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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

The Pandemic Took My Job. I Retired Early. I Became an Accidental Self-Taught Painter.

Updated: Feb 1

My paint brushes.

The Pandemic Changed Everything

I had been an adjunct professor of theology and religion studies for five years. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, I was teaching Spirituality & Healing, and World Religions virtually on Zoom. I had planned to teach a few more years and beyond retirement age. But the pandemic changed everything. It eliminated my adjunct gig and propelled me to early retirement. And in the process, I became an accidental self-taught painter.

Ten years ago, I gifted my husband Jon a set of canvasses, brushes, acrylic paints, and an easel because he said he wanted to start painting. He never did. Not one to sit idle and to let things go to waste, and now retired after working every year since age 14, I gave the acrylic paints, the canvases, brushes, and the easel a new life.

Playing with Paint

I began playing with paint one Saturday afternoon last July under the canopy in our backyard. I had never painted anything except walls, our picket fence, and chairs I had rescued from people's curbside trash during my training runs.

My first painting. July 24, 2022. "A Sunflower and Ginger Root Grow Together."

Then I began painting memories of our hiking trips and adventures in the national parks. To date we have visited 24 national parks and I have painted 24 national park memories. These are 2 of my 24 paintings.

My first national park painting. Winter Cottonwood Tree.
White Sands NP in New Mexico. Dec. 29, 2019.
Painted July 29, 2021. 16" x 20."
My 17th painting. Entrance to the Cave. Mammoth Cave NP in Kentucky. Aug 28, 2019. Painted Nov 13, 2021. 16" x 20."

This winter, I painted 4 winter snow scenes. This is one of them - our home on Sunset Dr.

"The Sunset on the Evening of the First Snowstorm." Jan 3, 2022. Painted Jan 15, 2022.

In anticipation of spring, I painted my first abstract.

"Spring." Painted March 11, 2022

Painting on Instinct

I've never had a painting class, except maybe in elementary school. To learn how to paint grass, I searched YouTube and learned to use fan brushes. I still haven't mastered clouds. I paint on instinct and let the Spirit move the brush.

With every stroke of the brush, I've learned that painting is a beautiful, meditative, and calming journey that requires the willingness to create pleasing imperfection. I have learned so much from this spontaneous creative process. I will continue to learn.

Painting my first winter scene in my writing sanctuary at home.
"My Home During the Holidays 2015." Painted Dec 18, 2021.

Running Out of Wall Space

My next painting project is painting memories of running ultramarathons in nature; that will be 30 paintings, so far. I will continue to add to my national parks series after we make more memories this summer.

I've used early retirement to stay active and creative, to never stop learning, and to discover a new gift I did not know I have. And you can, too. You never know until you take paint and brush to canvas.

It takes a lot of courage to share one's paintings. I have received nice compliments. I hope my paintings inspire people to visit the national parks, to enjoy nature and the seasons, and to play with paint.

Had the pandemic never struck, I would still be teaching and not retired. I would have not discovered the joy that painting gives me. And never forget - when one door closes, another one opens. Silver linings abound. Paint those.

Reinvent yourself and have fun doing it in retirement and at any age. Clementine Hunter, a self-taught painter, began painting in her 50s. Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78! I'm 63. I have plenty of time to develop my skills and craft. I hope to have an exhibit one day. I hope to sell my paintings.

I've run out of wall space at home to hang my paintings. If you are an art exhibition curator, own an art gallery, or can advise on how and where I might be able to exhibit my paintings, please contact me. I'm willing to learn and explore the possibilities.

To view more of my paintings, visit My Paintings.


I am happy to announce my first solo art exhibition during the month of February 2024.

I am also the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. The beginning of my painting journey makes an appearance. You can order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.

©2022, 2024

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