Look Ma, Two Hands!

ken-with-two-hands-2016-smlWhen I was a little kid in first grade one of the key activities was the art class. It wasn’t much of a class, really, more like semi-organized chaos. Teachers focused mainly on keeping kids from eating paint, hurling it at other students, or spattering it on walls or ceilings. I was holding a brush in my left hand when suddenly one of the teachers grabbed the brush and put it in my right. “Don’t use your left hand, Kenneth,” she said. “That’s your evil hand.” That’s right, in 1947 people still believed that something was wrong with left-handed people. Left in Latin was sinestra, the root of the word sinister. The brush felt natural in my left hand, but it felt okay in my right, as well, so when anyone was looking, I would paint, draw or write with my right hand. When I was alone, or with someone who didn’t care, I would use my left hand. Whenever I got writer’s cramp in one hand, I would use the other.

Ambidexterity didn’t offer any special benefits throughout my life until an epiphany I experienced yesterday. I was painting a large oil-on-linen, painting a second coat of color to obscure the dark grey beneath, primarily a mechanical chore for this kind of painting, which was “flat” figures with no modeling or shading, like Matisse. The second or third coat of color is like coloring within the lines in a coloring book. I do this with two brushes, a larger brush for the larger areas, and a smaller brush for the detail areas. I was holding one brush in one hand, and another in the other, using first one brush and then the other as appropriate. Then suddenly it occurred to me, duh, that I could be painting with both brushes at the same time. And that’s what I was doing when my daughter walked into the studio and said “Dad!” Then she started laughing. “You can’t paint with two brushes at the same time,” she said, looking right at the living proof that she was wrong. “I have to take a picture of this and post it on social media,” she said. Since I don’t have assistants to paint pictures for me, or parts of the pictures, or second coats of color, or coats of tinted gesso for a ground, being able to paint with two hands at once is a real benefit. It’s a serious time-saver, and at my age, that’s huge.

Leave a Reply