I've been thinking a lot lately about my life and why I paint . How my artistic journey has reflected my life in a lot of ways. There was a time when I only painted storms.. literally. Attempting the perfect balance of power in the sky and stillness on the ground. It was a metaphor for my life, but I wasn't thinking about it. I just wanted to paint the perfect storm!
I know now after so many years of painting that what it is inside of me takes on a life of it's own and needs to make itself known. Painting is a leaving of self, or ego, behind, and allowing spirit 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 what your brush is doing on paper.
Creating a painting takes caring more about your growth as a painter than protecting your ego. Risking failure, playing, experimentation and problem solving. The real work and learning take place between your soul and your paintbrush. 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.
Living our best lives and doing our best art is, in essence, forgiving ourselves for our imperfections, calming down and not ripping things up before we truly see what we have. And that may take months or years. 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.
There are so many lessons and gifts in the imperfections - in both painting and doing life. It has taken me a long time to understand the need to slow down and objectively look at something incredibly subjective, both in life and my art. The more I thought about it, the more important it became to share my "why's," along the way, and remind myself and others that 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. So here's my how, what, why, where, and when, not necessarily in that order.
I started painting in high school- Kansas skies mostly. I realized that I had absorbed their colors and movements while growing up, watching and playing under them; the still, cold, shimmering sunrises, the twilight purples and blues, the angry gray green thunderstorms, and pure white "flat bottom" clouds as my mom calls them, floating on a pool of blue above the wheat fields.
My dad, who grew up in the mountains of Colorado, ending up in Kansas, once told me I had an eye for seeing beauty in the mundane. And he was right. I think where you grow up always influences your ideas about beauty. Mine are big swaths of land and sky and portraits of people whose faces reflect the human spirit. The Kansas landscape had soaked up into my bones and it gave me a profound release to spill them out on canvas with all of their power, beauty and rage.
I went to college the same year my family moved out of my childhood home and relocated to Washington D.C. . I was studying at Kansas state and fell in love with literature and art, but also began dealing with major undiagnosed anxiety and depression. My drawing and painting classes became a respite where I felt a profound sense of peace.
Instead of waiting to make sense of the issues I was dealing with and face them head on, I kept trudging ahead, making life decisions I had no business making. Within a few years I was married and teaching art in public school . I didn't necessarily feel sad a great deal of the time; what I felt was numb and emptiness. Consequently, I almost recklessly let my life happen to me. And passivity is most definitely a choice.
Good did happen, in the form of motherhood. The experience of becoming a mother woke up a corner of my soul that had been dormant for a long time and I slowly began finding and cultivating the voice I had muffled for so long.
With the exception of my children, my life wasn't working on any level. Not getting into specifics, I was dealing with things I knew better than to put up with. The best way I can describe my life then is survival mode. My self esteem obliterated,, I felt like my identity was lost in the chaos. What I knew for sure was that I wasn't being the best mom, woman, or Christian that I could be in my current situation.
Today, if I were to write a letter to my younger self, I would tell her that she had left a large part of herself along the way, because she didn't give herself any grace, listened to other's narratives about what her life should be, and needed to do nothing else until she found her path again because nothing in life would quite fit together until she did.
One night before Christmas, I went for a walk in the snow. I felt lost, didn't my prayers were being heard. And I shamed myself because I knew I had a lot to be thankful for and had helped create the situation I found myself in .
I didn't ask for help. I didn't do anything, and I could have. Acting as if all was well was a game that served its purpose of not allowing anyone close enough to expose the soft, sickly underbelly of my humiliation and shame. Now I wanted to stop playing, and did not know how.
I now know two things can be true at once. We can have a lot to be thankful for, have people who love us, believe in God, and still be in pain, or numbed out, or feel hopelessness. That is not the time to feel guilt and anger at ourselves, in fact it is the exact intersection of those things that point out our imperfections as a human and our deep need for God.
I didn't realize then that God would meet me in the depths, but he will. I had been trying so hard to rise up to meet him when I was too weak to stand. I allowed shame to drive me away instead.
We are worthy of getting the help we need whether it's for addiction, abuse, mental health issues, eating disorders, bullying, betrayal, etc. Whatever it is you don't need to be ashamed anymore. Put it out there and tell someone. The biggest lie is when shame, pride, isolation and self judgement tell us we don't deserve the same compassion others do. That there is something wrong with us, that others would never understand.
The trick to getting to the other side is losing the fear of putting your finger directly on that nerve until you feel it and are motivated to figure it out and take action. Most of all, the lies we tell ourselves cloud our path and keep us from discerning God's voice and love in our lives when we are absolutely desperate for it.
Out of the chaos, darkness and confusion of where I was, I more or less blindly clawed my way into the light. To be clear, I take responsibility for where I found myself. I don't blame anyone else. To become whole, we have to wholly own who we are, what we have done, and where we have found ourselves. If we don't, we stay stuck.
The journey out was not tidy or painless, it hurt me and hurt people I loved - that is a sad truth, a consequence of the struggle, and a sorrow in my life.
But finding light and solid ground under my feet, I discovered my own grown up, empowered space for the first time. I could write my own story, and that felt indescribably good. I began a new life, in a new city, as a divorced woman, new job, single mom, and as I did, my truth was making itself known. And if you haven't learned this lesson; when your truth shows up, after being silenced for so long, it is both empowering and damn scary.
Truth becomes jealous when you don't acknowledge it and will stalk you and stare you down until you give it the voice it deserves. That voice can be loud and frightening to hear for the first time and just because it's talking, doesn't mean you know what to do with it.
There is not just one step to finding your true path . It is truly a journey with many parts and it's all yours. As with a painting, you have to step back, try not to judge yourself too harshly, and give yourself time to make your next brushstroke. That's how you get a Rembrant.
Unfortunately, for a large part of my life, I was crouched over my canvas slinging paint like Jackson Pollack with a drink in his hand.
Part 2 later this week.. To get early access to my new art and blogs, coupons and more, scroll down and subscribe to ggwatercolors.com