Sunday, December 1, 2019

Art and nature are my healers

Offering.  From Phelps Park.
Loss is a path we ultimately walk alone.
It surprises.  It wrenches.  It hollows.
Grief can seem overwhelming.   Then it vanishes, to emerge again, unexpectedly.
This is not the only time grief and I have traveled this path, and I’m sure it won’t be the last

Like many artists, I am an introvert.  I am a private person in some ways, and prefer to keep my pain to myself.  Not a person to share intimate feelings.  It is how I heal best.

Years ago, I read a passage in Drawn to Nature – Through the Nature Journals of Clare Walker Leslie that helped me, and I share it as a way to continue to light the dark path for others.  In this lovely book, Clare Walker Leslie wrote of her experience when her mother became ill and grief wrenched her soul, and of how turning outward to nature restored her.  She started looking for and sometimes sketching what she called “daily exceptional images.” 

She wrote “Every day, while my mother’s illness progressed, I would find one image outdoors that I could hold onto, like a marble in my pocket that I rubbed for nourishment and balance.  This looking out at the world helped my looking in, towards my own pain.”  
I remembered this and tried to looked outward, tried to draw, to find my touchstone.  It took me a week before I could put pen to paper, but I continued to look for beautiful and exceptional images.  Just one.  Every day.  This I could do.

One exceptional image sometimes led to a universe of beauty. Not always, but sometimes.

At last I could sketch something.  Once I started, I was soothed.  Maybe it was the repetition of making lines or brush marks.  Maybe because I didn’t need to think, I could quietly and gently process my feelings.  I could be mindful about something exceptional that did not cause pain, but instead promised something more.

A sad road home  Low clouds, low hearts.

I might say that nature is my healer, and art my confessor.  Or perhaps it’s the other way around. My mother has passed from our earth and I miss her every day.  She is one of the reasons I share my art and words and my love of our natural world.  
There is still beauty if we see with softened eyes.

Art takes many forms.  When it’s your turn to walk with grief, maybe you'll remember Clare’s example.  Look outside of self, search for the beauty, for just one exceptional image, and let it soothe and comfort you.  Draw it, paint it, take a photo.  Make it into a quilt, knit it into a scarf, bake it into a pie.  

Hold that image to your heart, let it join you on your path that day, let it help to start the healing. 

If you want to find out more about Clare Walker Leslie’s works, please visit

Mainly ink and limited palette watercolor.
Aquabee sketchbook.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Failure is vital for an artist

Sometimes, we all fall

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” ~ James Joyce

When we create something, our efforts sometimes seem to fall far short of our expectations.  This is normal.  Not only normal - it can open new doors for us, but first we have to be ready to see with new eyes.  This requires a certain mindset of non-judgement, of acceptance, of wholeheartedly embracing an idea that (to me at times) is often like cuddling a porcupine. 

We are on the first leg of our nature journal class, and our first plein air outing.  Sketching in the field is challenging enough, but if you are a beginner or brushing up on rusty skills, it can be a bit daunting!  Our group did very well, I’m glad to say.  However…

There was a bit of perceived failure among our new artists. 

“Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as time-released success.” ~ Robert Orben

The thing we call FAILURE
can be our inner GUIDE.

If we change the word FAILURE (and all of its baggage and heavy meanings) to GUIDE, everything changes.  Now we can let the thing we once called mistakes or failures become:

our teacher     a new path     deeper growth    
discovery     enchantment     joy

Joyful Pumpkin – a success and a failure!
Success = process and fun
Guide = foreshortened stem needs work

We cannot live without making mistakes or knowing failure, and How We Respond makes all the difference.

Failure and expectation are entwined:  we expect, it does not come to pass, we call it failure.  I try to approach each new sketch or painting with a plan, but with an open heart and mind to process.  Often a drawing starts off one way and turns into something else.  This is creation in action – a wonderful thing!  

Sometimes what we create is successful but also contains a mistake (or more).  Don’t let the mistake part overshadow the parts that work!  If what you’ve created filled your creative soul, don't let a wrong proportion, or a stray line or ink blot take that away.  Let perceived failure be the voice of your inner GUIDE.  And be aware that sometimes a mistake can make things work better!  This is where “seeing with new eyes” helps.  Put your work away and look at it again in a few days or weeks.  Ask a trusted friend or artist what they see.  You may discover something amazing.

“It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.” ~ Oprah Winfrey 

Arches hot-press watercolor paper, 140 lb.
Daniel Smith watercolor
Derwent watercolor pencil
Wax resist

About 6x9 in