On Connection, Clarity, and Friendship

My friend Diana Peach, a talented and generous writer, offered me a gift the other day. The gift came in the form of an exchange about creativity that added a layer of color to the evolving picture of my creative journey, my purpose for making art. I wanted to share it with you all in case the conversation, along with my associated thoughts, has any relevance for you. Also, you may want to follow Diana’s blog and make her your friend too!

In response to Diana’s comment on my most recent blog post about painting, I offered this:

I don’t often know why I feel compelled to write about something in particular. My ‘muse’ often seems to have an agenda beyond my ego’s comprehension. Through painting (and writing too), I often see where I am limited and where there is greater capacity than I recognize (or realize). I’m always looking to connect with others who are thoughtful about the creative journey, which surpasses any particular work of art (painted, written, or otherwise). Sometimes I think I care more about how we create than what is created. But that may simply be a stage in my creative journey. I wonder about yours. How you came to allow yourself to access the stories that live in you. Whether it was effortful (or perhaps still is?) or more like breathing (effortful moments nestled in automaticity/flow).

Diana’s response:

“Sometimes I think I care more about how we create than what is created.” A lovely musing and one I can relate to. I never tire of learning about the creative impulse and process of other artists. It’s utterly mesmerizing. I still seek that fluid balance of effortless inspiration and effortful craft. 

Until Diana quoted me back to myself, I’m not sure I fully appreciated the extent to which process has been more important to me than outcome. My attention to process was the reason I started this blog, but in the making of things I’d almost forgotten that.

I’m not the best painter or writer, nor do I expect myself to be. I am most interested in growth and evolution – my own and others’. I get better when I attend more fully to process, to understand where I am not allowing flow. I wonder how true that may be for others besides Diana and me.

We communicate imperfectly. We make offerings to each other without any certainty about how they will be received, without any sense of what we may get in return. Still, we try. We write. We paint. We share in whatever mediums and by whatever means we have. And I believe it is in the trying and sharing – the willingness to engage in common space – that we get closer to clarity. Sometimes we even get answers to questions we didn’t know we were asking!

By sharing, we allow ourselves the possibility of fresh air, which by definition is a kind of inspiration. In breath, the energy exchange with others, we may find a clearer path to creative flow in the midst of our effortful crafting. If any of this resonates, I’d love to hear from you!

Are You Willing To Risk It All?

For those of you who aren’t painters, I want to tell you this secret. To be a painter – even an amateur one like me – you also have to be a gambler. Painters have to be willing to lose, repeatedly, until a painting is finished.

Every time I make a painting, I reach a point where I must put everything on the line, bet it all on the next brushmark. And many times, I lose.

Now, I’m not a gambler in any other way. The only slot machines I ever remember playing were the ones I visited at the Las Vegas airport en route to the Grand Canyon. I didn’t win. Lottery tickets tempt me sometimes. But the potential jackpot is less compelling than the greater likelihood of losing. I’ve never considered myself particularly lucky.

Instead, I prefer a sure thing if I can get it. I am a creature of routine and sameness for this reason. I know what I like and try to maximize my chances. Maybe I just like control. Don’t most of us?

But painting is never a sure thing. It’s a practice of uncertainty and risk. Painting is always a gamble. 

The first brush strokes come with low stakes. There’s a lot less to lose when so little has been invested. But as a painting progresses, so increase the moments of possible ruin. With each new brush stroke, the razor’s edge becomes thinner.

Yes, mistakes can be corrected and even Bob Ross style happy accidents may add life to a painting. But I can tell you it’s not as easy to fix a painting as you might think, especially not if you want to preserve some precious part you’ve attached to. Changing one thing often creates a domino effect of other needed adjustments. This is doable. In fact, better paintings often result. But there is almost always something lost. And it is a gamble. The losses may never be recouped by the final bet.

When you look at a painting, there is typically no hint of the artist’s sweat, or that razor’s edge in view. You decide if you like it or not, and move on. You don’t see the paintings that have been tossed, scraped down, or sanded away, sometimes after countless hours of attention. But the artist remembers. The artist can’t separate the painting from the process of making it.

Maybe there are painters out there who don’t identify with what I’m saying at all. I’d love to know YOUR secret! And I’m aware there are ways of painting that make outcome more predictable. Still, I recently heard that Anne Packard once threw one of her paintings into the ocean. I know the struggle is real, even for great painters!

And I know the paintings I’ve wanted to throw into the ocean are often the ones I become most attached to. I don’t throw away the ones I don’t like. Instead, I let them rest where they taunt me until I have the courage to go back and try again. These are the ones I suspect others won’t value the same way I do; these are the ones that contain a bigger piece of my heart.

I don’t really like gambling. I hate to lose, especially in a contest with myself. I’ve had enough loss in my life already. But I am a painter, which requires me to be a gambler. I keep painting. Because sometimes I win. And only because I am willing to try again.

And sometimes I even understand: What is meant to be kept, can never truly be lost.

And sometimes I even know: we only find out what is truly possible, when we are willing to surrender everything we have attached to.

Are you a gambler? Are you willing to release the things that hold you back for the possibility of something greater?


Here are a few recent paintings that were saved from the trash.

This painting sat in my closet for a year before I pulled it out and painted over most of the original painting. The darker blue at the bottom was once the sky and that is the only part I didn’t touch.
This is another painting that sat in my closet for a bit. Now that I think about it, the sky in this painting was once the ground also. Seems to be a repeated theme!

Imperfect Approximations in the Sea of Love

Imperfect Approximations in the Sea of Love, 8×8 acrylic on wood panel

I presented my gift to you with no fanfare, no overt meaning beyond, “I found this old box of Uno and thought you might like to have it.” My name had been written on top of the metal lid before you were born. I suggested you could possibly cover my name with yours.

You’d been asking me about playing Uno for several months, asked if I could buy Uno for the office. You seemed pleased I had remembered, but were noncommittal about adding your name to it.

Containers are made to hold things. Sometimes they even become special mementos to keep that which needs saving. They’re also, metaphorically speaking, very relevant to therapy. 

Although your understanding of metaphor is still developing, I suspect you know, even without knowing you do, that the box might be a symbol for something important, something I want you to remember long after we stop working together.

We’ve seen each other once or twice a month for almost 7 years. More than half your life. We matter to each other in ways we both feel, even as we honor the boundaries of our professional relationship.

You’ve grown taller and more articulate about your feelings, the scared kindergartener who threatened to hurt me with his arm cast a now distant memory, even as the old fear of being hurt lingers in your bones. We sometimes talk about the day we met, about how you still want to lash out when you don’t feel safe. We talk a lot about taking space and creating safety inside yourself.

You say you trust me now, the reason you no longer want to hit me. You’re matter-of-fact about this, as if it’s a simple equation. Maybe it is. Simple, but not easy. 

When we talk about safety, you invariably focus on what I’ve done to earn your trust. I, on the other hand, urge you to consider the risks you’ve taken, the work you’ve done. I don’t want the credit.

But I do want you to remember feeling held, of being safely contained by me for a time. And then, as you recall how that feels, even when your heart pounds with fear, I want you to remember to hold yourself in love. Because, strange as it may sound, love is the best antidote to fear, the most powerful weapon you have to manage all that scares you. 

Yes, more than anything else, I want you to remember to love. That you are always, always worthy of love.

*

After thanking me for the Uno, you said, “Maybe I should leave it here so other kids can play with it too.” We’ve worked on empathy, talked a lot about sharing and being a good friend. You’ve learned well. 

“No,” I replied. “There are other things for other kids. This is for you.”


Author’s notes:

Although this piece was inspired by some real events, it is a work of fiction and should be read as such. I share it here because, despite how I’ve chosen to end the piece and our individual and varied needs for external containers, the gifts of love are meant for all of us. Whatever our history and however deep our wounds may be, I suspect we all need these reminders at different times. Consider yourself reminded and loved ❤️

Both the painting and the prose piece were coincidentally finished this morning. The title of the prose piece preceded the making of the painting, but a shared title and pairing for this post seemed just right.

Gift giving in a therapeutic context is a risk and one I’ve only carefully done as part of a deliberate transition/goodbye plan. I can neither encourage nor discourage this practice as a general rule. But I will say, in my experience, true healing of attachment-related wounds happens only from real exchanges that are both safe and heartfelt.

Less Medication, More Medicine: The healing power of being seen

Leg shaking nerves only slightly attenuated, you met my gaze meaningfully as you said, “I’m OK…better…OK.” This was our second meeting.

Some moments feel extra authentic. This was one of them. Cloak of your defenses parted, I could see more of you – the effortful courage, the determination to stay clean. I could see you were OK, but not easily so.

During our first encounter, I understood quickly that you were used to being dismissed. You understood mistrust, had lived a lifetime of both creating and responding to it. Prepared for judgment, I watched the confusion, then the change in your posture when none was forthcoming.

“I’m usually too much for people,” you said.

“Really?” I hoped you might consider that another’s response to you might be more about them. Your shy smile and brief eye contact told me that was the right thing to say.

Briefly, I saw you as a young girl. Before you knew of unspeakable cruelty, desperation, the relief found by a needle in your arm. Before so many years of shame distorted your reflection. Before.

I could tell I’d put you at relative ease, could tell by the way you seemed simultaneously more full and light, even as your leg continued to jackhammer into the carpet. What else would you notice if you could be still? Would the vulnerability feel too much like drowning? Could you remember what it was like to feel safe, if, in fact, you ever had?

Without fanfare, I announced my impending departure from the clinic, that this would be our final meeting. Best to rip the bandaid off quickly, if you’d even care.

“Wait, no, you’re leaving? No!”

Your vehemence and involuntary tears, wiped quickly away like an annoying mosquito, reminded me that even brief encounters can be powerful.

“You don’t understand. I don’t like people. I don’t trust people. You’re different. You listen. You…you…it was different…you don’t group people together…you never treated me like a junkie.”

I didn’t know what to say. Except, “I’m really sorry I won’t get to see you deeper into your recovery. I really am. You inspire me. I think you have what it takes to stay clean.”

I meant it.

Your allowance of grief at our parting was hopeful, I thought, as was the discussion about our shared humanity. Addiction is almost certainly fueled by a wish to get rid of unwanted feelings, to manage deep wounds, the aching loneliness. Your capacity for shared grief, even momentary, a sliver moon in darkness.

You didn’t realize, I’d bet, that I was only witnessing what I saw before me, what you – courageously – had allowed me to see.

It actually wasn’t me who was different, but you. The you that shame forgot. The you wiped clean, exposed, if only for a moment.

What was unusual, perhaps, was your willingness to shed the protective layers. To unfurl your defensive fists. To risk being hurt, just long enough to be seen. Only then could you see your light – the new moon reflected – in the mirror I held in front of you.

You came to me for medicine, which I provided. But I hoped you would realize: true healing is found not in medication, but in being witnessed, in seeing yourself anew. If you wish to know light, outside or within, you must learn to polish the glass. If you want to see your true self, you must look closely in the window, to see your translucent shine reflected there.


Note: This is a work of fiction. Although inspired by real events, it is not a story about any one person and should not be read as such.

Want to Spark Joy without Tidying up?

Make art where you find it. Every day. For YOU and for love. This isn’t a Hallmark card, it’s a way of being.

Don’t wait for Valentine’s Day!

Deliberate creative acts, even small ones, feed your spirit. Do it with heart shaped strawberries or whatever inspires you. Make art – broadly defined- to create your best, most authentic life.

At most, it took an extra minute to decorate my husband’s breakfast plate as shown. The choice to do so made me smile, made him feel special, and added a little extra, out of the green box beauty, to our St. Patrick’s Day morning. Triple win.

Truth in advertising: I’m hardly an apron-clad housewife, looking for all the ways I can please my man. Most days I barely get Cheerios in a bowl for myself. Does he eat breakfast on those days? I don’t know! This post isn’t about being a good partner, at least not directly.

It’s about nurturing your creative spirit and watching your world transform!

When you cultivate a creative mindset, every day offers opportunities to make something new, to see the world with fresh eyes and an open heart. A creative approach to life changes everything.

And that’s not all…

When you find ways to share your art with others, you contribute to the pool of love. In case you hadn’t heard: love is the best antidote to fear. Don’t you want to feel less afraid? More joyful?

Making art (cultivating a creative mindset) is a form of self-love; sharing is how you spread love to others. Not everyone will feel the love, but even if one person does, the ripple effect may create a wave of goodwill. Don’t you think we need more of that?

Need more examples, more explanation?

Read more about #makeartwhereyoufindit here.

Want to Live Your Best Life?*

So often we fail to notice the interesting, potentially inspiring, or beautiful, things around us. We’re busy, tired, distracted. Hardwired to notice threat, we’re more likely to attend to the things that could go wrong, than to appreciate the musical quality of the wind, or an unusual shade of green.

Except when we train ourselves to do otherwise, as artists of all types do.

“But, I’m not artistic!”, at least some of you protest. To which I would suggest you might broaden your definition of art. To make art where you find it.

Have you ever read a sentence that made your toes curl with understanding, so moved you copied and posted it so you’d see it again? Shared a photo of a sunset? Picked and dried a wildflower that reminded you of a trip to the mountains? Kept a rock you found on the seashore and set it on your windowsill, next to the others you couldn’t leave behind?

I could go on. The point is to recognize your role in creating your experience, to look closely beyond the familiar, the easily unnoticed. To discover whether your artful witness can spark joy, no Marie Kondo style tidying up required!

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Watercolor Expressions: Reclaiming purple

Lavender Daydreams, 5×5 watercolor

Before I knew anything about painting – only slightly less than I know now, mind you – I was heavy handed with the color purple. For no reason I can really remember, purple (one shade, straight from the tube – ugh!) was my go to color.

Then I learned to avoid it, along with the color red. An unconscious hedge against the inadvertent possibility of making purple, I’d guess.

Blues and greens were safer choices, certainly for the seascapes I’m so fond of capturing. The real problem was that I didn’t understand color mixing, among other things. And dark purple was a good cover for poorly considered brushstrokes and color choices that couldn’t be undone. Hmm… maybe I’m starting to understand why I used it so much!

I cringe to think about some of those paintings now, even as I also see how much I needed to make them. And I’ll almost certainly know this feeling again when I look back at my currently unrecognized shortcomings. So it is with growth, when we’re honest about where we’ve been. Hindsight and all that.

My learning curve as a painter is still on the rise, but I’d rather risk exposing flaws than continue hiding behind a limited palette. Or worse, stop sharing myself as I am.

Progress, not perfection, my friends!

This painting, with all of its transparency, shows a bit better in person. Even so, the color palette soothes me, as I hope it will you.

What do you avoid because you don’t do it well? What colors in your life need to be reclaimed?

Painting the days as they come

Winter Windstorm, 11×11 watercolor

You know those days. When everything feels a bit off?

Yesterday was that kind of day for me. It started with a dental appointment. We lost power due to tree-bending, frigid winds. There were no candles to be found, at least ones not scented with the makings of nausea. You get the idea!

To be clear, it wasn’t a terrible day. I’m grateful for teeth, access to dentistry, and a home that usually has electricity. The day was just a bit askew. Much like a “fresh breeze” scented candle which, in fact, smells like nothing found in nature!

It’s not the sort of day that usually inspires me to paint. But with the power out, my options for escape were limited. Plus, I wondered if it would be possible to paint myself into an improved mood state.

Verdict: not really. At least, not this time! Instead, I painted this very unusual painting, which probably represents the day more than changed the course of it.

Truth in advertising: the painting looks best from a distance. But then again, so do those kind of days.

Watercolor Expressions: Freedom from expectations

Traveling, 5×5 watercolor (coldpress)

Some of my favorite paintings have been made from the passenger seat of long car rides. The time with nothing else to do and the light that streams into the car from every direction surely inspire me. But the absence of expectations and the willingness to improvise are the secret ingredients that make these paintings different, I think.

Folks in my life have wondered how I can paint in the car: Don’t you get carsick? How can you work with all the motion? How do you not spill the water or ruin the painting when you hit a bump?

Yes, I get carsick when I am not in the front seat. And I can only paint (or read) while highway driving. The paintings I make in the car are small, so the water is pretty well-contained in a cup holder. My travel paints sit on one leg; the paper pad rests on the other.

And the bumps? Well, they definitely happen! But, especially with abstract painting, the unexpected brush marks can usually be incorporated into the landscape.

And what a great metaphor! For when we keep our expectations loose – as ideas about form in a piece of abstract art – the surprises may add interest. The unintended marks might even inspire a major change in composition, impetus to create something better than we could have imagined.

The uncontrolled elements, and my unplanned response to them, may indeed be what makes my car paintings special. Maybe I like them best because they evoke the sense of freedom and flow I experienced while making them.

What frees you up to find creative flow?

Watercolor Expressions: Going with playful energy

Mexico Energy, 6×8 watercolor (hotpress)

Not uncommonly, my perception of a painting changes depending on my proximity to it, not just the viewing distance, but with the passage of time. Sometimes I love a painting more the longer I look at it, sometimes less. Enduring appreciation of a painting might be one definition of merit, I suppose.

And then there is this painting, which I love best in the first moments of looking at it, when the palpable energy shouts to be heard over my notice of the imperfections. This isn’t my favorite painting for a lot of reasons and may not be yours either. But it evokes an approximation of how I felt when I made it.

Mexico is such a colorful country, a place where the warmth of the people matches the strength of the sun. There is evident hustle and work, but also an abundance of playfulness. And not just when the tequila is flowing.

Yes, there a dark places – crime, drugs, and corruption. But I’d venture to guess our impressions of those cultural elements are largely overblown.

I remember watching this painting evolve while hearing the sounds of the ocean. And, as is true with many paintings, a creative backstory is hidden in the final image. This one could be a tale of alternating ground and sky, of keeping perceptions fluid, of going with the playful energy.

Many thanks, Mexico.