Painting for the Trash Can

I am excited. It is 8:30am and the retreat starts in 30 minutes. I have claimed my spot in the sun lit room. I’m in the corner next to the door where I will go in and out to dry my art and to be inspired by the wildflowers and the mountain air. There are 5 others arranging their space for the next four days. The easel is ready for me and is a perfect height. I set my paints in front of me and I stare at the stretched paper on the board. My nose is up to the paper. I step back. It is scary to pick up my paintbrush after not touching one for a whole year. I have high hopes of creating nice art. I need to trust, relax and find my beginners mind. I am here to have fun and discover something new about myself through painting, color and imagination. We sit ready for introductions to each other and the layout of the class goals.

I know the routine. This is my 8th season. I also know that this veil watercolor and gouche landscape workshop is all about letting go and being free to explore color in exercises designed to loosen us up and find our inner artist. I find my brush and dip it in paint. That first stroke sets the tone for me. Since I paint so infrequently, it also is like getting back on a bike. I know I can do it, but I need to trust that I can deliver a swish that I can work with–not too dark, not too runny and leaving drips. I find yellow and put a dab on my brush and bring it to the paper. I pull back. Perhaps I should test what it could look like. Nope, I am going for it. My water is nearby as well as the rag to clean up any spills. It is ok. I apply more color. Ugg. I ruined it. Too dark. Too heavy. Washing it off compromises the paper. I want to start again. Teacher?

I have to be careful and intentional about how I work. It would be a challenge to not keep going into the mess and strong arm a change. Stepping back for a few moments is essential. Can this painting be saved? I turn my canvas in all directions. Perhaps I can feel a new impulse. Different perspectives can ignite a new imagination. Transformations occur frequently in the course of my paintings. I begin a new one so I can let the other one dry and I can return to it with fresh eyes. I can’t believe how different the same piece can feel from one moment or hour to the next. It is ever changing and surprising to me and to the others.

I feel bold with my colors this year. I feel drawn to work with dark green. Rose is nice too. Magenta would be nice if I could figure out how to make my own. I call Jennifer over for honest feedback. “It looks too much like you planted this here”. “Your painting is missing something”. “What did you want to do here?” “This side doesn’t have a relationship to this side”. “Did you want that house to be floating?” “Maybe add a darker tone?”. “This is really nice.” “You have integrated this well.” “Maybe add some white here”. “I’d leave it for now.”

Ding a ling. It is the sound of the little bell that lets me know that I need to step away for a snack or lunch or I might just not know what time of day it is. Being able to focus on the art and have my other needs taken care of feels decadent. I join the others for an organic meal. Minutes later, I am drawn back into the colors and the classroom.

Painting for me is deep listening to the ever changing creation on the paper with each stroke. It is listening to the teacher. It is integrating my head, heart and hands. “Well if you don’t try–you’ll never know will you” she says as she walks away. I’m left with myself. Can I apply washes of paint over something I feel good about and risk ruining it? I think for a minute. Why am I back again in this classroom? I am back again to learn more about my process. What happens when I get scared. It is just paper and color-right? But it is more. This is my time to create and complete art. I don’t have that time and space at the moment in my own home and day so I come to lay it all out here. To go big or go home. To give it 100%. To feel my edges as an artist. To drop into each exercise in an open minded way. To explore and to celebrate and to have fun. On goes the white and I gasp. It is emotional. I have tested myself. I am not sure I like what I did. I watch my thoughts and then return to find some kind of way to celebrate taking a chance and stretching in technique and in my expression on canvas.

And when I look at the work on the wall after such an intense four days of non stop painting, I am moved. I can see how everyone has such an amazing and unique approach to the same exercises. The struggles are real. Someone can’t draw a tree or doesn’t know how to even hold a brush? I am in awe that we can celebrate the journeys that we all took and see how different the finished pieces are and recognize the beauty and breakthroughs in all our work and our processes. I feel changed and I feel happy — new friends, new insights and new artwork I can feel excited to share with my family and hang on the walls.