One of the lovely ladies from my art journaling group Journeys, recently posed this question to me "How do you deal with the anxiety of not knowing where your painting is going?" Well first off, kudos Germaine for picking up on the fact that I too often struggle with this dilemma! Germaine also challenged me to respond to her question in a blog post so after sitting with her question for a bit I jotted down these few thoughts.
Unlike so many, I have no fear of the blank canvas. First layers are fun, pure joy, just playing and staying open to whatever shows up. But at some point I get to a place where I lose this sense of ease and begin to need something good to happen.
The disconnect usually occurs when my painting session is interrupted by life or when I have the unfortunate experience of prematurely beginning to like what has showed up on the page. In both instances I fall out of flow and and back into my thinking, judging, criticizing mind that needs to know what’s happening and why. And then before I know it I’m stuck and the anxiety that Germaine speaks of creeps in to steel my joy, stop the play and with it my creative process.
How to deal with this unfortuneate state of affairs? Well, as I have the good fortune to have completed several paintings now I do know that I have managed to push through this frustrating situation.
Germaine here's how I do it. First, I remind myself that it’s just paint! Darn it, ain't nobody gonna die if I can't figure out how to bring the thing together. Now this might seem a frivolous response to some, but to those of you who have faced this sense of dread, it can grow to some remarkably grotesque proportions and this gentle reminder begins to coax me off the very high ledge upon which I'm teetering. I pause here and take many pictures to gain a new perspective of what I'm looking at. Frequently, doing so suggests my
next move, but if not...
Now, safely off the ledge I remind myself of something else, and that is that since I made the darn thing to begin with I can make it again. Sage advice that I too had been given in my earlier days of intuitive painting.
Looking back on my not-too-long painting adventure I have come to know and understand my process. I know that getting back to a place of allowing usually takes time. And so I begin to make marks as I did in those early first layers; connecting again to what is before me. During this period of re-acquaintance my moves are usually not drastic. Rather they are smaller changes which sole purpose is to allow the necessary time for me to relax into what needs to happen next.
There is one exception to the no drastic moves rule and that is when I’m really attached to what’s happening on the canvas. When I’m so pleased with my progress that I’m afraid that my next move will mess it up. Everything becomes precious and this signals certain death to my creativity and the allowing that is necessary to bring the painting to its conclusion. In that scenario a drastic move is often exactly what needs to happen. I turn the canvas upside down, step
back, breathe, pick up some paint and make a BIG move! This ultimately leads to another and another.
I'm brutal with myself in these moments not permitting too much grieving and mourning of what was lost. And lest you think that having made the BM (big move) you're out of the water, let me quickly dissuade you. Very often drastic moves lead to dark places, chaos and confusion that at times requires a mental health break. At other times the BM leads rapidly to a wonderful new place in my relationship with my painting. But either way, I'm not stuck in that precious place where we are both, dare I say, constipated.
The new marks create new opportunities new paths to explore, and now back to a place of non-attachment I am able to return to that place of joyful play and exploration out of which all good things flow.
I wish I could tell you Germaine that I no longer find myself in those anxious places with my paintings, but I do. The comfort I can offer you is that after a few years of this drama I have discovered that most paintings do eventually come to an end I can live with and some to an end I love. That under many paintings are many others that no one but I know about. That this intimate knowledge makes the difficult angst-filled relationships once resolved that more special. That this journey of facing your fears, letting go of things that aren't serving you and, of making BIG (sometimes drastic) moves often reflects life and so its worth travelling again and again. And that if you love painting keep going, push through and you too will live to answer this question to a newbie much sooner than you think.
If any of you have slain the paining anxiety dragon please share the tricks and tools that have worked for you in the comments section below.