Entries Tagged as 'flowers'


Monday, July 13, 2015

The Gardener

The Gardener, 30 x 48″

When I first started painting, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just showed up. I never knew what I was going to paint: I’d arrive at the easel, and let it come. I made about 60 paintings like this before my mind started interfering with the process, trying to steer me down well-worn paths.  Then paintings took longer and longer to finish, but I was comfortable, I thought. I refined my techniques and the work predictably sold.

But lately I’ve been experimenting with just showing up and not listening to my mental resistance about what and how I’m allowed to paint. I just paint what I have energy for. Inspiration comes mid-stroke, and the painting emerges. People call this the muse: It’s the grand surprise.

I painted “The Gardener” in two days. My mind was saying that I’ve never painted bicycles and I don’t know how.

So what? However imperfect my knowledge or the end result, the painting needed to be made.

This weekend my yoga instructor Betsy read this poem by the Australian poet Andrew Colliver.  Perhaps he says it best when he just says, “Come.”

Come  (by Andrew Colliver)

Every day I am astonished by

how little I know, and discouraged,

obedient as I am to the demand to

know more–always more.

But then there is the slow seep

of light from the day,

and I look to the west where

the hills are darkening,

setting their shoulders to the night,

and the sky peppered with pillows

of mist, their bellies burnt

by the furnace of the sun.

And it is then I notice

the invitation didn’t say, Come

armed with knowledge and a loud voice.

It only said, Come.

Cursed Canvases

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cursed Canvas

Okay, so sometimes my painting efforts flop completely. Every so often, a canvas comes along that just seems cursed. Much like those sad locations in town that host one failed business venture after another, these canvases hold legacies of misery. This cursed canvas has been hanging around awhile, luring me into attempting various bad paintings on its surface, and here it is today, before I foolishly start working on it again. You can see the previous painting, which was also awful, behind the current layer. And even from a distance, the textured brush strokes from the prior image come through like tacky panty lines. This canvas is a Bermuda Triangle for my artistic confidence; any sense of creative self-esteem disappears the moment I start working on it again.

I should definitely throw it away, but over the years I’ve made a commitment to seeing every painting through, somehow, to an image I can live with. So, I won’t let it go. I feel certain it has something to offer me, teach me, something it will reveal, if only I keep revisiting it now and then, saying hi, and painting badly on its pockmarked surface. Since failure is inevitable, I am free to paint clumsily, weirdly, without caution. I can paint through funky energy, grit, despair, and desperation. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t found a lot of places in life to safely and freely express these energies, especially as a “professional adult.” I guess there’s always loud music and moshing, but that’s not my thing.  There just aren’t many places we are free to flail and fail.

My continued attempts here are like reserving a seat at the table for failure, for what is ugly and deeply flawed. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so this is a practice; I really didn’t want to show this to you. But who knows? Maybe eventually I can transform this canvas into something ugly but loved, worth hanging onto and possibly hanging up–not because it is a great painting, but because it bears the inevitable stories and scars behind a commitment to process.

The Flowers Are Coming

Monday, December 22, 2014

I couldn’t ignore it: The field needed flowers. The other way–crisp, perfect, clean, and sterile–a green field without flowers–no place I’d want to be. No place to take off my shoes, sweat under the sun, no place for children to run.

So I’m taking the risk and adding flowers. Childish flowers. The flowers I would have wanted to see and paint as a child, the flowers I still want now. Just the outlines first, then the colors. The flowers are coming with their colors.

Last night a friend in his mid-thirties who still snuggles with a teddy bear asked me, “At what age is it creepy to still sleep with a teddy bear?”  “Oh, you’re well past that age, whatever it is,” I laughed, adding, “Can you keep your eye out for a good bear for me?” If it’s never too late for a happy childhood, by all means, sign me up.

My parents loved me, but childhood was still pretty miserable. Poverty and stress and intergenerational trauma will do that to you. Today I’m much happier.  Today I paint places my little girl self would want to visit, teddy bear in one grubby hand, flowers in the other.

Summer Bloom

Monday, September 29, 2014

Summer Bloom
36″ x 48″

 I left town for the weekend in despair over this painting, the colors in disharmony. My nine-year old nephew Mason had declared the piece a failure. “I don’t like the petals or the leaves,” he said, in a statement that condemned most of the painting. “The colors are wrong, too,” he added, not at all apologetically.

I agreed, but I didn’t know what to do; I couldn’t see where it needed to go next. The thought of the dumpster occurred, and possibly setting down my brushes for good. When these thoughts come, I usually just need a little space from the work. So I took it, and tried not to worry that I’d lost the touch and would perhaps never paint again.

When I returned from my trip, I approached the painting with fresh energy. As I worked, the flowers changed, and changed some more, and then, like a camera coming into clear focus, I found the right balance and the painting clicked into place.

Rarely is it my instinct to step away and give the important things in my life the time and space to ripen. I’ve been told I was impatient from the start, eager to grow up, eager to get on with it, whatever it was. However, the natural world takes its own time, and cannot be forced. The same is true of healing, and art, and the great unknowns of the long horizons of our lives. So I need the reminders–that life and its natural unfolding can be trusted.

This painting gave me that reminder.

When I give time and space to a process, I just might be met by a bloom.

Art and Apology

Monday, September 15, 2014

“The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that, concomitantly, original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen.”

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (p. 16)

As I’ve worked on this painting, a friend has marveled about the gradual change from chaos to organization, about the many layers of paint and transformation that occur. “I had no idea so much went into a painting,” he said. “I thought you just painted one layer–that you just go straight to the finished work in one shot.”

Ha! It’s rarely been this way in any area of my life, and certainly not in painting.

Over time, though, I’m learning to appreciate the layers as they accumulate–each is necessary for the next, and I can’t see around the corner before I get there. Still, sometimes I catch myself apologizing to a studio visitor who sees a work in progress. “It’ll get better,” I say. “This isn’t the finished product.”

 But really, the apology is silly. In therapy, we say, “The only way out is through.” So it is with painting, too.

Effort and Ease

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Effort and Ease

My daily contentment derives from striking a balance between effort and ease, a creative tension that goes for art-making, therapy, relating to loved ones, tackling daunting work projects, and encountering the unknowns of each new moment.

In this emerging painting, I’m investing myself fully while easing into the process with as few expectations as possible. Here I occupy a colorful paradox, where concern and release walk together in a dynamic, exciting, and uncertain terrain.

For me, creation is as much the act of letting go as it is a building up.

A New Conversation

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A New Conversation

I sold the Survivors painting, and I’ve been missing  those big-faced flowers around the house. So last night I started this new one.

I had just two hours to work, so I gave myself a few parameters: Paint quickly, use all the paint, and follow my first impulse.

Working on a new painting is like the precious time connecting with a dear friend. I don’t get to see my closest friends every day; nor am I able to paint every day. But I carry our dialogues with me, and they enrich my quality of life.

With a new painting in process, I’m once more happily in conversation. As long as I keep showing up, listening, and trusting my instincts, the painting will lead me home.

The Survivors

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Survivors

The Survivors, 36″ x 60″

“We must admit there will be music despite everything.”
(from A Brief for the Defense, by Jack Gilbert)

I was considering painting sunflowers when I checked the news late one Saturday night. A passenger jet was shot down over the sunflower fields of the Ukraine. Hundreds of civilians; no survivors.

I could not get the images from my mind, and that night I dreamt of smoke, bodies, families, friends, relief workers, soldiers, and politicians who were now inextricably part of the same tragic story.

And the flowers, waving over it all with an insolent, indecent joy. By morning, I did not want to paint sunflowers anymore.

As I followed the headlines throughout the week, the violence escalated in the Middle East. More innocents dead. And bleary-eyed young people were coming into my office talking about these events, people with family and friends overseas, people who woke each day to the body count and then managed to show up for a physics final.

I work with survivors, with people who have endured unspeakable traumas. They somehow speak anyway, and then, remarkably, go on living. In therapy, they show me their own ravaged fields, where I walk in awe. Amidst so much pain, loss, and injustice, they have survived. Often, there are flowers.

When my energy returned, I painted this for the survivors who touch me with their courage not only to live but, against all odds, to blossom.

Flowers 6

Thursday, August 7, 2014

flowers 6

The painting is nearly done after several hours work tonight, but I wanted to show you how rough-drafty it looked up-close before it enters the final stretch of refinements.

The perfectionist in me gets uncomfortable with this stage–raw, gritty, and definitely incomplete. Yet I’m also reminded that none of my paintings showed up finished on the canvas; they’ve all taken their sweet time to bloom. This stage is necessary; there’s no way to get “there” without going through “here.”

Painting teaches me patience and persistence, but above all, the importance of presence. None of it can happen if I don’t keep showing up.

Flowers 5

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

flowers 5

Tonight, Mason dropped by unannounced for a hug.  I opened the door wearing my painting apron, brush in hand. “I knew you’d be painting,” he said. “I can only stay a minute–Mom wants me back on a schedule before school starts, so I have to go to bed early.”

We commiserated about the reality of childhood bedtimes. “I’m going to bed early tonight, too,” I told him, “but of course, it’s different when you’re an adult. No one tells you when to go bed. Bet you can’t wait for that, huh?”  He smiled.

“Well, come see the painting real quick, kiddo.”

Mason walked into the studio and gave it a 3-second look. “Still a rough draft,” he pronounced. “Okay, gotta go!”

He’s confident now, unphased by the mess. As if he knows I’m far from done, but trusts I’ll get there. I do, too.

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