Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Weekly Reflection (week 27): Surprises

I am in my second week of painting BIG and it is like the roller coaster took off from the highest of highs and we are flying fast and furious down the track. It is exhilarating, it is intimidating, it is inspiring and it is intoxicating. I have made 7 paintings and each time I start, I have no idea where I will end up. It is not about the final product, but about the experience and about being fearless, being present, being open and willing to let go and open ourselves up to our inherent bigness of spirit and creativity.

detail from Memory #1 painting

So, how is surprise manifesting in my life and in my art right now?

The biggest surprise is how much I love the act of painting. And I mean love in the sense of my gut and my emotions and my mind driven towards one thing: squeezing paint onto my palette, seizing a brush, and laying down thick, juicy strokes of color upon the paper. I love the dialogue between me and each piece; how the work whispers which color it wants next, demands more attention in one area, insisting I stay present and receptive to each act, each stroke and glob of pigment I lay down.

I am surprised by the layers of meaning that seem to appear out of nowhere. When I am painting, I try not to plan out or think too much about what I am going to do. I want to enter into a meditative state where I am conscious only of the act of painting, allowing it to guide me. So I find it surprising when finished to see how much sense there was from intuitive choices.

The prompt for this week's projects has been memory: selecting a memory to revisit and painting from that place of recalling objects, feelings, thoughts, or events. Today I was thinking about a moment when we were in China, just days after we became a family with Cowgirl. Our group had gone on a morning trip and afterward I was going on a separate bus to buy some needed supplies while Cowgirl and the Husband were to take a different bus home. As I walked by their bus, the Husband directed Cowgirl to look out the window. There was a brief pause, and then like a flash bulb going off, her face lit up upon recognizing me. She patted her little hands against the glass and a smiled this crazy pirate smile of pure joy. In that moment, I knew I was hers and she was mine.

earlier stage of the painting Memory #2: China

So I started painting with that memory: that window, her smile, her hand upon the glass. Remembering the lushness, greenness and humidity of southern China in August, the many greens and yellow took over the bulk of the painting. The window had to be blue. I was thinking about the contrast of that window - that frame around the two people who comprise my world and the scene it revealed - against the hot and noisy landscape we were occupying for those first few weeks as a family. What I realized after painting was how I restricted myself to the colors assigned to our family by Cowgirl: blue for her (her favorite color), green for me (my favorite color) and yellow for daddy (not his favorite color, but as a daddy he suffers this daughter's decisions.)

The black writing also just popped into my mind and I strongly wanted to have Chinese characters in the piece. I apologize to anyone who can read Chinese! I knewn the character for family, which I wrote over and over in black. I then went back over and wrote daughter blue and then it seemed obvious to add Love in the middle. I remembered then that the character for family encompasses components of the symbol for love. As I struggled to be more fluid and relaxed in my writing, it struck me how my experience of learning to parent is akin to my learning a new language. I struggle not because of my lack of skill or vocabulary, but because I am extremely self conscious about the gap between my proficiency and my desire
to be more fluent.

detail; part of the character for Love is cut off; below it, the characters for Cowgirl's name

And yet by bringing up this memory, I am reminded of how much understanding there already existed between my child and myself when all she understood verbally was her new name and my name as mommy. Even though I felt extremely shaky those first few days (I had not even changed a diaper until China!) I acted from my heart and from my gut. That was all that was needed then, and that is all that is needed now.

I am surprised to find myself easing up on myself not only in my painting, but in other areas of my life. I am discovering I do not have to work so hard to find meaning; it has a way of finding me if I just let it happen. I am surprised to discover that the simple act of painting from a place of acceptance and openness has so many rich lessons to teach me. And if the practice of letting go of expectations in my painting yields so many gifts and lessons, what would it mean to apply this to other areas of my life?

Surprising is the possibility I am more fluent than I have allowed myself to believe. Most of all, I am surprised to realize I painted my way to a place of confidence and trust in myself as a parent. I know deep within, I hold all the answers, all the words I will ever need to guide, support and love my daughter.

Painting with a Purpose Update:

Congratulations to Diana who won our Celebration Elephant! She will be making her way to your home shortly. Our next painting is almost ready to unveil, so check back on Friday. There are two more chances to win a painting, so be sure to make a donation using the link on the right hand side of this page and be sure to leave a comment letting us know you are supporting our campaign.


  1. I am so lucky! Can't wait to hang Celebration Elephant in our house. She will be in good hands here and will be a cherished possession.


  2. Dear Lis,

    This is so beautiful...I can not thank you enough. You and your big gorgeous Life--and big amazing heart...are such a teacher to me.

    Big hugs,

  3. What a special and important memory - that moment of her smile of recognition.

    And I love this memory painting. Thank you for sharing more of your life with us! You write about it so beautifully.

    (And congratulations, Diana!)

  4. Lis - I have a feeling the cosmos is going to release a big sigh when we finally meet in person. I will write the same over with our tribe, to re-iterate it, to embrace it.

    I, too, feel the roller coaster, I too am amazed at how absolutely delicious this process called "painting" feels!

    Your outpouring of memories is so so beautiful...I can see her little hand on that window and your smile in your heart as she recognizes you.

    So much love,

  5. Your big art work is stunning! Love the white handprint especially. That memory is a powerful one!
    Thank you for sharing such heartfelt reflections each week. I so love coming to visit!

  6. i love this post. i love that sweet memory and how your painting began, and then seeing what it becomes. i can't imagine what that must feel like! :)

    it is so amazing to me how art opens us up and brings things up to the surface and we really don't have to do much but allow it.

    how great this is!

  7. I loved every detail of your creative process. I think it's amazing and wonderful that you are painting so much. The results are gorgeous! You've so inspired me today. Keep on painting, sister :) PS: You might like to play with using your hands to paint with. I paint my furniture this way and it feels wonderful!