I went to my studio last weekend to paint out the knots in my stomach and to give my anxious thoughts a place to rest. I went there because painting has always been my medicine, especially in the hard times.
Between the protests at Standing Rock, the tragic fire in Oakland, the intense political landscape, and my own myriad of personal challenges, I’ve been in a near constant state of THE DEEP FEELS these past few weeks. And more than ever, I’ve been feeling called to paint it out.
But what does “painting it out” actually look like, and how is this different from any other day in the studio? While there’s certainly no “right” or “wrong” way to go about this, I’ve created a list of prompts, considerations, and reminders for the next time you need to “take it to the canvas.”
Remember, your tender, raw emotions can serve as your most potent form of creative inspiration and fuel if you harness them and give them a place to exist outside of your body, mind, and spirit. Don’t push them down. Paint them out.
How to Turn Your Raw Emotions Into Potent Creative Fuel
- Let go of trying to make a “pretty” painting, and focus on making a “feeling” painting. Your emotions might not look very “pretty” right now, but I bet you have a deep well of powerful fervor just waiting to be tapped and released. This is the stuff great art is made of. Use it.
- Re-route the urge to impress with the intention to express. What does your soul need to share right now? What is lurking just below the surface? What wants to come OUT? There’s a good chance your unbridled expression will translate into something much more fascinating than your attempts to do it “right” or make it pleasing for others. Remember, always paint for YOU.
- Get your body into it. This might mean painting on a larger surface or putting your canvas on the wall. Don’t hold back. Turn up the music. Get aggressive. Get sweaty. Jump around. Punch the canvas. Make some noise. Dig your fingernails in. Let. It. Out.
- Use your words. Recently, I’ve been writing out my current thoughts, feelings, prayers and desires right onto the canvas with paint. More often than not, I can’t even read them, but what matters is that they are there — out of my mind and safely embedded into the layers of paint.
- Harness the power of color. I often talk about how to keep your colors fresh by avoiding “mud,” but this is a perfect time to throw all that out the window. Instead, make mud on purpose. Go dark. Go darker. Grab that weird brown color you always avoid. Combine the colors you never combine. When you go beyond your usual habits, new worlds emerge. And who knows, these new worlds might reflect your current mood more than your old favorites.
- Get messy. This is not the time for perfect. This is the time for real. Color out of the lines. Use your non-dominant hand. Close your eyes. Paint with your fingers and feet. Paint with rags. Paint with knifes. Paint with whatever you can get your hands onto. Paint fast. Paint faster. Spray water. Let your perfect, wild, raw self be seen (and felt) on your canvas.
- Pray or set intentions. I know prayer is not for everyone, but if it’s for you, consider how you might “paint your prayers.” Breathe them into your marks. Infuse them into your colors. Write them into your layers. Embody them as you move around the canvas. Come up with visual symbols to represent them. Release them into your paintings and into the world where they are needed most.
- Get political. Again, not for everyone, but for those of you who are feeling called, remember that art and politics have always been intimately connected. Artivism is a word I recently discovered that combines art and activism. Artivist Eve Ensler says, “This passion has all the ingredients of activism, but is charged with the wild creations of art. Artivism — where edges are pushed, imagination is freed, and a new language emerges altogether.” What might your flavor of artivism look like?
- Paint your story. If you’re feeling like you have *a lot* to say these days, but you’re not exactly sure how to say it, consider painting it out instead. Consider how you could express your feelings, thoughts, and emotions through your own visual language? Remember adding mixed media elements such as newspaper clippings, letters, and photographs can offer another layer of information into your creations.
- Raise money by selling or gifting your art to support organizations that are doing work you believe in. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Most importantly, just make art.
Here’s a glimpse into one of my recent “painting it out” moments. You can watch the whole session from start to finish with a voice-over in the second episode of The Painting Sessions.