Painting walls; not the same as painting works of art!

I often tell my students that, if they feel they’re frantically trying to finish a painting, they need to stop! “Wash your brushes and get back to it when that sense of urgency passes.” This month, I’m afraid I’m being challenged to follow my own advice. Life is reminding me that being patient and at peace with how long things take can be frustrating, but sometimes you just have to put your head down and allow things to unfold at their own pace.

details of a new painting titled Flow

This summer we’re redoing the floors in our home. My world is in chaos. Furniture and boxes packed with ‘stuff’ have been stored in my studio for 10 days, but now it’s even worse. I’ve had to completely empty the space and won’t be able to get back into it for another two weeks! Honestly, I didn’t anticipate how unsettling this would be. I knew I’d feel inconvenienced, but it’s way more than that. It’s chaos; I feel like I can’t find myself! I have an endless list of things to move, to do and to plan. It’s like I’ve stepped on an ant’s nest. My husband, who’s usually the one to react to change, has become totally zen-like this month. “You need to surrender to the process,” he gently reminds me. I’m trying, I’m trying, but it feels like I can’t get a handle on it.

I went through a stage of ‘Honestly, I just want this done and over with’ to ‘It will never, ever end!’ I could feel myself losing my grip, so I started painting all the walls while the floors were off. After ten gallons of paint, I was no less frazzled. However, on the plus side, while I was wearing myself – and three paintbrushes – out, I was listening to a very interesting book titled In The Heart of the Sea, about the true story of The Essex, the whaling ship that inspired the novel Moby Dick. Yes, I know. Even I realized I was beginning to exhibit an alarming number of crazy Captain Ahab’s symptoms. His whale: my floors. I desperately need to paint works of art. Not walls.

So why does creating art play such an important role in making the most of life? It is what keeps me sane. It deletes chaos. It connects me to the world. There’s nothing else that can bring me total contentment like the act of painting, sculpting or drawing. Verywellmind, in the blog titled Art Therapy: Relieve Stress By Being Creative, lists a number of reasons why art making is a stress relief tool. My favourite is ‘flow’: “There’s a certain quality of being called ‘flow’ that experts say is very beneficial for us. This refers to a state of being completely engaged in something to the point of being in a near-meditative state. It carries many of the benefits of meditation, leaving you much less stressed when you’re done. You can experience ‘flow’ when you’re doing creative activities like writing and even gardening. You can also get it from drawing.”

It’s been 20 days… I’m missing my flow!

A flowing day on Lower Kananaskis lake, Alberta

I was discussing this with a friend who always has such profound insights about life and he pointed out that, perhaps, this renovation isn’t permitting me to be who I want to be. “It’s an identity crisis.” I think he’s right. When I can’t get to my work I feel agitated, as if I’m wasting my life by not doing what I’m meant to be doing; not being who I want to be.

But the timing of this renovation has caused an additional frustration because it’s happening in the middle of summer. Summers here are so short; it’s an incredibly precious time. There’s a measure of freedom that doesn’t exist the rest of the year. Things slow down, I don’t teach, and I can usually find more freedom to create following a natural, seasonal rhythm. I can take walks in the forest any time of the day. I can let my thoughts go where they choose without deadlines to meet. I just can’t bear to waste my summer catering to contractors and renovations. So, contrary to the advice I give my students, I’ve pushed hard, very hard, to get it all done before I leave for my mountain adventure in a few days. With any luck, I’ll succeed.

En route towards Rae Glacier, Kananaskis, Alberta

When I get back from six days in our beautiful Rockies, my studio will be ready to welcome me again. The mountains will have once again revealed my creative space. I’ll come back to my work with fresh eyes and a calm mind, ready to enjoy the rest of the summer.

 

 

 

 

Please follow and like us:

How do you know when a painting is finished?

My students see the evolution of my work. I’m a slow painter and paintings hang on my studio walls for weeks, so my students see the work from the original charcoal drawing to the final brush stoke. Some of them notice the process; others don’t. Some ask questions and all of them seem interested in my answers. But the other day one of the boys asked, “So? How do you know when it’s done?”

I love their questions. They force me to be more reflective about my own paintings, so I can be more intentional about transferring my own learning to their projects. When this delightful young man asked how I would know when my painting was done, I said, “When none of the colours jump out at me; when the colours are in equal balance. But I know for a fact that my rules of colour are different from other artists and from people who look at my work.”

“You see, my dad was seriously colour-blind. One day, he went shopping for a new car and came home bragging about the new station wagon he’d just bought. We were all pretty excited of course – at least until we had a look at it. It was bright neon orange! “I got a great deal on it,” he said proudly.” None of us had the heart to tell him why that salesman was undoubtedly bragging to his family that he’d finally unloaded that awful orange wagon. But, needless to say, we all came to love it despite its colour and, whenever we’re together, my sister and two brothers still tell stories about that ugly orange wagon dragging all 6 of us to the cabin every weekend.

Detail of The orange cat

Two of my three sons have inherited my dad’s colour-blindness so, to me, colour is an objective thing and colour balance can only be discerned by the viewer. In fact, the use of colour is what makes the ‘voice’ of each visual artist unique. And I think I’m a slow painter because that pace allows me to disappear into the process, to engage in a real dialogue with the colours. In a world where the private gallery system wants us to pop paintings out at an alarming rate, I go against the current and paint slowly. Not because I can’t paint fast, but because I’ve created a process for myself that allows me to spend the time to really see the colours live beside one another as the canvas fills. During that time I can observe the evolution of their relationships, and I can feel the tensions and releases between them. Being involved with a work of art for many hours makes me feel as though the whole world is contained in that one canvas. It’s a simpler version of the world, where everything exists in a state of respect for what surrounds it, and where I can exist as part of the process.

Detail of The orange cat

I have no idea how other people see it. But, to be honest, that’s not relevant. The only way for an artist to get to where she is going is to follow the path that her work is tracing for her, and to make abstraction of the outside world when it comes to painting decisions. One painting at a time is how an artist moves forward, each piece paving the way for the next work.

But, strangely, as soon as the painting is finished it doesn’t belong to me anymore. As much as I live in them while I’m painting, once done, my mind has moved on to the next project and the art has become part of a larger world that is out of my control. As Katie Ohe once told me, “All an artist can do is believe in what he does.”

My painting is finished when it feels right to me.

Please follow and like us: