I spent the past four days pretending I know how to watercolor. I’m exhausted. I may stay in my jammies all day. Just the pure act of locking my ego in a closet while I engage in the creative process without attachment to end product felt much like a full time job. We had lots of conversation, my ego and I, and not all of it friendly.
So I bravely present you with my first portrait/watercolor picture of my youngest son which I actually focused on for a few days. TahDah. Let’s call it “Jordie” (c.2015). Don’t judge. I received a glowing praise from my youngest: “It’s not that bad. LOL.”
My older son, who understands I cry easily, was even more enthusiastic. “It’s really good!!! And, you even made him look chubby!” (Spoiler alert: He’s definitely not chubby and we spend much time trying to make sure he’s eating. Artistic license, I suppose.)
But here’s the thing. These past four days were so not about that. They involved something much deeper than the end product and I feel compelled to share that with you. I tossed around two ideas all four days and experienced different levels of each depending on where I was in the creative process.
One was ego. I have done many things in my life and excelled at many things I’ve tried. Ergo, when I don’t, I feel embarrassed, or incompetent, or fill in the blank. At that point, I have to make a choice. Do I run the other way and never subject myself to that humiliation again? Or, do I decide to develop my humility muscles and let go of attachment to perfection (and all first cousins thereof)?
I say it’s a choice, but it’s really not. I came to this planet to grow and stretch and evolve. If I’m always playing in the sandbox that I’m comfortable in, how do I do that? I find that my own growth takes place so much faster if I step into someone else’s sandbox and learn how to appreciate their toys. The ego, then, needed to take a long Rumplestiltskinny nap and let me play without interfering.
But my ego was like an unruly toddler in the teething phase…
Ego: Don’t put that color there. You’re going to end up with a bright, red raspberry on your son’s left eyebrow! What kind of mother are you?
Me: Shhhhhh. It’s not about raspberries!
Ego: Oh, wow! Look over there. These painters are like REALLY good painters. Real painters. Not like–eh hem–pretend painters.
Me: (Frozen, paintbrush in hand dripping water on my ridiculously expensive French paper which I’m hoping compensates for my lack of skill) I can’t look! I just have to work on my own creative process.
Ego: Fraidy cat. You’re gonna wanna see this.
You get the gist. At one point, my neighbor painter said I was humming. I wasn’t aware. She said that meant I was relaxing into it. I was happy about that. And that leads me to the second point: the collective.
Writers, like artists, require certain skills along the introverted line to become good writers. You have to be able to sit in your own space and imagination to create a story. You have to be able to sustain that over a period of time. To become good, you have to do it very consistently. Then, after you’ve got that under your belt and you publish a novel, you require a whole different set of skills. You must promote. This involves networking, promoting, public speaking, marketing, and so forth. As you progress and become more widely published (or commissioned, or do art shows, or teach lessons, etc. in the art community), you stagger between both sets of skills, joining them together and an ever so delicate dance.
Artists are a super-sensitive lot who I gather may be easily overwhelmed in a mall with all the various sensory aspects and energies. As a group, they are colorful. They often lead colorful lives and see the world in very specific and detailed ways. They talk in what seems code to a newbie. Negative space is a phrase they love to use. They point at a peach face and say “Do you see how there is blue here and red there and a blend with yellows here?”
“Um, no… Looks like peach to me.”
Yet, when you spend a few days in their company, you hear yourself, “That shadow is blue. Oh, and the tip of the nose. Thalo blue plus permanent rose. That’s exactly what that is.”
It’s fascinating, really. After four days of Jeannie Vodden and a class of 17 artists from around the North State, I see things I have never seen. I will never be able to describe a protagonist with just blue eyes because I’ll be thinking, “Are those cobalt blue eyes, with a violet blend on the ring? Where’s the light source at this moment?”
Jeannie, a divinely talented artist from Jackson (the county seat of Amador County, known as The Heart of the Motherlode), was the motherlode herself. Her technique, which I learned was new to all the artists there, was the signature method she developed to create a glowing effect to the often-duller, pasty watercolor look. Her paintings are nothing short of glorious. Check out “Love at First Sight.” (c2014)
When you look at this, you’d think she used all sorts of different paint colors. However, one of the unique aspects of this style, I learned, is she uses only three: red, blue and yellow. Sure, they have fancy names and makers, but basically the 3 primaries. All this effect is created from years of learning to layer those into this luminescent beauty of many colors.
Yeah, that’s not intimidating at all.
We spent four days learning how to layer to create new color using this portrait. Here’s “Elle.” (c2014). After Elle, we could move on to one of our own.
As mentioned, capturing this light comes from using only three colors over and over. The light comes from layers. I started to think about how people are like that. What makes them beautiful is their unique layers, the shadows and the light, and how they all layer together. I think that’s why I have a really tough time with “ego driven surface talk” where we don’t talk about what’s really important in our lives. We just paint the mask we want the world to see. It confuses me because I feel more meaningful layers shining out from underneath the people I meet. I want to peel back the layers (perhaps too soon and too deep for many) and look in a person’s soul to see what makes them unique and what their purpose is in the world. The mother in me wants to nurture and encourage that. To pay attention to what really matters.
Back to the collective. Sitting with a group of artists, creating, watching the creative process unfold through the layers of each unique being in the room, feeling the support of all those around me expressed in their own unique ways, I really understand much more about what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his fantastic essay “Self-Reliance.” Emerson says that before we can create evolved societies as a group, we must spend the time allowing our Divine uniqueness to unfold. To copy, or imitate, is suicide. We learn, we sift it through our filter, and we make it our own unique experience. That’s where our power lies.
Now, see, if I let my ego boss me into not taking this class, I would have missed all those gems. I’m so grateful I didn’t.
For more information on artist Jeannie Vodden, visit http://www.jeannievodden.com.