Step 1 - It always starts with being AWARE....
I took a trip to New York City last December 2013 with my oldest daughter to celebrate her college graduation. I have always wanted to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree in person.
While there, I was aware of many moments of being deeply aware of my surroundings, but none so much as when I visited Ground Zero. Who could go to the 911 Memorial and not be humbled, grief-stricken, and deeply aware? On my way out of the memorial park, I came upon a tree planted in between the North & South Tower reflecting pools. I noticed it had the sun setting just behind it and was so beautiful. I snapped a photo to remember. Just like I always do. It was after that I noticed a small group gathered near the tree and a tour guide talking. I listened in and heard that this tree was no ordinary tree - it was a tree that had survived and thrived. This seemingly insignificant tree I had walked by earlier (and not even noticed) had survived when the Towers went down on that devastating day. It was a miracle tree - something sacred. It was hope. And I had walked past that tree earlier, not even noticing. I have to wonder, what else do I walk by and not notice?
I heard the guide say this tree had been taken off the property, nurtured back to health, then had been replanted. It had budded that past spring for the first time. Out of devastation comes rebirth and renewal.
On my way home, I reflected on what I had experienced. It was funny - I had thought I would be awestruck by a large, flashy tree with twinkling lights near Rockefeller Center only to be moved by a small pear tree near a site of devastation - a tree that was plain and unremarkable. It made me think of Someone I had read about once in a book - "he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." It's in the Unremarkable where we will see Amazing.
Step 2 - NURTURING & WATERING a seed of inspiration....
As you can tell from the date of this post, it has been over a year since my trip to New York
One day around mid- November 2014, I came across a poem, "Still I Rise" by one of my favorite poets, Maya Angelou. And I knew. I just knew. It resonated and I felt that day at Ground Zero come washing over me. I felt the connection to my little seed of inspiration I had been nurturing and watering.
Here are a few excerpts from the poem, that in particular resonated with me...
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise....
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
While slavery is the overall theme of this poem, it is also a poem about hope and survival - about rising above pain. Hope. It was what I was feeling about the tree.
So my seed of inspiration had budded and now it was time to plant....
Step 3 - let the planting begin - PAINTING....
So here is the technical stuff all of you love to know (I'm talking to my students here). However - before I tell you all of these juicy little goodies, REMEMBER it was a YEAR before I got to this stage. Take time and nurture your thoughts, ideas, inspiration.
I knew I wanted to put the words of that poem into my painting so I put them onto the surface of the paper and created what I call "a prepared surface". It is currently my favorite thing to do - work traditionally with watercolors on a non-traditional surface. It shakes things up and creates what I love most - layers of understanding.
I happened to have a great photo to keep with me as a reference - that's important for me so I can capture the little details I might forget. I don't always use reference images - sometimes I paint from my dreams or my imagination. For this painting however, I wanted to capture every detail of that magnificent tree so I stuck pretty closely to my original photo.
I then took time and drew out the tree and surroundings. I made sure I had the composition like I wanted it before I drew it onto the larger paper.
After that I took about 2 to 3 layers of color to build up the value - it's a pretty straight-forward process after that.
Now... I was almost finished and stood back and.....I had lost all of the words underneath!!!
I thought about how to fix this - how can I get back some of the words of the poem without losing the shapes and values? I looked on my table and saw my new Silhouette Cameo - a die cut machine I recently purchased to cut my own stencil designs for my paintings. Well...WHAT IF? (my 2 favorite words) I use this machine to solve my problem? So I created stencils of some of the words from the background and lifted them out with rubbing alcohol.
I now had a really cool effect of positive and negative words and more importantly - a new discovery!
Step 4 - FINISHED!
Here is the final painting - "Survivor". The painting titled itself - truly it did. So - I am proud of this piece not because it has a great composition, strong emotion, or painted technically well - it is because this painting has captured my feeling and emotion. And I have embraced my challenge to find a new discovery in the end!
I hope this inspires you on your journey to all things creative - the universal language of us all.