The Snake," mixed media, by Eleanor West Pendergrass
Eleanor (Ella) is my 2 1/2 year old grand baby. She makes lots of art and shares them via facetime with us from Shanghai. It's a good thing, I think, that I still have such a clear recollection of earliest, "first-time," understandings. These are those ah-ha moments one experiences at the beginning in their training. Often workshop participants remark how I state things clearly and easily for them to understand. My belief is that I can do that because my learning and growth still feel fresh and are coming at lightening speed. So much so, in fact, that it seems at times my head will burst with ideas to explore.
Everything that comes to us as (adult) artists on a path of growth and exploration, comes in series. There are no preludes, no quick routes, but rather, each pearl follows a natural progression on a strand of pearls that hopefully will continue until our dying days. First, we learn "craft." That is, the stuff, the gear, the tools, the medium, much as a pre-schooler learns the alphabet, to count, colors, and manners. Our growth and steps are many and fast, in the beginning, and the input so varied and overwhelming. There is fun, excitement, and confusion.
An early example of learning, perhaps, could be the first realization that one's medium, in my case oils, has such a wide range of application "techniques." Technique workshops are the first types of workshops we take. The vast array of additional input such as tools and styles is endless. We see someone's style we like, and we want to learn from that person. At first, we are so extremely grateful when we begin to be able to paint something that looks "good to us," something that feels "comfortable," something that "works." It could be as simple as a process we learn in one of these workshops or a more complex thought that we discover on our own. Either way, it is a moment that we consciously recognize. What follows is personal interpretation and our own internal filtering system, which opens doors to more thought and discovery.
Years ago I recall a conversation with a wonderful mentor-turned-friend of mine. She said, and I paraphrase, "Enjoy these early days of great leaps in learning. The longer you do this, the slower the pace of actually recognizing change in your work and growth." I knew what she meant. The steps seem further apart and slower once you get past pre-school, and after her comment I began to dread the day when my growth would not be like a child, skipping along happily from one step to another. It would be more like an adult who searches and seeks and hopes for something bigger in their lives and their work, and longs for expansion deep in their souls.
Gratefully, I am having the opposite experience as my friend — at least for the time being anyway. At this particular stage of my personal development, I no longer fear or feel insecure about exploration. In fact, I embrace it! Tools are just tools. Paint and mediums are just accessories for those tools. Solitude and exploration and digging deep... that's the excitement. Every painting is a gift of "what if," and every day is a gift of painting.