In the past professional days have been full of rule learning and reviewing, teaching strategies and procedures. It has dealt with data, testing and methodology. Days have started promptly at 8:00 with attendance taken. They have involved charts and discussion groups, goal making and district information. That is what I was expecting when I started this year at my new school.
The first day of the whole school professional day at the school, we had a short school wide introduction and then had the opportunity to do an art project with the school’s brilliant art specialist. I will be quite honest in stating that when we were told that we had to take 2 hours out of our classroom prep time to do an art project, I was less than thrilled, which is surprising as I love to do anything creative. I have been so focused on getting my curriculum together, create a aesthetically pleasing, yet functional classroom and making a good and lasting impression in my new faculty setting. I really felt that I didn’t have time to “waste” on painting. However, it turns out that it was one of the most challenging, yet fulfilling and cathartic experiences that I have had in a long time.
As we started off into our artistic journey, I of course started taking pictures of the process as I could sense that it was going somewhere important. I have immensely grateful that I had that insight, as this is a project that I would like to repeat in the future, now knowing a little bit more about the process and soul soothing outcome.
Step 1: We were first instructed to choose a color that spoke to our soul. We took that color and painted it all over a canvas top and edges. We set it aside to dry.
Step 2: I avoided taking a picture of this step and I regret that decision. We were given three post it notes. On the first we were to write two of our worries or stresses. On the second we were to write two of our limitations to reaching our goals. On the third we were to write three different things: One thing that we were good at in our classroom, one thing that we wanted our students to feel or know in our classroom and one thing that we did in our free time that brings us enjoyment.
I didn’t take the pictures, quite honestly, because it exposed a huge amount of vulnerability that I have a hard time dealing with. I found myself crossing out items, analyzing what I had written and doing self evaluation. As I went along, I ended up changing some things, as they were too personal and close to the heart and I didn’t want to have them as part of this piece.
Step 3: We were instructed to draw a open figured representation of the words that we had chosen. We were to draw our worries and insecurities first and then draw our strengths above that. Some of the things that I for worries or stresses were teaching, my children, my complete independence, etc. My limitations were time, money, other’s decisions. For strengths, I chose creativity, enlightenment, making people feel important and writing.
Step 4: We were given a short lesson on the color wheel, and instructed to pick a color and paint the negative space on the outside of the form. I chose to do cool colors on the bottom and warm on the top, but honestly I didn’t know what I was doing.
Step 5: Once we filling in the negative space, we were to take different colors from our color choices and paint in and over the chalk drawings that we had made. We were to paint using the color palette that we had chosen. We were to paint the pieces so that the shapes and figures were incorporated, but not necessarily recognizable in the piece.
This is where I struggled. I struggled immensely actually. I couldn’t pick a color, I couldn’t paint what I wanted and I couldn’t seem to visualize what was needing to be done. I was so concerned that I wasn’t doing it right. I was concerned that I wasn’t following direction. I was concerned that I didn’t have an end in mind and that I was lost without an end goal.
I found myself completely caught up in the correctness and trying to reach and unknown end. I was frustrated and discouraged and didn’t like where I was going with it. I was unsure of the direction and the best way to cover up the drawings underneath in such a form as to mask what they formerly were.
I was every art teacher’s nightmare as I kept asking for clarification and help. I was frustrated with myself as I struggled so much trying to create this work, as I have a brain that is hardwired to be creative and not so much organized. However, in this circumstance, tg he need to do it correctly and to be able to cover the past effectively, just wasn’t syncing in my brain.
As a result of some life experiences and the way I have internalized it, I feel that I must maintain control and stay in charge of everything in order to feel at peace. If something in my life is out of control, I experience enormous amounts of anxiety, tension and life disbalance. I struggle immensely when things fall outside of my realm of control.
What was so interesting to me was that I didn’t realize how much it had taken over my brain. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how tense I had become with coloring within the lines of my own life. I have become obsessed with knowing the meaning behind each brush stroke and making them intentional an purposeful and done correctly. I have a constant thought that resonates in my mind that I am not adequate enough for the task at hand and that I need to work harder and do better to be acceptable.
Then finally, I just stopped. I stopped thinking, stopped trying to be perfect, stopped trying to paint inside the lines perfectly. I stopped torturing myself over right and wrong- as there was none. I just let it go. Letting go is, by far, one of the hardest things for me to do in life. I finally succumb to the realization that it wasn’t about the finished product, but more the process in building it. It was as though the bubble around me popped and the tension went away and my spirit went light and unburdened.
My paint strokes went from defining lines to feathering out. There were no rules and no boundaries. I started mixing colors instead of using them straight out of the bottle. It didn’t matter where things went, as it was more me at this stage than it was when I was worried about conformity. I look at the picture below and I can see where I started to break out of my shell and let it go. I see harsh lines and color blocking juxtaposed to softer brush strokes with blended colors and styles.
Once I finally relaxed, my mind went to a place of peace and comfort. I was in my own zone, yet in a place where my brain wasn’t getting to me. I found that during this time, I was able to think more clearly and my problems and issues didn’t seem quite so insurmountable. They were still there, but they weren’t the mainstay of my thought process.
The time to work came to a close. I looked at my project, I like it, but it was missing something. I wished that I had let go earlier in the process. I wished that I could have continued painting as it was incredibly healing. As I started cleaning up my supplies, I realized that what was missing was depth. I needed depth to balance the fee form of the colors. I took black and a tiny paintbrush intending on painting just dividing lines but as I painted, forms started to emerge. I didn’t intend them to be anything in particular, but a coworker leaned over and expressed interest in the fact that I painted feathers onto the canvas. Feathers were introduced to me by a good friend and former administrator as a symbol of angels or being watched over. They now bring me peace.
As I look at the final project, I realize the level of discovery and therapy that I went through creating it. It isn’t at all what I pictured. They aren’t colors that I would normally choose. It has no order or structure. However, I love it.
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t look at this on a much deeper level. Down under it all, is a color that speaks to my soul. In my core, there is peace and happiness. There is softness there. The added challenges, struggles and insecurities are placed on top. They are there. They are real. They overlap and conjoin and it is hard to separate them apart from each other as they all reside so snugly inside of who I am.
Painting over those struggles was a huge challenge and at times painful and brought out an incredible amount of insecurity and uncertainty. I had a hard time forming the images on top to make the challenges look unrecognizable to others. I was so worried about masking them sharply, that it overtook my whole focus. However, once I let go, the colors took over and almost as by magic, transformed my trials and into something interesting, diverse, colorful and beautiful. The trials are still there. They have just been worked with to mold the shape of something better.
Looking at the painting it is hard to see that the colors all surround my trials. They are all based on them. They are not masking them, but enhancing them and turning something that has formed the basics. I think as to what the painting would look like if I didn’t first put down the outlines of struggles.
Lastly, although an afterthought, the black so accurately depicts the belief that I hold that over all, I am watched over. That although the trials are there and I am trying with all of my might to turn them into something better, I still have unseen help. I have support. I have angels all around me both on earth and beyond that are my champions and my heros and do all they can to help me succeed.
Although this was a simple inservice meeting and beginning of the year activity, it has meant more to me than any recent experience of self discovery that I have had. I love that to the every day person, that they would look at this and, just like me, think that it wasn’t any different than the one next to it. However, I look at this and see where it started and where it ended up. It gives me a great level of hope and lightness knowing that this one painting exactly defines where I am in life at this moment. I look forward to my life’s art that is to come.