Post Seven: Beginner’s Mind
Last week I had the opportunity to paint with my mentor, Carrie Jadus. Carrie is not only my mentor for this grant, which I am beyond grateful for, she is also my oil painting hero. To me, her work speaks. It tells stories, evokes emotion, has strong qualities of play and love and struggle and hope. It is divine. So to say that I was out of my comfort zone stepping into our painting session is a simple reality. Before this session, I had also never painted along side another artist. However, the newness of this opportunity tickled me as I am old enough to know that experiences outside that zone of what we’re used to, within reason, can be the most enlightening kind.
Carrie set us up with a still life of sunflowers against a gorgeously contrasting teal background with a direct light source. Ok, now I was nervous! I usually paint from photos I take as I meander through my days. Rarely do I paint from life. However, again, I know this is an area I can improve on so I was delighted by her choices. Also, while I have painted sunflowers before, it was in a more illustrative way, glazing over the attention they deserve. Carrie set our painting stations up with painting palettes, turpentine, linseed oil and brushes. Next she began demonstrating her approach. We laid in loose light and dark washes, roughly sketching in shapes via tone. This challenged me immensely, to zoom out, to allow our brushstrokes to build shape rather than using charcoal to make lines as I’m so used to doing before I start each painting. It felt loosy goosy to me and it looked down right ugly (mine, not Carrie’s). I could see how Carrie’s shapes and strokes evoked an understanding mine did not quite achieve. It was challenging for me to let go of my lacking in these early and simple stages.
As human beings we have such a strong desire to want things to make sense and be perfect so quickly. Immediate gratification, right? Quick, immediate, available. Finished. It’s the world we live in. I resisted this urge repeatedly as Carrie and I continued to lay in lights and darks, color and detail. We talked about the “ugly phase” of a painting, and the ability to be ok with the ugliness of a painting’s under carriage. As someone who has been painting for almost 20 years and in a self-developed style, I felt more like a kindergarten student, rather than an experienced oil painter. Typically I am the one instructing others, this time I was the student allowing my art and my “less-than-perfects” to be seen. In yoga teachings, we learn to adopt a “beginner’s mind” in all situations, giving value to the newness of every day, each experience and every moment, understanding that we are different from one day to the next. We appreciate that the only constant is change and so we learn, with practice over time, to meet ourselves where we are, knowing that place is ever shifting. We work to not compare ourselves to our past or future selves, as well as to others. I reminded myself of this principle with every sigh of effort I released during our session. We painted for 4 hours. I walked away encouraged. I tried something new, got out of my comfort zone, explored new paint colors and was given an outstanding lesson on trying to loosen up.
I took my piece home and finished it that night. Typically, it might have taken me longer to finish this piece. But in the letting go of my desire for perfection, I found something new. I put another hour or two into this piece and called it done. If I had followed my usual approach, I’m sure I could have painted something tighter and more exact. If I had taken the extra time to really observe each singular detail. However, this was an exercise in effectivity versus perfection. How efficiently can I lay down what I see to translate through suggestion? All the fun and play is in this ability, which is something to fine tune through one’s career. After painting with Carrie, I feel like I understand this better and will continue to explore it. Carrie showed me that this is an ability to develop to become a better painter and artist. The art of suggestion, versus the art of exactitude. It is an artful skill.
As I write this post at my favorite coffee spot in St Pete, Black Crow Coffee on 1st Ave S, I just ran into Olivia, one of the coordinators for this grant. She is also the coolest, most put together recent USF graduate you’ll ever meet. Highly self-aware, brilliant, bright, mature and just plane lovely. I know her through working together with Nomad Art Bus and from St Petersburg Yoga as well. I am totally amazed and inspired by her brilliance and youth. She is a natural leader and I so look forward to the good work she is doing and will continue to do in her lifetime. She’s the bomb-diggity. I want to say thank you to her, Danny Olda, Kimberly DiVito and all of the wonderful people at Creative Pinellas. Thank you, Carrie, for your mentorship and thank you, Creative Pinellas, for making this all happen. These experiences change everything and I encourage everyone out there to go for it and do the important work that is in your heart. Show up for yourself and everything else will follow. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes for all of us. It’s all that work that aligns the stars to shine the light on our way to a what we truly desire.
Comfort, ease, love and joy are available to all of us.