Last week, the dragons were presented our Independent Study Project options, accompanied by the pressure to choose. As I deliberated, I felt a sudden urge to choose painting. I still cannot place the source of this urge. Perhaps I wanted a hands-on activity? Was it the appeal of learning something completely foreign to me? Or maybe it was just my inner Michelangelo coming to surface. Whatever it was, I chose painting on an impulse.
On my first day, I met my instructor, Benedicto. I was ready to slap some paint on canvas and get my hands dirty (literally and figuratively). I was chomping at the bit. I was surprised when he told me that I wouldn’t be painting for the first week. Benedicto told me that I would be painting just one mural on the house in San Juan owned by Where There Be Dragons: dauntingly high stakes for my measly painting career. First, I needed chose what I was going to draw. I knew my options were limited to imaginary creatures. Then, regardless of the final product, I could say, ¨It is supposed to look like that¨. So I decided to draw a dragon. After all, how can you have a dragon house with no dragon mural? My next task was to research dragons in order to ¨feel¨ my mural and receive inspiration. Along with Internet research, I interviewed a local, San Juan painter, Diego Isaih Hernandez, who has paintings on display in a Smithsonian– which is pretty cool. I learned about what snakes represent in the Mayan culture and the painting style of San Juan. With these ideas in mind, I went to examine the wall. I wanted to give the dragon a 3-D effect so I decided to have my mural start on the wall and slither off onto a pillar.
The first day painting, I applied white base-layer on the wall. The paint was intended for the wall but, of course, a few speckles ended up on my face (despite my utmost efforts, there was inevitably paint on my face at the end of the day). Then, I painted a rough outline of the body of the dragon,with –the help of Benedicto– created a shading effect. A little white here, a little black there. And then, the final touch; lime-green scales.
Creating the face pushed the limit of my painting abilities. In the end, it looked suspiciously similar to Mushu from Mulan. But hey, ¨Great artists steal¨, right? (it doesn’t feel right attributing that quote to someone else, but alas, it belongs to Picasso). After hours of work and Benedicto´s critique, my dragon became alive on the wall.
I am grateful for the time Benedicto gave me and for the perspective I gained on the importance of painting. As we admired the murals in San Juan, I saw the stories of an oppressed, but determined, Maya people making their existence known. He showed me the powerful social voice a painter possesses. Although I will probably never have a painting in a Smithsonian, Benedicto helped me become the humble painter I am today. In the beginning, I was nervous to paint a mural; but at the end of the day, I slayed my dragon.