Wherever You Go, There You Are is the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn (son-in-law of activist Howard Zinn). The book is about practicing mindfulness through meditation.
Buddhism and cognitive therapists teach us that our interior dialogues are always present, chattering to us in every situation.
So what does this have to do with painting?
I just spent the weekend at Paint the Town, painting my little heart out. It’s a two day public event of intense plein aire painting, culminating in a crowded, public silent auction. I had to deal with my interior critic and to challenge it in order to produce the best work possible under those conditions.
I practiced noticing and challenging interior dialogues like:
- I can’t paint properly because it’s too hot outside (then find a new location with a breeze and drink lots of water.)
- I brought all the wrong colours (you brought a good variety – limit the palette)
- why is it taking so long to get into this? (if you’re not inspired, take a break and scout out a new location)
- what if my paintings suck? (then they suck…it’ll be the first time in 6 years though.)
- what if no one bids on my paintings? (then I’ll take them home and rework them)
This dialogue was not unique to me. I heard variations of this from other artists.
The trick, as Jon Kabot Zinn teaches, is to let go of the outcome and expectations and to just BE in this moment with what is. No judging allowed.
On day 2 at the pond in the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, surrounded by dancing lilies, feeling a breeze and listening to the trickle of a waterfall, I lost myself in these portraits of lilies and the interior dialogue was turned way down.
I tried different approaches to the same subject.
- Direct painting with no medium
- Applying paint over thick, wet gel medium
- Applying paint over thinner mat medium
I took my time. I allowed each painting to dry, started a new one, then returned to the original painting to refine it. I relaxed into the work.
All of these sold that evening in the silent auction. I believe these little 8” x 8” paintings are my strongest Paint the Town flower portraits to date.
Kabat-Zinn says that every experience we have informs our next. How right he is!
Because the morning after the weekend event, I woke up extra early and dragged my painting gear outside to ‘Paint the Garden’ at home. This time I worked on a 30” x 40 “ canvas and used some of the painting approaches that I’d practiced on the weekend. I got right into the rhythm of the painting and the leaning of the flowers.
I definitely would not have felt that loose and free without the weekend workout.
I look forward to finishing this painting and I’ll post the final result here.
If you have a few hours, you can listen to Jon Kabat-Zinn read his book on youtube.