November 26, 2013

A Beginner’s Ecstasy: The Alchemy of Yoga & Painting.

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

~ Vincent van Gogh

I am a beginner.

The experiencing teaches me, especially when it comes to art.

Blend a little more along the edge of the horizon. Deepen the shadow on the edge of the oak’s branch.

I studied a photograph in the Oaks of California book, noticing the way that an oak’s branch dips at an uneven angle. I found myself pausing under a Valley Oak on a recent walk, thinking about advice on creating art, as I tried to truly see the way sunlight changes the oak branches.

Years ago, I overheard an art teacher tell his students that one must really look at one’s subject in order to create it: I stood there naked, as the subject in question.

Certainly, as an art model, I knew their subject on that day.

Art builds upon life, especially if we take the time to look, open our senses to the world surrounding us.

The grey outlines of an urban landscape or the pounding of the surf—somewhere in those places we spend our moments in motion, figuring how and why we move through our world.

On a day when I felt perplexed about my space in this world, I stumbled into art, not as the subject, but the creator.

Art is a messy experience, not just on our hands, but inside, too.

Art illuminates our subconscious, but only if we dare to pick up the paint brush, charcoal, oil pastels or tool of our choice. Trust me, I guarantee that there will be mistakes.

Isn’t that how we learn?

We tumble over hundreds of times before succeeding in a free headstand, knowing our practice of yoga will teach us.

Somewhere along the way, my yoga mat became my easel. My yoga practice took on an added twist.

Now, it’s a ritual:

I unroll my neon-green mat over the carpet. On top of my yoga mat, I place a piece of cardboard under my blank canvas, open my box of paints—ranging from primary to glow-in-the-dark colors—and splay out my paint brushes and that bit of sponge for texture.

I unfold into swirling the paint, mixing colors for a picture that calls to me—usually the intense blues of water and sky. Inadvertently, my yoga mat became my easel, as leaning over my canvas seemed so much more natural than sitting in front of an easel.

I lose myself in the painting; it’s like going underwater, and I suddenly realize that I need to breathe, so I come up for air.

I slide my canvas and paints to the side of my yoga mat, and arch into pigeon pose or roll back into a shoulder stand.

Believe it or not, my “yoga mat painting style” evolved out of my writing practice.

After completing my graduate thesis (a memoir and theory paper), I found myself with time. The intense push of completing my thesis while co-homeschooling my two sons and working part-time as an Instructional Support Assistant at a college library turned into simple time, as my kids returned to “formal” education and I began writing a novel.

A novel seemed doable and fun after writing a memoir for my thesis. I delved into writing fiction with the main character as a painter. Out of curiosity, I equipped myself with the tools of a painter: brushes, paints and canvas, but I forgot about the easel.

In the quietness of the house after the kids fell asleep, I rolled out my yoga mat to stretch before painting.

After a few poses, I sat on the mat and sketched on a large canvas. I made the outline of the Flowering card from the Osho Zen Tarot cards. The Flowering card is the Queen of Rainbows who symbolizes living fully in the moment.

Sharing love and joy, she sits on a lotus surrounded by a luminescent orb. Trying to recreate the energy of the image, I swirled red and blues into purples. I fell into the moment, forgetting about any worries or conflicts of the day-to-day, being fully consumed by the pleasure of creating.

Sure, I made mistakes. Plenty of them. Her toes were too small. The translucent orb around her wasn’t quite luminescent enough.

I let go of perfection.

I never pursued the formal training to be a painter.

Of course, I took art in high school. Mr. Hugget taught us how to mix paints—adding whites and blacks—I listened, and followed the lessons. Yet art is rarely encouraged in the American public education system; let alone in our society, but I always hung out the creative types.

Over the years, I surrounded myself with artists: painters, stone carvers, ceramicists, metal sculptors and environmental artists. I loved observing acts of art, but I needed to be the creative one for once. Yes, writing is an art, but I subconsciously needed to go beyond words.

Surprisingly, my writing opened up a new art experience on that night.

Hours later, I crawled into my bed, mostly content with my painting that dried in the living room. Pulling the blanket up to my chin, I closed my eyes. I saw lavenders and golds swirling into pinks just as I knew that outside the snow flakes were drifting in the shaft of light from the street lamp.

Yes, a vivid life is possible. I decided on that night: I am artist.

I will live “awake” with paint under my fingernails. I found the beginner’s ecstasy: the alchemy of yoga and painting.

I could care less if anyone liked my artwork. It wasn’t about them.

My paintings were about me.

I wasn’t creating for audience, as I did with my writings and poetry.

I paint because the act fills me with a space of joy that goes beyond the intensity of the twists in my unchartered journey.

I’ll love my paintings even if I make mistakes because I am beginner.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo credit: Pixoto

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