Painting Through Midlife

Ann Marie Houghtailing
3 min readSep 28, 2021

I was recently on a video conference call when someone admired the painting behind me and asked me about its origin. I told her that I had painted it. She started asking me questions about how long I had been painting and where I learned to paint. I explained that I just started a few years ago. I didn’t mention that it was an act of wild middle age rebellion to choose to indulge in something I loved without caring if I was any good or not.

I’ve always loved art. When I was a little girl my father gave me a series of books about the masters. Mary Cassatt was the only woman painter in this series of books. Even though I was a child, these were not children’s books . They were large, thin paperback books packed with shiny pages of images of the artist’s work. I was too young to read a word, but I knew I was in the presence of something remarkable.

I’ve spent hours of my life in museums staring at pencil marks and brush strokes and getting lost in canvases. Most of the work that hangs in my home is original art by artists I’ve never met nor do I know; but they are pieces I’ve picked up in flea markets and junk shops. Appreciating and consuming art has always been an obsession, but I never felt that I was capable of making art.

And then on the verge of turning 50, I no longer cared about the output and just wanted to make things. I converted my garage into an art studio, which took money and courage. Who did I think I was dedicating a space to make art when I wasn’t even an artist? Shouldn’t that money be dedicated to more practical purposes?

I had a financially tough upbringing. My mother worked hard to get by and we always ran out of money before the next paycheck. The idea of building something like an art studio felt indulgent, wasteful and almost immoral. I wrestled with these issues quietly but was supported and encouraged by my friends and my mother who never had anything special of her own, but wanted me to have everything that she did not.

It’s been almost three years. I make art almost every day. I no longer get manicures because most days my nails have paint beneath them. I’ve always been a writer and a word person but I had never realized how liberating it was to speak without words. I didn’t know I could scream my heartbreak and grief about losing my mother into a canvas. I had no idea that it was color that would build a pathway back to life and maybe even joy.

Painting is a form of voice. Claiming my visual voice has allowed me to connect with the world in a new way. I don’t need permission or approval. Painting, like writing, belongs to me. It is and will always be how I make sense of the world, create meaning and process struggle. My highest expectations and aspirations for my art is that I’m able to continue making it and finding new ways to put paint on canvas. That’s all. Am I good? Will I get better? I honestly don’t know. I like being low to the ground. Beginning something in the middle of my life is a humble expression of hope that there will always be more. More to learn, more to struggle with and fall in love with and discover.

I didn’t know what I would do with all this art I was making … and then people asked to buy it. So I sold it and soon I’ll host a modest art show. For a very long time I didn’t call myself an artist. I would simply say, “I make art.” The verb was more comfortable than the noun that seemed to belong to other people. Now, when people come into my home and ask, “Are you an artist?” I say, “Yes.”



Ann Marie Houghtailing

Ann marie Houghtailing is the co founder of Story Imprinting, a communications firm that teaches clients the art and science of storytelling.