Dirty Hands

I was cleaning off my brushes and palettes, (AKA old plastic Chinese food containers ho ho,) the night after the ArtQuake OneLove show on Friday– and I found myself just… staring.

I’m happy no one was really around at home to see me doing this because I must’ve looked a little nuts. I was half sitting in my house and on my porch and I had my legs wrapped around this big yellow bucket. I was sort of hunched over this bucket, half-full of misty grey water. Little rainbow flecks of paint floated around in it and I had weird kind of moment. I felt like a kid again. Everything looked pristine. The sun was bouncing off everything just right. The air was still. It felt like time was suspended and the seconds were just floating around me, waiting for me to choose to let the clock tick again.

Lately, I’ve been trying harder and harder to look at things with fresh eyes. By “fresh,” I mean the kind of way kids look at things. Endless. There is no shortage of astonishment. Colours, vivid. Opinions, honest and open. It seems that when we grow older, we find a way to create fences. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Ever, really.

So … I had a moment with a bucket of rainbow water. Maybe it was a combination of the heat, (27 degrees,) and the disappointment that ArtQuake was over for the year, but yeah, I can now say that I have made memories with a bucket.

I was then thinking further. I pulled my hands out of the bucket water and noticed all this grime stuck under my nails.  I began to think about how I’d received many a funny look for having really chipped up nail polish or if I had paint under my nails. When I was taking some art classes up at my university, I’d even have graphite smeared on part of my face and not even know it. It seems to be socially frowned upon, especially for females, to… look dirty, I guess. We’re supposed to be “clean.”

But I disagree to a certain level.

Yeah, cool, shave your pits, floss your teeth, put on deodorant, whatever. I got that part– I get it. But when you tell me that my nail polish looks all nasty because it’s two weeks old and because I work with my hands like a freak– well, let me fill you in on my perspective.

When the polish chips enough, I see a cityscape. The worn black makes the tops of buildings and the pale of the nail underneath is the sky. It helps that I flip paint container caps, open tins, sharpen pencil and scratch at canvas surfaces a lot. Stuff I wouldn’t get to do as much if I actually cared about keeping a flawless hand.

I got laughed at once for getting paint under my nails and I didn’t get it. I think it’s beautiful. Because to me, it means that I did something of value today. What may be grimy and supposedly unhygienic to you is a badge of accomplishment for me. I have to fight with myself every day to pick up a pencil or a paintbrush. So often am I tempted to be stationary. So often to I have doubts that paralyze me. And getting that smear of black charcoal crap on my face means that, today, I was a winner.

It was after observing some dirty water and dirty hands that I was reminded about one of the brilliant things about art. It is partially about perception, growth and exploration. But it is entirely about you. It is about how you take responsibility for it. That you accept that it may change you, and that it will, at least once in awhile, get your hands “filthy.”


  • ArtQuake withdrawal does weird things to you
  • I had a moment with a bucket of water
  • I win
  • Will you let art change you?


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