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A Look at What Lurks Beneath the Surface : My Painting Experience Weekend

This is my followup to my earlier blog post about my participation in the “Painting Experience” workshop that was held in Asheville on August 19-21.

There are few rules for participants of the “Painting Experience” Workshops. One is not to comment on another’s work or your own. Keep it purely about process. Once we begin to judge anything about the product, we interfere with the purity of the process. Our group was true to this code.

Standing in front of the blank canvas with a row of bright colored paints is interesting. Attempting to stay true to process requires self-awareness. It is an exercise in taking action while staying purely present. Like a meditation when one follows the breath to keep the mind clear, in this case you may follow the impulse about color, brushstroke, form, etc. Mental pictures emerge, colors are felt, and the revelations of what the process can be are uniquely experienced. Anything can happen.

I thought about what process is and how it is present in my plein air and impressionist painting. There is always an unknown. I believe that my best work comes through when I am in an open and receptive state, without a strong agenda. This allows me the freedom to play in all ways and learn as a result. I can be liberal about colors, brushstokes, composition and value. I can do what I want. This also creates space for something fresh to be born.

In creative work, one rarely avoids those moments of presence and process, and likewise, one rarely escapes the memories and habits of old thinking. One is not pure presence all the time. It is a dance of resisting and allowing, receiving and recording. In part an energy is coming in that through the process is being expressed in some way and there is the desire to represent that energy accurately.

I noticed that I had grown since my past "Painting Experience" workshop 6 years ago. I was able to get a visual image or an impulse in a flash and begin to put it on the paper with more skill, because of my frequency of painting. The techniques that I have learned helped me enjoy the process more. Also, having a regular practice of mind clearing, it was much easier to stop my thinking and be in an open and receptive state.

Each painting came about in it’s own way. Sometimes there was a clear directive, other times it was revealed more bit by bit. Each time there was an intention to hold no purpose or agenda, no concern for an ending.

After each painting, I took some time to write in a journal. It is interesting to read back over what I wrote. I had forgotten a lot of it. It is almost like a dream now. I have the paintings and the journal to jog my memory.

On Friday evening, after an introduction to the guidelines, materials and process, we were given time to paint. I felt distracting and overwhelming energies in the room. I took a little time to clear my personal space energetically by imagining myself in my own impenetrable bubble. I then called upon a spirit of play within me, letting go of more. Saying yes to impulses and see what happens. Allowing craziness, sloppiness and freedom to join me.

My first painting was like a dream with images coming in one after another nonsensically. It emerged easily from a beginners mind. I felt very relaxed. In later analysis, I can see it says a lot and is interesting to me.

I went home feeling happy and looking forward to Day 2.

On Saturday morning I arrived early, excited to get started and began a new piece.

The whole group seemed more relaxed on this second day. As the workshop went on, the group and the space began to feel calm, focused and comfortable.

I taped a new piece of white paper on the wall and began. I saw an image of reflection in my mind’s eye. There was something to explore here in this idea of reflection. I was excited about seeing what would appear, as I stayed present. What showed up were varied perspectives and influences that change the image as it is reflected. Reflections are sometimes very distorted and messy. Now that the workshop is over, I can say that this is one of my favorites.

In my third painting, out came this loud bold confident spirit, knowing exactly what it wanted, what was needed, really WHAT IT WANTED.

Each movement and color choice felt like it was being directed and I followed it. It was so interesting to have that feeling of information being channeled from some other voice, strong and clear. It's purpose seemed to be to give me the experience of feeling strength, self assured boldness and confidence. It was a fast painting.

The fourth painting began on Saturday after lunch. It was the one that generated the most confusion and opportunity for seeing how I get in my own way. This was the one I was waiting for. This is the one that showed me where I needed to clear resistance.

I struggled and at times I could not wait for it to end and in the next moment I never wanted it to end but not because I was enjoying it, rather because I did not want to start this anguish with yet another piece of white paper. It was the opposite of the last piece in that I felt very spotty connection to my inner voice. I was frequently confused about what to do next. So while there were moments that I felt exhilarated by the way colors played next to each other, or how it felt to make large brushstokes, there were also very hard moments where I wanted to know what was going on with it. I wanted to understand what I was doing and it was not there for me. I felt I had lost the purpose of the activity and that felt uncomfortable. This is a metaphor for a life lived in process because often what is emerging in any moment does not seem connected, even when it comes from a place of connection. Something true may not seem logical and when the mind gets in and interjects with this thought, doubt can enter and wreak havoc. This is what was happening. Mind and Heart were battling it out. It is the heart that has infinite resources so it will prevail no matter how long it takes.

I took a break in the midst of this to apply what I have learned about working with resistance and broken connections. I return to the focus on my core, my heart, where the connection resides and I ask myself what I most fear, and what are my expectations and I choose to let go of all of that. I return with a commitment to choose to stay open, free, connected.

When returning to the piece, I can see what the misaligned disconnected energies of my period of struggle have produced; there were things that began to come in more easily and I worked until I felt complete.

On Sunday morning, I returned and created another piece that also revealed more resistance.

In this one, I struggled with the images, not wanting to paint something with ordinary symbols even though that is what was coming in. You know, one of those paintings with the images that everyone has. ARGHH.. Why couldn’t I be more original so again , I faced myself in my head and not my heart. In my judgement and not my truth. I did work through this internally and painted just what was coming in.

I then created yet another, and this one also came very quickly and said a lot. It was not difficult. It was fun and yet it has a strong energy and a message for me.

I did not analyze it as I was painting, choosing to save that for later. I felt very true to myself on this one and even felt it honest to save the review of the why of it for later even when the facilitator inquired strongly about it’s meaning. My clear inner voice directing me that it was something for later and I honored that.

The last one, was my gift to myself and in a spirit of rebellious self indulgence, I allowed my mind to play with me and designed a painting with the hope of enjoying the outcome while staying loose and free. This was a little more product than process and that is just what I wanted to play with in order to see just how the efforts of the last 2 days would influence my work. It was GREAT FUN!

I come out of this workshop with a greater confidence in following the process and that is what I wanted. I hope that I can take this experience more into my more representational artwork and see new elements emerge. I also hope to make a practice of painting in this way more often to continue to see what shows up visually when I clear my mind. I feel that I can discover and uncover a lot more about myself and who I really am through this practice.

The workshop is over. Feel free to comment on the written and visual information shared here. I welcome questions and feedback.

I highly recommend this painting process to those that enjoy visual forms of self exploration. One nice place to start is with the book, Life, Paint and Passion by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley and then take the workshop if you want to have a great experience of this work in a safe community setting.

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