What Else I’m Learning While I’m Learning to Paint

David Burn
3 min readAug 22, 2023

I started painting again. The impulse seemed to emerge from nowhere or maybe it came from someplace deep within.

When I’m painting, I’m able to get into the zone right away and let myself go. For the most part, I find it’s an unrestrained act to make a painting. This is different from writing, which I come to with training, expectations, and thus some level of built-in stress.

I’ve relied on words for so long — to express myself and also to make a living — that I now need another non-verbal means of conveying my ideas. And when I pick up the brush and begin applying the paint, I’m not thinking about doing it right, or who I will impress with my style. I’m doing it for the joy of doing it.

“Keep out,” acrylic and watercolor on paper by David Burn

Some of my efforts are better than others. As with any creative effort, only a small percentage of the raw ideas and new works are worthy of appreciation and sharing with an audience. The rest is practice.

“Waking bear,” acrylic and watercolor on canvas by David Burn

When the practice is painful, it may be a signal that you’re playing in the wrong sandbox. Ideally, the practice is something that calls to you. This is what’s happening with me and the act of painting. I’m being called to create by a new Muse and thankfully, it’s a joy to put in the time, get in the zone, and let spontaneous things happen from moment to moment.

“West Texas cash machine,” acrylic and watercolor on paper by David Burn

I’m about seven weeks into this new practice. I make about two paintings a day, working with acrylic and watercolor paints on paper and canvas. Many of the ideas for the paintings come to me just before I start to paint or after a few brushstrokes.

Some Clear Benefits of Painting

I’m excited to paint because it’s good old analog fun. Plus, when I’m engaged in the act of painting it helps me:

  1. Practice being present and sharpen my focus
  2. Learn to make the best of my mistakes (there’s no ‘delete’ button when painting)
  3. Understand and accept that it’s not all about the outcomes (it’s about experiencing joy and flow during the acts of creation)
  4. Stay in touch with my true passions
  5. Reaffirm that I can learn to do new things (and perhaps, in time, learn to do them well)

My interest in painting has also reignited my interest in art history and the works (and lives) of several of my favorite artists.

I am now hungrier than ever to know more about Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinski, Amedeo Modigliani, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Georgia O’Keefe, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, and several others. I feel like the works of these masters influenced me long before I picked up a paintbrush, and now that I do have a paintbrush in my hand, I’m looking again, but more intently at their brushstrokes, colors, subject matters, and the techniques that made their paintings extraordinary.

See more of my paintings on Flickr.