Wild Horses

Looking around my apartment this weekend, I realized that there was a noticeable lack of artwork on my walls. I very much appreciate art, but for some reason rarely purchase it. I think part of it is the whole commitment element of actually nailing into the wall. What if I don’t like it there? Then I have to squirt toothpaste into the hole, which would be fine, if my walls weren’t red. Although I suppose I could switch to cinnamon toothpaste, but that would require a complete shift in everything I believe in.
So I walked to the art gallery down the block from me and took a look at some of their current pieces. They were just lovely – dark, moody photographs and abstract block prints. There were several I would have loved to own, until I saw the price tag of $700 each. Because $700 is the exact figure that triggers the dangerous response in my brain: “But… I could do that myself!”
I’ve been down this road before, so many times, and I have the scars to prove it. I rarely open my hall closet, for fear of stirring up the Ghost of Hobbies Past. The unfinished beaded flowers, the half-complete wool scarves, the never lit sand-candles, the amorphous wood-carvings. Sometimes at night I hear them plotting my revenge, which involves getting me interested in scrapbooking.
But maybe what these projects all lacked was structure. I like structure, even when it comes to art. But how can I, an amateur tap dancer and jug band dropout, create an original piece of artwork that requires minimal artistic talent and is completely structured? Of course: Paint-by-numbers!
I sped to the closest Michael’s Arts & Crafts store I could find, shoving aside a teenage boy who was debating over the 1957 Corvette or the B52 Bomber models, and finally reached an enormous rack of paint-by-number kits. The options were endless – oil or acrylic? Wildlife or landscapes? It was so hard to choose.
But what ultimately drew me to my final selection, aside from the fact that it was in the $3.99 clearance bin, was the complex emotional torment that it captured. It was titled, “Wild Horses,” and initially, I took that title at face value. Okay, I thought, so here are some horses and they’re running around wild. So what? I never was one of those “horse” girls. You know the ones – the fresh-faced girls with freckles and long hair kept in a slightly unkempt braid, oddly sexual posters of silky black horses plastered inside their lockers. No, I was not a “horse” girl. Frankly, I have mixed emotions about horses, so I initially tossed this kit aside and looked at the one with the lighthouses.
However, as I pondered whether swans near watermills or the canals in Venice would look better in my dining room, I found myself glancing back at “Wild Horses.” At first I didn’t know why, but then I realized that as I looked into the eyes of the brown horse in the foreground, I recognized such familiar longing. A yearning for a different life – somewhere far away from the expectations and obligations of the family he had always known. And then I noticed the quiet strength of the white horse, and how tenderly she nuzzled the young colt. Here was a mother who wanted to encourage her son to run and grow, but at the same time felt the ache deep within her belly at her child’s budding independence.
And then there was that other horse who just looked kind of stupid and had hair like Fabio. I might leave him out entirely, or perhaps turn him into a magical unicorn.
As soon as I got home, I told myself that I couldn’t start the painting today, since I’m still in the middle of my Halloween costume project, and my kitchen looks a bit like I just joined some sort of underground militia with spray paint and duct tape and box cutters strewn about. But my unbridled enthusiasm for creating art got the better of me. As soon as I opened up the box and saw the sea of purple numbers, I immediately wished I had chosen the Level 1 painting, which was a hot air balloon. There were only five colors in that kit, while mine, I have since learned, requires that I mix paints together and perfect the “feathering” technique. [Technique? There’s no technique in paint-by-number! Why do you think people buy them?]
Well, no matter. I am up to the challenge. If an 8-year old can do this, than I certainly can. Of course, 8-year olds do have quite keen eyesight, and possess those little hands and nimble fingers so well designed for shelling walnuts and executing detailed feathering techniques.
God, I really hope I can do justice to this work of art. I’m going to give you some updates every so often so you can gauge my progress. If this turns out well, I am considering doing a series of paint-by-numbers for my living room, and will possibly commission a few for the right price.
So here is my first update. Elapsed time: 1.5 hours. At this rate, it will take me approximately 107 hours to complete this painting. Assuming I make the Illinois state minimum wage of $6.50/hour, this painting will ultimately cost me $695.50, plus the $3.99 for the kit, which comes out to a grand total savings of $0.51 as opposed to if I had just purchased that dark, moody photograph that started this whole thing. So you can see that once again the adage holds true: if you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself.

18 Responses to “Wild Horses”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    The… Fabio… horse… That’s all I can manage to type!! You are hilarious!!

  2. Rich Says:

    Scrapbooking! My go those are evil little hobbies. I wouldn’t risk opening the closet. Pay someone you dont like to clear em away while you are out of town.

  3. Jessica Says:

    Please, please, please post a picture of the complete masterpiece!
    You could create a series and auction them off on your blog – I’m just saying!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I have a closet just like that, complete with a tangled beading loom, half-finished needlepoint, the beginnings of a quilt, a stuffed doll torso, rubber stamps that I never used for those Christmas cards…and the scrapbook siren has been calling me too. I don’t let myself go within a mile of a Michael’s store anymore.
    But I can’t wait to see the Fabio unicorn!

  5. Nancy Says:

    Sorry, that was me.

  6. Randa Says:

    I wonder what ever happened to that paint-by-number I started in Grade 5 of that grey-and-white cat…? Oh ya; I’m like you — I never finish craft projects. It probably got thrown out by my mother when I left home for university.

  7. Sarah Says:

    Haha! Awesome. Who knew paint-by-number was so complex? That looks like the final test to get your doctorate in phrenology.
    Abandoned hobbies of mine:
    1. knitting and crocheting
    2. ethnic cooking
    3. origami (I lived in Japan)
    4. learning Japanese (hint: best not to take this one up when you’ve left Japan and no longer hav eaccess to Japanese speakers)
    5. re-learning how to decently play piano (thankfully we bought a casio, not a baby grand)
    6. health and fitness (I take that one up like once a week)
    7. reading “The Classics”

  8. Jenny Says:

    V: Can’t you just see that horse on the cover of a romance novel, muscular chest heaving with lust…
    R: See – if I paid one of my friends to clean out the closet, I’d probably come home to find the projects all completed. My friends are talented that way. And that would make me mad.
    J: Oh believe me – there will be photos! And I was toying with the idea of putting the painting up as a prize for something… we’ll see.
    N: The one that scares me the most is “stuffed doll torso,” partly because I picture it not as an unfinished project, but as some sort of voodoo revenge thing. Is it?
    R: Maybe for my next one I’ll do a grey and white cat, and then you can relive your ill-spent youth.
    S: Funny you should mention origami… there was an origami kit at Michael’s and I picked it up 3 times, pretending in my head that I was going to buy it for my nephew for xmas. Yeah, because 7 year old boys really like to spend their free time making paper swans.

  9. Roxie Says:

    I’ve been banned from Michaels. I tricked my better half by going to AC Moore for awhile, but then he learned that it wasn’t a grocery store so it’s been banned now as well. I don’t know if it was the fact that I would buy up everything needed for a particular hobby and end up not even opening half of the stuff, or if it was because my projects always cost twice as much to make as they would have been if bought at a nice department store. Good luck with the horses (I suggest going a little abstract with them–that would save you some time).

  10. kris dresen Says:

    What’s next, Ms. Amadeo? You want to master baking so you go out and get an E-Z Bake Oven?
    The mind boggles.

  11. Jenny Says:

    R: Okay, you and I need to coordinate fad hobbies so that when you’re bored with yours, you send me your unopened stuff, and I’ll do the same. Then the only question your better half will have will be, “Why the hell do you keep getting packages from Chicago?”
    K: Go ahead, laugh. But it’s a known fact that Martha Stewart got her start with nothing more than an EZ Bake Oven and a vision. Your doubt only makes me stronger.

  12. shari Says:

    What? No jewelry-making hobby yet?? I’ve got yards and yards of sterling silver wire in various thicknesses just waiting for the day when I will sit down and make all those bracelets and earings and stuff for all my friends’ birthdays and now, Christmas.
    And the niggling question remains: What if they’re really not wild horses, but rather, quite civilized horses captured on a 2-day bender? Then what do we call the painting?!

  13. Jenny Says:

    S: Then we call it “Wild Turkey.” I look forward to my hand-crafted necklace with giant amber pendant for xmas – can’t wait!

  14. shari Says:


  15. TCho Says:

    I wish I could affort to buy art. I personally like photographs.

  16. brando Says:

    i like it now. just the way it is. just the hair.

  17. hooizz Says:

    its time to outsource to asia-pac. six hundo will buy you a whole lotta tiny children to paint for ya.
    whatchya gonna be for halloweeeeeeen?

  18. Neil Says:

    Why not just say it is done and tell everyone it is deconstructed “modern art.”