As this new year opens up before me, I’ve been reflecting upon my journey as a watercolor artist. Reflecting upon my progress and not, reflecting upon the nature of the beast and reflecting upon what I need to do in 2016 to become a better painter. What I came up with is 4 things:
1. Show Up
Show up. It sounds so simple and yet it requires some attention from us if we are to really show up. We can look around us wherever we are and see people going about their day. The question is, “Have they really showed up?” Showing up isn’t about physical presence, it’s about the totality of our being. Showing up with heart, mind and soul so to speak.
Observe the people around you…now look at their eyes. You will quickly realize that while they are there physically…they are not there at all. Their minds wonder through a maze of to do lists, wishes and problems. Yes, they have show up…but the moment before them is devoid of marvel, wonder and awe. If we want to be prepared to paint, our first task is to “show up.”
2. Pay Attention To What Has Heart & Meaning
Little Sarah’s best friend Emily, who lived next door had just died in a car accident. Sarah’s parents were church goers and so Sarah was use to hearing “church” phrases like…visiting, prayer and time for church. So when Sarah showed up one morning and declared to her mother that she was going “visiting” her mother just smiled and said “Hope you have a good time.”
Sarah’s mother watched as she walked out the front door, purse in tote and heading down the front sidewalk. But much to her concern and worry, she saw Sarah heading straight toward Emily’s house. Thirty minutes later, she saw Sarah walking back from Emily’s house. When she came into the house, her mother tried to act normal…”And how did your visit go?” she asked. “Good.” Sarah replied. “And…and what did you talk about?” she nervously asked. “Oh, we didn’t talk about anything. I just sat in her lap and helped her cry.”
Artist are by nature, story tellers of what has heart and meaning. A great artist learns to connect to the heart and meaning of life that is before them. They are not so much worried about technique as they are about capturing and expressing the heart of the matter. Whatever they paint is an attempt to capture moments that bring tears of joy or tears of anguish…the moments that move others to silence as they observe the finished work.
Technique must be learned…we must practice until we don’t even have to think about it. But in the end, we must always give way to what has heart and meaning in order to bring our paintings to real life.
3. Don’t Judge, Guilt or Shame Anyone…Especially Yourself
Lucy’s mother could hear her daughter’s scream coming from the backyard as she ran to the backdoor. She opened the door to find Lucy standing on the back porch screaming at the top of her lungs “Tiger…tiger…tiger!” As her mother’s eyes followed her daughter’s pointing and shaking finger she saw the charred remains of a fallen tree they had just recently attempted to burn.
She grabbed her daughter’s hand and brought her inside the house and in a stern voice said, “Lucy Marie you go to bedroom right now and you stay in there until you have asked God to forgive you for what you just did!” Head held down, Lucy went into her bedroom…but within seconds she came bounding out of her room. “Lucy!” her mother said…”Did you do what I told you to do?” To which Lucy replied, “Yes…and God said that when he first saw it he thought it was a tiger too.”
There’s an old saying that says “We’ve been ‘should upon’ all our lives.” Judging, guilting or shaming ourselves is something we all know how to do all to well. However, think about it this way…would you rather paint from a place of shame and guilt or paint from a place of joy and wonder?
Beating ourselves up changes very little…being kind with ourselves, being amazed with ourselves and yes, even being excited about what we can do changes everything. So let go of the negative and embrace the positive. We just might be surprised at what happens the next time we paint.
4. Be Open To Outcome…Not Attached
Part of the process of creating art is being able to observe the process of creation within ourselves. It is like we are sometimes on an adventure, wondering what we are going to discover around the next bend in the road. However, all of this wonder and awe is short-circuited often times because we are attached to one and only one outcome. You know the phrase, “happy accident” and you also know how that happy accident can drive up into moments of anger.
All artists start with some point of reference and some point of ending. The true artist understands however that the process of creation is exactly that…a process. True, we try to guide it…nudge it along. But in the end, if we have allowed the “spirit” of the moment to truly inspire us we will find even ourselves amazed at what lies before us when we finally lay down our brush.
When we push…when we restrict our vision…when we want only one result, we end up with a flat painting devoid of all life…absent in heart and meaning. So…let us be open to outcome…and let our painted stories of heart and meaning shine forth.