In the spirit of my last post about permission to be a beginner, I allowed myself to follow along on a beginner’s painting tutorial that caught my eye the other day. (I’m also getting more and more requests for teaching a more technique-oriented art class, and, as I consider the possibility of doing that, I’m poking around a bit to see how other artists do it.)
I’ve actually been following Will Kemp for a while, but I’ve always done it from that ego-saturated, permission- and curiosity- and exploration- blocking standpoint of, “I’m a professional artist already, I don’t need no stinkin’ beginner lessons!” Even though I know it’s not true, that there’s always something new to learn, I still let it stop me from exploring further. So, anyway, in the spirit of allowing myself to be a beginner, I did this:
As you can see, a very different approach for me. And it was so FUN and FREEING and EMPOWERING to be a beginner. And in spite of not getting it “perfect”, I learned so much. Mostly I learned, well, relearned, that “I already know that” or “I’ve already done that” as a reason to not do something is just as harmful to living and creating more fully as one of ego’s other favorite blocks, “I don’t know how. I’ve never done that before so I can’t do it.”
So, what are you saying no to because you “already know that”? You might find out it’s kinda great to go ahead and let yourself be a beginner again.
So many lessons to learn from the process, and from teaching it – and to RE-learn, again and again.
Another thing about permission? I have to remember that it applies to me too.
In particular, I have permission to be a beginner again – and again. This is a lesson that I am currently navigating the depths of and struggling with in relationship to my art, and to my being an artist. Over the past few months I’ve found myself finally returning to making art again after over a year of pretty much putting it aside as I worked on getting my shoulder into usable condition again, and I’m finding it hard going as my attitude toward art-making is also transforming.
Ego LOVES to be an expert, and it’s fighting tooth and nail to make me hang on to what I think I know as an artist. It doesn’t even want me to write this post because it doesn’t want to admit to anything other than expertise. It’s so easy to get trapped by labels and styles and judgments, and our culture and the art world encourage this.
But what my inner artist knows is that this kind of thinking gets in the way of exploring and experimenting. It gets in the way of new beginnings. And that’s what the artist’s true job is – to be an explorer, to be a beginner, to see and express the world with fresh eyes.
As an artist, this is what I am truly working toward. So I’m experimenting and playing and letting my intuitive process guide me more and more. I’m letting go of what I “know” about my art, and inching toward what is actually true about my art. Which means that I don’t really know what I’m doing when I approach the easel each day, or what each completed work will look like. And while this is not always easy (and my Ego is constantly screaming at me to cling to the known), I truly believe that’s the way being an artist is meant to be.
It never ceases to amaze me how much can be learned and deeply transformed with the simple tools of paint and paper and the practice of intuitive process painting. That’s why I’m so passionate about it, and why I love to teach it.
During one of my Creative Flight classes last week I witnessed another powerful example of this with a new student, before she even put paint to paper! With paintbrush in hand she looked at her paper and broke into deep, heartfelt tears. Tears are totally allowed in my studio so as I held the space for her to cry, it became clear that came from a place of being given permission – permission to truly and freely express herself, to trust herself, to not judge or be judged, to not know, to FEEL exactly how she felt in that moment – closely followed by the realization that the majority of her life wasn’t like that.
What kind of permission do you need in your life?
To be uniquely you?
To be enough?
To not be perfect?
To be a beginner?
To be bad at something, and enjoy it anyway?
To feel sad?
To feel happy?
To feel ALIVE?
To take care of yourself?
To use up your art supplies?
To honor what you create simply because you created it?
Last week was the week between class sessions at Painted Crow, a week I had pictured as relaxing, yet productive as I took a small break. I ended up spending the week floating in a sea of tea and Kleenex as I nursed a head cold. I also found myself doing a lot of couch surfing, which meant a lot of reading and watching movies.
One movie that had just recently been released on Netflix was “Chef”. I really enjoyed it when I saw it in the theater so I decided to watch it again. I had forgotten what a great example it is of the value of following your true dreams, not those that society defines for us; not letting our fears limit us; and living life in the process, not just for the product. (If you’ve taken one of my intuitive process painting classes, this probably sounds very familiar to you.)
The first half of the movie follows Chef Carl Casper as he struggles with his success as a chef and his dawning realization of how much he has given up to attain that success, namely his creativity and happiness. He has achieved fame and success as the head chef of a renowned restaurant in Los Angeles. But it becomes very clear that he has no creative input or control there, and he is very unhappy. The restaurant’s owner refuses to take any chances or let him try anything new or different because he is only interested in maintaining the reputation of his restaurant by serving the same menu that brought it success in the first place.
This is the voice of the inner critic, the ego, Mr. Judgy. This is the voice in all of us that holds us back and keeps us from living fully.
The chef is clearly knows that what the restaurant owner wants him to be is not what he truly wants, and is just as clearly miserable, and yet he ignores his intuition and desire and clings to that misery because it is attached to the success, to the goal, to the “safe” and the known.
So many of us live like this!
The turning point in the movie comes after Chef Casper has just had “playing it safe” backfire on him and has had a bit of a public meltdown and everything falls apart in a pretty spectacular way. He and the restaurant’s hostess end up having this conversation:
Chef: “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve never not known what to do. There’s always been a next thing to do. Now it’s all over and I’m lost.”
Hostess: “I think that’s a great place to start.”
This is why intuitive process painting is so powerful. It’s a training ground for building the muscle of listening to your true heart, for strengthening that connection and learning how to trust it and follow it, and becoming more comfortable with that not knowing what comes next. All at the cost of a little paint on paper. It’s a leap into the unknown without risk of broken limbs, homes, or careers. A low risk way of getting comfortable with the risk, with the unknown, that leads to true fulfillment and to being truly alive in the process.
In intuitive process painting, you find that there are all sorts of ways that your intuition/inner wisdom communicates with you. Sometimes it’s through curiosity, desire, joy, & inspiration – and sometimes, it’s through discomfort. When learning to trust your intuition, one of the challenges is that it never gives you the full picture. Each prompting, each next step usually comes without a clue as to what will come after that, and that can make the discomfort even harder to bear and the prompting even harder to trust. And the inner critic (or Mr. Judgy) loves this because it’s an opening to insert doubt and fear into your thoughts so you’ll keep playing small. (Mr. Judgy thinks small is safe, so he’s really just trying to help, but small is really just small.)
And as I make plans for Painted Crow, this is coming up a lot. You see I’ve got ideas percolating – BIG ideas percolating for me and you and Painted Crow.
And Mr. Judgy is getting all up in my face about it, going from aggressive to wheedling and back again in seconds. Asking me who the hell I think I am? You can’t do that! You’re an introvert – how can you possibly reach out and touch people’s lives?! And then comes the pleading. Wouldn’t you be happier just painting? You could just stay safe and alone in your ivory studio, and not have to worry about getting overwhelmed or failing and feeling the pain of broken dreams.
This is uncomfortable to say the least. And it’s often very tempting to give in to the illusion of safety that it’s promising. Oh, the rest, the quiet, the relief – the LIE! Because this is the same voice that when I am actually painting, tells me that the act of painting itself is too risky.
So this kind of discomfort actually serves as a compass. When all these voices start speaking so loudly, I know they’re trying to drown out my heart, my intuition, so I know I must be doing something right.
Because I know that if I give in to those voices, if I let them drown out my true desire, what they will actually deliver is continuing smallness, confinement, and boredom. And the despair of lost dreams and lost purpose. And that’s a whole different kind of discomfort.
In your life, is discomfort being a compass for you?
detail of current work in progress, acrylic & charcoal on canvas
Studio Notes, May 20, 2014:
I am most definitely in the process with this painting. It’s been on my easel for months now, and it keeps changing – it was all swirls of bright colors, then it was a lot of white, then it was more solid swaths of primary colors – who knows what’s next. But it’s the same painting from the same inspiration that moved me to begin it. I’ve been working on it much longer than I would have given myself in the past before simply wiping it out and starting all over, convinced it wasn’t working. But I’m not going there this time because, as I said, I’m in the process with it. I’m better able to access the quiet place that accepts the process, even when I get frustrated that it doesn’t seem any closer to being done than when I started it. Staring at it now I wondered how this could be? Why am I still in it? Why not just move on and please that voice in my head demanding results, demanding product?
Because when I’m painting, it feels so ALIVE! It feels like why I fell in love with art making in the first place. And it has been soooooo long since I truly felt that. I am so grateful every day that I found intuitive process painting, the practice of process and that I allowed myself to embrace it fully. I feel like I’ve recovered and reclaimed a piece of my soul.
This past weekend I went to our local art film house with my husband to see “Jodorowsky’s Dune”. It’s a documentary about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s huge undertaking back in the 70s to make the epic science fiction novel “Dune” into a movie. Before this I had never heard of Alejandro Jodorowsky, nor had I ever managed to finish reading, or see the “Dune” movie that was eventually made, but the book’s author Frank Herbert grew up here in Tacoma so is a local star, and my husband really wanted to see it. I was on board because the preview made it look really interesting, but nothing prepared me for the experience, or for what I rather surprisingly took away from it. (More than I could possible write about in one post, so I suspect there might be more on this in the future.)
At first glance, this could be seen as a film about failure and frustration. After all, Jodorowsky gave years of his life to the project only to have it rejected by and never fully realized as the movie he had envisioned. He had even managed to get such people as Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali and H.R. Giger and Chris Foss and Moebius to commit to the project. Jodorowsky dubbed them his “spiritual warriors” and empowered them with his total belief in their creative abilities. (It’s a really great documentary – it’s kinda crazy how it all came together – and then didn’t. See it if you get the chance.)
But at the end I realized it’s a film about creativity, and being fully in the process, and being fully alive. It’s about the importance of letting go of the outcome in service to the creative process itself, so that what needs to come about comes about. Even if it doesn’t take the form you’d been planning on.
Even though his film project could be seen as a failure, without all the vision and work he put into it, without his bringing together such huge talents, and his unwavering belief in those talents, and his faith in his own vision of a film that could change the world, in the end without the passion and creative energy he brought forth into the world, we might never have had such major films as “Star Wars” or “Alien” or “The Matrix” or “Blade Runner” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or sooooo many others.
That’s not to say that he was happy about it not working out. Nearly 40 years later you can feel the soul crushing heartbreak and frustration he experienced when he talks about the loss of this project.
But he didn’t let it stop him. He’s in his mid-80s now and he’s still creating every day. And you can see in him more aliveness and alertness and energy than can be found in most people half his age.
He’s such a great example, showing that engaging fully with your creativity has that power, the power to create life – the energy and enthusiasm for living fully in a state of aliveness!
I can only paraphrase this, but he spoke about how important it is to say YES!
“I am going to make this movie! YES! This movie isn’t going to be made. YES!”
Getting a slow start. My body and mind just won’t be rushed into activity.
And as I feel the beginnings of self-judgment and recriminations queuing up to have a shot at me, I take a breath and remind myself that a slow start doesn’t have to mean a no start. And a slow day is okay, with slow actions, slow thoughts, slow transitions. I don’t need to finish everything I begin today. I just need to take steps, even small, slow steps, beginning where and how I am now because I can’t begin anywhere else. I just need to take steps toward where I want to be.
The ego, trained over the years by society’s expectations, wants me to get moving, and get moving fast. And if I can’t do that then I should just give up until and wait to try again that vague someday when everything is lined up perfectly. Then all will go well because I’ll be getting something DONE.
The ego hates the PROCESS, and it can’t accept where you are, as you are, as not only acceptable but perfect as and where you are. Surely, change is needed. Surely, a finish line needs to be crossed, a measurable result needs to be achieved. Otherwise, how do you know you have the right to keep moving forward? The ego can really only think in black and white, and it misses all the beautiful subtle grays in between. It doesn’t understand or trust or appreciate the beauty of being in the process, whatever that process looks like, whatever that moment looks like, whatever that painting looks like.
Being present to the process, to the moment is where the ALIVENESS is! Not in the checking off of the to do list – in the doing of the to do list!
And by embracing each moment, no matter its appearance, and living from that place where you are, new energy, new breath, new inspiration, new vitality can then be allowed into your life.
So, as I sit in my studio feeling a little slower than I’d like, a little more tired than I thought I would, a little less driven than I “should” be if the day is to look the way I (my ego) had planned, as I listen to my ego/my inner critic throwing up resistance and barricades and stop signs, and nattering on about how I can’t work like this, I can’t take action like this, I started badly so I need to give up until I can get it right… I breathe. I remember my lessons from intuitive painting and I look for the place of true aliveness in this quiet moment and I quietly take that next slow step. And it brings me into the expansion and flow of creating and living from where and who I am and away from the contracted and blocked space of “should”. And I breathe again.
“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe
It’s so easy to get caught up in all the to-dos. All the shoulds. All the busyness.
It can be so easy to forget to notice.
And once again drawing in my sketchbook has reminded me to notice. It has reminded me of the beauty all around me, even in these lovely little “weeds” that so many spend so much effort trying to eradicate. I’m very happy that I’m letting them be, and they in return are inspiring me.
This is the action created in a circle of tribe members that meet for an extended period of time, such as that created in our expanded Chakra Experience for 2014. Exploring each of the chakras in-depth through intuitive art, movement, journaling, meditation and more is a very powerful journey. And it’s the chakra we create together as a sacred circle of connected hearts that makes it a PROFOUND journey.
As you make the time to experience this journey together, the eyes of the circle become your believing mirrors, seeing in you that power and beauty which perhaps you have become blinded to as you look at yourself with your own eyes. Their compassionate hearts become nourishment and support for your roots so that you might grow and transform exponentially on the way.
Plant yourself in this believing circle and dig your roots deep. Join us on this amazing journey and let us say, “We see YOU.”
You’ll be amazed at the power of a Circle.
In light and love,
Angela & Angi
Chakra Circle 2013
PS – The journey begins on March 21st at the studio of Painted Crow Expressive Arts and culminates in a 3-day Chakra Fusion Retreat in October. Registration closes on March 15th. We’ve only got a few spots left so reserve your space in the circle today!
For more information, dates and costs, please click here for the website of the Creative Lotus Tribe.