Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Art: Beginnings Are Messy

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. “George Bernard Shaw

Lines scribbled acrossed pages, brush strokes slapped on a canvas, your first hints of color arranged and laid out like a mosaic, trying something here and there but wiping it away and putting it somewhere else again. The constant measuring and re measuring and the drawing and redrawing that begins to mimic a dance. There are many starts, over and over and over again.
With 2018 just around the corner I cannot ignore the beginning of a brand new year. Beginnings, however, are messy, clumsy and often wrong. Many days I stomp off in frustration promising never to return again but only after I add one more thing or fix just one line. After awhile I have learned that beginnings are messy and wrong but the first line or brushstroke is not made in stone (unless you’re sculpture but in any case I’m sure there must be away to fix that!) and that I enjoyed the rough possibility that we call a sketch. For in that mass of messy scramble of lines some form begins to emerge. Out of the abstract, values take shape, out of chaos, order is born. From possibilities to certainty.

There is much comfort in knowing that perfection is not necessary in the beginnings. There is comfort in knowing that perfection is not necessary at all to make something meaningful or beautiful. And it is because of these stages that I am convinced that the Law of Entrophy cannot be the final answer for how often does out lives resemble this process. Thankfully, laws of physics apply only to heat and energy and not to art or the complexities of human’s emotional lives! I have observed, though, my real life beginnings mimic my artistic beginnings. Messy, uncertain, chaotic, often wrong but not written in stone. Art has taught me to trust those messy starts and believe in the form that emerges and that the light will eventually break through. I have learned that with each new beginning and new start, my experiences will help me make the right decision and guide me with my initial marks. 

 In the couldron hidden deep inside my soul, an idea is churning. It is definitely a new beginning. It will definitely be messy, it will definitely be chaotic and I will definitely make mistakes but I will trust in the creative process for chaos is only creativity finding its way to truth. 

“First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.” Neapolitan Hill

Human Frailty in a Paradoxical World

“Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.” 

― Tony Schwartz

Time is  the best example of what I mean by a Paradoxical World. It is a paradox of meaning and meaninglessness. The universe dark and wide gives no meaning to time when galaxies are born in eons.  Our own existence is rooted in thousands of years and our own earth in the billions. When time is in abundance it is meaningless. And yet much of our lives are dictated by this very meaningless object that scientists are unsure of its existence. So much of our limited lives revolve around time which inadvertently brings meaning and urgency to those moments we find significant and yet they flutter away like breath. It is indeed a paradox to have something so important like time be so very unimportant.

Human Frailty is the human response when we are confronted by paradoxes. I’ve placed a 3 dimensional figure in a 2 dimensional space where background emerges into the foreground and even encroaching upon the figure like truth encroaches on us. When faced with impossibilities of prardoxes, whether it is time, science, politics, or art, we have a tendency to shut down. We become inflexible, thus emitting all of our strength in denying what is in front of us, eventually collapsing under the truth of what we are trying to escape. Indeed our very lives are paradoxes at times.

But it is not my wish to leave this artwork on a negative note. I do not see this as a hopeless endeavor but as an opportunity to grow. It’s a continuous circle that loops for our benefit. As we circle downwards we will yet again loop upwards.

“The Universe is very, very big.

It also loves a paradox. For example, it has some extremely strict rules.

Rule number one: Nothing lasts forever.

Not you or your family or your house or your planet or the sun. It is an absolute rule. Therefore when someone says that their love will never die, it means that their love is not real, for everything that is real dies. 

Rule number two: Everything lasts forever.” 

― Craig Ferguson, Between the Bridge and the River

What’s Happening?

What’s happening?
So ends another summer. Like a whirlwind in midsummer the kids are back to school leaving me with much space, time, and quiet. Indeed, the silence is so great it can be felt! This being the first year where both children are at school, the desire to slip into a coma is overwhelming, however my brain very rarely lets me rest much like a busy toddler and it talks incessantly in my ears. So once again I’ve taken my pen up, or rather iPad keyboard and decided to write about a few things that are happening in my own artistic journey!

Elements of Art

The most immediate “happenings” is my second ever oil painting workshop I’ve called The Elements of Art. In this course I have created a series of lessons that is devoted to the elements that make up art. Each element is studied and practiced each week which aims to give artists of all skill levels a stronger voice in their creativity. I am passionate about keeping art a personal experience. Although, some aspects of painting is systematic, my goal is to foster the individuality of the artist.

Commission Work

I am also excited that with my seascapes I’ve been able to commission a few pieces of work. It is important to me as an artist to connect with others on a deeper scale. Through unspoken words I seek to relate to people through personal experiences and memories. Empathy plays a huge part in this connection which is why commission artwork is the most challenging and yet rewarding experience I can do as an artist. Most people who seek commission artwork are complete strangers and I must be able to capture the nuances of their personal experience, mesh it with mine and compose it into a memorable work of art. This requires far more than viewing a photograph but as I practice more meditation and mindfulness I am becoming stronger in visualizing their memories and translating it to art.

Fine Art Prints Available 

It is always good to receive feed back as it gives me new ideas and considerations that I have not thought of before. It has been brought to my attention that I should have prints available so with pleasure I have decided to do just that. I have been uploading to the website Fine Art America, some of my more popular works of art.

Lastly, I am becoming more dedicated in reaching out through blogs my own personal journey with art. Art has taught many many life lessons over the years which is kind of odd if you think about. Most people assume you don’t use art to learn anything. Most people assume the opposite. You learn how to create art not learn from it. However, from my personal experience art has a lot to offer if you open yourself up to the experience and the lessons it teaches. It is with this in mind that I am writing a series of “lessons ” that art has given me. Most professional blog sites advise to keep feeling and philosophy out of your blog but in all honesty I cannot figure out why. Art is very much driven by emotions and the way we think. It is my wish to open the conversation to others and explore the depths of its meaning.

I do hope that you continue to follow along, as it is the connections between each other that spurs creativity and is the nourishment that give new ideas and visions the ability to grow!

Ocean Teacher

What is it about the ocean that people love so much? Yes, it’s beautiful but why? Why does it draw so many people to it’s sandy shores each year? I was lucky enough spend 4 heavenly days on the beach contemplating this thought. Though,  with kids, contemplating anything is a challenge but thankfully they don’t get up very early so I managed to escape to the beach to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. I have not been to the beach in over 10 years and I can say with confidence that coming to it as an adult is more meaningful than it was when I was as a child. 

Much of my life I would have to sit and absorb my surroundings. As a deeply set introvert , I could sit in my area for hours, taking in the natural beauty of a certain area. It is not enough to simply see with my eyes or feel the sand on my toes, it must seep into my bones and soak into my soul.

On the surface the ocean is about as simple as you can get with clean lines and muted colors and the pattern and predictability of the waves. This, is why I think it has great appeal and much of the reason we find it so relaxing to be around. But if we take a moment to understand the complexity of the waves, the ocean morphes into a magical enitity that has a life of its own. It’s ebbs and flows begins to resemble parts of our lives where it runs parallel with our emotions and events. We recall when emotions feel overwhelming at times like the choppy waves of the surf or when we feel sucked into the deep like the rip tides that threatened us as we swim or those calm moments when we watch the waves crash into the sand giving us the peace that comes when things are predictable. The expanse can feel like a great distance between us and a goal or relationship or God. Or it can bring the wonder of mystery and the great gift it is to be here, witnessing the sheer miracle of creation, of life, of the now. The depth of the ocean can be the depths of our sadness, too murky, too deep , too scary for us to explore but it can also be the depths of our love shining golden in the morning sun. The footprints that we leave, though fleeting like our lives, is stored deep in the memory of the sea.

The ocean is not just a calm relaxing day at the beach, underneath it all it becomes a symbol of our own lives. It’s vastness reflects the vastness of our lives and when we recognize the beauty of it we recognize the beauty of our own lives. I believe this is the source of where our love of the ocean comes from and the draw it has on our souls. It is timeless subject for artists and writers that brings introspections and stories that help us find meaning in our everyday lives.

The Pencil is a Doorway

I would say that drawing was my first passion in life. It’s where ideas met paper even before I could write. I remember being 3 or 4 years old drawing a picture of a horse. It had many legs and I knew it wasn’t correct but I was so proud of the fact that I managed to get what I saw in my head and put down on paper. So thus started a revolution for me. What great power you have to a small child who first wields a crayon or pencil to an empty white page! And as an older child I would “borrow ” my dad’s colored pencils and computer paper and draw the hills that surrounded me. As a teenager I would escape into my world where I would write stories and draw them out with detail because I was master of the pages in front of me. 

Drawing is remarkably transformative no matter what age you are. That’s a powerful statement when you think about it. Drawing is remarkably transformative as if it’s the pencil itself making you change. No, the pencil is the tool, it’s the act of drawing, observing, imaginging and wondering that is the transformative part. 

The pencil is the gateway, the door, to opening up yourself and reflection on your world and what you perceive. It dares you to think about yourself and to think about what you see and even your definition of what reality really is. For what’s light blue to one person may seem dark to another. It pulls you out of your shell and asks you what your dreams are, what your hopes are, and what your fears are. These pages in a sketchbook are sudctive with its clean white sheets begging for a graceful curvy lines to dance around its space. All the while you ask yourself does any of this scribbling matter? Is this really “art”?

Drawing and sketching, scribbling and mark making, thinking and observing is all at the very heart of what art is. It is messy and disorganized. There are many stops and starts with ripped up paper from erasers and ghosts lines from false starts. There are frustrated scribble marks and sometimes a beautiful drawing emerges half way through your sketchbook worthy to be called “art”. 

But really what makes art is the artist with her pencil and nothing else. If the rest of the world cannot recognize it as art than that is a loss to the world not to the artist. 

Soon I will be teaching my first workshop in drawing and we will explore the basics of drawing so they can return to their solitude and boldly explore their inner worlds and feel the transformative power of the practice of drawing.

Creative Burnout, a Mask of Sorrow 

So it all started with me dropping all of my brushes onto the floor. It progressively got worse when I worked for four hours on a painting and at the end of it I wiped it clean. To be completely honest, I get impatient with myself and the expectations that I have when I work and when I don’t meet them I throw a mini artistic temper tantrum. I knew what was next. A slump of creative burn out followed by a bout of self loathing and guilt for not being productive. As I reluctantly saunter to the age of 40 I am beginning to understand my patterns very well by now. So it is with no great surprise that I haven’t touched anything paint related for awhile.

It happens to everyone I know and I’ve read every article about other artists that go through the same thing but this one felt different. Every bit of advice they gave felt superficial and unrelated to what I was going through. It seems like the older I get the less time and energy I have to devote to art. In fact,  I’m having trouble even wanting to do it. Part of me doesn’t understand the point of making art because some silly insecure part of me believes no appreciates it. Other times I just don’t care anymore. I’m wrecked with guilt because I feel I like I’m betraying who I am. It is just another way to deny my soul. Oddly it feels like I’m determined to kill it for some reason. It keeps popping up with new ideas and new hope when all I want is for it to go away and leave me in peace so that way I can be the mechanical robot I must be in order to keep the house tidy and be a mom because after all that’s far more important than anything I can do creatively, indeed being a mom is what defines me the most.

It seems as though the mask of me is taking up more energy now. Mom, friend, daughter, wife, Sunday school teacher, paint instructor….there is no time for me. There is no time to just be and I realize the older I get the more alone time I need. So, today it starts with a path. From there I go deep into the woods which feels as though I am journeying into my internal self. The deeper I go the more I feel the authentic self emerges. 

And in the same breath after reaching the internal space of me, I feel an overwhelming sense of my dad’s energy and I remember that it has been almost exactly a year since I saw his face or heard his voice. A whole year has gone by and it has left me breathless since I have seen him nearly every day of my 37 years of life. But there into the deep woods of my internal world I find his energy being recycled through nature. He has become the energy behind the waterfall and the new leaves that sprout from their winters slumber.

When someone moves on from this world those who are left behind become drawn to those things or places they love as if it were a warm blanket on a cold night. He loved science and he loved living in the country so I immerse myself in both. In a way, when I stargaze or sit by a waterfall I am visiting him for a time. He is here, he is now, he is everywhere but I still miss his physical presence. I miss his ridiculous laugh, I miss him shaking his head in annoyance, and the rolling of his eyes. I miss his interactions with his grandson, sharing the couch together while watching cartoons. I miss the slow but deliberate way in which he explained things. And there it is…the source of my creative burnout is simply sorrow. As if it were ever simple.

Alas, though, I had to return to my world and he had to go to his. For there are dentist appointments to be made, Easter eggs to be hunted, swim lessons and all the business of life. But as I emerge from the deep wooded world of my internal being, knowing he is there waiting makes the sun a bit brighter and warmer and I am once again entranced by the miracle of life. I will always want to stay by the waterfall with the woodpeackers and song birds in the back ground but knowing it is there bidding me to rest in the symphony of natural life brings peace. In a small way I have left my sorrow for the waterfall to wash away and I emerge with a deeper meaning of Easter and its promise.

A field sketch from my sketch book is nothing grand to look at, that is for sure. But even the humblest things have meaning to them because this represents not giving up.  Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, beginnings are the most important step to something more.

What is that color?

Currently I’m watching the water move up and down in tiny rippled waves at my daughter’s swim lesson. The greens and blues with light yellows all twirl around in a dance. The greens look slightly murky while the light that reflects the sky coming through the tinted windows are a bright under saturated orange. Add to this the white lights from above and you have the brightest highlight. It seems simple enough to describe in words but if I sit down and try to mix the colors to create a piece of artwork I would stop at the murky greens. What is that color?

This is the question that I hear in my head the most when I paint, whether I paint a person, a tree, or a still life. Most likely it involves some sort of gray that isn’t the stereotypical black + white gray that we normally think of. Nothing throws me off more than when I stare blankly at my subject and mishmash of color stares back at me daring me to mess up my beautifully composed canvas with a grayish mush that is the wrong color, temperature, and or value. How is it that color that is so highly unnoticeable be so incredibly important? Make no mistake, grays and muddy colors play a vital role in the color composition of a piece of artwork. True colors appear brightest when they are next to these supportive grays. The illusion of light appears flat without the dull grays in the shadow area. 

So what is that color? How is it that we determine the precise color of gray we want? To start off I am not a firm believer of precision or perfection so my process does not involve high tech analysis that will compute the right amount of color of each to create that gray. Once I remove the expectation of perfection I move on to ask myself a series of questions. First I ask what is the general color of that gray? Next I ask myself what is the temperature of that gray? If is it warm than we know warmer colors are involved. If the color is cool I know blues and purples are involved. Lastly I ask how dark is it? How light is it? 

I don’t generally have recipes for grays. With each subject that is presented to me a different combination of colors are called for. I do have favorite colors I use when I begin to paint. I try to match it with what is in front of me. Into that mixture I make grays that are related to the general color that I’m using. For instance, when I mix skin tones I divide the mixtures into two. One for the light side and another for the shadow. From there I mix my grays using those two piles of paint. After asking the series of questions I can usually find the grays by adding little amounts of paint. Once I’m convinced of the accuracy, I can make a separate pile of paint for that gray. It is not unusual for me to have several piles of paint with different grays next to each other.

Often times, there is such subtlies in between the grays and when that happens I rely solely on the temperature of that gray color. This is especially true in skin tone where the combination of the temperature of the light and the pigmentation of the skin collide into a mash of sorts. An eye can get lost easily in the differences. Asking questions and experimenting may be frustrating at first but eventually a painter becomes familiar with the color combinations and can use them to play with the contrast of grays against color.