Joni Laberge

This spring I was testing a distance art program for my day job in teen recreation. I found a set of watercolours I’d kept in a box since I went to Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson in 2002.

I went to KSA to pursue my dream of being a writer. As an afterthought I picked Mixed Media as my second studio. In one short year, KSA lost its funding and both the Mixed Media and Writing programs ended.

Not knowing what else to do, I set off to Calgary to be the next Sheri-D Wilson. I got into the Calgary Stroll of Poets, but didn’t ever emerge. I kept striving to be a writer, joining feedback groups, attending conferences and doing writing residencies at Banff Centre and Sage Hill.

I started seeing myself as a writer when I was nine. Someone read my writing and said that I had talent. That little shred of praise was all it took to invest my identity in this dream.

Decades later, I got choked up when my writing mentor John Keeble said, “You know, you can actually do this.” At age thirty, I still had the neediness of an approval-starved nine-year-old. This year I stopped writing. I was 370 pages into my memoir, reexamining old wounds, bleeding onto the page like a gladiator. It felt like shit and I didn’t see value in it anymore. I realized that I now have enough happiness in my life that I don’t need to pursue “talent” anymore. I cast off my tight, scratchy Writer costume when I realized that I am enough.

After 20 years of doing almost no visual art, memories of KSA came back to me. Our old hippy painting instructor, Joni Laberge Arts and Entertainment FEATURE ARTIST When I stopped trying to be a writer and started painting FERNIEFIX.COM 15 Mr. Cooper and his mean little, paintsmeared dog, Sammy. Colour theory. Value mapping. The smells of linseed oil, printing ink and frisket. Looking, really looking, and actually seeing.

When I opened up my old Staedler student paints this spring, I didn’t expect painting to become an actual thing.

Drawing and painting put me into a wordless, sensory space. I started to crave it, the experience of feeling good, learning and being in flow. I invested in good paper and paint.

My drawing instructor had said drawing isn’t a talent, but a learnable, teachable skill. In the spirit of learning, and free from the yoke of “talent,” I enjoy painting. I feel the wrinkled texture of a face as I describe it with crosshatched ink lines. Time bends as water and pigment unite with cotton rag paper to become a wonderful new thing. My eyes connect to the light and dark of the world, and my hands to the shape of each moment. Painting makes my brain quiet, playful and strong.

This May a swath of vivid—almost ironic—green painted the hydroseeded slopes of Elkview Mine. I painted it using intense phthalo green, straight from the pan. I painted the mine again and again, every day for a month. In different light, with different clouds, from different vantages. When I stopped averting my eyes from the scars of industry, I came to love Mount Baldy as a mountain, with a spirit.

I have given up striving for my words to reach an audience. I don’t need to wrestle my demons into a story, nor do I need to hurt to be creative. I don’t need to write the Great Canadian Novel to be worthy. I don’t need to be a writer. I don’t need to be anything.

Painting feels good. It’s a brain-healing, enjoyable meditation. Painting is something I do.