When the lockdown began in March 2020, I thought it would probably last a month at the most. But month after month, it dragged on with no end in sight. Although I tried to adjust to living with all family members 24/7, I soon found myself nearing my wits’ end – frayed nerves, lack of privacy, and a vague fear (of the virus) looming menacingly at the back of my mind. I didn’t have the mind space to read or write – my general go-to methods of de-stressing. So, pretty much out of desperation, I fished out a half-finished paint-by-numbers canvas that had been lying around since 2017.
That paint-by-numbers kit saved my sanity.
Honestly, it kept me focused without requiring me to think too much. Even a half-hour with the canvas each day was like an oasis of calm and peace where I could retreat and shut out all the noise around me. And those precious half-hours were a balm. They kept me sane. They helped me process and think through my emotions. They were times when I could pray. When I could listen to music. When I could just create and enjoy the beauty of seeing the canvas come to life. And the sense of accomplishment when I finally completed it was beyond compare!
Once I'd caught the painting bug, I found myself missing holding a brush to canvas. So I began to watch YouTube tutorials on watercolour painting for beginners. Then I got a cousin (who is a designer and artist) to give me a few lessons (via zoom). Eventually I just went around buying supplies and plunging into the heady thrill of mixing colours, learning brush strokes, blending watercolours, trying out different techniques, and basically just having fun! Thanks to all the tutorials available online on YouTube and Instagram, I found that I could finally paint – very amateurishly of course – but still!
I can’t say that I’ve mastered this skill by any degree, but I do know that I want to explore this more intentionally in 2021.
As I was wondering why I enjoy painting so much, I was reminded of the various thoughts that flitted through my mind while working on the paint-by-numbers kit.
Misshapen but not a mistake: While I was in the early stages of the canvas, the bits and pieces that needed to be painted, didn't really make sense. Each colour and each area of the canvas looked misshapen and messy. Only when it was complete did I see how it all worked together to make a cohesive whole. Often my life looks messy and misshapen but one day I will see how all those ugly bits work together to make a beautiful whole.
Dry paints are not the end of the story: Acrylic paints dry fast (something I did not know)! And four years is a long time for those little tubs of paints to last. So when I began working on the canvas again, I found that I had some numbers left and no corresponding paint. And that was the first time I mixed colours, blending dark green and white to create a shade of greeny-brown (yes, I’m very much an amateur; how did you guess!) that I needed. To my surprise, it worked. Sometimes we might be stuck in situations where all hope seems lost. Nothing can be done. But with God it's never the end of the story. He will create something new and you'll be surprised to see that it actually works.
Unfinished but not unloved: Although the canvas was incomplete, I found that I was very fond of it. I would keep looking for ways to go and work on it. It was always at the back of my mind. And it struck me that God loves us like that – as we are – incomplete, unfinished portraits. We are always on His mind. He will look for ways to meet us even when we don't. What a comfort that is!
Subtle hues are significant: Sometimes, as I was painting, certain colours looked very similar and I wondered what difference it made. Only when the canvas was complete did I realise the importance of the tint of each shade; even a shade lighter or darker added depth, shadow, and perspective. It brought the picture to life. And it struck me that in life there will always be ‘good things’ and ‘God things’. There is a subtle but significant difference which I will only ‘see’ when I’m on the other side.
Worth the wait: Another important lesson I learnt was that it takes time. A canvas cannot be completed overnight. Similarly, with us, we have to be prepared for the long haul. While God is patient enough to spend a lifetime on us, we need to be patient with His ways too. The work is always ongoing but we need to trust Him to ensure that the final product will be great. Hebrews 12:2 says He is the author and finisher of our faith. So He will complete the canvas.
Joy comes in the morning: Finally, the sense of accomplishment and pleasure when I eventually completed it was beyond compare. I was inordinately pleased with myself and proud of it – the canvas, I mean. I can only imagine what God will feel like when we stand before His throne one day!
So here’s to more art therapy that doubles as spiritual life lessons!