How I Started

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How I started

I usually say that I started painting in my mid-twenties, but I was pretty excited by my second birthday, apparently.  I got away from it, though, like so many children do as we get older. I returned only when I was floundering during  graduate school, in need of an intuitive form of expression. I was studying Mental Health Counseling, excited about the career but weary of formal education settings that had overly conditioned me to value external approval, measurable outcomes, and competitive achievements.

It turned out that good counseling—the kind that actually seemed to work—involved engaging in process, and process, contrary to my academic training, was messy. Process meant showing up as I was and connecting to my clients as they were. Process meant sitting with a lot of pain and discomfort and not necessarily knowing what to do with it. Process meant trusting my intuition (whatever that was), using the information of my senses (remember those?), and daring to be vulnerable, authentic, and perhaps hardest of all, accepting of life as it was rather than as I wanted it to be. This was a completely different way of being, one that I found both excruciating and profoundly helpful.

It was during this time that I began (again) to paint.

In the beginning, painting was something I did not know how to do, which both appealed to and terrified me. (Almost a decade later, I still reach a point in every painting where I feel the same way.) I had no experience with painting, save for a wonderful high school teacher who encouraged me to do my own thing. Every imaginable doubt and insecurity came to visit as I sat on my bare apartment floor and filled my first canvas with a small, hideous, square-shaped tree.

This was not what I’d had in mind.

 I promptly threw it in the dumpster and returned to my apartment, wondering if I’d wasted 150 bucks on supplies I’d never use. Yet as I saw the materials scattered around, I realized I still wanted to paint. So I put the square tree out of my mind and filled another canvas, this time getting lost in the process and making a silver-lit stand of puffy blue trees. When I emerged from the creative trance with something I loved and had never seen before, I had my first lesson in keeping at it.

Despite this heady first “success,” I soon found that if I didn’t want to paint the same thing again and again, I had to be willing to not know what I was doing each time I painted and show up anyway. I had to take risks, learn on the job, start over, trust what felt right to me and adjust what didn’t. I had to let my intuition tell me to stop when an image suddenly sang with a surprising wholeness, and keep going when it (I) wasn’t quite done. I had to value the process even when I didn’t always love or understand what I was creating. In short, painting meant practicing the same basic process I was learning to trust in counseling.

I completed my master’s degree and then a doctorate in counseling. It was a long road and not easy.

The paintings accumulated; many sold.

I kept on painting.


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