A Week in April

Comparison is a killer – and so is underestimating time …

This month I planned a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina. For those of you who don’t already know, we have a little townhouse in a small lakeside community in a blink of a town. It has been my escape-from-the-world haven for the past several years. A gift from God – and my sweet husband Barry – that has sustained me through Covid and other stressful life events with its peace, sweeping mountain views, lush forests, rushing waterfalls, and ice-cold swims in the lake. I literally find myself smiling whenever we get close to the place!

This trip I was especially excited because after our move to Connecticut last year it felt like a long time since we were there.

But I made a mistake with our trip that cost me.

I like to work fast with my paintings and there is a certain style of landscape abstracts that I LOVE and can now complete quite quickly after years of study and practice. I can get into my artist flow and magical things happen. So, when a designer friend of mine asked about a commission involving two large paintings that would have to be completed in a short deadline, I was pretty confident I could pull it off.

I have this tendency of underestimating how long things take. I tend to think in big pictures with big dreams and endless possibilities. Like many creatives I have so many ideas that I never worry I’ll run out. Ideas for paintings, ideas for new collections, ideas for other creative endeavors, ideas for my home, ideas for other homes, ideas for travel. You get the idea. And I’m happy to share because there is no way only one woman, or even dozens of us, could use up the never-ending list of things I dream up.

Well, the commission deadline was towards the end of April. But I had already planned my week in the mountains. There was no way I could arrive home towards the middle of the month and still get commissions painted, finished, and shipped in time. But I had all that empty space on my calendar for the week away. And I always paint when I’m in the mountains anyway. You can see where this is going, right?

So, I nonchalantly said I could do the commission during our stay in the mountains. “I used to be a journalist. I know how to handle deadlines,” were my exact words, I think.

I had my huge canvasses, frames and paints shipped ahead of us and we arrived on Friday. My supplies arrived on Monday, and I set to work. Tuesday was terrific but by the end of Wednesday I knew I was in trouble. There was no way I could get this done by the end of the week.

Every artist has a different way of working and chasing their muse. We work differently from accountants and bankers for example. There is a strain of creativity we must follow that is not necessarily found in other places. However, that does not mean we sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. We must get to work for the magic to happen.

There are many ways I can get working. I can draw, sketch and do studies, I can write out ideas and research topics, play with color palettes, compositions and mark-making. But with the actual painting, for me there is also a lot of sitting and looking at the work. Walking away from the work and letting it percolate in my brain and soul. Thinking about the work. Dreaming about the work. A kind of process that must take time and cannot be rushed. It is a creative birthing process that is beautiful and magical. Where all the decades of building knowledge and years of practice, the intrinsic talent and natural eye, the preparation, spirituality, and serendipity all converge and coalesce into something breathtaking.

When this beauty emerges, and my painting reaches a stage where I absolutely love it, then it is finished. At this point I feel it deserves space for my reverence and gratitude. A period of time where I can be with it, absorb it, process the magic that has happened. The painting holds a piece of me, a deep connection, which I must prepare to relinquish. It is an emotional process.

Ultimately, I had to extend my stay in the mountains from one week to two. I set myself a tight schedule that included daily walks in the forest and a hyped-up mindfulness routine. I gave myself carte blanche with chocolate, coffee, and ice-cream, and loaded up on Xanax.

By the end of ten days, I made two large paintings that I LOVE.

I was also jittery from all the sugar and caffeine, exhausted physically and emotionally, and had developed a twitch in my left eye.

I saw on Instagram recently an artist finished something like 35 paintings in two weeks – or was it a month. The comparison game is a killer! And there have been times and will be again where I complete a painting in days – hours even.

So I met my self-imposed extended deadline – produced two large paintings that I LOVE before the end of our stay in the mountains. But at what cost? All those missed relaxing dinners and evenings with my husband. The hikes around the lake with my doodlebug, Ashlee. Coffees and dinners with friends. Downtime with a sketchbook or novel. Long naps. My peace.


I will be sharing videos of these commission paintings in progress in future posts in my journal. Be sure not to miss them by subscribing here:

2 thoughts on “A Week in April”

  1. Oh, Colleen,

    I love your journaling! I hear your voice, and feel your passion in every word I read! Your paintings are as lovely as you are, and I hope never stop writing or painting. Thank you for raw openness.

    Linda

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