A monkey with a paintbrush

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I once read a story about an artist who came home one evening to find his pet monkey, escaped from its cage and wearing the artist’s smock, had taken up a brush and defaced a commissioned painting.

The artist was furious! He yelled at the monkey, demanding to know what the hell he was doing and how dare he vandalise such a valuable piece of art.

The monkey simply replied, “I made it better.”

Pretty sure the tale is a fable – a talking monkey is a dead giveaway. This story has stuck with me for two decades, and often comes to mind every time I witness a flame war or debate over design. Monkeys like us seem to have a natural urge to be involved, and really appreciate our own involvement.

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This story also comes to mind whenever I take on an artistic endeavour. Last weekend, it was painting with acrylics. I’ve been thinking about painting for the last few months, but too scared to actually do it. What if I can’t think of anything to paint; what if my acrylics aren’t usable anymore; what if I spill shit everywhere, we’re renting for chrissake.

But whatever. I’m old enough to be careful and it’s not like my folks are going to drive over to scold me about my mess.

I made a triptych (pictured above) and an abstract piece (also pictured above). It was very satisfying.

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I learned that acrylics dry fast, so you have to think less and work briskly. Thinning the paint with water helps, but you get different flow and texture. If you let the paint dry just a tiny bit in the palette, it forms a sticky solid, which you can build up in layers (or by lumps) to create 3D blobs on your canvas.

There’s a tiny artist in my head, demanding to know what the hell I think I’m doing. Yet, as I squat sweating unceremoniously over my workspace in the lounge, I’m in my element, a satisfied monkey with a paintbrush, proud of these paintings, partly because I got off my arse and did something, but mostly cos I didn’t make a huge mess.