Have you ever wondered where Fearless Abstract Painting really came from? Read the uncensored story of my personal journey from victimhood to empowerment.
The fear that I had nothing worthwhile to contribute
Long before I arrived, art making had been part of my family history. For three generations in fact. Upon hearing this, most people’s reaction is: “Well I knew it! That’s why art is so easy for you. It’s in your blood!” Although I don’t deny that my family history has influenced my affinity for art making, there is another side of the coin. Having grown up with so many talented and accomplished artists in the family, is precisely what contributed to one of my biggest fears in art: The fear that I had nothing worthwhile to contribute.
Graduating High School was an extremely challenging time. I felt like all of my friends knew exactly what they were doing: some were going on to college and university, and others were taking a year off to work or travel. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My mother encouraged me to pursue art and writing, but I was afraid of investing the time, money, and energy into an education that in the end, would probably force me to have to do something complete different. We're all too familiar with the famous "starving artist” cliche. I may not have known exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew for a fact I did not want to starve.
Let me save you the suspense: This doesn't end well.
I decided to pursue a career path that would give me more security. I began to study nursing (the world always needs nurses right?), and this eventually led me to study herbalism and nutrition at a private college in Calgary, Alberta. I worked in this field for nearly 10 years, and I believe I was able to make a significant contribution to the health of my community there.
Unfortunately, I was putting more energy into taking care of other people than I was in taking care of myself. In addition, my home life was extremely challenging, so I began to feel burned out. I knew I needed a change, so I decided that having a job that wasn’t so involved (meaning I could punch in and out, and leave my job at work) would ease my burden. Let me save you the suspense. This doesn’t end well. In fact, doing something I did not feel passionate about had the complete opposite effect. Go figure!
Not in alignment
I began working at a law firm in Vancouver, Canada. I got exactly what I had been looking for. My job wasn’t hard. All I had to do was sit at my desk, do my work, and punch out at the end of the day. Yet, I was physically exhausted. It’s not like I was carrying heavy boxes all day, but the job was such a bad fit for my personality, that everyday I would watch the clock and literally count the hours, the minutes, and the seconds until it was time for me to leave. All I had energy for at the end of the day, was to get on the bus, go home, and fall face first on the bed with my clothes still on, just so that I could do it again the next day. This I did over and over again, day after day. And so, as in most cases when we are not in alignment with ourselves, I began to get really sick.
The messier truth
When I share this story in a classroom setting, I usually tell a lighter, edited version of what happened next. The edited version: On my way home from work one day, I realized that: “There had to be more to life than this!” So I quit my job and devoted myself to becoming a full-time artist ever since. The end!
The messier truth, is that I had a nervous breakdown. My 7-year marriage came to an end when my ex-husband cracked my head open against a brick wall. I decided not to press charges because I did not want to ruin his chances of becoming a lawyer. I was forced to take a medical leave from my job, I was prescribed a cocktail of extremely powerful medications with dangerous side effects, and in my darkest hour, I attempted to take my own life. My journey to recovery included hospitalization, countless doctor visits, clergymen, counsellors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
"I want to be an artist."
The years following my divorce were full of anger, depression, anxiety and self-pity. I saw myself as a victim; broken, deficient, and I held on to that identity fiercely. Eventually, I came to realize that my experience was a great gift. Losing everything I had worked so hard to achieve, namely: my marriage, my career, my house, my cars, my health, and the religion of my youth, gave me the opportunity to finally ask myself: “Now that I’ve lived my entire life the way everyone else wanted me to live, and everything went wrong, what do I really want to do with my life?” The answer was faint at first, but incredibly clear: “I want to be an artist.”
Making art for therapy
I decided to move back in with my mom and dad (which was an incredibly humbling thing to do because I prided myself on being independent and not needing anyone for so many years), and I surrounded myself with family, good food, gardening, music, canvasses, paint, and time. I weighed 95 pounds. I was 29 years old.
A lot of people talk about making art for therapy. I am no different. That is exactly what I did. My road to recovery was paved with Crimson, Orange, Cadmium Yellow, Hooker's Green, Dioxazine Purple, Deep Violet, Mars Black and Titanium White. Life has a way of pulling you back to where you are supposed to be. Sometimes gently, sometimes not. In my case, it was not so gentle. But I am so grateful that art and painting was in the cards.
I felt a huge weight lifted off my soul
For the first time in over 10 years, I began to paint again. I set up a makeshift studio in my parent's dinning room with sheets hanging from the ceiling, because I was too shy to let anyone see me paint. This time however, I was intent on doing things my way:
I decided to lay my canvas flat on the floor instead of sitting at an easel. The purpose for doing this was simple: I was so tired and weak that sitting on a chair seemed torturous.
I traded the paintbrush for the paint roller because it was the fastest way to cover the canvas. I had so many years of repressed emotions inside of me, that I couldn't get my ideas out fast enough. What also appealed to me is that the roller was quite blunt, and it didn't allow for a lot of detail.
I can still remember the first time I picked up the water sprayer and began to spray the canvas. I was mesmerized. To witness the colors moving and blending on the canvas was like witnessing magic. It still feels that way! I was fascinated by the process of seeing the canvas paint itself without me having to force it. There was so much freedom, trust, possibility, and letting go in this. I felt a huge weight lifted off my soul.
Next (to my mother’s horror), I tossed out my color wheel because it represented all of the rules I told myself I had to learn before I approached the blank canvas. I also refused to read labels, instruction books or watch painting videos of any kind. I approached the blank canvas with a child-like curiosity and a desire to experiment, in an effort to come up with my own rules instead of following someone else's.
Finally, I began to paint without preconceived ideas. And this is what really tipped the scale: To realize that I could allow the process of creating to evolve into ideas (instead of the other way around) felt like the heavens had parted and luminous angels were blowing their trumpets announcing the coming of a new age. I was hooked.
Determined to create a different life
I began to paint like a woman possessed. I poured every ounce of my time, energy, hopes, dreams, disappointments, my entire being into painting. I was basically an insomniac at that point, due to the pills I was taking, and the pack of cigarettes I was smoking on a daily basis, so I would paint every day for several hours a day. My mother, on more than one occasion, would find me passed out on my studio floor. I would wake up, wipe the droll off my face, and continue painting.
After several months, I had amassed quite a collection of paintings. One day, when my sister-in-law came over for a visit, she encouraged me to sign up for an upcoming show and sale she was participating in. I was terrified. It's one thing to paint, it's an entirely different experience to put your work out for public consumption and judgement. At the same time, I was so determined to create a different life for myself, that I knew I had to make different decisions. With a lot of trepidation, I agreed.
Happy, successful and extremely well-fed
Participating in that first art show changed my life. I was fortunate to sell four paintings. Here's what not to say when your first client asks you to buy one of your paintings: "Really?"I began to suspect that perhaps there could be some truth to what I had heard people say my whole life: "Do what you love and the rest will come." Could it be this easy? Could I make a living for myself as an artist? The thought filled me with hope. Hope I hadn't allowed myself to feel in a very long time.
From that moment, I decided that I never wanted to work another day in an office: I was going to be an artist. But not just any artist. I was going to be happy, successful and extremely well fed.
Fully embrace the life of your dreams
My enthusiasm for painting permeated into every area of my life. I think this is why the owner of my local art store asked me to teach there. I never meant to be an art teacher. In fact, I was incredulous when she asked me. At that point, I fantasized about having my paintings hung in galleries all over the world in Paris, New York, London and Tokyo.
However, those dreams evolved to include teaching as soon as I taught my first class. I realized that in addition to exhibiting my work, I also had a passion for teaching others how to use art and creativity as a tool for self-awareness, and as a catalyst for transformation, empowerment and fearlessness. So, for the past ten years, and hopefully many more years to come, that is exactly what I want to be doing.
It is my sincere hope that my story inspires you to live unencumbered by the ideals of others, and fully embrace the life of your dreams. It's never too late to begin anew.
This blog was created to share my belief that the art making process can be a vehicle for empowerment.
I am living proof.