Be brave.

Painting Lessons, Uncategorized

If you have never done so, paint a self-portrait.

Trust me on this: you will rediscover every bit of your beauty. Do not make it a faithful representation, a record of the ravages of time on skin: there are more important songs to be sung.

I am begging you to be bold:

If you cannot find a canvas large enough, use a cotton sheet. Make it a bed of burnt umber, on which you can lay your extravagant colours.

Place your scars, like road maps. Carve in red your bleeding heart, and stitch it together with threads of gold, the way the Japanese practice Kintsugi. Let these metallic lines mark your journey, so that you can remember where you came from, and again find your way home.

Like the old masters, surround yourself with symbolic things: your grandmother’s gloves upon your knee, a love letter. Give yourself permission to apply them to the canvas – use glue and safety pins, if you need to. Draw in the words you cannot bear to say aloud, and then paint over them. The canvas will remember. It will hold all of the things no one else has learned how to see.

When you are finished, begin anew. Begin, this time, on bed of gold, and on it, inscribe upon it all of the things you wish that were. Give yourself a crown, or a babe in arms, or seat yourself upon a stack of every book ever written. Do this, so that you can remember where you are going. Do this, because the paint is magic.

I know that paint is magic, because the first time I was in New York, we went to the Museum of Modern Art. At the time, there was a painting by Matisse hanging in the stairwell, between the second and third stories. In seeing The Dance, I was confronted with pure joy, manifested.

I guess that here, that you might pause look up the painting – but it will not describe the painting any more than a photo of cake describes the experience of cake. And even if you do find yourself standing in New York or St. Petersburg facing the one of the originals, it may not be your brand of magic. You might not stand, awash in embarrassing tears, on the second floor stairwell, and then again on the third (because you needed to see if the rapture applied on third floor, too). Matisse may not have written in the language that you speak, but listen:

On that canvas, Matisse illustrated a kind of ecstasy that gave birth to that same feeling in at least some of those who saw it. It generated that which it described.

So: imagine all of the ways that the world might rise up to greet you, if you tell it where you are going. Imagine what you might manifest, if you record all of the things that you carry with you, and then resolutely carry on.

I know it is not the same thing, to paint a feeling and a person. I know, too, that Matisse is Matisse, and the rest of us are humble mortals, but still: paint a self portrait, at least once. Claim your story, and let the threads of your insides and outsides tie together.

Don’t Wait.

Painting Lessons

This past weekend, I made a last-minute application for a show in Victoria, one that I didn’t really expect to get. That’s not my modesty talking – I’ve been turned down a few times, and although my portfolio contained my best recent work, it all felt a little rushed. The paint was literally still drying on one of the works.

Painting of mother and child


I confess to being a little taken aback by this success. While I am apparently the sort of person who fantasizes about being successful enough to afford a studio assistant to wash my brushes and make sure I do not confuse my mason jar of tea with my mason jar of linseed oil, I also find it genuinely difficult to visualize circumstances whereby this might actually happen.

Nevertheless, I feel like this unexpected success is offering me a lesson, and I am going to obnoxiously share it with all of you, unsolicited: don’t wait until you think you are ready, before you begin. On the one hand, our time on this plane is so, so fleeting, and on the other, we have every opportunity to re-invent ourselves. We have the capacity to change direction mid-stream. This is not a new idea: Elizabeth Gilbert covered this notion extensively and eloquently in Big Magic, and Julia Cameron offered a blueprint in The Artist’s Way.

Dear friends, take a moment to imagine all of the ways you can shine light into the world: photographs and essays and graffiti art and slam poetry and drum solos and dances and improv and pyrotechnics and organic farming and culinary mastery. Place your light where it might be visible, and give it room to grow – whether you believe yourself to be ready, or not.

An addendum: all of this diving in wholeheartedly and headfirst absolutely neither applies to nor includes dating, or any other assorted “feelings” business. You can put that shit off forever – especially if you get cats. The only problem with cats is that they don’t really help with the dishes, and a fair division of labour is generally preferable where life companions are concerned. On the other hand, cats offer a healthy balance of independence and adoration, and they don’t pass judgement when you stand up at the kitchen counter to eat your breakfast of apple crumble with paint on your face. It’s all compromise. But I digress.

To sum up:

Brace yourself – give yourself permission to fail greatly

Create something that brings you joy

Set it free into the world

Adopt a cat (optional)

The results might delight you.