Moving Towards the Flow

Flow 16"x20"

Flow was a quick one session painting- less than 2 hours. I enjoy its loose brushwork and vibrancy. There is a rawness that permeates this piece that isn’t always present in all of my paintings. My mind opened, I didn’t think too much about it and out it poured. Unlike my previous painting, Seeking, I was able to have minimal expectations because I had no preconceived notion of what I wanted it to be. I had no image in my head to work from. The size was small enough that I wasn’t concerned about wasting paint and big enough that I wasn’t bumping into edges all the time. I was comfortable and free. What a great feeling to experience!

This ease is not always present when I paint. There is usually some back and forth between painting and considering what to do next. I don’t always know what action to take and it can sometimes feel like a struggle. I can have too many ideas or none at all. My mind gets bogged down for various reasons and I need to figure out how to return to that desired state of flow.  It gets even more complicated when I don’t like what’s happening and my inner critic comes out or I do like what’s happening and don’t want to mess it up. Things don’t turn out as expected or the painting departs from what I originally intended. I may find myself holding on to what isn’t there anymore and fail to see new opportunities before me. The only way I know how to return to flow is to take a leap of faith that things will be ok. To let go and keep painting through it with fresh eyes (which may require a break) even if I’m not sure of where it’s going.  The important thing that brings Flow to life in my eyes was my ability to be in a continual state of letting go during the entire process.

Do I not feel comfortable and free at other times? Is it sometimes hard to happily let go? Yes, but I don’t think this is a bad thing.  If things were always easy and smooth where would the growth be? Each time I paint and it’s not easy I am learning how to adapt to difficult situations and to keep moving the best I can in the face of them.

When the canvas is larger I tend to mark out the territory with bold strokes that get fine tuned as I move along. A large, blank, white canvas can be intimidating (and dare I say overwhelming at times) but it can also be exciting. It may take time but I attempt to create a(any) foundation that could give rise to painting from the heart. This isn’t always easy because I often go back and forth down different avenues before deciding on a solid direction. This meandering can lead to doubt and uncertainty. Where am I going? Sometimes, I begin to use paint more sparingly- hearing little “cha ching” noises as I layer it on. Will this painting be worth the cost of the paint that I’m investing in it? Expectations are born and fear sets in. However, if I can stand back and see infinite possibility and trust that there are many worthy paths to take the deciding becomes less worrisome. I can let go and move forward. And the result is a painting where I successfully navigated through doubt and uncertainty to a place of acceptance and feeling complete. It may not exhibit the same looseness and ease as other paintings because the path was longer and entirely different. It required more processing to let the painting be what it is.

On the flip side, when the canvas is really small I tend to reign in my brushwork and feel constrained by the smaller boundaries I chose. Bump, bump, bump… At first it may feel very frustrating. A single stroke can occupy the entire canvas and change the mood of the piece instantly. Thus single strokes can seem more risky and more important. Did I make the right choice? Should I scrap it and start over? It’s easy to start a small painting over but I rarely pursue that path. I think it’s interesting to see where you can take a small painting and work with what you have. I usually start a painting with lots of broad movements. This is hard to do in a small painting so I need to find an entirely different way to operate- one that’s outside of my normal comfort zone. I pick up smaller brushes to give myself space. It’s a shift in perspective- from macro to micro. Finding openness in a place that at first seemed very tight and awkward. In this way I am able to find freedom within the bounds of perceived limitation.

I think it’s all about acceptance- or at least striving towards it even when it’s not easy. To be overwhelmed and still take a step forward anyway. To be confined and still find freedom within.  Accepting hardship as part of life adds to my enjoyment and appreciation of those moments when it all seems perfect and serendipitous. Perhaps this is my way of coping with my daily life, the one outside of my studio. Challenges that arise during painting mimic what I’m called to do on a daily basis.  In this way I strive to reach acceptance of and make beautiful the life that I’ve been given to the best of my ability. I try to make positive choices in my life where I can and I try not to dwell (for too long anyway) on what is out of my control. Each day a fresh canvas of different size and proportion with its own set of challenges, joys and sorrows and decisions to be made.  I hold the paintbrush, I am the paintbrush.

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