By Sue Remes
In the summer of 2019 my husband, a serial hobbyist, was packing his binoculars and preparing to head off to a nature reserve to do some birdwatching. “I need a hobby” I said to him as I watched him stuff a field guide into his backpack and walk out the door.
Later that evening when my husband asked what I had in mind for a hobby, I realized I had no idea. I love to exercise, but I consider this a necessity. I love to read, which takes care of my mind. I love to see my friends which takes care of my heart. What does my true hobby look like? I thought about this question for days and eventually I landed on painting. Watercolor painting to be exact. I didn’t know how to draw or what materials were required, so I signed up for a course at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
It was summertime so weather permitting, class would meet in scenic outdoor locations, perfect for creating art. I took the required material list to an art store and showed up for class with a sketchbook, pencils and a small watercolor cake. From the moment I arrived, I knew I was in trouble. All the other students had well-worn sketch books, sophisticated sets of watercolor makers and paints and brushes organized in artistic looking cases. One student even
showed up with an easel. It was very clear – they were art students and I was a middle-aged woman looking for a hobby. Having paid in full for the non-refundable class, like it or not, I was in for the next six weeks.
While the other students were practicing perspective as we painted scenes at an outdoor café, I attempted to draw the table umbrella, which turned out looking like a misshaped flying saucer. As we sat silently in a park painting willow trees, my tree looked like a giant Sasquatch. Each week my painting outcomes were questionable, and our instructor was less than amused. At the end of each class as she critiqued our work, I think she decided when it came to mine, the
less said the better. She resorted to only telling me when she thought something was a “successful outcome” which was not very often. When the class ended, I felt defeat and frustration that I had selected the wrong hobby.
Later that summer, I read a notice for a Saturday afternoon watercolor class at the Ely Folk School. Knowing that in the worst-case scenario I would only suffer humiliation for a couple of hours versus several weeks, I decided to give it another go and I signed up. When I arrived at the school, there were several women already in attendance. I took a seat next to a woman who immediately introduced herself and pulled out a big bucket filled with of dozens of tubes of watercolor. Only having used cake paint up till this point, tubes of color were new to me and I was in awe of her bucket and the dozens of colors. She told me she was getting back to painting after a long absence and invited me to to dig in and use whatever I wanted. I immediately sensed something I never felt in my previous class – a sense of community.
Our instructor Holly patiently showed us various brush techniques. We created leaves and patterns and textures. She showed us how to mix color and how to shade. We spend the next several hours creating art and sharing stories about how we got to Ely. We laughed about our failed painting attempts while painting our way through the afternoon. At the end of the class, we all proudly displayed our creations on the table – compliments all around. When class
ended, I stayed and visited with another woman who, like me, lives part-time in Ely. We discovered we had not just common interests, but also common friends and even a few business connections.
Besides a killer brush stroke, what I learned at the Ely Folk School that day is that having a hobby is not just about the hobby but is also about the community that comes with the hobby. Learning together is fun and people who create together form a bond. Right then and there I decided the world needs more hobbies. As we went through 16 months of isolation during the pandemic, I was so grateful for my hobby, my fellow aspiring artists and our shared experiences – a sentiment that was echoed by many of my friends.
I often think of how the women from my class at the Folk School inspired me that day. I am grateful for their kindness and for encouraging me to keep painting. Thanks to them and to the Folk School, painting is now the thing I look most forward to doing…no matter how successful the outcome.