Entries Tagged as 'Process'

Notes on recent painting and living

Friday, December 7, 2018

In the past month, I’ve been reading The path of least resistance: Principles for creating what you want to create by Robert Fritz, a composer and organizational consultant who was popular in the eighties. It’s an older book, but the concepts struck me as timeless. Fritz talks about how we tend to limit our creativity (and our lives) by considering the process of how we are going to do something or how we will get there, before we allow ourselves to imagine what we want to create or where we truly want to go. He cites artists of all persuasions who’ve discovered that the secret to life-long creativity is allowing ourselves to think and imagine the results we want to obtain first, and then develop the process to get there.  Using the example of famous inventors, he argues that when we rely only on what we currently know, we can’t create something new.  We must envision what we really want, take an accurate assessment of where we are now, and then head out in the direction of what we want to create. I had this experience when I first started painting. I had no idea what I was doing, but I set out to paint. I learned on the job and the innovations just kept coming.

But for most of this year, I’ve been stuck in a painting rut. I found myself essentially painting the same things in the same ways. Bleh. This takes the joy out of it, and the risk, too. But I didn’t know how to get out of the rut. I told myself that each new painting would be different, but then I’d find myself traveling down the same worn path.

After reading this book, I looked through my photos of Sweetwater Wetlands Park. I’m still drawn to painting it, but the landscape is so complicated I figured any success I’ve had before was just a fluke. Still, I suspended that self-limiting belief and chose a source photo that challenged me.

I decided to start on the painting and figure out how to paint it as I went along, like I did when I was first painting. Here’s how it went:

 

Final painting, 30 x 40″

A few things happened. One, I painted much quickly than I usually do; I completed this piece in just a day. Two, I had a lot of fun. Three, my finished product is a satisfying interpretation (for me, anyway), of the original photo. By focusing on the result I wanted–to create a tribute to these forms I love at Sweetwater–I managed to get out of my own way. My limits (“but I don’t know how to paint water, to shade…”) ceased to be barriers and became interesting challenges when I focused on where I wanted to go.

***

While it’s really cool to experience this in painting, the truth is that this year I’ve encountered plenty of limits, and almost everyone I know at any real depth is also struggling. We see limits every time we look at the news. We watch our hair lines recede and our bellies protrude. We lose people too early and too beloved to be gone forever. The oceans continue to rise, pushing against the limits of our technology and our willingness to adapt. This is not an easy world.

All this led me to reach out to my counseling mentor in an email last week.

“11/27/18

Hi Marshall,

It’s been too long. I still think of you all the time, but today I just wanted to send you a note to say thank you for teaching me that the things in my life most worth having were also going to be hard. I learned this from you when I was struggling to stay in school, and I learned this from you about the challenges of doing good therapy, and knowing myself, and being in a long-term committed relationship. You never trivialized the fact that being adults who take responsibility for our choices in the face of much we can’t control is fucking hard.
I carry this lesson with me in my own life as well as try to validate the hard work I see my clients–college students who are partly still kids–doing. It’s hard being responsible. It’s hard to keep showing up. We must learn to decide which commitments are worth it even when our feelings fluctuate. Truly most things in my life worth having and keeping take work. You never minimized this or suggested there was something wrong with me for finding it hard. You let me know you found a fair bit of it hard as well, and that a good deal of it was worth it to you.
Anyway, thank you for this lesson. I’ll never forget it. You helped me bridge myself from childhood to adulthood. I think I can finally say that at 38, though of course that doesn’t make it easy.
I hope you are well.
Love,
Sara”
***

Speaking of hard, as the year’s end approaches, I find myself in a state of forced patience. My husband Thomas and I have been living with his kind and generous father and brother for the past nine months during our new home construction, and while we’re very grateful to his family, we’re ready to have our own space again. Our contractor tells us any week now, but the closer we get to moving in, the longer a week–even a day–feels.

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors shared a Zen koan with the class that, until recently, always puzzled me. It went something like, “When you’ve gone 90 miles in a 100 mile journey, you’re still only halfway there.” I never freakin’ understood this. The math just didn’t add up. If you’ve gone 90 miles in a 100 mile journey, you’re 90% of the way there, not 50%.  I don’t know if my current flash of insight about this koan is how the wizened ones would see it, but here’s what I’m experiencing as I travel those last 10 miles. Each mile feels enormous. Each moment is a moment where everything is still happening. There’s no speeding this up, no rushing to the finish. It takes the time it takes, and time can stretch like an accordion. In fact, from where I am now, the 90 miles I traveled to get here don’t exist anymore. There’s only the 10 miles, the current mile, the current moment.  Everything is still happening, and anything could happen. I’m still only halfway there.

Prickly Processes

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Life has been prickly lately, but not without joy.

Four months ago my husband Thomas and I locked the door to our little house in the Pleasant Street neighborhood and handed our keys to the new owners. Then, we drove our last load of stuff to a storage unit and began the work of settling into the spare bedroom at Thomas’s dad’s house, where we’ve been living while our new home, also in the Pleasant Street neighborhood, is under construction.

Thus we have entered a new phase of our relatively new marriage–not only cohabitation but cohabitation with parents. While the adjustment has been challenging in the predictable ways, we’ve grown closer as a couple, and we both appreciate this time with Thomas’s family, who have embraced me more generously than I’d dared hope for.

Perhaps no one knows how truly controlling we are until we’re unable to exercise our typical degree of control, but this has certainly been true for me, and surprise: it’s been good for me.  I’m painting in an exposed part of the house, where people can see what I’m working on. I hadn’t realized just how much I relied on closing my studio door until I didn’t have that luxury. Folks who attend art school learn to create in public and shared spaces, but I never did either one. Though I do find privacy helpful when I’m working on a painting, I’m getting less self-conscious, which is pretty much always a kind of liberation.

What’s also neat about this phase of my life, about this communal living experience, is that I’m discovering what is worth doing regardless of the particulars of my surroundings. I am extremely grateful that Thomas’s dad is letting me use his formal sitting room as a temporary studio, and that I am able to continue painting while living here. Has it impacted my process? Yes. I’m painting simpler work right now, work that delights me but doesn’t necessarily push against my limitations as much as some of my other work. Does that really matter? No, not as long as I keep painting. Art has to be flexible enough to adapt to life’s changes. Sometimes, it’s okay to make simple work. Sometimes, it’s okay to hang out in the kiddie pool, even without kiddies.

Speaking of kiddies, I’ll add that my main prickly challenge right now is not the change in living circumstances but infertility. Thomas and I have been trying to have children for awhile. After several early-term miscarriages, we went to the specialist, who diagnosed me with low ovarian reserve, something no one trying to have children wants to hear. The specialist says I’m running out of eggs and close to being in menopause (at 37, this is difficult news to stomach). Our most viable options are adoption or trying IVF with an egg donor.  We are exploring both possibilities, which involve considerable expense and uncertainty, but life is nothing if not costly and uncertain, and we intend to have children one way or another.

I suppose then that these cactus paintings, which appear simple, have grown out of the last few months of painful and disappointing fertility news. I’m hopeful that Thomas and I will be like cacti, able to grow our family despite challenging conditions. The good news is that, so far anyway, we’re doing okay with it all. I guess in the right relationship, hardships ultimately bring people closer. As a person who has historically struggled to stay in a long-term relationship, I am both pleased and relieved to find myself becoming more committed to our deepening connection and increasingly big (ad)ventures.

 

6th Street Sycamore

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sixth Street Sycamore

36×36″

I’m on a sycamore tree kick. I’m also trying to keep things loose and expressive lately, and show at least some of my original marks. This presents an ongoing challenge to my perfectionism and the urge to tighten everything up.

At one point I thought this painting was destined for the dumpster, but I pulled it back from the brink. When I paint (or live) too safely, I forget that the disaster moments–and what it takes to recover from them–are actually where the growth and learning occur.

Filtered Light

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Often I overpaint. So this morning I painted in just one session, walked away, and let it be done.

Filtered Light

36″ x 48″

Art fair fun and feedback

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I write this morning with a keen awareness that summer is almost here. The delicate spring colors, yellow-greens and green-whites, will soon give way to deeper, more rustic hues. Life in Gainesville will briefly slow under the belting heat and the reduction of student throngs. When I must emerge from the air conditioning, I will sweat and scurry across the open spaces, and any tree with dense foliage will be a blessing.

Work in progress

Speaking of Florida heat, I’ve recovered from my first street art fair a few weeks ago. From people taking selfies in front my paintings and several nice sales to unsolicited advice and feedback, not all of it positive, I will be back for more in the Fall if I’m accepted to the show. Art is a matter of taste, and there is no universal in this regard. One of my favorite moments happened when a woman eagerly beckoned her friend to come and look at my paintings. The friend took one glance and proclaimed, “It’s nice, but it’s not for me!” and kept walking.   How simple; how true. When it comes to art, it’s usually is like that, isn’t it? We know instantly whether something is for us. Another person–someone who bought a painting–took time to critique my work. “You should do more of the kind of painting we’re buying from you, less of the other ones,” my patron said, waving a dismissive hand at several paintings in my booth. “That other stuff is too easy.”

I chewed on this for a while. Was he right? Have I been playing it too easy at times? I gave this some real thought. As a self-taught artist, I’ve never been exposed to the brutal critiques in art schools, and I don’t usually overhear people’s negative comments because I hang my paintings and leave them for a month or two.  When people talk, I don’t hear it. So the feedback, while hard, was worth entertaining.

He did have a point, and at the moment I am indeed working on a more technically challenging painting. However, as a painter I continue to navigate by intuition, listening closely to what feels right, what sits well with me over time, and what I can live with in my work. Although some of my paintings are technically harder than others, my inner world dictates what emerges at least as much as my technical ability.

The truth is that sometimes I need to paint in a more raw, simplistic way, because to do so is its own kind of challenge–part of learning to loosen up, play, and allow things to be imperfect, not fully formed or realized all the time. Which is, for anyone who knows me well, not so easy for me at all.

Guy taking a selfie

 

What’s next?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

You Are Here

The Walk

30″ x 48″

Recently a friend told me that whenever she finishes a project and doesn’t know what to do next, her husband says, “What are you afraid of? Do that.”

Art follows life, and lately my life has taken some interesting turns. I moved in with my partner Thomas, and I’m painting in a studio in our shared home. We’re talking about starting a family, too. These prospects are exciting, and they scare me. I’ve grown accustomed to my space and independence, and I never expected I’d want to be a mom. Yet here I am, fear and all, slowly walking into new territory.

Most of the time, I’m even enjoying it.

 

Overtaken

Sunday, December 6, 2015

 

Birds are overtaking the submerged path. It’s noisy in there, messy, and kind of dear.

FullSizeRender

Like all of us, I suppose, when we get down to it.

Birds (detail)

(detail)

As Brian Andreas says, “The hardest thing is to listen well enough to quit worrying about dying.”

I hope you are listening well, and enjoying your own mess, noise, and dearness.

Love,

Sara

(p.s. If you didn’t see it on Facebook, I recently published a piece about loneliness and some of my experiences in Cuba. You can read it here.)

Just today

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

IMG_8902
Jackson’s Forest (detail)

The news media and Facebook tell me the world is broken, to pray for the brokenness of the world.

I am reading Mary Oliver’s Felicity (2015), a tender and remarkable collection of love poems to her life partner-lover, and to the trees, rivers, and change.

I am loverless–for how long who knows–but autumn is here, at least a little, and the yoga is good. There is chocolate and my new bicycle daring me to go anywhere, especially around the block at dusk. And those miracle friendships that endure whether I’m in love or not.

I am painting again, too, a childlike painting with colorful trees and chubby birds, in honor of my infant nephew Jackson, his innocence and simple delight.

In her famous poem The Summer Day,  Oliver says she doesn’t know what a prayer is, but she does know how to pay attention. I am paying attention. Which may be a form of prayer. Which may be a hint about how to love and how to tend the brokenness, in the world and in ourselves.

Everything That Was Broken

(by Mary Oliver, from Felicity)

Everything that was broken has

forgotten its brokenness. I live

now in a sky-house, through every

window the sun. Also your presence.

Our touching, our stories.  Earthy

and holy both. How can this be, but

it is. Every day has something in

it whose name is Forever.

Ponds

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pond 3

I woke at 4am today and painted two ponds before my 8:30am yoga class at the beloved Searchlight Yoga. I didn’t use a source photo for these paintings, but I referenced my memory of a man-made pond at a retreat center in Micanopy, FL.

Traditionally, ponds have mystical, meditative connotations, yet man-made ponds strike me as a little too perfect–not entirely trustworthy. Perhaps the same is true of self-reflection. While important, self-reflection has its limits. I can easily over-simplify or distort what I see. Often, I see what I want to see, not what is really there. And besides, can I really know what is there, when the nature of life is transience?

Direct experience–of my body in yoga, of my hand on a brush thick with paint–is something knowable, at least in the moment, and through direct experience, I become more alive. In my current work, I’m trying to bypass my intellect and self-analysis.  This is meditation. I work quickly and spontaneously, with great feeling and little technical knowledge.

These ponds are places of not knowing. Life is full of such places. On the yoga mat and at the easel, I overhear myself thinking, “I don’t know.” Yet I keep showing up and entering these places, and where terror might be, often there is  joy.

Pond6

Wabi-sabi Cuba

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


The Pond

The Pond

24″ x 24″

I’m back from Cuba and working on a more comprehensive post about how the experience impacted me. In the meanwhile, the textures and general wabi-sabi nature of the Cuban landscape, people, and dwellings helped me loosen up with this newest painting, “The Pond.”

Historically, I’ve struggled with leaving my paintings exposed and unrefined, yet these were exactly the elements I found so beautiful about Cuba. So I’m challenging myself to let my work retain a more raw state of being, at least for now.

Here’s the source photo. I snapped this picture while I was out at a work retreat at Casa Micanopy. The final painting looks nothing like this, of course, but it provided just the right amount of inspiration and ambiguity to get me into the process.

The Pond source photo

 

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