Basic Painting: A Lesson in Persistence

Haley Jobe-

As a prospective Davidson student, I loved hearing about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities students could pursue once on campus. Some students study the effects of Hookah smoke in a research lab, others build eye-marveling sculptures in the VAC, and a few students even have the opportunity to travel the world on Davidson’s dime. Although I enjoyed hearing from students who pursued these opportunities, I never imagined that I would attempt to follow in their footsteps. I figured that my Davidson career would be defined by the same activities I pursued in high school: volleyball, journalism, and community service. After a year of feeling stuck in the same routine, I challenged myself to step outside of my comfort zone and pursue a new activity on campus.

Flash forward to the first week of the fall semester, 2017. I find myself sitting on a stool in the VAC surrounded by easels and oil paint. I enrolled in basic painting to fulfill my Visual and Performing Arts distribution requirement and was in way over my head. One does not need a professional background in oil painting to succeed in the course, but you must have a spirit full of dedication, determination, and patience. On the first day of class, Professor Katie St. Clair expounded upon the group that the course requires a strenuous time commitment of at least 9 hours a week. She wasn’t kidding. The most successful students (and the ones with the least artistic ability) spend upwards of 12 hours a week on the top floor of the VAC perfecting their craft. I soon joined the ranks of the crazy art students who practically live in the VAC and are continuously questioned as to why they have paint on their face.

Basic painting is the hardest class I’ve taken at Davidson, but it has also been the most rewarding and influential in my college career. I learned applicable new life skills like how to spackle a wall, use power tools without causing an injury, and to pick myself up after repeated failure. Not only did I learn how to paint, I learned how determination can push you to work at your optimal performance and far past what you ever thought was within your power.

I hit my breaking point while working on my third large-scale painting towards the end of the semester. After weeks of non-stop painting and experimental design work, I couldn’t achieve the results I desired for my painting. The colors didn’t radiate off the canvas, the structures weren’t captivating, and the subject matter no longer appealed to me. Stuck in a creative rut, I wanted to throw in the towel and give up on my new hobby.

Photo courtesy of the author

Defeat surrounded me and tried to pull me under, but my determination (and Katie) wouldn’t let me give up that easily. After watching defeat creep up behind me, Katie pulled me aside and affirmed my capability to carry on. She suggested I stop painting images that I didn’t like and search for an image that sparked passion. I sought an image that not only captivated the eye but that expressed the frustration, determination, and excitement my soul felt throughout my entire basic painting career. The painting I initially thought would ruin my experience eventually became my favorite. Determination and passion found me at my lowest and elevated me to heights I never thought I’d reach, even in my wildest dreams. Along with a lesson in determination, basic painting taught me how to engage in creativity as an adult. 

No one, not even Katie St. Clair, can instruct creativity. One must find an inner muse and actively listen to its beckoning call. After sitting in a puddle of my own frustrated tears on the VAC floor, I decided to listen to my muse and forget about the rigid rules that I set up for myself. I can and will paint whatever conglomeration of color I choose onto the canvas; in the same way, I can and will paint whatever future I choose. If I can ace basic painting, I can face the hard trials and tribulations life plans to throw at me.

Although I struggled through basic painting with many tearful nights and ruined clothes, I’m grateful for the experience, for getting out of my comfort zone, and for the many life lessons I learned. I implore each and every Davidson student to ignore the status quo and pursue an activity far past your comfort zone during your college years. Exciting and challenging experiences begin where the comfort zone abruptly comes to an end.


Haley Jobe ’20 is a Political Science and Philosophy double-major from Midlothian, Virginia. Contact her at