Tulips by stove.

When I started painting last year, I felt too intimidated by the process to attempt a large painting, but I thought it would be fun to try some smaller ones. I got it in my mind to make a series of what I thought of as ‘tiny paintings’ — paintings done on sheets of paper 6″ by 6″ in size — as a way to practice painting. I wanted to do ‘snapshots’ of my favorite images — of things that make me happy or of the scene at a moment when I felt happy or calm. I decided to do 104 of them (it seems like a random number, but it was exactly the number of 6″ by 6″ paintings that would neatly fill the space of the wall across from my bed — I would see my favorite things when I woke in the morning, accumulating weekly!)

I ended up making four paintings (only 100 short!). I realized I just wasn’t into the sort of paintings I was attempting — they felt too fussy, too full of detail. My heart left the project so I abandoned it (the space left by doing so would be soon filled — I’ll write more about that in some other post).

One of the four paintings I made was of a vase of tulips by my stove. I had several vases of tulips throughout the winter last year and I drew or painted several of them. Here are two of the paintings of tulips I made in my illustrated journal:

Orange tulips by stove 1 wm

 

Orange tulips by stove 2 wm

This is the tiny painting of the vase of tulips:

 

Orange tulips on counter.

Orange tulips of counter.

Illustrated journal

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been painting a lot this year. I did most of the painting in a sketchbook, viewing it simply as a way of keeping a journal—a visual account of my days. It was just stuff I saw or did, like the little painting below of my favorite mug, or the one of a tabletop scene at a local coffee shop when I was able to make my way through the snow to meet up with a friend for pastries and coffee.

 

My favorite mug

My favorite mug

 


Cafe on a snowy day

Cafe on a snowy day

It was fun – I suddenly saw the world in a whole new way! Everything could be seen as a painting! I carried a little sketchbook around with me and bought a portable watercolor paint set. I carried these to work with me some days in the spring and made little paintings during my lunch break, like the ones below of fish benches and a scooter.

Fish benches

Fish benches

City scooter

City scooter

I read a lot about painting and checked books out of the library about painting as well as books full of images of paintings. I watched tutorials about painting on YouTube. It was a whole new world for me, and it felt so good to be in ‘beginner’s mind’ again, with no expectations and no pressure. I could paint whatever caught my fancy.

Paramount theater

Paramount theater

Eventually, the storyteller in me started adding text to the journal entries, and the ones throughout the summer are mostly like the entries below about the best pancake ever and some treasures a friend gave to me.

Best pancake

 

 

gifts wm

 

I decided to stop keeping an illustrated journal in the fall. I had started a painting project that was beginning to require all of my free time, and even though keeping an illustrated journal was fun and something I would love to have in my later years to be able to look back on, it required a lot of my time as well as my painting energy. So, I let it go.

I think the final image in the journal is an appropriate metaphor for that sort of letting go.

Rope flower garden wm

Unfinished

So, I’m painting

You might expect to find me talking about writing here, since I have been writing for many years and it is a subject I am both familiar with and fond of. But lately, I don’t feel much like talking about writing. I feel more like talking about painting.

If you had told me a year ago I’d be painting so much now, I would have thought you were off your rocker. Not only was I not painting at all this time last year, I had no plans to do so. I have never painted in my life. It was one of those ‘when I am old and no longer feel like working with words, perhaps I will take up painting’ sorts of fantasies—way in the future, with no real substance. So imagine my surprise when, on January 30 of this year, I was suddenly seized with an impulse to paint. I was sitting in front of the fire eating some leftover peanuts from Five Guys with a glass of red wine, and the scene looked so cool, and I thought: I wonder if I could paint this. So I gave it a try.

I had a watercolor set on hand that I picked up at Blick’s because I was reading about making color comics/keeping an illustrated journal at the time and I thought I’d like give that a try at some point. So I grabbed the set and painted my first watercolor painting in the sketchbook I had been using to make comics. Here it is: my masterpiece of Five Guys peanuts and a glass of red wine.

Peanuts & wine & notebooks

Peanuts & wine & notebooks

Await further instructions.

It sounds like something one would say to a soldier or a spy. Like a text sent to someone holed up in a hotel room, hiding from the mafia. It sounds like something that will require trust — trust that the instructions will arrive and that they will be of use — and patience while one waits for the instructions to arrive. It sounds like it will require letting go of control and of outcome.

And it does.

It’s a strategy that can be useful for someone who is feeling stuck during the process of creating — while writing a novel or working on a painting or trying to come up with a solution to a business problem — as well as someone who is in the situation I recently found myself in: smack in the middle of ‘was’ and ‘now what?’ In the middle of the void,  that empty place where one finds oneself after completing a huge project with no clear sense of what to do next.

It is a frustrating place to be, riddled with doubts and questions and a general sense of unease. Nothing you try while there feels right. Nothing sticks. It’s like being lost with no compass, no map. No smartphone!

What helped me was waking one day with the phrase ‘await further instructions’ in my head. I pondered it throughout the day: Await further instructions. I decided to heed it and immediately, upon doing so, something within me relaxed. I had given up control and the matter was no longer in my hands.

I felt a great sense of relief then, and I quietly went about my life while I awaited further instructions. This required a lot of patience. It required being okay with ‘doing nothing’ while I waited. It required pulling my attention back again and again to the main thing required: trust. Trust in the universe. Trust in myself. Trust in the process. Trust that I would recognize the instructions when they arrived, and that they would be the right instructions for me.

I regularly pulled my attention back to trusting, and stayed alert for signs and clues. In the end, the instructions came. And, yes, they were exactly the right instructions for me, at the right time. They just felt right. And they still do — they feel like exactly what I needed to discover.

The void.

A year ago March, I finished the first draft of a memoir I had been working on for two years. I gratefully, wearily stuffed it into a drawer and awoke the next morning quite sure I didn’t want to ever write another word, ever again. It was a weird feeling because all I have wanted to be, all of my life, was a writer.

I spent the year that followed in a funky, weird sort of space that I simply refer to in my mind as “The Void.” It is a space where I didn’t write. I was so certain I never wanted to write again that I closed down my freelance writing and editing business and found a nine-to-five job as a proofreader.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been quietly commuting into my job, marking up documents, and then quietly returning home. Not writing. I’ve engaged in other creative acts during this time, including drawing cartoons, a brief foray into graphic storytelling, painting with watercolors, and taking photographs.

I never, not once, stopped noting the beauty that surrounds us every day. The sort of beauty that many people simply walk past, not noticing. I never stopped noting how quirky and funny and mean and angry and sad and complicated and how vulnerable human beings are and how much capacity we have for love and tenderness. I never stopped noticing moments of grace – when there is so much lovely magic in the air, it practically crackles. And so, even though I refer to the past year as “The Void,” it has been, actually, very full. And, of course, here I am writing again. Writing about not writing, but… writing all the same.