“When you really pay attention, everything is your teacher.” ~ Ezra Bayda
A few years ago, I had a pretty decent painting to show to my mentor, Nicholas Wilton. He said, “yes - that’s good. But we’re not going for good, are we? We’re going for great.”
It felt exciting to know I had a coach who was going to hold my feet to the fire. I felt like an athlete going for the gold. But…how was I going work any harder than I was already? I was putting eight hours a day, five days a week in my studio. I agonized over every painting. I worried that maybe I just didn’t have the talent. I had no clue how to make them better, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The funny thing is (I learned) it’s not about longer hours in the studio. It’s not about controlling everything. It’s not about the subject matter. It’s not about representational or abstract. It’s not about oil or acrylic. It’s not about the size of your studio. It’s not about talent.
It’s about paying attention to how you FEEL as you paint. It’s about REALLY taking risks…big ones. It’s about re-thinking your process. It’s about the story in your head.
Once I got this, and it took a long time, my work actually came easier. Carefully painting and fussing over perfect shapes and edges made me feel bored and irritated. My work is so much more interesting when I let go of all that. When I’m having more fun, the painting is better. Ironic. Who knew?
Of course we need the information. We need to understand design, value, color, harmony, balance, contrast, texture, macro-views and micro-views, scale. We need to know our materials intimately. This takes practice and study. Once we have this knowledge…really have it in our subconscious, then we have to let it all go and find the joy in the act of painting. A musician can learn a piece of music, and play it perfectly, but if they haven’t found the joy in it, we won’t be moved by the music.
“If you’re irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” ~ Rumi
And finally, it’s about trusting that you are exactly where you should be at this moment. When I look back on my body of work from 2014, I cringe. Just two years ago, they were my best work. But if you could see my paintings in a timeline, there would be a stream of paintings going back in history, and a stream going into the future. They will get better, because I’m learning and practicing. And I will continue learning and painting because it brings be joy. Right here, right now, is a very sweet place to be, filled with joy, and with possibilities.