Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Painting as a Pastime - Winston Churchill

Currently out of print, but available used, Winston Churchill’s compelling invitation to take up painting as a life enriching pastime was first published as an essay in his book Amid These Storms (New York 1932). A chance reading of this little book convinced me to start painting almost 30 years ago. I find myself re-reading it every year or two, and it never fails to re-energize me.

At his lively and engaging best in this charming little volume, Churchill makes a case for the all-absorbing activity of painting (particularly plein air) as a respite from stress and overwork. His argument is particularly aimed at the care-worn professional contemplating taking up painting late in life, to whom he recommends bypassing deliberate study and getting on with it – “a joy ride in a paint box,” for which “audacity is the only ticket.”

Churchill took up painting at the age of 40 and quickly became an accomplished painter. He recounts his beginning painting experience in 1915. He had just hesitatingly made a sky blue spot “about as big as a bean” with a tiny brush on the canvas when a friend, the wife of a painter, drove up: “‘Painting! But what are you hesitating about? Let me have a brush – the big one.’ Splash into the turpentine, wallop into the blue and the white, frantic flourish on the palette – clean no longer – and then several large, fierce strokes and splashes of blue on the absolutely cowering canvas. Anyone could see that it could not hit back. No evil fate avenged the jaunty violence. The canvas grinned in helplessness before me. The spell was broken.”

He makes a good case for oils, but Churchill, the (mortal) sensualist, is also revealed: “Just to paint is great fun. The colors are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing. Try it if you have not done so – before you die.

I would add to that exhortation to make sure to read this little gem, too.

- Carl Judson

Churchill, Winston S., Painting as a Pastime. New York 1965, 52 pages, 18 color plates, 8 1/4 x 5 1/4, hardback

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