You know, I usually speak to women and from a woman's point of view, but today I would like to give a quick shout out to those men who reach out to me to give a meaningful, thoughtful gift to their wives.
In a time where it's easier than ever to buy something made in a factory from China, these husbands and fathers go the extra distance to seek out something unique and special for their partners in life. They message me with ideas, photos, verses or quotes they would like integrated into the paintings they are giving their spouse. I have been touched and inspired by these husbands, fathers and sons who go the extra mile to show their loved ones how much they care with a piece of original art or print. Makes my day!
If you are interested in original paintings, don't be hindered by what you don't know. I love working with people to give them that special piece that is one of a kind. There are options available for everyone. It's why I do what I do. Message me anytime!
I have invited you all along on this 31 day journey of exploring my painting this January, which it is both invigorating and scary at times because creating daily art is not always a given. It is an experience, a way to look inward and learn how the mind, soul and heart come together to create
Creativity can be mercurial, and our access to it sometimes has a life of it's own. The process of creating ebbs and flows, excites, invigorates, frustrates and exhausts. But most of all, it teaches us about the paradoxes involved in creating; being disciplined in order to seize an inspired moment, deconstructing old ways in order to grow new constructs, using ritual to let go of bad habits, or following the muse as you problem solve within certain constraints. Our job as an artist is to listen for it, coax it, and learn the lessons it teaches.
Sometimes we have to clear space for it, both literally and figuratively. When I started my first 31 days of painting in 2017, it I was at a point of needing a vast and thorough clearing out and cleaning up somewhere between Marie Kondo and Hoarders . Not just the space around me, but my mind and spirit were in need of it.
Like many women, I was at a place in 2017 where after doing the all. the. things. at a one time, taking care of everyone else and quite desperately trying to keep everything balanced, I was no longer in tune with my path, my creativity, or my needs.
I had been putting myself last on the list and knew I was ready to purge- getting rid of excess, changing, or rebuilding parts of my life from the ground up. I badly needed to re-evaluate and prioritize that which I valued and loved- and I needed to put myself at the top of the list.
So maybe it wasn't a surprise that a magical thing happened during the total eclipse of 2017.
I had been teaching classes at Painting with a Twist, ala Bob Ross style, for a few months. The day of the eclipse, artist and teacher Denise Hopkins https://denisehopkinsfineart.com/ flew in from New Orleans, to fine tune our methods, motivate and problem solve. I remember her enthusiasm and spark- her "can do" attitude, She spoke about taking up space in our lives; and communicating that with our bodies as we taught a class- standing tall, feet apart, palms upward, a sort of "wag the dog" approach that empowers our minds and bodies while bypassing fear and insecurity.
When the eclipse happened, she gathered with us in the eerily lit parking lot with our groovy eclipse glasses as we all experienced the awe of watching celestial bodies assert very plainly our tiny place in the universe. I later read about the spiritual meaning of a solar eclipse -
.." a time to focus on internal change, our most personal desires, and goals. The sun represents the personal significance of our desires and provokes changes that assist us in moving the unneeded from our path to help us reach and achieve our dreams."
The day was indeed strange and powerful that stayed with me as I traversed the next year.
I was inspired and kept up with Denise where I found out that she jump started her career in painting by doing 31 paintings in 31 days, way back in 2014. She was starting a group and I jumped on it, intrigued to see if I could do it, eager to bring more discipline and painting into my life. That first 31 days was transformative. I did not finish a painting every day, but the group was so encouraging and nurturing that instead of feeling guilty about it, I would just try again the following day.
In fact, I have done this every year since, and it has truly been one of the most transformative experiences for me as an artist. One of the biggest epiphanies is that I realized that if my painting wasn't "perfect", I didn't want anyone to see it. Denise and the "31ers" group, as we call ourselves, have helped me get over that aspect of being an artist. They have helped me embrace the artist inside and love it instead of shame it. Because we are a group of people simply practicing- practicing painting, writing, photography, organizing, walking, eating healthy- the whole spectrum. If we don't have something wonderful to show, it's okay, if we are stuck, someone can relate and help you through it. The lessons are something I try to carry on through the rest of the year. We could all extend a little more grace for ourselves, and for others. A little goes a long way.
I'm so appreciative of that day in 2017, meeting Denise, and all of the incredible people in the 31 group who have helped me grow artistically and spiritually. It is a nurturing, beautiful group of people and I'm a little sad today that it's ending for the year. But so very thankful to be a part of it.
I am also filled with gratitude that you have come along with me on this journey, following my art, subscribing to my website, encouraging me along the way, buying my paintings, and reading my blogs. It all means more to me than you could know. It allows me to do what I believe I am supposed to do in my life, what I love and wake up excited to do each day.
Portrait of Amanda Gorman- Inauguration 2021
Excerpt from "The Hill We Climb"
When day comes, we step out of the shade Aflame and Unafraid, the new dawn
balloons, as we Free it.
For there was always Light.
If only we're Brave enough to See it.
If only we're Brave enough to Be it.
- Amanda Gorman, youth Poet Laureate
Circle of friends
During this 31 days of painting I am participating in, my motivation waxes and wanes. Add a pandemic and political upheaval to the mix and some days I wonder why I doing this, what the point is, have not felt motivated to paint some days and certainly didn't want to post what I did paint.
At the exact right moment last week, I messaged a friend online and my bad attitude kind of peeked through. I'm not sure I was even very aware of it. But she picked up on it with her intuitive heart and just cheered me up with life affirming words, making me realize I have all of the hope and courage I need, when I step out in faith. Lucky me.
Then yesterday I had a conversation with another friend in which we discussed my art. Now, I am someone who has lots and lots of ideas and creativity, but not always the organization or focus to bring it all together. I have sticky notes everywhere, notebooks of ideas, etc. I have been working on streamlining all of this into my website and making a strategy, but then get overwhelmed. You get the idea.
My friend just absolutely met me where I was, reflected back to me a focused vision of what I want, gave me words of wisdom where I was being negative, and illuminated a pathway where I could see not only the next step, but the next 10 steps I need to take in my art career. Wicked smart and insightful, she gave me clarity, insight and guidance in approaching my work that I had not been able to see. I finished that conversation feeling like the cloud that had taken up residence in my brain had been swept away!
I am so thankful for my community of girlfriends right now. Not being able to have the same conversations with my mom as I used to has left a void and I am forever grateful for the encouragement, support, feedback, inspiration and love of friends. Women have always been the community builders, creators of circles of wisdom, support and encouragement givers, and helpers. We have never needed the invaluable nurturing and affirming of friends more than now.
Girlfriends, I am grateful for you!!!
The Danish term "hygge"(hoo-ga) is a term that describes the nurturing of the senses felt in a place that brings joy to your heart and heals the soul. Beautiful lighting, textures, artwork, comfort and coziness. A place to read, reflect, sip tea and feel completely "home."
But how to truly carve out that space is not always easily done. Just "decorating" a space is not enough. Being hygge in your thinking takes a little more digging, because it is not simply about what the space looks like, it's how it feels, smells, tastes and sounds. True hygge is medicine for our souls. Finding it is an enjoyable, and beautifully rewarding, process.
Here are 5 jumping off points to get you started on creating you sacred, hygge, space:
1. With a notepad and your phone camera, take a walk around your home. Note or take pictures of the things that instantly bring you joy. (Ignore the laundry or unmade bed for now) You may not be aware of these things because you pass by them so often, but what are they? A window with plants? A grouping of candles or your favorite leather chair? Your grandmothers kitsch that no one loves but you? Your flow blue china cup, books, something from your travels, your child's artwork? A color of wall paint that is perfection?
Let go of all preconceived notions of style or decor, and just focus on what makes your heart happy.
2. Take a trip to the art museum and walk around. Go online and visit artist websites and Etsy. Consider original art or economical but museum quality giclée prints. See my selection here: prints (ggwatercolors.com)
What takes your breath away or gives you pause? What colors, styles or subjects grab your attention? Antique shops or estate sales are also good places to search for what you love. Not buying, simply being present and listening to what your heart is attracted to. The point is that you can have the freedom to choose without being targeted by marketing tactics.
3. Ask a friend what they see as your style, then ask yourself if that is truly reflective of what you love or not? My brother and I were in a shop once and he said "this looks like you" I realized that he was right, it was what I loved, but did not have represented in my home. Since that day, I have paid more attention to and been deliberate about creating a home with things that bring me joy. You can make it work if it makes you happy.
4. Make a real live "hygge" board and just write, draw or paste anything and everything that resonates with your soul. Let it be a stream of consciousness. Do you love kittens but don't have one? Find a pillow that feels furry and soft, or find a drawing of a cat. Or long for the beach but live land-locked, maybe shells or a chime or a mosaic of beach glass.
Whatever it is- old forgotten bits of you that you left along the way, things that you love but have not made "space"(not necessarily physical) for in your current living arrangement. Make this visual something you look at often and then edit as you go. Your space will take time. Start small and let it evolve as you go deeper in your discovery.
5. Take time as you dig deeper and find new ways to create your sacred space. Keep an open mind as you do a "treasure hunt" and search for things that give your surroundings calm, hopefulness and mindfulness. Begin to learn how to nurture your soul, find your perfect hygge, and create a space you long to be in.
Good luck and post or send me a photo of your most hygge spaces! To read more on hygge, see - Welcoming the Winter Hygge - ggwatercolors
At the beginning of my 31 days of painting, a new year begins, and then my new year begins, literally. My 50th trip around the biggest light we know.
This year, I ask for light for our souls, a light to guide our country and illumination for how we treat others as we navigate 2021 together.
5.0 is a bit of a jolt, I won't lie. Not at all like 40, or 30. As a woman, it's the end of motherhood literally and figuratively, the kids growing up, and the symbolic end of even the slight thought of another baby, at least until those fabulous grandbabies.(One of which we have already and love)
But 50 is a time for re-evaluating, experimenting, searching inside and finding what it is I want to say to this big old world. I am no longer guided by the fears or anxieties that dogged me in my 20's or 30's. I am no longer tethered by the beloved and sacred activity of full time school kids and familial obligations.
I feel a certain gravitas, simply because of the big, beautiful pile of years and experiences I have had. I am grateful for my life, I am thankful for 50 years to learn, grow, love and become fully myself- filling out my soul, continuing to search the incredibly gift and mystery that is life. And I will take whatever is left for me and ask God to use my life for good.
My painting today is of the big ol' cottonwood tree found on highway 96 in Kansas heading east toward Wichita. The " Lucky Tree", because anyone who lives 100 miles around knows you honk when you drive by for luck. I've driven by her since I was 2. My mom drove by her on the way to the Kansas state fair since she was born, and my grandad drove by her in a horse and buggy as a boy on his way to Wichita. She is very much a part of the fabric of who I am.
She is a 100 year old tree, at least, and has survived Kansas windstorms, ice storms, droughts, tornados, lightening strikes, and even a re-routing of the two lane to four lane highway renovation in the 1990's.
She drinks in the sun as seasons permit, and stores it deep in her bones for the storms. She is strong, resilient, deeply rooted, comforting, and beautiful in the eyes of those who love her. On my 50th birthday, the old girl inspires me greatly.
I remarried and added the challenge of blending a family to the mix of life, in yet another new city, St. Louis. I felt that I was making more deliberate life choices to create a world and situation where my family and I could not just survive, but thrive. I had started seeing a therapist and got medication, which helped. I had finally found a path for healing the chronic pain, anxiety and depression I dealt with.
I had a good, new life and marriage, but was still being followed by shame for the failing of my first marriage, and guilt for my children growing up with divorced parents. That caused me to feel further separated from God than ever before. I knew I was out of alignment in my relationship with Him because of that divide, even as I was building a better life. I was so giddy about making my choices, I did it without listening. I didn't realize then that the definition of sin IS separation from God. What I did know was that I had to find my way back.
Shame and guilt are shapeshifters like the monster in a nightmare where we can't run from the faceless thing gaining from behind . The monster will follow us until we deal with it head on and stop running scared. Acceptance of our circumstances, and being forgiven for our past is the only way to expose the monster- I know that now. I had been running from it for so long. I needed to look my personal monster and shapeshifter in the eyes and let him know I was not running, from anything, anymore.
We all know the mind and body are intricately and delicately connected, that even our cells have the capacity to hold onto trauma, sadness, violence, betrayal, shame, guilt and anger. But sometimes we forget that we have the choice to calm our physiological stress through prayer, creativity, exercise, therapy, etc. - every single day. First we have to stop running, turn on the light, and face the monster chasing us so that we don't stay trapped in the nightmare, paralyzed.
We can do this the hard way by exhausting ourselves from running too long, or the easy way, deciding to make better choices for our mind and bodies . I was going to learn this one the hard way.
On Friday, February 21st 2013, a snow day, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, I had just turned 41. My first mammogram at 39.5 was clear. I had noticed getting out of the shower one day that my nipple was turned in a tiny bit. I went in had a mammogram, got called back, they did a biopsy of my breast cells and lymph notes and found cancer in both. 1.8 centimenters, estrogen positive.
I actually wanted to kill the messenger. I argued with the nurse practitioner who called me, telling her it had to be a mistake, no one in my family had it, I had turned 41 a month before, no risk factors- NO! What??? She just repeated that it was treatable and to make myself a hot cup of tea and call the doctor Monday.
I told her I would need something stronger than that, but thanks a lot.
After my first visit with the oncologist, hearing about hair, chemo, radiation, lumpectomy or mastectomy, etc., I sat in my car sobbing talking to God out loud and telling him that I understood that this was punishment for the life I had taken for granted, messed up, and tried to control without him. It had been years of not acknowledging my truth and not understanding how God could come into my life in a real way to help or guide me. It was almost a relief that I was being punished for all of the things I saw as stupidity and recklessness in my life.
But then there is that moment. The moment when everything- past present and future- in your life crystalizes in front of your eyes. I had some enormous cracks in my shell going into that moment, but they weren't enough.
I had to break, and break hard. I had so many layers of defenses built up to protect me that no matter how many cracks I had from running into the same walls over and over, I wasn't going to break until the moment I was supposed to.
So I watched as my life seemed to shatter in front of me, and I had no choice but to let my grip loosen and allow the pieces to fall. Something in that was almost as liberating as it was terrifying.
I had been holding my little wobbly world full of cracks together- frantically gluing the pieces that fell off- until my cancer diagnosis. Strangely, in that moment, after years of not being able to hear God's voice or feel worthy of his love, I heard him in a real way.
I broke open and and released it all right smack in front of Him, gripping the steering wheel, allowing the pent up stuff of my soul to flow out then and there behind fogged up windows as life went on around me.
As I was trying to catch my breath in the car on that cold, February day, He let me know very clearly one thing- that this was NOT his divine punishment.
That he LOVED me, - with a love I didn't understand until that moment- in my most broken, sick, ruined and ugly state; and that he would hold me and help me piece myself back together... and that I was forgiven. Even though I was just starting treatment, It was over, he had this, and I could rest in that knowledge.
I was the prodigal daughter who didn't deserve forgiveness, but my father welcomed me home with open arms.
Jesus gave me a talking to that day and let me in on what real, living Grace looks like. A profound lesson that has never left my heart and every day since then, I have known that my truest, most intimate longing is to know him more fully.
I got through a year of treatment, radiation, surgery, and all of it's mental and physical battering. I realized how to accept help from my friends, feeling immense gratitude instead of guilt like I once would have. I learned to appreciate each day, each bit of strength, each hair, and even my scars. Inside and out, my scars tell my story, and I wouldn't be who I am without them. I will be 8 years out in February.
I am most definitely a work in progress, still a hot mess, but I try to look at my life like painting- attempting not to judge when I screw up, but observing that I, as well as the people around me have room for growth. I would say I am at peace with who I am now and I am listening to God and writing the narrative for my own life with him. He gave me grace and I owe him everything. Whatever I do from here for whatever length of time, is because of that.
Painting for me is prayer. It is the place I connect with God and know myself the best. What spills out onto the paper are the depths of my soul's struggles, the height of it's peaks and everything in between. The beauty and tragedy of life gives, and takes, from all of us.
I feel that connection between us when I am painting.
The wish for my painting and for my life is that I can be used to capture a glimpse of the human spirit and beauty that exists all around us. That I can help others to get in touch with what they love- to see a painting, or make a painting, that speaks to them and helps them create a sacred space all their own.. And always, always, to extend to others the Grace that saved me from myself.
With Love and Gratitude- Gretchen
After so many years of painting, I know that emotions inside of me take on a life of their own and I am usually the last to know how they will present themselves in my work. Painting and every art form in it's purest sense, is a leaving of self and ego behind, and allowing the soul to come through the medium you're working with. It can truly be a mystical experience, as anyone who dives into the creative process knows. You lose track of time, forget to eat- all that matters is your art.
Creating art- whatever it may be- takes caring more about your growth as an artist than protecting yourself. Risking failure, and abject falling on your face is part of the deal. Playing, experimentation and problem solving are about the process- And that's where the nuggets of beauty are truly found. A final product you and everyone else loves is wonderful, but it doesn't have as much to do with being an artist as the process does. If we have only perfection in mind, it's easy to lose sight of the process and the creativity, which is where the life of a painting lives and grows. The real work and learning take place between your soul and your paintbrush/instrument/pen/camera, etc.
In the end, in both life and art, what you're left with is a work that is all your own, for better or worse. Full of the inspiration, mistakes, passion, rage, hope and love you put into it. Taking part in the creative process, no matter what medium- is a reflection of life in many ways.
There are many gifts in the imperfections - in both art and life. Whatever our creative process is, it will help us become more self-actualized, expand our spiritual life, believe in ourselves, and experience joy and fulfillment. It can do all of that and more, if we will only allow it.
It takes forgiveness, guts, and grace to do a painting, or life, well. And the good and bad news is that it's all up to you.
"Always"- Original watercolor painting
Sometimes I labor over paintings, sometimes they are offered as a gift out of nowhere. Many times the two happen simultaneously.
When I am doing a painting with a lot of left brain stuff, my subconscious sometimes goes into overdrive and I need an outlet for it, so a painting will many times just happen alongside the one I am "working" hard on. Sometimes they are successful, sometimes not, but they come from a different place, I guess.
Recently I was working on a commission which meant a lot to me and it was important that I get it right . As I was working on it, I came across a photo that just called to me to paint ! No waiting, I needed to do it. So I began painting this portrait of a mother nursing her baby as I was finishing up the commission.
The commission was of my cousin's beautiful son who suddenly passed away last month. I had recently seen a photo of he and his mama just after he was adopted, and she is talking to him and he is "talking" back with coos and smiles and the connection between the two is palpable. The look in her eyes holds the essence of a mother's soft, tired, beautiful and incomparable love for her baby. A love that takes up permanent residence in a mom's heart until she takes her last breath.
That eternal moment between mother and child, and all the ways that these moments shape us into the human beings we will become, teaching us how to interact with and love others, was in the back of my mind while I painted this piece alongside the commission. How the connections between us teach us not only of maternal or familial love, but also about our place here, our place among the humanity that surrounds us. A parent's love is a true reflection and taste of God's eternal and intimate love for us. My painting is an abstraction of that concept - painted with shapes and values and colors that organically come together in the form of two human beings in life giving connection.
As I think about the concept of how essential touch is to us all, I wonder about our present world of isolation, fear and social distancing. I think we all become a little less human without the ability to smile or see a smile under a mask. Without the ability to reach out our hand to a friend. All of the subtleties of communication swept up into the vacuum of a worldwide pandemic.
We all have a responsibility to be gentle and caring with one another, using whatever means we have to love and lift one another and give respite in these exhausting, difficult times, until we can embrace and gather together, connecting with our friends and family again through the warm skin of our hands, cheeks, bear hugs, and kisses.
Until then, I hope you are well and know you are loved and my prayer is that during these times, as we have experienced love and healing and hope from others , we return it out into the world tenfold. A beautiful and strong fabric of humanity.
With love and gratitude- Gretchen
"Chaco shadow" Original watercolor painting
I need to paint today but in truth, I am wrestling with God a bit at the moment.
2020, for certain, has been a time of upheaval, uncertainty and loss of safety and security we have perhaps taken for granted.
Maybe you can relate: the rules I have depended on have been broken.
My prayers and pleadings for healing of people who bring nothing but goodness, love and faith to the world, seem to go unheard and the losses of two beautiful souls and the suffering of their families have stunned me so that I am finding it hard to find center some days.
As I was taking a walk on Sunday, breathing in the beauty of autumn and watching leaves fall on the path in front of me, I was reminded that it is not because of me that the world continues it's path around the sun. The world does not operate according to Gretchen. It feels much safer to think that I have a line of direct access to God that might influence what happens on earth, and that my understanding is His understanding, but it is also a completely egocentric faith- no faith at all. It feels more comfortable and predictable if life is kind of based on a merit system of sorts. I know this isn't what the bible says and I learned personally a long time ago that bad things happen to the best human beings and that prayer is not always answered. It is only my responsibility to love those around me and pray for them and then let go, trusting God is big enough to hold the world and see everything that I cannot, through space and time. My cousin, whose faith is great, said this in the midst of crisis last week as her 7 year old son's life hung in the balance: "And if not, God is still good." Those words are hard and sharp and difficult to believe with conviction when prayers from the depths of our souls go unanswered.
In the old testament, the morning after Jacob wrestled with God during the night, God walked away and changed Jacob's name to Israel, which means "struggle" or "to wrestle with". The ancient Jews believed that God invited each of us into a wonderful wrestling match. Why wonderful? Because struggle in our faith and comprehension of God's ways means we are intimately questioning and seeking God, which is not a bad thing if we are to grow in understanding.
I want the roots of my faith to loosen from the safe ground of control and narrowness of thinking that tells me my understanding of God and faith is complete. It is messy at the moment. I am wrestling with God. And even as I know that my understanding on earth will never be complete, I ask for courage enough to let go of my will and accept Gods, with full confidence and trust. Even as I struggle with the paradox within the answer that "though with man it is impossible, nothing is impossible for God."
Today, my painting is dedicated to that struggle and to celebrating the lives of all who have gone on before us this past year, as well as those left in their wake, who we walk along with through the grief. And to two angels in particular, Deacon- vibrant boy with a heart bursting with love who lived every minute of his life to the fullest, and Thao- whose radiant spirit of love and compassion was life giving to me and so many others.
" Oh our God...we have no power against this great multitude of sorrow that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You." 2 Chronicles 20:12