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!

More living, less dying

Chapin, age 13.5

In the hiatus of favored things
Pain evident in your gait and change of habits
We feared the worst, prepared for the end 

Until suddenly, again, you trotted along the beach
Delighted in old crab shells and seaweed
Then later begged to climb into bed with us,
   Something you’d not done for months
And earlier, chewed on a long discarded bone
Nestled between forgotten toys
Remnants of your younger days

These things seem small, maybe 
But I know they are the sum of everything
Evidence of more living, less dying

And so it is, for all of us
Times of grace, even joy
Smiling into salty waves and leaning into the day
   while knowing. That final day will come

© Amanda Reilly Sayer, 2019

If you liked this, you might enjoy an earlier poem about Chapin here.

The Challenge of Being

Untitled, 5×7 acrylic on canvas

Sometimes the notes
Play, almost  
Without effort, other times 

Fingers sore from repetition
Dissonance rules
With gnashing teeth

The Buddha said (maybe)
You must become empty, before
Being filled

And that is harder than it sounds
In this time when, doing more
Means doing well

But what if being well
Means simply being?
Allowing, the melody to emerge

©Amanda Reilly Sayer, 2019

*Note: I shared this particular painting with this poem because it was a painting that evolved easily, which isn’t exactly typical of my experience. As a painter (and writer), I am guilty of teeth gnashing effort and that is usually evident in the work, at least to me. To have a goal that is about not trying seems both counterintuitive and impossible, but I know this is a goal worth allowing, if not pursuing.

What say you?

Do You See What I See?

I’d wager to bet our perceptions differ, even as we may imagine we’re looking at the same thing. This is a truism. But it’s curious, isn’t it? By default, we assume we have a shared reality, when that is only partially true.

I recently posted to Facebook a photograph of a painting I made, my primary intention being to share what seemed like an amusing interchange between me and my husband. He said he liked the painting; I was less impressed and responded with something like, “If you really like it, you better take it to work with you, otherwise I might not be able to resist painting over it.” I’m known for painting over my work, for ruining a decent painting by changing “just one more little thing.”

The encounter was meant to highlight my struggles as a painter, possibly to invoke a chuckle or two. I can be guilty of taking myself too seriously. This exchange, and the telling of it, was meant to be an antidote.

What happened next was puzzling to me, but not really surprising when one considers how varied our individual perceptions of the same object can really be. In short, many people – many more than usual – responded positively to the painting. Some folks suggested the painting might be my best work. 

I was stunned. Really?

You might imagine I’d be pleased to have my work well-received, which was true to a degree. It feels good to be liked and I always appreciate when people take the time to acknowledge me in some way.

But more predominantly, I was aware of feeling dysphoric, confused. What am I not seeing here?

Have you ever created something you didn’t personally like very much? 

Of course you have!

Have you ever had other people like that thing more than other things? Things you’ve liked better yourself? Worked harder on, been more proud of?

It’s a strange feeling, isn’t it?

In some ways it’s a bit like going to a costume party and having people say you’ve never looked better. Really? Do you not like the real me? 

But who is the real me? Who is the real you? Would you know your true self if you saw it reflected back to you? If your art reveals something about you, do you know what that is?

In a world where wearing masks is a social custom, is it any wonder we get confused about what is real, true, and good?

Wait, are we talking about a painting or about being authentic? Well, I think they’re connected, at least in this example. Because I know it’s possible to hide the truth of who we are, even when we think we’re being open. Just as it’s possible to truly reveal ourselves without noticing, without seeing ourselves. For better and worse.

None of this may be relevant to the painting. Art is subjective; perceptions vary. But when the groundswell of something you’ve created differs so widely from your own opinion, the problem likely lives in your perception of self.

Perhaps it’s time for you to broaden your self perception, to expand the expressed range of who you’ve allowed yourself to be? 

I know that time has come for me.

Are you an artist?

Works in progress, on location, Provincetown, MA

I came to painting unconventionally, with no memories of childhood painting aptitude and little painting experience outside of my elementary school art classes. I’ve always liked to draw, but my ability to render what I saw was never remarkable. Playing sports and being a good student were more my things. 

There is some photographic evidence that hints of my early interest in painting, but being an artist was never part of my identity. I’m not sure what it would mean to claim that identity at age 50. Nor do I really feel I must do so, at least not any more than I’ve defined myself in other ways. Am I a painter? Someone who likes to paint? Is there really a difference? 

I don’t know. I’m just curious about these sorts of things, most especially how each of us develops and claims aspects of ourselves that have been unknown or previously dormant.

Continue reading

Moving Beyond the Known

The biggest challenge to progress is our resistance to move beyond the known. 

I’ve grown comfortable with blues and greens, a color palette that soothes me. But mixes of red tones have found their way into a couple of recent paintings, perhaps inspired by the spectacular sunsets of late.

Although there are things I like about the paintings, a subtle tension becomes evident when I look at them, an experience that reminds me how difficult it is to gaze upon the unfamiliar.

The painting shown above is one example.

Of course, it could also be that the painting doesn’t work well in some way, the reason I feel a bit off center when I look at it. But I also know that our perception about what “works” is largely determined by what we’ve learned that means. 

How do we know what we could like if we never try anything new?

I make this post – open to feedback about the painting, as always – but also as a conversation starter about moving beyond the known. 

Where do you find it most challenging to sit with the unknown in your life?

Freedom: The other side of loss

Freedom, 16×38 on plywood

Change can be difficult and is often filled with associated grief, but freedom can also be found in the process of letting go. Major life transitions offer a special opportunity to find freedom in change, but it’s easier said than done depending on the details.

We just sold our house. And truthfully, nothing about the related details over the last months have felt close to positive, except the knowledge that we would eventually conclude the stressful parts and be another step closer to our goals – a simpler life, fewer possessions, reduced financial obligations, to name a few.

Anticipated freedom on my mind, I noticed the plywood board sitting on the side of the road – FREE in bold marker written across the surface. Instead of unwanted junk, I saw a new canvas for the old house paint I’d not yet discarded. This idea was so compelling, I actually turned the car around to retrieve the board after initially passing it by.

I’d already made two other paintings with house paint, which turned out to be highly therapeutic, as well as productive. See an example here. But those paintings were made on canvases already in my possession, the benefit of using them more immediately obvious.

In the middle of a move, the last thing anyone needs is to accrue anything new. Nevertheless, I found myself putting the board in my car, unable to resist the symbolic reference and the therapeutic value of a new creative project to soothe me between the packed boxes.

Although I understood FREE would be erased by whatever painting I made, I imagined I’d know freedom in the layers of the painting. I was right.

Freedom is a mindset, not only a consequence of release from unwanted circumstances. Freedom is found any time we allow ourselves to move beyond preconditioned responses. Freedom comes when we let go of expectations.

I am free. You are free.