I set up a portable easel, at times struggling to get the tripod legs the right height and to secure the 12-by-16-inch canvas to the easel in case it is a windy day. I search for the duct tape in one of my many canvas totes.

The last four summers, I have taken a plein air oil painting class six to eight Saturdays in a row. This past COVID summer, the class was online. The painting, of course, was in real life.

Creating art in chaos is saving my life.

As soon as I settle in, I sketch onto the canvas in pencil the scene before me, making decisions on how to frame the scene, what to include, distort or ignore.

Then I paint a wash of turpentine-thinned, light yellow ochre, cadmium red, burnt sienna, chromium oxide green, and cerulean blue– or whatever the scene demands, mixing with titanium white or a touch of black or indigo to get the proper hue.

I am learning to paint in oils, yes, but I am learning to see, focus, pay attention to the smallest details, Am I am also learning to revere how buoyant I can feel by finding just the right whiff of blue for a distant wave or how a fine brush can make the difference in expressing movement on a canvas.

With the noise of daily news updates on COVID, the election, protests, racial injustices, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, deaths, hate, catastrophes and deceits filling my daily life, it is a privilege and rescue to take a few solitary hours every Saturday to create art.

Joy can start so small and touch everything around me– including me.

Even if I am not so satisfied with the outcome–this rock looks like a piece of bread, that flower is shaded improperly, and this person’s face is misshapen– there is always an element that I feel I did get magically right that makes me feel sincerely proud. The lilies. The sky. The bushes caressing the wall. That leaf, there.

This is an excerpt from my latest book of essays, Act Like Your’re Having A Good Time.


  • Michele Weldon

    Author 6 books; journalist; NU emerita faculty; The OpEd Project leader; editorial director Take The Lead, mother of 3 sons.

    MICHELE WELDON is an author, journalist, senior leader with The OpEd Project, directing the Public Voices Fellowship initiative at Northwestern University since 2012. She has led OpEd Project initiatives at Stanford, Princeton, Brown, DePaul and Loyola universities, Ms. Foundation, Rush University Medical Center, Center for Global Policy Solutions, Boone Family Foundation, Youth Narrating Our World through The McCormick Foundation,  Urgent Fund Africa  and more. She is an award-winning journalist and author with nearly four decades of experience on staff and contributing positions at North Shore Magazine, ADWEEK, Fairchild Publications, Dallas Times Herald and Chicago Tribune. She is emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School where she taught for 18 years. She was co-director of TEDxNorthwesternU 2014. She is the author of six nonfiction books including her latest, Act Like You're Having A Good Time (2020), Escape Points: A Memoir (2015) and chapters in seven other books; has delivered more than 200 keynotes and appeared on scores of TV and radio outlets globally. A frequent contributor on issues of gender, media and popular culture, her work appears in hundreds of sites including New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, TIME, Christian Science Monitor, Guardian, Slate, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and more. She is editorial director of Take The Lead, a global women's leadership initiative. She serves on the advisory boards of Life Matters Media, Global Girl Media Chicago, Sarah's Inn, Between Friends and Beat The Streets. She is a former member of the board of directors of Journalism & Women Symposium.