The Soul of the Brush

The painter has the Universe in his eyes and hands. Leonardo da Vinci

Humans have been painting with brushes for over 16,000 years. Ancient people created brushes from feathers and hair attached to sticks. Chinese brushes originated over 6,000 years ago and are still used throughout Asia. As with the creation of any tool, why did ancient humans feel the need to create art? For that matter, why do we need to create art? A sacred primal world is stirred by a brush or pen. There are older forms of art, but I have been fascinated by painting since I was a little kid. My dad built us a playhouse in the backyard. He built it from old motorcycle shipping crates. He painted one of the pieces of furniture with scenes from an old cartoon we used to watch. I was about three years old and I watched my dad draw the cartoon with a pencil, and then paint the cartoon with brilliantly vivid colors. It was if his brush was a magic wand. When my sisters and brother were not around my dad handed me the paintbrush and let me paint a single brushstroke. Something marvelous woke inside me that day.

Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun. Pablo Picasso

A pencil or pen could be used for school work or any number of things. But a paintbrush was just for painting. I was in heaven when my kindergarten teacher let us paint. The smell of tempera paint had a narcotic effect on me. The plastic dishpan full of paintbrushes was a treasure chest. Even the smell of the cheap newsprint paper gave off a heady perfume. But what really turned me on to painting was a painting I did in kindergarten. The teacher said paint anything you like. I painted a six legged monster wearing tennis shoes. After I painted the bright yellow sun, I started painting the blue sky. Well the wet paper and overly watery blue paint hit that yellow sun and magically started to turn my sky from green to blue. I was fascinated as the yellow bled into the blue. When the teacher asked me why the sky was green I told her because it is art. That was true, because that painting was put on display in the city student art exhibit that year.

What keeps my heart awake is colorful silence. Claude Monet

In middle school I put together some models, not because I liked model making but because you got to paint them. And the kits came with a small brush and paint thinner. I didn’t like model cars or planes. I would save my money and buy science fiction models of UFOs and monsters. Those tiny brushes were my first brushes. My dad taught me to always take good care of your brushes and wash them out after using them. So I slowly collected model brushes and paints. Like my dad did when I was a little kid, I drew and painted some of my favorite cartoons. My sister complained once that I was copying a picture instead of making my own. My dad told her that is how you learn art – copying the masters. Although my dad was a factory mechanic, he was an artist in his soul.

I don’t paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.Frida Kahlo

In high school, I discovered acrylic paints. My art teacher was the first person to ever give me a paintbrush. He had hundreds and hundreds of them. One semester I painted a dozen different pieces for class, including one that later earned me the art award my senior year. I painted Buzz Aldrin saluting the American flag on the moon. After seeing that painting, Mr. Hodge, my teacher, told me to take whatever brushes I wanted. I still have one of those brushes. The soul of that brush harmonized with my soul. Whenever I picked it up, I could feel it become a part of me. Whatever I saw I could paint with that brush. In college and after, I worked in watercolors and then in ink when I discovered Chinese painting. To understand Chinese painting, I had to learn about Taoism. My soul was the fulcrum between Painting and Taoism.

If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.Edward Hopper

The threat of the pandemic drove me inside. As the scourge spread, the fear mounted. But picking up a brush and painting again, drove away the demons, and lit the darkness. Holding a brush, smelling the paint, seeing the layers of washes build depth and subtle details, stirred my soul. The brush is here by my side as I write. The brush, the pen, pencil and the keyboard are my constant companions. Behind me, scattered across the table I have inks, acrylics, watercolors, canvas, and papers. When I pick up the brush, sketch the scene and begin to paint – I am that little boy called Chuckie by his teachers and his mom. The soul of the brush is my soul and the paints are my essence.

Published by cewheeler

Writer/Artist:12 years in China – univ. lecturer: writing,poetry,culture; editor – magazine/newspaper & actor. 40 years students of the Tao. Traveler. Father. Read my books at:

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