Quarantine Chronicles Day 65: First rule of painting by numbers—ignore the numbers

For a while on my fifth day of performing whatever stunts are assigned to me during this period of staying at home, it was beginning to look like this series was going to turn into a daily look at new and exciting ways I can fail, and today’s was shaping up to be particularly embarrassing. Once again, the order came from the Post’s breaking news and general assignment reporter Valerie Osier, who’s already made a nuisance of herself by making me try yoga just three days ago.

Today’s assignment: Make a paint-by-numbers picture of a psychedelic dinosaur, and you’re already saying, “Hold on. You’re failing at paint-by-numbers? Isn’t that where you’re given a drawing with numbered spots for different numbered colors and all you do is paint the spots with their corresponding colors?”

Well, nice job of explaining it, Mr. Oversimplification. You left out the part about how it’s also difficult at times, having to paint ridiculously small spots at times, and, in this case, use 18 colors of acrylic paint just to make an unrealistic illustration of a dinosaur, which in real life, didn’t come in 18 different colors. They were pretty much green.

Because I’m an idiot, I started reading the directions, but they were translated, if I can even use that word, from Chinese.

“The pigment is rapid drying. Make sure the lid is off when you don’t use it.”

Now I’m fully aware, having spent half of Sunday learning Spanish on Duolingo, that translation can be tricky, but learning the difference between “on” and “off” seems fairly crucial, so I skipped the rest of the directions, figuring I could just wing painting by numbers. The directions are in the title.

So, I was slaving away like a tortured artist, hunched over the canvas in the Barn, when my daughter, who is actually studying art at LBCC (or, rather, at home now), came out to see how I was doing. Frustrated and a little angry was how I was doing. Sympathetically, Hannah advised me, “It doesn’t have to be perfect,” which was liberating in a way. I was free and able to make an imperfect painting, but, not for the first time comparing myself to Michelangelo, I had the feeling that Pope Leo II didn’t offer the same artistic solace while the artist was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

I toiled at my art for another couple of hours, getting nowhere fairly quickly, and meticulously cleaning my brushes between colors. I reckoned I still had hours, maybe days, to go.

Time passed. I didn’t feel creative or relaxed. I was irritable at being flummoxed by this thing that was supposed to be fun, according to the box, “for unisex kids and adults.”

Hannah came out again as I was fretting away at color No. 5. “You know, why don’t you just paint it the way you want to paint it? Use your creativity,” and then she disappeared back into the fog.

Genius! Of course. Freed from the tyranny of numbers and imbued with the spirit of a life led by my muse and creativity rather than being restrained by the shackles of stringent and dictatorial directions, I began relaxing and enjoying myself and imagining wearing a nice sun hat and a floral housecoat and joining a plein air painting club on a sunny Sunday on the Bluff. Later, there would be tea and biscuits.

Just moments later, after splashing paint around joyfully and imaginatively, I was finished with my surrealistic dinosaur.

Is it Louvre-worthy? Possibly. It’s a matter of taste. I mean, if the Louvre wanted it, I could probably loan it out for a few months, but I’d want it back.

My takeaway from Tuesday was basically this, and it’s my advice to young artists: Don’t let numbers push you around. Be your own painting boss. Step on the snake’s head. Paint free or die.

To recap my journey toward mastering all things in life. The areas I’ve been assigned to sample and which I intend to pursue , in order, are:

  1. Sitting around listening to records
  2. Baking
  3. Spanish
  4. Integer-free paint-by numbers
  5. Yoga

There are more things for me to conquer coming up. Who knows what they are: Getting shot out of a cannon? Mercenary? Mixed martial artist? Maytag repairman? There’s so much more to learn, but then this stay-at-home order could last a lot longer. If it does, perhaps I’ll actually even get good at something.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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