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...feed your soul with art & creativity!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spontaneous Expression

I just returned from a 3 day retreat--also known as The Painting Experience held in Orlando, FL.  Perhaps I have mentioned it in the past.  This is not your ordinary painting retreat.  We learned no specific technique for painting.  We did not have any pre-determined subject matter.  We were not producing for quantity, nor especially for quality.

So...one might ask...what was the point then?


(c) SZing 2004, My first "Painting Experience" retreat painting
entitled The Creation
As in life itself, each person's experience is absolutely unique, so I cannot and will not say that the insights or thoughts I had, nor the outcomes or "aha" moments will be the same for another person.  I cannot say whether the experience is mundane or spiritual, whether it is fun or frustrating, whether it is freeing or captivating for others.  I can only know for myself the highly personal and powerful experiences I have had with The Painting Experience.

I first "met" Stewart Cubley when I stumbled upon his book.

I had been drawing and craving some form of creative outlet besides creative writing and embroidery for a long while.  I bought some inexpensive paper, some paints and brushes.  I worked through the book for an entire year on the same painting.  I used the book as guidance when I would get stuck in my own head, my own fear...and the "unknowns."

The Painting Experience was developed by Stewart Cubley and Michelle Cassou many years ago.  They wrote Life, Paint and Passion.  Just look at this luscious, juicy cover...someones process art some time in the past....
Book cover copyrighted by authors/publishers

Just look at the sub-title:  Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression!  Wow!  As a creative person, (and aren't we all?  Even if we have divorced ourselves from that creative spark within?), I absolutely get excited at the idea of spontaneous expression.  What this implies is freedom to create.  It implies no boundaries.  It implies no planning or strict forms.  It implies....well, there are many ideas this implies but I invite you to explore for yourself what this might imply.

In 2004, I first attended a week-long retreat of The Painting Experience in North Carolina.  It was astounding to me when in the first meeting, Stewart said, "When you finish each painting, you're going to sign, number and date it."  WHAT????  I had taken a year to do just a single painting.  What could he be talking about?  As it turns out, throughout the week I completed multiple paintings.

(c) SZing 2004, "Day of the Dead" from my first
Painting Experience retreat

Then I retook a 3 day retreat in Maryland in 2008.  I only worked on one painting and didn't even complete it as the details and involvement I had with the painting became quite intense and excited me to work on the details.  It was cathartic for me.

And now I have just completed another 3 day retreat in Orlando, Florida.  I completed one painting and began another.  Others in the retreat completed many--and I think one woman must have done at least 25 paintings in her experience over the three days.  I really wasn't paying that close attention except that every time I looked up she was changing her paper.  Me?  I was so engrossed in the "story" and experience and the dialogue I was having with my painting that I was totally engaged right up until the last 2 hours of the retreat when I finished the painting and began the second.

My painting as it appeared about half way
 through the process 2013, Orlando FL.  (c) SZing 2013

I suppose I must correct a statement I made above:  "We learned no specific technique..."  Well, we didn't necessarily learn, but rather, re-awakened or remembered how to listen to our inner voice--that inner critic even.  I'm not talking about psychotic episodes here but that voice we all have that speaks to us almost non-stop about everything we see, hear, experience...This was more about opening a dialogue with that voice so that it could be heard, sometimes shushed (the critic) and allowed to guide.  It is the doorway to mystery and living juicy.

I have discovered over the years that for me a painting does not feel finished until I have listened to my inner voice, acknowledged it's feedback and honored it's requests for specific items or colors to be used in the painting.  I know the painting is complete when I get no more "marching orders" for what to include or do next, no new thought of a specific detail or color to add.  When I can look at the painting and ask, "What else do you want?" and not get any further promptings...I know I am done. When I have  tried to "act as if" I was done but really just didn't want to include something or was afraid I would mess up what I'd done, I have had the nagging feeling that the painting isn't complete or finished and usually I end up having to put the paper back up and add whatever I get a hit on to include.  I'm learning not to hurry the process and to trust the silence and the voice which ultimately, is my Self.

(c) SZing, 2006, "Hanging the Moon"
I don't know what other participants experience.  We don't really talk a lot about it--partly because it is so personal but also because one of the primary rules of the retreats is that it is a "comment-free" zone.  No judgments!! There is no speaking while we are painting and we may look at other's work but must refrain from talking about it either in the positive or the negative or giving any thoughts or suggestions or any feedback whatsoever about the pieces.  This is more difficult than you might think, because often I have seen work that I was very intrigued by, liked or was even in awe of.  There have been other works that I have thought perhaps the person was hiding from themselves by covering over things they had painted, or finished up really quickly without really honoring the painting itself...but none of my personal thoughts or judgments were given voice and even sometimes had to be dealt with internally as it was none of my business what others were doing or experiencing. Sometimes I like to not look at others work so that I can continue to be authentic to my Self and not borrow ideas.

 Curious?  Check out this video about the process....

I truly do not feel qualified to explain the process for another person and would never want to misinform another as to what The Painting Experience is or does or what the benefits are.  I would highly encourage anyone intrigued with the idea of spontaneous expression or intuitive creation using paint and paper as tools to take the risk and join a retreat.