Thursday, August 22, 2013

Preparing The Inner Canvas

8"x8" mixed media on panel (at ArtCraft)

I have been struggling a lot with my art process lately.  It's my koan. I feel like a living example of Ira Glass' quote.

But truly I've been doing this for a long time in one form or another.  Just somehow with some of the reflection on  my mental habits and the energy of my sitting practice, it's become more clear.  Sometimes that makes it more painful.  (Koan # 109 Is shit shittier if you see it more clearly??) But in some ways it feels like something that is becoming larger until it explodes and turns to dust (and or debris) and disappears. Am I just trying to put a good spin on it, all dressed up like Pollyanna with nowhere to go?  Or am I responding to the inherent emptiness in all our thrashings?

Some days the experience of frustration is so intense that I'm thinking, "why am I doing this? I am terrible at it. Why don't I just give up?"  And then I see Mara's shadow and I catch on.  Yes I could throw out all the paint brushes (I had a friend who threw his golf clubs into a lake) but where would I be then. I am chasing something and some days it feels like it's just around the corner.  And some days it's on another planet.
11"x14" mixed media on panel

The judgmental mind causes a lot of grief when we don't see it for what it is.  It's true that critical reasoning can offer helpful information but when thoughts kickstart the destructive emotions into gear and pedal out a long line of unhelpful thoughts and feelings, critical thought is a bitch.

I looked at some lovely photos from a family friend this morning that oozed beauty and serenity.  And as I sat I was reminded of a comment a monk made to me when I asked him about my frustration with my painting process. He said something to the effect that "if you want to paint peace, you need to be peace." And while that makes a lot of sense to me I often end up on the short end of the peace stick.
Visitor at our back door (outside!)

As I sat with all this I was infused with a lovely feeling of tenderness and I thought that's what I want to come out on to the canvas.  I could see in my minds eye how that tenderness would look on the easel.

And so it is the unwinding of this habitual way of being in the world that is our real work, not the painting, not the writing, not whatever it is that we do.  When we can in fact "be" what it is we wish to share with the world, then it will come through us.  Until then we're just preparing the canvas.  And that's good honest work too.


  1. On the other hand, I keep finding that the poetry I write when I am feeling broken is the best stuff.

    And I love the photo above.

    1. I get that Jeanne. Maybe the feeling down without the struggle is the key.

      Yeah, the little bird in the shoe is pretty sweet. And to think he was clever enough to pick shoes that matched his outfit!

  2. Replies
    1. thanks, Connie. Assuming that means you go there sometimes yourself??

  3. I know how you feel Carole.

    I go through this too. Daily.

    Here's a quote that helps me get through the Ira Glass moments:

    “We are all failures - at least the best of us are.” ― J.M. Barrie

    Thanks for the inspirational post.


  4. thanks Ken for making me like less of a freak! I like that quote, it's a keeper.

  5. When I get stuck, I prepare canvases...lots of them ! and clean the studio and tidy the paints and materials and flick through old ideas books. usually during that process an idea will come and I can start...sometimes I just paint with nothing in mind, sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. If they don't, the canvas will be prepared for another try !!! and so it goes on.

  6. I must have heard you thinking. The day before yesterday I gessoed a bunch of panels. Yesterday was a better painting day! I've been looking at images that I'm drawn to on pinterest and looking for the commonality and imagining a felt sense of painters I admire. Turning the mind away from judgment and frustration!

  7. I like the idea of "being peace to paint peace." I continue to paint and collage "stillness", somewhat related to "softly", one of my newer pinterest boards.
    I read once that an artist is most interested in their next work...what is just around the corner, rather in what they have already done.
    And I will quote you "critical thought is a bitch."!!!!! Yes it is!

  8. You have probably been to Janice Mason Steeves sight, who painted "Silence" which I very much liked.

    I think that is true about being interested in the next thing, rather than what's done but ah, to be intensely interesting in what we are doing right now!

    Always nice to hear your thoughts!

  9. Every word of your post applies to me right now.. exactly what I am going through in my studio also... I love that Ira Glass quote. We do have 2 warring voices in our internal dialogue.. the negative one and the positive one.. how to balance them is the challenge.

  10. yes, calming those opposing voices, maybe even getting them to have a dialogue? I am thinking out loud here. Perhaps even it is a matter of coming to a place where we are so engaged that those voices become quiet?

  11. But truly I've been doing this for a long time in one form or another. canvas prints canada