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  • Michael Russel

My Left-Handed Art Experience (Or Don't Give Up Your Day Job for a Hockey Career!)


When I was in my early thirties, I attended a small art school on Wednesday evenings. The art school was held in an aged two-room log cabin (not kidding) on the edge of town. The cabin maybe fit a dozen people, side by side, with the smell of percolating coffee in the other room. The wise and experienced art teacher, June Kelly, put me through her paces, having me paint several different types of scenes – mountains, seascapes, and finally a winterscape. June said I could copy a painting or make up my own scene, so I imagined a frozen stream with barren trees and a faded yellow setting sky. I set to work.

At that time I lived on a small cul-de-sac in a small town twenty miles east of St. Louis, Missouri. The neighborhood kids commonly played roller-hockey on the street, and many of the dads joined in. I was a decent skater, but no Wayne Gretzky. On that particular weekend afternoon, I had maybe skated for five minutes, when I fell backward breaking my fall with my right hand. At the sound of the loud SNAP, the kids and adults stopped, looked my way, and saw me writhing on the ground holding my wrist.

As you might expect, I broke that wrist, so the next Wednesday, I headed to art class with my hand wrapped in a stiff brace. After setting up my paints and canvas, I soon figured out the brace was going to hamper my brushwork too much. I went to the coffee pot and looked through the door to my barely initiated painting. If I couldn’t use my right hand, I thought, could I possibly use my left? I knew I really had no choice.

So away I went, awkward at first, very deliberately placing every stroke onto the canvas. The process was very cerebral. I calculated the placement of every swipe of my brush, to a degree I had never done with my right hand. After a few weeks, I was finally able to remove the brace in time to sign my name to the painting. In all, I had completed over ninety percent of the painting with my non-dominant hand. I found the experience freeing, and I confirmed to myself that seeing was much more important than the act of painting. It didn’t matter which hand I used, if I could see it, I could paint it! The other important lesson I learned was that I had best find another hobby than roller hockey!

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