An Accidental Artist: Let Yourself Play!

The author painted this 16" by 20" acrylic-on-canvas rendering of Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, one of the oldest buildings in the New Orleans' French Quarter. "I worked from a photograph and took a great deal of artistic license," she says. Lafitte's is actually a rather drab, cement-colored building."
Article Highlights:
  • Writer Barbara Twardowski, who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, extols the creative and restorative joys of painting, and offers tips on getting started, including disability friendly art tools and supplies.
by Barbara Twardowski on March 31, 2011 - 11:50am

QUEST Vol. 18, No. 2

I’ve always admired people who create art. I do not draw — correction — I cannot draw. It once took me six months to choose a paint color for the kitchen. However, about a year ago, I discovered I am an artist.

It all started when my friend, Mary, decided to have a painting party. She emailed all her girlfriends and asked, “Who’s interested in an evening of sips and strokes?” A dozen women said they’d come. Each paid $20 to cover supplies.

More art by the author
City Park, New Orleans
Pink Lily in Blue Vase
St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans
 Smell the Salt Air

Even though I’ve never considered myself artistic and I was afraid my hands would quickly tire due to Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, I told Mary I would attend. Each guest received a photocopy of a simple painting of a building with a wood door, steps and a wheelbarrow. Mary demonstrated how to paint the same image on our canvases.

I believed whatever I painted would be awful, so I had no expectations. I had come to socialize. I dipped the brush into the paint and watched the blank canvas change with each stroke. Some of the women became anxious about their paintings, worried that the color wasn’t right or their proportions were off.

I didn’t fret about how my painting would compare or if I was doing it the “right” way. I approached painting with an abandon I hadn’t felt since I was a child. Yes, I remember now — this is playing.  

Ignoring the color of the building in the photograph, I blended yellow with red and made a warm orange. I plastered my canvas with thick paint. The wheelbarrow in the photograph was too angular so I replaced it with flower pots. At the end of the evening, I was pleased with my painting and pleasantly surprised that my hands could manipulate a brush.

Painter’s high

Two days later, I bought a beginner’s set of paints. Sitting on my screened porch, I painted fences, trees and sky. Hours flew by while I was lost in the colors. Filled with joy, I was elated and felt like a kid. Some studies say that painting releases endorphins, the same substance that produces a runner’s high.

For the first time in a long time, I was trying something new, creative and fun.  

I couldn’t wait for Mary to host another painting party. The more I painted, the more I realized I wanted to take a class. I needed to learn.  

Mary, Brenda and I signed up for art lessons. For several months, we met with a teacher every Monday morning and painted — still-life displays, Tuscan landscapes, earthen jars, New Orleans architecture. One of our teacher’s favorite phrases was, “Be brave.”

Art is experimentation. If you make a mistake, paint over it. Not every piece of work is worthy of framing. We laughed a lot and never took ourselves too seriously. When our teacher “evaluated” our work, she always found something to praise. Perhaps it was the bold use of color or the shape of a leaf. She taught me to look at my paintings and see what was good — what works.

Art ‘therapy’

In between classes, I painted at home. I read books about painting and watched demonstrations on YouTube. On vacation, I painted beach scenes.  

Friends and family supported my artistic endeavors. Some even hung my paintings in their homes.

When a local community theater needed artwork for an auction, Mary, Brenda and I donated our paintings. When a neighboring town sponsored an Eiffel Tower art contest for their Bastille Day Festival, we spent a morning together and painted our interpretations of France’s famous monument.  

My friends and I are continuing our art education. Once a week, we meet at my house for a three-hour lesson with professional artist Tanya Dischler, who has six paintings hanging in the Louisiana governor’s mansion. Tanya says painting is the ability to alternate between control and chaos.

After we’ve been painting for a while, we take a break and step back from our easels. It’s easier to see your progress when you allow some distance. We look at one another’s work, offering praise and gentle suggestions on how to improve a piece. The paintings are always three uniquely different creations.

After our lesson, our tradition is to eat lunch together. We laugh, we talk and we support one another — it’s what we call “art therapy.”  

Finding your inner artist

If you’re ready to “be brave” and release your inner artist, consider these ideas:

Take a class. Almost every community has an arts organization. Become a member or sign up for their newsletter. Many local colleges offer continuing education art courses, or check the phonebook and online for individual art teachers or schools offering lessons. Local art stores often post announcements or are familiar with artists who teach.

Or, start your own class. When my friends and I wanted to take an acrylic painting class, we went online and searched for artists in our community, which is how we found Tanya. Many artists want to supplement their income by teaching, and group lessons are more affordable than private lessons.

Deepen your art appreciation. Visit art galleries and museums in your community and while on vacation. Sign up for their mailing lists to hear about special events and art openings. Be sure to attend exhibits and social events to meet other artists. If you have a favorite artist, see if his/her studio is open to visitors.

Check the local newspaper for arts announcements. Attend art festivals and fairs; artists usually are happy to answer questions and some even create during the festival. To find art festivals and fairs, visit and

Use disability friendly art tools. The mega store of art supplies,, carries an impressive array of adaptive art supplies. Search under “special needs” for an assortment of easy-to-grip drawing tools and brushes — even a wheelchair-accessible potter’s wheel. The Convert-Able Table by Real Design is a table that tilts to become a wheelchair-accessible art easel.

Bob Davies’ website, “How to Draw and Paint,” is packed with “free tips and tutorials for artists of all abilities.” Visit to take free video lessons, read about different mediums, and share your tips.

Now go out there and paint!

Barbara Twardowski, of Mandeville, La., is a frequent Quest contributor.

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