For months, my wife and I had been outnumbered. The birth of our third child in six years pitted three small, energetic boys vs. two tired, working parents. And the boys were winning. Big time. Most days, we felt like there was no time for basic survival tasks, like eating and sleeping, let alone space for more self-actualizing activities, like self-reflecting and teeth brushing. So something like date night? Impossible.
But the late-fall stretch into the holiday season was fast approaching, and we needed some time together out of the house. As a Groupon editor, I’d long heard from coworkers and customers how fun painting classes were. Browsing through classes itself was pretty fun. There were a lot of deals in Chicago, with options for day/night and weeknight/weekend classes. And then perhaps the most crucial—and most enjoyable—decision was choosing what to paint. Would we want a cityscape? An autumnal motif? Starry Pumpkins? (A playful riff on a Van Gogh classic).
I bought the Groupon and reserved our spots. At this point in our lives, I reasoned, the class was the perfect date-night activity: it was close to our house, it lasted just a couple of hours, it involved alcohol. Plus, my wife had two college art degrees, so I assumed she’d be thrilled.
But in the end, none of these reasons for choosing a painting class really mattered. There was only a single detail that mattered—we had a babysitter. Next stop: Starry Pumpkins!
At the beginning of the class, you prep for the painting. You line up the brushes, and you get your paints, which are in large canisters with pumps, not unlike coffee carafes. You set yourself up on your stool and regard your blank canvas. In the beginning, it’s so perfect and pristine that you could almost cry—because it’s up to you to love it and care for it. To shepherd it through the world, helping it grow into a respectable, productive member of the painting society (I did not expect a painting class to deliver a metaphor on child-rearing, but here we are).
The class begins with the instructor on a small stage leading the students through each step of the painting. She plays music, and the pace is breezy, with plenty of time allowed for extra detail and individual embellishments on the evening sky, the harvest moon, or the starry swirls. I spent a lot of time on my swirls.
What is it they say about kids? Time flies? They grow like weeds? Never leave a frosted chocolate cake within reach of a toddler? Regardless, before you know it, you complete a very respectable looking painting—by yourself! (If you don’t count the step-by-step instruction or the private pointers from a spouse with dual art degrees).
The key to painting, I find, is not to get too consumed with the big picture. Don’t worry if your canvas isn’t an exact replica of the example. Paintings aren’t photographs, and they’re not meant to be perfect. Sip some wine, take a deep breath, and focus on your trees, your church steeples, and your pumpkin stalks. Have some fun—it’s a gorgeous, sunny Sunday afternoon, and you’re out with your wife (and other adults for once!) doing a different kind of experience, which most likely, neither of you will ever forget. Remember, in a painting class, it all comes together in the end.