Trusting Intuition: Painting Loose and Easy

da VInci quote

For quite awhile now my intuition has been poking at me, telling me to “loosen up” and let the paint flow. It keeps whispering “Let go and let the watercolours play. Stop trying to make something happen”.

These ‘messages’, nudges and hints arrive from different places so this week I accepted the challenge. There is an edge I need to push beyond. (Plus I believe when something keeps coming up, I need to act before the Universe hits me with a two by four to get my attention.)

What’s ironic is that I practice this “trusting intuition” in everyday life. Through some tough lessons, I know it pays to listen to my heart. My brain will hold me back from anything it perceives as different to keep me safe but that’s not always what makes me happy. In fact, playing it safe stunts growth and opportunities get missed.

Trusting intuition is actually how we ended up in Nova Scotia. When it came time to move, someone mentioned Nova Scotia and we both had a visceral response. This was where needed to be.

Nowadays, we ask ourselves how we feel about a decision, not what we think. While thinking helps us make plans to achieve something, feeling helps us reach the decision right for us. In fact, the one time we went with our brains during the move, we ran into problems.

Nova Scotia is the best choice we ever made. We got here by trusting intuition. It’s our life habit now.

Except in my studio. In that space, I analysed and planned how to make a thing look real. When a painting didn’t look like what was in my head, I felt I’d somehow failed. I wasn’t letting intuition guide my hand and overthinking things.

When I (finally) woke up to what I was doing, it was a forehead slap moment. No wonder the longing for “loose”, to “let go” kept creeping over me . It was everywhere except in the one place I really needed it – my art.

Recently, a creative friend recently came for a weekend visit and play time in the studio. She brought with her copies of a magazine called UpperCase. In the first one, I found an article titled “Thoughts on Creative Flow From a Watercolour Artist”.

Naturally, I dove in and it felt like the author was simply dictating my thoughts.

My brain has a lot to say, and it’s a challenge to turn off the voices that govern most of my waking hours – the voices that make to-do lists and urge me to be a good human…My heart’s voice is much quieter.

Angela Fehr, Uppercase Magazine

Imagine my surprise when I finished the article and discovered it was written by Angela Fehr, an artist I’ve been following for over a year on Instagram and Youtube because I love her work.

The next day, I tried a bit of flow with the idea of combining it with a redwing blackbird I sketched a while back. But the brain jumped on board before I could stop it and the next thing I knew, I overworked the painting.

So I turned it over and began again. And again. I played with washes of water and colour. I wanted more white space and less detailI. It took a few tries but gradually I got closer to what I want.

Here’s where I am so far. I stopped here because my brain was fighting to get in the game. I’m happy with what’s happening but when I began to focus on getting the detail right, I stepped away. I’ll come back to it soon.

Blackbird Sings

Then I decided to simply play with colour because colour is what attracts me first about anything – in art or in life. At first I was a little ‘dabby’ with the brush – even thought it was a big brush. (Brain: “Be careful. You don’t want to make a mistake.“)

And then I thought “The heck with it” and took a big curvy swipe with the brush.

Soon I was flicking colour onto the paper.

This was fun!

Next, the acrylic paints may came out so I can see what’s possible with them. We went for a drive on Monday and stopped at a favourite restaurant. On the wall was a painting that looked like it was done with pallette knives. This week I laid down a background for an idea I have.

Playing with Acrylics

Even if I don’t go any further with this, I LOVE the colours.

Finally I picked up some alcohol inks to mess about with. (I should show you my fingers….)

The Alcohol Ink Experiments

I had a lot of fun playing with different mediums and styles in the studio this week. I suspect I will always come back to watercolour because I love their luminosity and how they can surprise when allowed to play.

I also know this isn’t a “one-time and all is changed” moment in my studio practice. My brain won’t surrender that easily.

Each time I enter my studio I will set an intention to play with colour and trust intuition. I’ll ask my brain to wait outside if I have to. With practice, working with intuition will become my default way of being in the studio. I know that’s true because it happened just that way in everyday life.

And my brain is pretty happy with where we live these days.

Positive Change

Exterior of my studio

Change is inevitable, as they say. Little did we know change would come in the form of a global pandemic. I’m sure none of us were expecting that curve ball.

As my husband and I watched the world change around us, we made the decision not to reopen the BnB because it’s also our home. We weren’t comfortable with the idea of people coming and going. Heaven knows it’s enough work without the extra cleaning the virus required. We loved our experience as hosts but it was clear we needed something different.

Our move to Nova Scotia, taught us the power of trusting that the right answers will show up, rather than trying to force a plan. These days, when faced with a challenge, we stay alert for solutions rather than trying to force something to happen.

Our answer usually arrives in the guise of something we dismissed or simply wouldn’t have thought of. I know it sounds a bit ‘woo-woo’ but trust me, we are two very practical people. As project managers our training was all about planning and working that plan. What we learned from life, however, is the power of being open to possibility.

The secret of Change

Long story short, we found a wonderful long-term tenant who now occupies the second floor apartment and we moved into our former BnB on the first floor. It was amazing how it all fell into place and if you’d like to drop by for a cup of tea, I’d be happy to share. Or I’ll tell the tale in another post because this blog is really about my studio and new creative paths.

Closing the BnB permanently activated LUC – the Law of Unintended Consequences. We had to downsize – a lot. I made up my mind that if something didn’t have a purpose or a place, it had to go. We sold a lot of things and donated or recycled a lot more. (I’m happy to say very little went to the landfill.)

With the house settled, there is more time to spend in the studio. I gave a lot of thought to how to best use that space. Like the home downsizing, I’ve learned to more selective about how I spend my time. In the studio, if it didn’t engage my creative spirit, I let it go or found a new home for it.

Inside the studio I set up three ‘zones’. An office zone with my computer and files, a sewing/fibre area and a place for painting. I also paint fabric so there’s lots of overlap. Once I get things settled a bit more, I’ll share some video of the revamped space.

I always want my studio to be a creative haven to play and experiment. A place for “oopsies” and “what-ifs?” and exciting discoveries. For this to happen, I realized the public workshops and gallery had to move out. Since there are lots of local halls and other spaces available, I’ll host classes offsite when it’s safe to gather again.

The gallery is online for now and I’ll be updating it with new work soon. Everything in the virtual gallery is for sale and I plan to add prints and cards, as well. I’ll also be posting work for sale on social media.

So, while COVID kickstarted a lot of personal change in my life, it hasn’t been all negative. I look forward to a lot more time in the studio, embracing change.

Finding Emily

Beyond the doorway, brilliant colour caught my eye and I headed there like a bee to a flower. The brushstrokes, the colours, the energy drew me in. If this had been the only painting I saw at the Art Gallery of Ontario, I would have been satisfied.

I had discovered Emily Carr.

It isn’t like I didn’t know who she was and the place she holds in Canadian culture before that moment. But this? This was something different. She got “inside”.

Emily Carr, Trees in the Sky
Trees in the Sky, Emily Carr, 1939

After returning home to Nova Scotia, I kept thinking about that painting and the woman who created it but life kept me busy. Then…I became ill. (I wonder now if it wasn’t God saying, “This is important. You need to stop and look at what I’m showing you!”)

For two weeks, about all I could do was lie in bed, sleep and read so I went looking for a book about Emily Carr, only to discover she was also a gifted writer. I could get to know her through her own words. And as I read, she began to teach me.

When someone’s name becomes a household word, we often forget the struggle and work they put in before their recognition by the world. Emily didn’t attain success until she was in her late 50’s. She even gave up painting for 15 years while she earned a living. Her autobiography “Growing Pains” introduced me to the journey she took.

However, it’s in her journal, “Hundreds and Thousands” that I really got to know her. Because she never meant her journals for publication, she wrote to herself and there’s an informal honesty in the words. Reading them felt like sitting at the kitchen table, sharing a coffee with her and chatting about creativity and what it took for her to make art.

For instance, she offers this advice:

I took always in my sketch-sack a little notebook. When I had discovered my subject, I sat before it for some while before I touched a brush, feeling my way into it, asking myself these questions, What attracted you to this particular subject? Why do you want to paint it? What is its core, the thing you are trying to express?

Now I find myself writing in my own journal more, becoming mindful of the subjects I choose. I ask myself bigger questions about things that catch my eye and look beyond the surface. I’ve already come up with some answers that have surprised and delighted me.

This next quote also jumped out at me. After reading it, I closed the book to let it sink in.

Inspiration is intention obeyed.

I can’t say exactly why that quote strikes me so deeply. Perhaps it’s because moving to Nova Scotia now feels like an inspired decision but it began as an intention to live simply and creatively. I’m still peeling back the layers of those words and I suspect there will be at least one more blog post about it.

Her work inspires me but not because I want to copy her style. Rather it was her search to find her own way I connect with. I want to put more of me into my work. Emily agrees.

Another’s thoughts are not ours and to copy them gives no growth. Be careful you do not write or paint anything that is not your own, that you don’t know in your own soul.

Like a great teacher, her words challenge me to ask myself, “What do I need to learn here?”

11 Inspirational Quotes for a Working Artist

Artists must express their lives

Inspiration comes and goes. Creativity is the result of practice.

Phil Cousineau

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother to just be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

William Faulkner

Have fun, even if it’s not the same kind of fun everyone else is having.

C.S. Lewis

The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.

Neil Gaiman

Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.

Joss Whedon

It’s not just about creativity. It’s about the person you’re becoming while you’re creating.

Charlie Peacock

Stay loyal to your creativity because it’s a gift.

Pharrell

Doubt is part of the creative process.

Danielle LaPorte

If you ask me what I came to to in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.

Emile Zola

Things that excite you aren’t random. They are connected to your purpose. Follow them.

Unknown

I always get to where I am going by walking away from where I have been.

Winnie the Pooh

My Cure for Procrastination

Art is inevitable

Stop in the middle. Never stop working at the natural barriers. The next time you start working, the barrier will be the first thing you encounter, and you won’t have the momentum to overcome it. — Ernest Hemingway

Procrastination wasn’t a word I applied to myself. My husband would second that because if something needs doing, I can’t rest until it’s done. However, I did have a hard time getting on track again once I completed a painting. It wasn’t because I was putting it off but more because I didn’t know where to start.

Back when I taught creative writing I always mentioned Hemingway’s process to my students as sound advice to help them avoid the quicksand of creative procrastination. Knowing what you want to write next keeps the ‘juice’ flowing. I just never applied it to my painting process until now. Talk about tunnel vision!

Cure Procrastination. Have lots on the go

Up until a few weeks ago, I worked on one piece at a time. I called it “focus” but now I see it created a natural barrier to the next piece. When I finished a painting, it took me a few days to find my next subject and face the blank sheet of paper. Flailing about, trying to decide on “What next?” is my version of creative procrastination. It frustrated the heck out of me.

I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to start 3-4 pieces at the same time but I will be forever grateful to the Muse for that whisper in my ear.

Since that AHA moment, I look forward to getting to my studio each day. Knowing what I’m going to work on feels liberating. Spread across the two tables where I paint are pieces in different stages so I can always find a place to start. I also keep a list of ideas and reference photos tacked up over my table. Also, working in a series helps. As I finish a piece, I choose something, start the sketch and do my colour tests.

I’ve completed a number of pieces in the last few weeks because of my “new” habit. It’s also why I haven’t posted on the blog for awhile. I’ve been too busy in the studio!

Found a fix for your procrastination habit? Please, share it in the comments and spread the word.