The Surprising Hobby That Helped Me Get Through My Divorce

My divorce hit me hard. Then I picked up a paintbrush and found a way back to myself.

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Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous.

For Nick Kamboj, a father of one from Chicago, finding painting was a bit of an accident. His friend showed him his studio and Nick, who was going through a divorce, thought it could be an outlet. That was almost 15 years ago, and now, Nick paints every week.

I went through a divorce around 2005. Around that time, I met a friend who was a painter. I went into his studio and he showed me his easel, his paints and oils, and canvas, and I asked him if he had been painting for a long time, and he said absolutely not. That he had just went to the art store and had some materials and started painting.

So the next day I went to the art store, I picked up an easel, I picked up an assortment of paints as well as paint brushes. I bought acrylics. Acrylic is really easy to correct. It’s very quick to dry. I thought I’d use painting as a way of expressing my anxiety and sadness about the divorce, before I ventured into the unknown. It really was an incredible medium to calm my senses. And to make light of everything.

I am athletic, but there’s something about painting. I’m very visual. The feeling of the paints, actually just softly brushing over the canvas, and the long, cool brush strokes, was really calming and soothing. I didn’t need any music, I just needed a quiet respite to paint. It really allowed me to create. I would just paint abstracts at first, but the flowing motion of my arms and even breathing was so relaxing. It was almost meditative — seeing something be produced before my eyes.

When I start painting, I usually begin with feeling my frustrations and anxieties and my anger. Everything that’s negative. I have found that as I sit and paint, that those will express themselves in a peaceful, calm way. And actually, I really authoritatively tell myself that this is a medium that I use to resolve a lot of anxiety and turmoil. With that in mind, I just choose a paint, my palette, and put the paint on, I add a few drops of water to the acrylic paint and then I take a big brush, and just get into the motion of painting.

When I paint, I notice that my anxiety really decreases. Physically, and mentally, it helps me. As it gets to the point where my anxiety gets really low, that’s where I get fun with it: different strokes, brushes, colors, and they’re short and long and quick and slow. It’s a complete symphony after I become calm. That typically takes a few minutes. And then the entire hour is nothing but thinking creatively.

If things in my life aren’t going the way I really want, I find that my painting increases dramatically. I can go a few days without painting, and then I’ll paint again. I find that if I am really stressed, I’ll paint that day and for several hours. But if I’m calm and collected and things are all good, I probably paint every few weeks to maybe once a month.

I did a lot of abstract painting, and then, for quite some time I’ve done some landscape painting. I focus on natural scenery: the rising sun, the moon, dark waters, and a starry sky. I don’t do too much figurative work. Whatever the color is of the day, if I see something inspirational that is green: a woman’s dress, the leaves on a tree, the color of any object, then I’ll go home and use that as the primary color to paint.

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