How I Began Painting and Why Painting Matters
What in your life is calling you,
When all the noise is silenced,
The meetings adjourned…
The lists laid aside,
And the Wild Iris blooms
In the dark forest…
What still pulls on your soul?
She painted large vibrant and friendly oil paintings of farm animals and of fishing boats rocking in the harbor. I stalked her on Facebook, and one day I messaged this local artist, Patricia Canelake, and she kindly invited me to visit her wonderfully jumbled, light filled studio. I admired her humility and the fact that she had carved out a life of creativity that suited her deeply. That pull to her, I later realized, was my own yearning for a paintbrush.
I began to allow myself to paint small things. I did quick 2 x 3 inch paintings after lunch in the kitchen of animals and flowers that I loved. Some of these tiny paintings brought a lot of joy, and I felt frustrated with others. One day, a strange idea arrived: I want to paint large paintings. So, I bought a larger canvas and played with acrylic paints on it for a few months, but nothing seemed to work. The process overwhelmed me. I didn’t know how to start or finish.
Months later, an art retreat showed up in my inbox from an author I admired. She’d been offering it for years but, this time, when the email came I said yes. Aviva Gold, author of “Painting from the Source ”, was a psychotherapist turned “Art Medicine Woman”. With her help, and method, my overwhelm dissipated. Her method encourages the use of inexpensive, non-archival materials (tempera paint) to remove anxiety from the process.
She taught our small group to open up sacred space and ask the paper what it wanted. With this helpful instruction, I began to move my brush freely across the paper with glossy strokes of tempera. I began to feel this painting speaking to me in my day and night dreams.
As we all painted for hours and hours together in the silence, I went through many things. As I continued to paint, the freedom I was feeling initially evaporated and more difficult feelings came:
I got scared at different points that I wouldn’t know what to do next.
I was afraid of “ruining” the painting because I had grown attached to what I had already made.
I compared myself to the other painters in the room and especially to the teacher’s paintings…they were beautiful.
I tried to make sense (intellectually) of what I was painting with my mind and that ruined the fun.
I wanted the painting to be something that would make others happy or at least me…what if it didn’t?
These feelings were all, of course, reflecting the challenging feelings I had about my life.
What I learned:
- It’s best to create without a care in the world….as if you were going to burn it when it’s finished.
- Have zero judgement about this creation you are bringing to life. To replace judgement with curiosity.
- As we change our paintings, we change ourselves. These “creations” are us.
- There is an unlimited Source that is happy and willing to instruct me in what it wants to create.
- My job is to listen and follow this Source.
- There is no greater JOY than being a conduit for that Source.
Every shamanic culture engages with and encourages creativity. The practice of creativity (in art, music, poetry, storytelling, dance…whatever medium you choose!) is what VITALIZES us. It is one of the most important practices for bringing life force or power into our lives.
My painting was a technicolor world tree with a huge all-seeing-eye in the center of its trunk. Consciousness flowed through the tree and down into its roots and up into its branches. In the top branches of the tree was a small yellow bird that was singing and her voice was consciousness itself.
Our instructor invited us to “become” our paintings and speak as the painting. As I merged with my painting shamanically (just as you might do with a helping spirit), I learned that this painting (who’s name was Agra) had come to help me realize that I was here in this life so that I could paint. I also became pure consciousness or “loving awareness” as I embodied the painting. It was an overwhelming and moving experience for my body, mind and spirit.
Later, I looked up “Agra” and in Sanskrit it has a myriad of meanings including chief/best part, summit, an offering, the beginning, the climax. Tears welled up in my eyes at the profundity of this painting’s message I had been gifted with.
After painting for nearly 20 hours on that painting, I felt like a different person.
When I returned home and knelt down to pet one of our dogs, I felt that the painting was, literally, inside of me and I felt more compassion and connection to my dog and to this world. I was my painting, my painting was me. I was loving awareness.
The painting had painted ME.
I was reminded, once more, that everything that IS is alive.
We are all born artists and as we mature, we learn, through exposure to Western culture that some art is “good and some is “not good”. And, usually, this harmful idea discourages most of us from claiming our selves as artists.
But, what if, our creativity doesn’t belong to us the way we thought it did? What if it is our job to become the very best conduits for this Source that we can?
I believe that that is what the shamanic path calls us to do. We must be willing. Our creativity doesn’t belong to us. It is a blessing that we alone are responsible for bringing forth. Of course, we don’t actually make these creative acts alone…but with a lot of help from the spirits and from each other.
After the workshop, I continue to paint, and just like with my writing, I still feel a little scared each time I approach it, worrying that I won’t know what to do. But as I soften and ask the blank page what It wants, the color comes and the shape arrives and there is nothing quite so delicious as dragging a brush full of juicy wet color across the paper.
A few months after finishing up “Agra”, the painting, the singing yellow bird in the high branches became a spirit ally for me. She represents freedom and she’s helping me to be fully myself without fear in a way that feels utterly new. I am deeply grateful. What creative medium is calling you? Being a conduit for the creative force is one of the many ways you can bring more spirit power into your life.
Practice to bring Power to Yourself through Creativity:
Open sacred space by lighting a candle, putting some Agua de Florida on your hands, call your helping spirit (s) to join you (or all three)
Grab a pencil or pen and some dime store paints- watercolor, tempera or acrylic and some pieces of paper.
Think of something you are struggling with in your life. A problem you can’t seem to solve. A relationship you are struggling with.
For 3-10 minutes, draw or sketch “the problem”….there is no right or wrong way to do this. Just sketch it out. You don’t have to be literal or logical…you can just draw how the problem feels in any way you like. Or maybe you sketch the conflict with symbols.
Then flip over the paper and on the other side, and ask the paper to help you paint the solution. Ask the paper what it wants. Again, no need to be linear or logical, simply paint what wants to be painted…..it could be a feeling…a new vision or some other thing. Trust the unknown to show you what to put there.
Display the painting you’ve made where you will see it for a few days.
Was the process helpful? If so, why not repeat it whenever you struggle with something.
Wanting to unlock your own creativity with gentleness? Join the Creative Soul Retrieval.
See all of my most recent paintings and archive.
(Below image me + Aviva Gold, author of “Painting from the Source”)
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