What does a painting class have to do with tarot?

This year I’m doing something I’ve wanted to try for a long time: I’m taking a painting class.

When I was younger I used to love drawing, crafting, and creating all kinds of things with my hands. Like many adults, I’ve let some of those interests fall to the wayside over the years and I’ve come to miss them.

There is something incredibly grounding about working with your hands.

I’ve always been interested in painting, but when I’ve tried to paint on my own, I’ve often felt out of my element.

I don’t know if I’m applying too much pressure on the brush. Or how to make an image look the way I see it in my imagination. Or which details to put on the canvas first.

Basically, I don’t know where to begin or what to focus on when I’m on my own.

I know that art can be expressive and fun, and that technique doesn’t have to matter.

But the thing is, it matters to me: I can be creative in all kinds of ways in my life. But what I want to learn is not how to express myself, but the process of painting itself.  

Because I haven’t had a lot of success figuring it out on my own.

So I signed up for a local painting course to finally learn.

But the teacher didn’t hand us a brush and a canvas the moment we walked in.

Instead, he talked about how to see an image the way a painter does. We looked at shadows and light.

And then we got our first assignment: Learn how to draw a straight line.

That’s it: Draw a straight line.

Do not pick up a paint brush yet.

Do not attempt to paint a masterpiece without knowing first how to lay down the bones of the painting, or without knowing how to see an image as an art form.

Some people might hear this and think it’s stifling, but not me: I am finding it incredibly helpful.

Because it gives me a starting place, and a skill to build upon.

It eliminates the (ridiculous) pressure to start painting and be immediately good.

Instead, it’s a reminder that every skill starts with understanding the foundations first.

I don’t have to be an automatic painter. I just have to draw a straight line.

It’s so easy to get prematurely discouraged in our goals when we expect ourselves to be adept right away.

This can happen in all kinds of ways:

Stepping into a gym for the first time and expecting yourself to lift the same amount of weight as someone who’s been training for five years.

Deciding to write a book when you haven’t written anything longer than an email in recent years – and then getting discouraged when you can’t figure out how to write past the first chapter.

Starting a new business in an industry where you’re not yet known, but expecting to be an overnight sensation before learning the market.

My art teacher’s approach has also reminded me a lot about how I encourage others to approach the practice of tarot: Before you start reading the cards, take the time to learn how to see them first. Understand the tool you’re working with, and then learn how to apply it.

Now, as an art student, I’m in the process of taking my own advice all over again.

We get lost in thinking of the big picture and rushing to the end of our stories before we’ve gathered the plot points we need along the way: The skills, the perspective, the maturity, the experience.

This is how people end up overwhelmed. Or saddened by early efforts that look a lot of different than what you’ve envisioned.

Understanding what the first step is in any process – big or small – keeps you centered and focused. Especially if you tend to put oversized expectations on yourself prematurely.

Before you can paint a masterpiece, you must learn how to draw a straight line.

What a mantra to live by!

What masterpiece are you painting this year, literally or figuratively? And which skill(s) do you need to develop right now in order to get the results you’re aiming for?

Until next time,


p.s. Have you checked out Tarot Study Hall yet? It's an exclusive online community dedicated to the study, practice, and celebration of tarot. Learn more here.


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