I WALK briskly through town to get warm on a December morning en route to the dike bordering the Connecticut River, mind racing.
Mostly I walk fast for the sheer joy of it. A precious experience of physical energy and movement I have savored my entire life.
Basketball, softball, and running were once primary means of expression for me. Yet I know that even walking could abandon me one day.
Every morning, I head out before breakfast. I do some of my best thinking and painting on foot away from the easel, problem-solving in mid-stride or stock still, heron-like, invisible but minutely observing.
Two miles in, my pace slackens. I become more languid. Walking southwest, overlooking vacant fields on the Connecticut’s alluvial flood plain until the path ends abruptly at the mouth of the Mill River.
One by one my thoughts sink and settle. I become more aware of my surroundings.
The distant, persistent cawing of a lone crow. Rime sheathing every blade of grass.
Solid but uneven ground crunching beneath my shoes. Not-unpleasant odor of rotting vegetation.
Early morning sun breaking through mist behind the hills beyond the river. Faint breeze inflaming my cheeks.
The confluence of ancient rivers. I stand still as a heron along the shore. Blending in, unthinking.
Watching, silent. Ego submerged so that something deeper, nameless, can surface, unique but universal, and life-affirming. Whatever I take away eventually reaches my easel.
Rare ecstasy of fishing something previously unseen from the depths, stirring beneath the current. Fleeting as a school of minnows.
* * *
RECENTLY, a painter I know posted on FB that she considers painting hard work!
Hard work is painting a house. Picking apples or paving roads. Developing and distributing a vaccine.
What I do is a privilege. A labor of love. An opportunity to share something of my life’s journey that hopefully resonates with others.
Not all paintings are created equal, however. Occasionally I revise after posting. Time reveals a lack of clarity or depth. There might be too little paint, not enough story. Colors that are flat or muted. Noise or clutter.
The first pass is obscure but true, though. It captures something essential about the moment. The product of becoming completely still, like the heron. Searching for a kind of sustenance by letting the water flow to me.
Effortless. Fully present.
* * *
I ALWAYS have several canvases going at once. Often four or five. Sometimes eight or 10.
One result is that I never get stuck. I always have something to do, regardless of mood or inspiration. If a painting is muddied or lacks direction, I set it aside for as long as necessary — weeks, or months, even — until I see a path forward.
Then I turn to a different canvas. Or begin new ones.
There are many ways to get started. Pick a color, any color. Try a new tool or technique. A piece of cloth, a new layer of paint. Simplify.
I return to a painting’s inspiration. The excitement and conviction of its creation, in brushstrokes. The kernel of an idea.
Discerning and translating the meaning of these unscripted lines in my life’s story.