinx-like grin, he mentions that he says this to the children he teaches to make them laugh. I am thinking this is his gentle way of saying that he understands the freezing up, but is trying to humor me out of my I can’t do this daze. By the way, no one else has blank paper. Maybe I’m in the wrong class.

I am surprised that I am struggling to start again from the beginning. Isn’t that what I expected? As a martial artist, my teachers have always talked about the beginner’s mind. That each time you come to class you empty your cup so you may fill it again. So where is my beginner’s mind? It is overshadowed by the fact that once I started to put lines on paper, they looked like distorted stick figures and I got brain freeze. “Stay the course,” I tell myself like a mantra.


© Alicia R Peterson, Possibilities. Acrylic on linen, 16 x 20 inches. Photo: Peter Scheer

But why am I now studying classical painting techniques? Since my first painting in 1994 of odd colored, barely recognizable flowers, and a larger than life question mark shaped sun. . . I have rejected external reality.

But now I am longing for “three perfect lines.” I want to be able to capture the figure in simplicity and in a form you will recognize. Am I forsaking abstract painting? No! What will the melding of the abstract and representational look like on my canvas? I don’t know. And based on today’s blank paper, it will be a long and, I hope, wondrous journey.

Orange Depth
© Alicia R Peterson, Orange Depth. Acrylic on linen, 24 x 36 inches. Photo: Peter Scheer

I take a deep breath and just start.


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