Connections made through creative activities is one of the best ways I can think of for expanding our everyday lives and breathing a fullness into our daily experiences. And by this, I mean connecting with ourselves, others, nature, and everything that surrounds us, in the moment. As a painter, this includes our subject. We’re here to develop a relationship through this act of experimentation - this not knowing what will happen or what the end result will be. With this in mind, combined with this new intrigue for watercolours, I’m continuing the plein air experience started while travelling in England, by going out once per week with a long-time (also creative) friend of mine to High Park.
In these sessions, I am intrigued with truly switching on my right brain and allowing the experience of the moment to guide me. I’m not concerned with a restricted, polished representational finish for the time being, but rather the exploration of the colour, shape, light, and emotion surrounding me, and also developing a relationship through experimentation with this new-to-me medium that is so vastly different from oil. I am unlearning, being playful, and not restricting myself to a specific imposed expected finish. It’s not safe; exploration is a messy business. Mark making is not about perfection. Here is the place to make mistakes with intention and fail with purpose. This is the way I stretch my creative eye, so as not to restrict the creative process, but rather enhance it. I’m also capturing the moment in a mindfully invested way. Stretching our creative wings into a space of discomfort and the unknown, is the only path to growth and resilience (in my personal experience). This applies to our creative process as artists but is also parallel to living. If we want to truly live and be in the world, we need to welcome discomfort through the unknown.
This majestic Sequoia, the subject of the painting, teaches us that life is not made up of a straight, solid line and that things don’t always appear how our eyes initially perceive them. Trunks and branches are contoured and textured. It’s roots coil and turn, it’s branches stretch every which way. It’s made up of texture, mass, light, and we can deliver this with a value gradation of colour and the division of light and shadow. The surroundings of the tree are equally important; the sky and positioning of the sun surrounding it that provides the light, affects where the light and shadows fall as does the movement of the leaves, that will shift how the light and shadow fall. The colours are not merely brown and green; they are nuanced and deeply rich with varying reds, oranges, ochres, burnt umber, deep greens and yellow greens. One of the most important things to do when painting from life, is to squint so you can just see masses of shapes and work with these, building from there; to focus on perceived details immediately is to lose the essence of the picture as a whole. Developing a relationship in this way with the subject is the way a painter develops a painterly eye and learns to truly ‘see’.
This is aligning with where I am at with life in general; as I disconnect from facets of life that seems to be full of rushing and hustling from point a to point b, filled with posturing and seemingly unconscious, automatic responses, I’m leaning into my continued journey of mindfulness. I’m practising new behavioural responses that are helping me rewire my reactions and bringing conscious awareness to the in-between a to b space. Much of this has been through a daily meditation practice for over two years, but also through the act of art making, and reading current empirically validated neuroscience + psychology theories and applying them in practice (meditation is highly recommended and I can now confirm, it has reduced my physiological response to anxiety). I’m working on unlearning behaviours that have been wired into me since childhood. I’m heading back to the *beginning, in a way. I am unwinding this tightly bound thread (and paint brush!) within and following the path back to where it started; this time with a spring in my step that isn’t wired to perform through anxiety and posturing, but instead has my creative resourcefulness and a mindful intention leading the way.
*”[T]he act of imagination is bound up with memory. You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. ‘Floods’ is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory—what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of imagination is our ‘flooding’.” Toni Morrison