Art Life Doesn't Fit in a File Folder

Staring At Strangers

My first attempt at painting a stranger in watercolor.

At age 48, in the throes of a divorce, I’m figuring out who I am.

What I like to do.

After not investing one iota in myself for the last 20 years.

People keep telling me to do things that I enjoy.

“Have fun,” they say.

It’s awful to admit, but the concept of fun has become completely foreign to me.

In an effort to find fun and fill my craving for a creative community, I joined a sketch group. Convening mainly on weekends, we travel to different locations to meet and commit art together.

I’ve found that I feel less lonely while making art in public, so in-between meet-ups, I’ve taken to visiting local coffee shops to practice painting strangers.

In stealth mode.

Unfortunately, people often got up after only a few minutes, leaving me with an unfinished piece.

Which was unfulfilling.

I was taking too long in an effort to get it right.

I realized I had to speed up my efforts and focus on capturing the essence of an individual – his or her energy – in a quick sketch completed in just 4 or 5 minutes.

Once I stopped trying to be perfect, an interesting thing happened.

I started smiling.

Suddenly, people are approaching me. They call me “brave” for painting in public. Sharing how they used to love to knit/weave/paint/sew/make quilts … until someone told them they were terrible, and they stopped.

Sometimes people pull up chairs to sit with me and we end up talking about art, children, politics, love, divorce, grief.

And then they aren’t strangers anymore.

This morning, I went to the gym and, in addition to my mat and my sneakers and a change of clothes, I brought a backpack filled with pens and pencils, watercolors and brushes. Settled next to a cozy fireplace, I spotted a man with a strong profile, staring at an iPad.

After I finished sketching, I decided to walk over to introduce myself.


(You know, because I’m still the same dork you’ve come to know and love.)

Anyway, Taylor graciously allowed me to interview him and take his photograph. I received his permission to post his face and his likeness here on my blog.

So I’m setting a goal to complete one new sketch each day for a month. I’ll see if I want to continue after 30 days.

The most important thing?

I’m having fun again.

And I’m meeting new people.

This is Taylor. While working as a lifeguard at Walt Disney World, he realized he enjoyed the medical aspects of his job. He’s currently studying to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. And he’s a very good sport.


How’d I do? What brave new thing have you tried to do recently?

45 thoughts on “Staring At Strangers

  1. Hi Renee,
    I’m so sorry to hear about your divorce. My wife and I have been divorced from our daughter and her family.
    Their choice not ours.
    Today is my youngest granddaughter’s birthday and we are not allowed to make contact. My former daughter and her husband have also cut off her only sibling and his entire family. Life can be cruel but you have to find a way through it. If I didn’t have my wife and son and his family and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I’d have no reason to go on.

    Sincerely a friend, Tony

    1. Tony:

      I’m so sorry to hear about the “divorce” you are having to endure. It’s painful no matter how you slice it. Thank you for leaving your thoughtful comment. Really. I get it. And I can feel your sadness. We just don’t know about how difficult life can be when we are young and carefree.

    2. Tony, I can’t imagine being cut off from my daughter and her sons. They live far enough away that I don’t see them often, but I do see them now and then, and I have the comfort of knowing they love me. I’m so glad you allowed Jesus to fill the void she left in your life.

  2. I’m so glad you found art as a companion and door opener. It’s your turn to find some happiness in life, Renee, and this may be the beginning of a great journey for you. I hope you don’t totally give up writing, though. I love staying in touch with you and reading your thoughts and feelings from time to time. Love ya and wish you only the best.

    1. I’ll never give up writing. It’s an important part of who I am and how I stay connected to people. But…it takes me a lot longer to create these posts than it used to. I get frustrated, comparing myself to the way I used to be. I’m trying to be gentle with myself, but you me, right? Thanks for sticking with me thru thick and thin. 🙂

  3. Oh, I can so relate to having to find again the things you find fun! Good for you for getting out there to find them and being brave. Love the sketch–and your daring:).

    1. Hi KC:

      Isn’t it weird how we forget to take care of ourselves in that way? I always made sure that my husband could do the things he wanted to do, but somehow…my things were never recognized as a priority. At least I’m having a chance to do it now, right?

  4. Renee you have done such an awesome job capturing Taylor. What a good sport he was! I have gone through a divorce while losing my Father to brain cancer and trust me, it was tough. If I didn’t find a “happy place” for me, I would have gone crazy. Life is too short to not be happy. Your health and well being is what is important. Hugs to you Sweetie! ????

    1. Nikita! A divorce while losing your father? I can’t even imagine the level of anxiety and depression that you were dealing with at the time. It sounds like you were able to remember to take care of yourself. Some of us weren’t taught those skills, but I’m glad that I’m learning them again now. I hope you’re doing well.

  5. Excellent! You are brave to approach people like that, good for you! Pretty soon maybe you’ll be one of those street artists banging out caricatures of people! 🙂 Glad to hear things are moving in a positive direction!

  6. First steps are ALWAYS the most difficult to take. I wish there was a wand that could take all the pain away, there is but we must find it on our own. It looks like art (and writing) is yours. Keep at it. Peace and good wishes – sleep getting stronger.

    1. Hi Clay.

      Actually, you know what makes me feel great? Seeing you here. Isn’t that weird? We’ve only ever known each other via social media, but I really appreciate seeing your adorable icon and reading your words. Thanks for sticking me e on this weird journey. I really had NO idea there would be so much adversity that I would have to face in my life. I guess no one gets out unscathed.

  7. YOu did it, you knew what you had to do and stopped wishing for it, and did it. This is hard work, Renee. Hard and determined, absolute work. And you are very brave, and I think, enjoying life.

    1. Hi ALex:

      It is sooooo hard. I’m starting to realize, though, that all those years where I was put down and devalued, where I was told that I was “crazy” because I had intimate needs, turns out I wasn’t being unreasonable at all. I’m trying to be brave, and my only hope is that I do right by my son and teach him what women want/need in a partner. Thanks you for continuing to support me. You remain soooo fabulous. Do you think I might actually meet you in this lifetime?

  8. It is SO very good to see you back on the blogosphere! Don’t forget… you can write very well too while you’re becoming a fine artist! (big wink)

    This sketching/painting in 5-10 mins, meeting new people, are all fantastic ideas Renee! Keep gaining that free-spirit and confidence with a splash of FUN! It is contagious ya know!

    1. Hi D:

      You know what’s crazy? I never realized that it takes courage to approach strangers? It’s just something that I’m able to do with ease. So there’s a new thing for me to appreciate about myself. And yes, art and writing are definitely the vehicles that fill me up and keep me connecting with others. Thanks for your words of encouragement!

  9. Renee,
    You still are proving to be one of the bravest people I know. I am truly thankful to know you and have had you in my life. You have no idea just how inspirational and brave I find you and what you are facing now. Through pain and self exploration you will find your balance, your comfort, your smile and yes your happiness. My life is better knowing I can call you friend. Please know that the impact you have had on my life is a big one and for that, my dear, I thank you <3

    1. Hi Lisa!
      I thought of you recently, as I drove past your old home in DeWitt. Do you ever drive by to see it? Thank you for continuing to stick with me as I move thru this weird time in my life. I wonder if my physical symptoms will ever calm down or if this is my default setting from here on out; either way, this is the way it is and I have to get on with the business of living, right? I’m so glad we’re in touch. Old friends are the best friends, right? 🙂

      1. Renee,
        Funny you should ask about the old house. I had a dream the other night that I took my husband to visit the old place and tell him all the wonderful times we had there. I do drive by on occasion. I am not up that way all that often anymore 🙁 I am thankful everyday for Facebook connecting me with a part of my past that I missed so dearly. I am sure with time the physical symptoms will eventually calm down, they were such a big part of your life. I am at a point in my life where I am looking at something to help with my stress and anxiety as I have an ulcer that is causing all kinds of issues 🙁 I have no choice, no way around it now.

        Keep in touch !

        1. You always have a choice. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Do your research and make the best decision you can, based on the situation. But sometimes we have to change our lifestyle and do the work to figure out what caused the ulcer and what’s causing all the anxiety. In my case, it was a loveless marriage. I’m soooo over it now! I’m doing what I want to do for myself these days. Miss you!

      2. Yes they are! From one of your oldest friends ;-). It’s great to hear from you again, you are an inspiration to everyone who faces challenges. No one ever said life is easy. Glad you have your priorities straight. ????

  10. I am so grateful to see you posting again, creating again, living again. I’ve been totally under the radar for a while but I have been sending you strength and resilience as you’ve gone through all of the tumult you’ve seen. You rock, and you inspire me.

    1. I understand what it means to be “under the radar,” Lainie. I hope everything is going well for you in your corner of the world. ANd thank you for sticking with me. Your support and your comment means the world to me. 🙂

  11. I love it that you’re doing this and just seeing where it leads, and pushing past any thoughts of whether or not you’re any good. One thing’s for sure: if you keep at it, you will become awesome at it.

    My thing has been to find ways to grow my professional network. I’m a massive, massive introvert. Talking to strangers, or sometimes even to people I know because I used to work with them, can be enormously difficult. But I’ve committed to keeping up with people I enjoyed working with in the past, scheduling coffee or lunch with them every so often, and asking for introductions to people it would be good to know, and having coffee with those people if they’re willing. It’s hard!! But I’m doing it, and I’m getting more comfortable with it bit by bit.

    1. Hi Jim:

      Hi D:

      You know what’s crazy? I never realized that it takes courage to approach strangers? It’s something that I’m able to do with ease. So there’s a new thing for me to appreciate about myself. It sounds like you are doing a lot of hard work to push yourself out of your comfort zone. In my experience, all that work pays off. Thanks for sticking with me, Jim. I actually really appreciate it. Hopping over to see you now. 🙂

  12. Renee,
    What an awesome idea and a great likeness! I love the way you created the changing mirror effect! So glad to see you’re reconnecting in a creative, productive, uplifting and inspiring way!
    Love ya,

  13. Dear Renée ~ You’re taking important steps in this difficult journey. We’ve already seen what a talented artist you are in your painting and writing. Keep pursuing those strengths and turning strangers into friends. It’s so good to see you blogging. You are loved here.

    1. Patricia, you have been encouraging me to stay the course during this entire journey. You never wavered and always told me I would heal. I have no idea how you could know this, but I’m so lucky to have you in my life. As I move forward and figure out what I’m supposed to be doing next – with this second chance – I hope you’ll stay with me. I’m here for you, too.

      Oh, and I’ll send you a private message. I have something funny to share with you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop