Sunday, May 18, 2014

“A Joy Ride in a Paint Box”

original gouache by catharine hannay/please do not reproduce without permission
The title of this post comes from, believe it or not, Winston Churchill. Not someone you’d necessarily associate with painting, and certainly not with joy rides.

In his essay “Painting as a Pastime,” Churchill advises “brain-workers” to do something challenging that uses a completely different set of skills from their daily work.

It is no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’… ‘I will give you a good rest’… The mind keeps busy just the same…. It is only when new cells are called into activity… that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.

He’s quick to point out that the need for rest doesn’t mean we don’t love our jobs:

A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it… It may well be that those whose work is their pleasure are those who most need the means of banishing it at intervals from their minds.

I certainly identify with that. As a writer and ESOL teacher who loves to read, I can easily wear myself out using the same parts of my brain all the time. I find that the best way to relax is by doing something nonverbal, preferably using my hands and not at the computer.

As a way to relieve stress and to pass the time in hospital waiting rooms, I started coloring mandalas. I gradually moved on to creating my own mandalas, then Zentangle-like abstract designs, then started sketching and, recently, painting.

I’m blessed to have such a supportive husband. (I suspect he was the inspiration for that Suburu commercial.) 

When I started baking bread, he told me the first couple of loaves were good. After tasting the third loaf, he beamed at me and said, “Wow. This is really good. It’s like real bread!” (‘Oh, you poor man,’ I thought. ‘What have I been feeding you?’)

So naturally he insisted on framing my first painting. The white bird you see above is a creature we affectionately refer to as the “swuck,” since it was supposed to be a swan but turned out like a duck. (Note to self: the neck needs to be wa-a-ay longer next time.)

I disagree with Churchill on a couple of points—I prefer watercolor to oil paint, and I don’t consider people in their 40s “late in life”(!). But I certainly agree that even if I never produce a masterpiece, 
Just to paint is great fun. The colors are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out.

And who knows? Churchill became quite an accomplished painter.

If nothing else, as Churchill says, 

A heightened sense of observation of Nature is one of the chief delights that have come to me through trying to paint. 

When you try to capture the world around you (through painting, sketching, photography…) you realize how little you’ve noticed of the natural world. I feel the way I did when I got my first pair of glasses in kindergarten: ‘Wow. That’s what trees look like?!’

While he doesn’t use the words ‘mindfulness’ or ‘meditation’, that’s effectively what Churchill is referring to—tapping into ‘beginner’s mind’, staying focused on what we’re doing in the moment, and letting go of worries about the past and the future.

A zen joy ride?

Why not!

related posts:

Five Contemplative Art Practices

Noticing the Five Senses: A Daily Mindfulness Log

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