My grandma Shirley turned 81 last week and my girlfriend and I went to visit her at her apartment in Madison, WI.

A little back story on my grandma quick; she is an artist. Like a legit artist. Like some people say that stand-up comedy is an art. No, not compared to what my grandma does, she does real art with colors and brushes and canvases.

Everyone in my family has at least 4 pieces of artwork of hers in their homes. I have three in my living room, one in my kitchen and when I find the right frame I’ll have a fifth piece hanging somewhere in my house. The paintings that I have are beautiful watercolor landscapes. What most of my family have are the hundreds of flowers that she has painted over the years.  Her artwork can be found in a lot of places in the town where she raised her kids, Ladysmith WI. The Catholic Church and the courthouse are just two of the places.

The oldest painting she has is from 1967. She has done thousands of paintings since. Most of her paintings are in watercolor. But she has found even more ways to create art that are very creative.

She started doing abstracts a few years ago where she would poura water, cornstarch and RIT dye comboonto a piece of paper and let it dry in the sun on her porch. When it was dry she would chip away at the cornstarch and see what was made. The results are amazingand some of the most unique pieces of art I’ve ever seen.

Her latest endeavour is ripping the old paintings she has done and reusing them in paintings. She is putting these ripped pieces together in a way that breathes new life into them. It’s very similar to when I’ve written jokes that haven’t quite worked on their own, but then I find a new way to use them in other bits and then they work great. She’s doing the same thing with physical paintings, and way better than what I can do with old jokes.

I wish I had some examples, but alas, these things are barely proofread so you’ll have to go with how I describe them. And believe me, how I describe them doesn’t do it justice.

To nobody’s surprise my grandma’s apartment is filled with her artwork. Watercolors she has won awards for adorn her walls. Her newer pieces that she has recently completed rest against the wall either awaiting a spot on the wall or it is getting prepared for a show somewhere. The only thing hanging from her living room wall that isn’t one of her paintings is the family portrait from the late 1980s. But even that photo has her fingerprint on it because ever sweater that is being worn by her kids was knitted by her.

Whenever I go to visit her I get to see all the art that she has created in the time since our last visit, each one more impressive than the last. When we visited last week she was preparing for an open house so she was getting her apartment ready to show off some of her best pieces. So any and all walls with a bare spot were now covered in gorgeous artwork.

She even has a rotating card rack set up with a combination of handmade greeting cards she made and the cards that she had mass produced when her and my Dad started a company that featured her flowers on them.

When she was going through some of her newer pieces with me she mentioned how her instructor was really impressed with one of the watercolors she had did recently.

Now this is something that threw me off a bit. Here is an 81 year old lady surrounded by artwork that is some of the best I’ve ever seen and she still takes courses and still has an instructor help with her latest pieces. You’d think with her experience and talent she should be teaching all of the courses. But she is still the pupil.

I guess the point of this is that no matter how much experience you have, no matter how much you’ve done, you can always get better and you can get instructions from anyone.

I’m guessing that my grandma’s instructors are much younger than her. But the fact that she is willing to listen and take that direction to help her get even better is impressive.

We should always try to get better at what we are doing.  Even Ted Williams, one of the best hitters in baseball, when he was years removed from the game said, “My one regret is that I didn’t take more batting practice.”

So if you are going after your passion, something you really enjoy doing there is always learning opportunities. And yes, you may find those out on your own, but it doesn’t hurt to continue to learn from someone, no matter who they might be.  

So keep learning and always find ways to get better. It’s one of the many things my grandma has taught me.