I recently signed on for an e-course in Intuitive Painting. Intuitive painting is about clearing your mind and showing up to your canvas without any preconceived vision of what you are going to paint. Most intuitive painters begin by choosing colors that attract them and then move around the canvas much like a small child would do when given paper and paints.
I would describe myself as an intuitive artist. I came to my creativity late in life and began to create with the spontaneity of a child. I see myself as lucky to have not taken specific art classes until years after I first began to make art. I’m a “use what I have” type of artist and often integrate collage elements into my work to give them a three-dimensional effect. I thought I was pretty free when it came to experimentation but then this new class took my intuition to a whole new place. For several weeks I wasn’t in the happiest of spaces.
I spent much of the time during the class despising my work. I made mud often–making mud as they call it occurs when you combine cool colors (blues, greens) with warm colors (red, orange, yellow) without waiting for the cool or warm colors to dry and they mix with one another. Mud is often called impatience.
For the last five weeks I’ve been on a rocky ride that awakened serious self-doubt about whether I could create something “pretty.” I learned how difficult it was for me to let go of my intense need to make pretty (both in art and outside of it). I was often agitated and stressed during my hours at the easel as I piled layer upon layer of paint, made marks with erasers and bottle caps. For much of the time I saw no evidence that I was actually creating art.
“Just allow yourself to have fun,” the instructor said. Don’t worry about what the canvas looks like in its first few layers. Just put color on the white, stencil, use your fingers, even the eraser on your pencil to make marks. The word “Oy” took on new meaning as I watched my emotions see-saw. One of the highlights of the class was the notion of working on several canvasses at once. Challenging you might think? You betcha. There were moments when I had the opportunity to despise not one but all three paintings I was working on. But I moved from one to the other like I was told (good girl that I learned I still am) which gave each an opportunity to dry and staved off the impatience that would cause the mud.
I kept a journal during this process and photographed the paintings at various stages. Suddenly the process took on more meaning than the actual painting. I recognized how attached I am to painting lovely women and that when pushed out of my comfort zone my legs start to feel like jelly. Looking at a canvas that has the beauty of a five-year-old’s finger painting can cause a lot of self-doubt. Am I talented? Why can’t I get this process? What am I doing wrong? Why do everyone else’s paintings look better than mine? Why can’t I just have fun?
Seven weeks later my paintings are finding themselves and they are very different than the work I have done in the past. I am developing a greater confidence in just letting go—something I began doing seven years ago and have been working on through meditation and mindfulness. Still, it’s really difficult to trust a process that really translates into trusting myself. As I got freer and began to place less importance on making something beautiful, my paintings were liberated from expectation. I opened to surprises. I stopped planting pretty things on the canvas intentionally.
I am putting the finishing touches on a painting that does not have the face of a woman in it. I think this is the first time a pretty woman is not in the picture. I am going to have to give that “little” detail some serious thought. But for now I am content to revel in the surprises this new work offers and will try to bring the art to my everyday life. Learning to let go is never easy but from what I’ve seen and learned, it’s the only way to go— both in art and in life.