Watercolor Painting – Be Your Own Star
I recently completed a 4-day watercolor painting class taught by Ellen Jean Diedrerich from Fargo, ND. She is a well-known and talented artist. This was a “beginner” class but I surmised that I may have been the only novice. Being a practiced “mindful person” I saw this beginning status as an asset.
Did I have a book called Beginning to Paint loaned from a well-seasoned, paint enlightened friend? Yes. Did I open and read it prior to class? No. My brain wouldn’t allow it. Can I blame my brain? Sometimes I do that. First, I’m an experiential learner which means “learning through refection on doing”. I grew up in the conventional culture of conformity, sitting still, memorizing and comparing. The older I got the trickier it became and by the time I reached college, I began to realize that I would need to learn some study skills. I attended my first year at then Mary College in Bismarck, ND. I perceived myself as being a decent student, but it was difficult to learn and memorize all the material that was required. I thought in concepts and for me, it needed to come together in some understandable format to really digest it. I finished the year with a C average across the board and I told myself that was ok…. yet I remember that feeling of discontent of why I couldn’t magically get all the information that was pumped out. I knew there was more within – I just couldn’t reach in and get it. I remember getting cordially nudged out of certain fields of study and the subtle messages I perceived as not being a star in anything. I used to draw pictures of beauty queens with stars surrounding them, big smiles on their faces, always thin and always beautiful. I wanted to be a star, but society’s road was narrow.
Social Work became my focus in large part because I had a mentor, one that I experienced as a good and caring person. She also saw something inside of me …. This dovetailed with one of my childhood visions of being like Albert Schweitzer and find ways to help in the world…another big star for humanity. I often hear from others that they don’t have a vision of where they belong, what they should do etc. Often, this vision eluded to in others and myself is the desire to feel good, content, happy or fulfilled depending on your school of thought and that is subjective to each one of us. Wondrously, creativity relates with these inner stars of happiness and fulfillment. The more avenues we find to connect these inner stars, the better. When they shine, our energy centers can flow with ease, our bodies can move with more flexibility and our strength grows. The inner core of the body is more important to strengthen than the outer limbs and core muscles. That inner core can include how you think, how you manage emotions, your beliefs, and your past experiences. One of the exercises I use to get a perspective on inner core health – Stand in front of a large mirror nude and observe your reaction. Spend a minute really looking. Where are those stars when you need it? Where is that beautiful self-talk and the encouraging voice to help you along your life path? This research will give you clues to those things that may need changing.
Day 1 My first day of painting class went like this. I compared, felt overwhelmed and wondered why I was even there. I learned about basic brush strokes, the color wheel and the importance of design and shapes. I didn’t do well in geometry or math and avoided these kinds of things but here these shapes were set up in front of me; cones, boxes, pyramids, garlic containers, and whatever else. I didn’t know about drawing from the right side of the brain which I am exploring now. Then, I just knew frustration. I called my artist friend that evening and basically vented – sharing the “it’s too hard” mantra of my childhood. But now, I have learned just to be aware of the thoughts, then find creative or positive strategies to cope. At my age, sometimes its’ easier just to coast and avoid the challenges. Is this healthy for the brain? Avoiding stress can sometimes be a prescription for health but avoiding the creative parts of self is damaging in the long run. So, I chose the path of stress with the hopes of a good outcome.
Day 2 It was better – we got to “color” from the color wheel, draw circles and combine colors. I learned how designers choose the best compliments and layouts for environments and how artists can create paintings from just a few colors. I was still hesitant to mix the colors and learned why not to use black or white except on rare occasions. I listened to my inner critic for good parts of the day as I drew and painted the first picture of a hydrangea. I put the picture on Facebook and got a few positive comments from my husband, my mom, and my childhood babysitter. Now that is love.
Day 3 This was my emotional day. I was late, had clients prior to the class and said goodbye to my son leaving home to move across the country. Our project was to find a picture we wanted to paint, draw and paint a grid and begin the work. A grid is this underlying drawing of boxes that you paint with a few colors. This serves as a base for the painting. The picture I brought in was a complex group of flowers that I grabbed off the wall. It wasn’t a thoughtful process and one I learned from. The lesson – to think with intention before you create. Tension developed from the start and involved a change of pictures; a rough day of trial and error. I needed lots of direction from Ellen and even her repairs couldn’t fix the issues. I started a new painting for fun which I liked a little better, but it looked like it was one of those 3rd grade tree pictures. As a child, I painted like I thought I should, compared a lot and got by in the average lane. I’m realizing how the potential didn’t have the chance to grow – I was too busy surviving. This class has connected more of these dots from childhood.
Day 4 Ellen is eager to share the wisdoms of the watercolor art. She gave us her book called Progressive Painting. She shared the inspirations of the why she wrote this book. I was amazed at her process as an artist and a business builder. Being in my own private practice, I understand the need to blend the art and the money. We all need to survive while we “strive to thrive” as I like to say. I was drawn to the class by the colors since I work with the rhythms of the emotional body. I’m keen now to the energetics and colors of the body, the frequencies of words, products we use, thoughts we think about and behaviors we engage in. It all matters. Emotions are the powerful drivers for us humans – that’s how we end up in the messes that can teach us the way of finding peace within ourselves. At the end of this day there is a critique session where each person presents their art. Since I’d needed to leave early for a work obligation I discussed mine early. Secretly, I was relieved to avoid the group reaction to what I had accomplished. Now, I wish I would devoted my entire day to the class and stayed to present this oddly shaped disaster of mine. The more I think of it the more pleased I am to think of all the learning this little piece inspired. Do I now have an appreciation of why I have avoided this art until now? Yes. In the midst of this “trudgery” I have discovered tiny glimpses of my own truth – my own voice of creative expression which can be empowering and ripple into other aspects of life.
Creativity is a given for some people – they are born with an innate perception for the arts, yet they may have challenges in other areas. I’m realizing we are all filled with creativity – it just varies in its form. My emotional artistry can be quite amazing when used to understand the emotions of others. When I work with couples, the intensity of these emotions can be sensed like waves hitting the shores. When we find the right path to transform the painful ones to higher frequency feelings such as compassion, love or caring the result is better relationship. It’s our job to find it the things we need to do/learn to be who we were born to be. I refer to listening to the heart in many of therapy sessions. Just a simple hand on your heart helps remind the brain what really matters. The more I explore my creative side, the more that life opens, and this openness creates flow and health in the body. There is an essential oil blend called I love that when used on the body or inhaled can help inspire the heart energy. The essential oils of Rose, Clary Sage, Patchouli, Ylang Ylang Complete, Rosewood, Palmarosa, Spikenard, Neroli, Jasmine, Sandalwood, Lavender, fine; Dragon’s Blood, Cedarwood Atlas, Elemi, Grapefruit, pink; Marjoram, sweet; Petitgrain, and Cypress. What a power blend! In hindsight, I should have used this every day.
A star is born? Usually I would say of course not, I don’t have talent. Now that those words are out of the way I can expand that to say a few stars were found in the process. I think we are the product of many little stars – scientifically speaking of course. Do the research. In the meantime, pursue creativity even though…. Stress/illness/grief/depression/anxieties/ADD/obligations are just a few blockers to our inner stars. Reach out, seek support and be perseverant. I will continue to seek my painting passions – adding it to my therapy toolbag, more appreciation for art, or continuing practice sketches and simple watercolor pieces. Thank you, Ellen, for sharing your gifts and talents. It makes a difference!