“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
This face is hiding amidst my journal pages–a practice piece. She looks worried…or sad…her eyes a bit glossy. Has she been crying? This is not a perfectly drawn or crafted portrait. With that, she conveys something, doesn’t she?
Several years ago, one of my younger sisters held her wedding in Lake Tahoe. As many of the eight siblings as could get there, gathered with the newlyweds to celebrate. When she and her new husband were leaving the celebratory party we had staged, as they were getting into the elevator, her new husband made a comment about my sister not being perfect. His comment came across as derogatory. I looked at him and I said, “She’s the perfect Robin (her name).” Isn’t that what any one of us can aspire to be…the perfect you or me? Or him or her?
How does one even establish a standard for PERFECTION? It seems that we need to measure it against something that’s been confirmed–(the highest score) or someone else (a society’s idea of beauty)? So to describe perfection, we make a comparison. In science, that might work. But in a world of variety, diversity, melange–in the sheer array of humans on the planet, how can one even begin to establish a standard of perfection? If we consider that perfection is overrated or invalid, what can we strive for?
Ah, to be you and me, each in his/her own wholeness, what greater thing to design for yourself!
When making art, there is the artist, the substrate, the paint, the brush and what begs to be expressed through the artist. Art is one avenue to express the emotions that want to run away with you. And there are so many deeply felt emotions during these days of pandemic. An artist is able to transmute a deeply felt emotion into a creative action through making art. The chemical response in your body as you make art is felt. Try it, don’t take my word for it! And please do forget perfection.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
A couple of years ago, I was invited by a local art gallery to preview an art exhibit, choose a painting and write a poem referencing that painting. The painting that spoke to me was of an adolescent girl wearing a swimsuit, standing at the end of a diving board, preparing to dive. Her body looked rigid, almost like the diving board itself. Shoulders were raised nearly to her ears; her mouth was tense and straight. Below is the poem I wrote.
I am not there to read this poem to you. I’d like you to read it quietly once. And then, read it aloud to yourself or to someone else. Feel the poem. Pretend that you are the diver.
©by Christine O’Brien
Feet plugged into the
sticky resin springboard,
I note the space between me and
the crushing water below.
The form I hold.
The grace I invoke
as I design form
gliding through space.
The breath I hold.
The breath I take
like thunder in a canyon
fills my ears.
The shadow of fear
remains at the other end
of the platform
while I stand on the edge
in focused repose.
This is not my first dive
though my raised shoulders,
clamped mouth and clenched jaw
could be interpreted as fear.
There is always that
but with prayer and practice
it quickly transforms
as there is no turning back now.
The dive grooms the diver
in this conspiracy of grace, form and space.
Originally, it was a dare from friends
that sent me up the hot aluminum ladder
on that sweaty summer day.
Now, it’s a drive from within,
not towards perfection
or for judges’ scores.
There is no competition.
It is the ecstasy of flight
that sends me to this precipice.
Neither bird nor stone falling through space,
I am a wingless angel
who rejoices in
those few seconds of airtime.
Body imprinting space
air molecules conforming, buoyant.
I visualize the flex, fold, arc,
the straightening as
I neatly incise the water with my hands,
barely a splash.
I surface a few feet away,
a different sort of Phoenix rising.
And then I made my own painting of another sort of dive by another sort of creature.
Landscape drawing and painting is a whole other territory, no pun intended. It is one area where I’ve only started to scratch the surface of what there is to know and put into practice. There I was, on the McCloud River one sunny day. The elephant ear plants, the rocks crowding the scene, the greenish color of the water–how on earth does an artist begin to capture this?
In a sense, making art is all about impression. What is the feeling I get when I see this sight in nature? How do I want to show a river, contained yet in motion? So I play…with form, light, shadow, image, movement, whimsy. And while it looks nothing like the original setting, it has an energy about it that I appreciate.
I framed this painting and it sat in a gift shop for at least one year. Then, they gave it back to me as it hadn’t sold. I stashed it…until a couple of months ago.
But WAIT! It wasn’t done!
It went from this…to this. I named her River Goddess. When I put this piece in a members only art exhibit at a local gallery, it sold within one week! I knew that she would sell. A man, a lawyer, who’d never visited the gallery before purchased the painting. He was on a tour of the gallery with his rotary club.
Any artist’s journey with a painting is a distinct experience. It is a tender relationship. Something unique is brought forth through you. It’s an honor to share in the creative process. I really do believe that it’s accessible to everyone.
What are your thoughts…how do you invoke your creativity?
When I began painting faces, I found it very challenging. What I painted didn’t resemble the image I had in mind at all! How my mind and hand translated a photo portrait onto a canvas was juvenile art. Features–especially matching the eyes–were they the same size, at least close to the same size? The same shape? How much space between them? How far down on the face should they be? Where is the nose in relation to the eyes? And the mouth? Did I mention mixing a realistic skin tone? And then, there is value contrast! Yikes…the map of the face is an art that isn’t easy to master.
Several years of practice has improved my facility to draw a face with some degree of realism. And, I can see that I need years more of practice before I feel accomplished in this area. If ever.
And, so, I allow the whimsy that has been part of my artist’s signature.
I do like the background in this painting. The soft colors and images that sort of arise from the mist. I also think about painting over the whole thing and discovering something else. Remembering that it’s all part of the learning process, I have compassion for my newly formed artist self. Compassion versus criticism. Practice versus procrastination.
Remember the old adage “Patience is a virtue.” It really is. Making art–it can’t be rushed. It can be…but the depth of what an artist gets from the creative process won’t be reached unless she is patient enough to be fully present with the work in process and with herself (himself). Any work of art is always an inquiry. With that, an answer won’t be forced but rather surfaces.
These days, things are very serious. I feel it in my body. It’s easy to forget my body. To relegate it to last place even though I have more time to tend it. Yesterday, I came upon this little video by Elizabeth Gilbert. What I love about it is that there are no words…
And now for something completely different,
In 2017, for the first time, I signed up for a one year course, Paint Your Heart and Soul, facilitated by fine artist, Olga Furman. She gathered several amazing artists together. Each artist supplied one or two lessons over the course of the year. A new lesson was delivered on a weekly basis. This was an opportunity to encounter other artists, to learn their techniques and to practice. This year-long course encouraged the ongoing flow of creativity.
This particular class was taught by Olga Furman, herself. It became one of my favorites. One that I returned to again and then morphed into my own works of art.
There is some collage work in this piece and more practice in drawing and painting a face.
What is interesting about collage is that you use it with discretion. You also embellish it to make it more your own and to integrate it into the whole painting.
Since butterfly is about transformation, metamorphosis, it holds special meaning for many. Especially in these times when change feels imminent. There are the changes that are forced upon us and the changes we choose. We’ve all heard “The only constant is change.” Realizing this, we typically resist anyway. Resistance seems to be built into change. I do wonder if there is a stage where the butterfly-to-be in the chrysalis resists this transformation. Did it dream of itself as a butterfly before it emerged as one?
This 8″x10″ painting was sold in a local art gallery. I found myself missing her. I remember someone saying once “Never let go of anything sooner than you are ready…” Of course, I can get over it. But there is a bit of nostalgia over her, my first butterfly fairy.
I love this painting even today. It touches me in a way that I don’t expect. The original image was in a nature magazine. I portray it in my own whimsical style. The black and white of the duck, the furry duckling going for a ride, the shadow on the water and the background of total colorful whimsy–I find them entrancing…and fun.
When you enter into a painting, when you are so engaged that everything else in your life and the world falls away, if only for a few moments, you are in the creative vein. What a special timeless place to dwell. What a gift. This is something artists and writers share and understand deeply. Everyone has the ability to enter, but not everyone does. It saddens me to hear someone say that they don’t have a creative bone in their body. I know otherwise. I truly do. Many of us over the course of our lives stand on the precipice of our own creative vein. But we don’t take the leap. Why not? “I’m not an artist,” is the refrain. Or, “I’m not good at that.” I disagree.
If you dare to take my dare…find a magazine with images. Choose one that you like. Start with something easy. Trace over the image a few times. Get a sense of what it feels like to trace this particular image. Then, draw the image on a piece of paper, in a notebook, whatever you have. Draw it today, draw it tomorrow, draw it everyday for one or two weeks. Notice the lines in the image. See if you can spot shapes. Notice the lines and shapes in relation to one another. Let your hand practice drawing what you see. For it is in showing up and practicing that we get good at something. Don’t strive for perfection. Let it be your perspective, the way that only you see it, that guides your hand.
Engage with it and notice where you go.
Stay safe and healthy.
I love to dance. To follow the inclination of the body and to get lost in the dance. Dance has the capacity to release what has been stuck through movement. The dance can be flowing or chaotic or anything in between, depending upon what I need in the moment. In fact, dance seems to be an imperative in these times. It helps to release stress and changes things up a bit. And guess what, the command to “dance like no one is watching,” might actually be true for some of us these days. So do, dance like no one is watching in the privacy of your living space. Move the furniture aside, put on your favorite dance music…and dance. Skype with your siblings, friends, children and grandchildren, choose some favorite dance music and dance together.
Make it happen!
This ballerina looks sturdy to me. She reminds me of a very staunch Russian ballerina. From the countryside perhaps. I can make up any story I like about her. Creating this piece came from a place of “letting go”. I found the freedom to follow my instincts. Try this, try that. Yes, you can place gold leaf circles within circles beside a ballerina. And why not add a little bird in the upper corner! Let go.
Perhaps that is the message of this painting “let go” of what isn’t necessary to make room for what wants to be expressed. We don’t always have to strive for perfection and follow the rules of what is allowed to co-exist on the canvas. We can step outside of the box of thought around what good art is and discover the emotion, the feeling from which art arises. Express it.
I began painting for the first time in the year 2014. I didn’t go to art school. I began with online classes. The way you get better at anything, as I’ve said before, is to practice. I stopped comparing myself with other artists or wondering whether or not I had any talent. I painted for myself.
So, you’re not an artist…really? You can FINGERPAINT! Make your own paints. Here’s a recipe from Martha Stewart…I’m sure you can find others online. Then paint away those pent up emotions. Notice how you feel afterwards.
- Food coloring Instead of food coloring, one viewer used used paprika, turmeric and matcha.
Stir 4 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 cup cornstarch together. Add 2 cups of cold water and heat over medium heat until the mixture is thick (the mixture will further thicken as it cools).
Divide into four or more containers, and add food coloring to achieve desired colors.
At the least, dance it out today!
I write down thoughts that seem valuable in the moment. I found this list in one of my journals that seems worth sharing.
I’m wondering if this is true for other women (and some men)–at a young age, I learned that saying “no” to my father was unacceptable. To feel safe, I acquiesced. This carried over into my life as a young woman, wife, mother. I was there to meet the needs of others and to deny my own. At a point in my life, I literally had to learn and practice saying no.
I was taught to feel guilty as a way to manipulate
me into saying “yes” when I wanted to say “no”
To feel safe, I said yes when I meant no
To be liked or accepted, I said yes when I meant no
The ability to say no preserves physical and mental health
It’s appropriate to say no to those things and people that are not consistent with my life values
It’s alright to say no to things that aren’t important to me
It’s alright to say no when I have something else to do
How to say an appropriate no–
“No, I won’t be able to do that.”
“No, I choose not to do that.”
“No, I’m busy.”
“No, that doesn’t interest me.”
When I decline an invitation, I don’t have to explain why
Can I say no without having to give a reason?
Consider what it is that I really want
Remember that I have a choice to say yes or no
When I say yes or no, how does it affect my physical and mental health?
I’m sure that it’s more complicated than this…the right to choose your life is no small thing. I once gave a workshop to a group of economically disadvantaged women in a college setting. The workshop was about self-nurture. Several of the participants had no sense of putting themselves first. The concept of “no” was inaccessible to them and even frightening. What would the fallout be if they dared to say no to someone, typically a man?
Comparison is a tender spot for many an artist. Last week, at an art exhibit where I had a piece on display, I heard myself repeatedly minimizing my painting. I had already walked around the exhibit and seen the work of masterful artists, some of whom had been painting for their entire lives. Inwardly, I went into “I’ve only been painting for five years. I’ve learned what I’ve learned from online classes, my own practice and experience. I never went to art school.” In other words, I diminished my art and myself.
When someone complimented me or said they liked the painting, I said “You’re being kind.” I heard myself nearly apologizing for my piece! Where on earth did all of this self-denigration come from? Thinking about it in retrospect, it feels painful.
Yesterday, when a friend said I should send an online portfolio of my art to a larger venue, like San Francisco or the bay area at least, I nearly laughed. “You must be kidding!” I said. But she wasn’t. She had seen several groupings of my art and said that she recognized my unique style. “You have a style,” she said. “Why not try?” she queried.
So here it is, in my face once again–the artist produces a product. It matters less about the “expertise” of the painting as to what the process was for me. What is the journey I took to bring this painting into fruition? Did I take the journey with acquiesce or protest? Did I allow myself to be guided by the question what next? Did I push through the “ugly” stages and arrive at a better place? Did I say what I wanted to say? Did I fall in love with my piece, finally? I DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE EXCUSES FOR ANY OF THIS!
Being an artist, like being a human, isn’t about comparison. It is about SELF-EXPRESSION, your personal process and if you so choose, sharing your gifts with others.
In the Desiderata, the author reminds us “always there will be greater and lesser persons [artists] than yourself.”
Finally, he says, “Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
a bright idea, a rush of enthusiasm…these spark you and you begin to write and then…nothing…flat…blah…halt. a false start. the flow is gone and you put the poem or manuscript in the bottom drawer of your file cabinet…the shame pile…more unfinished work!
what if it was just a momentary thing. not meant to be a love affair of any note or a long term relationship. can you accept that? could you even shred it?
For me, these false starts are a way of moving the energy. As a writer, especially one who writes almost daily, I am open and available to ideas that zoom in…and then often they zoom out without coming to fruition and completion. Not every idea has to be developed.
One question to ask of yourself is…”Do I always need a product?”
Sometimes, writing is just practice to facilitate your process. You jot down the bright ideas, but you’re already working on something that is going somewhere. When you get to a stuck place in your life’s work writing, you can get easily distracted by yet another brilliant idea. You then get waylaid from your story that has to be told, the one that you deeply desire to complete in this lifetime. These engaging nova star ideas that race across your mind are a way to keep the channels open while you wait for what’s next in your great work. You follow the star–and then, it plummets. Nothing. Nowhere to go with it. Oh yes, where were you with the project at hand? Get back to it.
These fleeting ideas show me that I’m in the flow, receptive and available. I wrote it down, followed its lead and then realized that it is going to land in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. Perhaps I’m going to pick it up again one day and follow it further. Or, I’m going to shred it immediately after I write it although the temptation to keep it is there as what I’ve written so far is, to my thinking, splendid. These little writing flings…sigh.