Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it’s exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over. – Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
The first time I painted, my world exploded.
I was 28 years old, and I remember dipping bristles into vivid blue pigment and smoothing them over a sheet of white paper pinned to the wall.
I’d never picked up a brush. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could be a painter. I couldn’t draw. I always wanted to when I was a child, but repeated in my notebook the same one doodle of a drab flower.
Yet my whole life, I had been searching for ways I could express myself. I loved acting as a kid and doing school plays. Later, I got a BFA in theater. I always loved writing and wrote all the time even when I didn’t think I could ever be good enough to be a published writer. But painting? No. That was something I never envisioned.
When I was 28, a writing teacher of mine, Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down The Bones suggested I attend a painting workshop taught by Michele Cassou, author of Life Paint and Passion and Carol Levow author of Dare To Paint. Since Natalie pushed, I gave in and reluctantly went.
The painting workshop was held in Taos, New Mexico at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house. The beige adobe walls were covered with white boards and individual pieces of thumbtacked four-by-five foot sheets of white cold press artist’s paper.
Of the 50 other students besides me, most were middle-aged women who wanted permission to be creative without having to know how to paint.
I wore jeans, an old grey t-shirt, flip-flops, and my hair was pulled back off my face.
Two long tables sat in the middle of the room and laid out on them like a treasure were rows of colorful thick tempera paint in clear plastic cups.
Next to each color of paint was an individual cup of water and a large French Isabey brush with a fine black head. The colors were all so beautiful, I wanted to eat them! That’s all I thought I could do with my crayons when I was a child.
Michele, a petite thin woman with a small sharp noise, intense brown eyes and a strong Parisian accent, told us to go to a color that drew us, dip the brush into the water, then the paint and then to go to our paper.
The only instruction we were given— “To play”. That way, we’d stay open to spontaneity, adventure, and the unexpected.
Never having held a paintbrush before, I was told to grasp it not too tightly and keep my wrist relaxed.
Michele warned us the brushes were of fine quality, “made of pure squirrel hair…” “Take good care of them. Make sure there is enough water in the brush so the natural bristles don’t scratch against your paper and break.”
I remember the very first time my brush made contact with the smooth, white paper.
As my fingers held the lacquered full-bodied brush handle with the right amount of water and paint, and the color of deep-ocean I had picked carefully glided across smooth white paper, all my senses awakened. My stroke came alive. I fell in love!
Still to this day, after over 20 years of painting, my heart cracks wide open when I first begin by choosing a color that draws me, and placing paint onto a clean sheet or canvas.
But that first day, I was nervous. What would I paint if I didn’t know how to draw an image?
“Play!” Michele told us in her loud, energizing French accent.
I felt like a child who only knew how to draw stick figures. I was worried and already embarrassed the other workshop attendees would think my painting would look like a Kindergartener’s.
But, I let my brush move and then went back to the table to choose a different color. This time I chose magenta.
“Keep moving!” Michelle called out excitedly. “Between paper and table. By physically moving you are more in your body and less in your head.”
After painting for a little bit, I decided that because I had the excuse of never having painted before, I didn’t have to care what anyone else thought. Not caring about the outcome became an important creative principle of non-attachment. I could play like I was told and was thrilled to be given unlimited permission to unleash my wild, creative self.
Every few minutes, Michele threw a question out to the room.
What if you could take a risk?
What if it didn’t matter what it looked like?
What if there was nothing to lose?
The entire notion turned me on. I mean, what if I applied those same questions to my life? I made it my mission to discover and to work with these questions.
20 years later, I still have that very first painting. It did look like a Kindergartner’s, but I love it because it was the very moment I started on my artistic adventure.
I keep it with my hundreds of other paintings from over the last 20 years catalogued in order by date underneath my bed. A friend said to me once, “You’re going to keep painting until your bed reaches the stars!” I’ve never forgotten that.
I learned from that first workshop that the most essential way to create any life desire is to begin with play. Isn’t this a great way to approach something new?
When starting any project or change of life course we must begin somehow.
What might you begin without care or worry? What have you longed to do but haven’t tried?
Ride a motorcycle across the desert or take an RV through Montana’s mountains? Find another job with more pay that will make you happier? Move to a place that’s quieter? Plant a garden? Clean out your closets and re-decorate? Learn to play guitar?
Whatever it is, do it with an essence of play and you will you find your ultimate freedom!
Wishing you true expression!