Sunday, February 1, 2015

Painting, Chopping Vegetables & A Bow To The Spiritual Badger

Why I Love The Wind 16"x20"
I was chopping vege for dinner one night with my daughter, who does some meditation coaching. "How's the painting going?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't know", I said.  It seems like I move paint around on the canvas and never really like anything that turns up.  It feels like I paint the same thing over and over and feel frustrated that I'm not getting anywhere." She looked at me and said, "hmm, that sounds like the same thing you said two years ago."

"That does sound about right," I said, appreciating the honesty and her willingness to share even though I had a knife in my hand.

"So you're not getting anything you like when you paint? Do you know what you like?" she asked

"I like something light. I like some scratching and texture. I like greens and blues and neutrals, greys, soft transitions from one colour to another.  But I rarely seem to get something that pleases me."

16"x 16" Coming In For A Landing

"I wonder if you're seeing a painting as problem that you want solved and out of the way?" She pondered

"Hmm, that's true, I think.  I want a satisfying outcome without too much trouble.  And it feels like I've been at this for a long time without much reward.  It's interesting, because this conversation makes me think of my friend Jeane Myers over at Art It.  I love the way she thinks!  She really perks up when she has a creative problem to solve in a painting.  That's juicy to her and she rises to the challenge. It really makes her curious and interested."  (I also added inappropriately that I wanted her brain.)

"I also love that she says she learns from her paintings," I added.  It seems I'm not the best student and my paintings have given up on me.

"So," said the coachy daughter, "what if you focused more on being curious about the process when you go to paint, rather than the actual painting.

11"x14" How To Get From Here To There

So I made some notes so I could share with you (and with me) and the next time I went to paint I tried to remember to:

-If you are used to thinking of your creative work as a problem or fraught with problems, sense how this feels and try to adopt a different stance.
-Be curious about how you work, watching what you do and how it makes you feel (miraculously I am a whole lot neater when I paint after doing this.  Before I seemed to rush and a mess of brushes and paper grew around me. That made me feel unsettled as the chaos grew)
-Be curious about what emerges on the canvas.  Take time to stand back a lot more than usual.  Jeane talks about having a conversation with the painting.  I think a lot of the time I don't give the painting enough space to say anything. I am like the friend that blathers on. Poor painting never gets a word in edgewise.
-Notice how you feel inside. When I felt agitated and tight, I found it was time to stop and refocus, otherwise I went on to mucking (which could go on for a very long time and feel very unsatisfying.)  Sometimes it's just time to go for coffee, have a walk, take a break.
-Importantly, trust that you can solve any "creative situation" you find in front of you. (In other words, believe you are up to the task.)  This, I found creates a very powerful, positive feeling.
-Contemplate situations in life where you are successful and try to transfer that attitude to painting. Do you write with ease, cook confidently? How do you feel inside when you trust that things are going to work out?  Sometimes it's all about attitude.  Maybe it's always, all about attitude?
-Sometimes just do the opposite of what you might normally do to shake things up.  Do you always paint in a certain palette?  Do the opposite. Stand up. Sit down. Use paper. Listen to music, or different music. Try silence or spoken word.

I have found it so helpful to consider the deeper aspects of what I was doing and how I was approaching it. I learned first hand how doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity (or at least frustration).  I learned that focusing on the process, strangely creates a better outcome than focusing on the painting (or specific work at hand).

And I will end with a story that my coach/daughter told me about a yoga teacher that her friend called the "spiritual badger".  As they stood holding a really difficult pose, he said, "and how you do this, is how you do everything in life." With many bows to the spiritual badger.



22 comments:

  1. Looks like you got everything you like ...scratching lines, soft palette, neutrals, grays and blues...beautiful from here!
    I like the wisdom of the spiritual badger!

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    1. Thanks MaryAnn, I do love the name "spiritual badger", so hilarious! It's a keeper!

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  2. Such a wise daughter you have and I love the whole idea of the spiritual badger! Wonderful post

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  3. Yeah, it was a great and helpful conversation. And isn't it so true, that how we do anything is how we do everything. And of course I always remember your wise words :) and way of working.

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  4. There is so much wisdom to remember and apply in this post. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Louise, yes fun to experiment with!

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  5. What a great post! I really appreciate the new ways of thinking about being creative, and following the work itself. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks Connie. Hope your painting life is going well!

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  6. What a great post and your art is just lovely. I can see Jeane's influence in some of it.

    I love that your daughter was brave enough to speak up even though you had a knife in your hand. :)

    Thanks for the smiles and the inspiration today.

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    1. thanks for dropping by Lisa, and for your kind words :)

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  7. Wonderful post. I have a different problem with my paintings, I rush when I first start out because my paintings take so long to do, I always have to then slow down and let them talk to me. I love these paintings of yours. xoxo

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    1. hi Annie, I hear you talking about the pace, when we get that right we can hear. And I hear the excitement you feel in getting started which sounds like a good thing? There is something magical about the conversation, isn't there?

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    2. Oh yes, very magical and even better when it all comes together. xoxo

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  8. These three paintings, and others past, seem to have the ghost image of a figure in the 'background'. Are these self-portraits? I like the thought that there is an autobiographical element within art. The Wind piece glows with inner light, and the 'branch', my favorite. Love your inspirational words too. Thank you.

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  9. Hello Ken. You always make me think. Isn't that just like ghosts to just show up from out of nowhere? And your words make me think, isn't every piece of our work a sort of self portrait? I know writers love to deny that their work is autobiographical, but in a way how can it help but be that in some way? The only place we see from is our own which creates and colours everything.

    I think I saw some of your photos in Bainbridge in November??

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    1. Hi Carole. Yes, in the Doorways show at BAC. Not my usual botanical still lifes. I'm glad you got to see some of my 'autobiographical' work in person. When we reach inside for inspiration, heart, and even editing, it must be our take on things, our self portrait if it goes so far. Our interpretation. I am still trying to get a handle on abstract work, by using feelings only. It is difficult for a photographer who has always worked with real things in front of the lens, but that is surely limiting when it comes to pure feelings. What does a photographer put into the work? I learn so much by seeing your work, and your thoughts about it, and around it.

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  10. I loved your doorways! Seems to me doorways are filled with meaning. Do you know John Daido Loori, photographer and Zen master. He has so much to say to both painters and photographers about capturing the inner spirit of things. I love how he'd wait for hours just to capture what he wanted.

    Do you know miksang? Sometimes, but not always an abstract take on photos. But one that captures the essence of things again. Maybe you've seen this one?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqGNb5MSOqA

    Thanks as always, for entering into the conversation :)

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  11. I will check out the links. At this late date, the study of what is going on beneath and inside the work - yours, mine and others - feels as important as what is portrayed in a medium. I refer to the imbued spirit, or otherness, that affects the viewer that is aware. I am no longer satisfied with simply making things, and want to deeply understand my relationship with the work. This is what you seem to be grappling with also in your conversations shared here.

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  12. "I am no longer satisfied with simply making things, and want to deeply understand my relationship with the work" I like that statement. It kind of sums things up, doesn't it? I spent some time in my journal last night exploring what my relationship with my work really is and how I might develop that in a more functional way. Thanks for this!

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  13. A lot to learn in this post ... your art is beautiful :-)

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  14. Lovely-Lovely post. Isn't it funny that I have been thinking how your work is growing and totally beautiful. We are sometimes too hard on ourselves.

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