Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Self Possession: How a Painting Taught Me to Swim Confidently Towards Love & Acceptance

Self-Possession - Intuitive Art by Sandra L. Martin - AVAILABLE for PURCHASE

It is fitting to share my new painting on International Women's Day 2017, a labor of love I've worked on for the past month which helped me emerge from a dark cocoon of shame and self-doubt with a bit more boldness and confidence - to be an empowered woman who understands her worth and has something valuable to offer the world. This new creation is titled, "Self Possession."

  1. the state or feeling of being calm, confident, and in control of one's feelings; composure.
    synonyms:composureassuranceself-assuranceself-controlself-command, imperturbability, impassivity, equanimitynonchalanceconfidenceself-confidencepoiseaplomb, presence of mind, nervesangfroid;

As a highly-sensitive intuitive artist, I've always struggled with anxiety and worrying about how others perceive me. For most of my teen and adult years, I looked outside for validation from others. This is a precarious place to be for an introverted creative who sometimes feels unsure of herself. When people can react unpredictably, or project their own baggage - their issues and insecurities, how does a person navigate through all that positive and negative energy?

I swim through social media seeking "likes" and acceptance from others, wade through anti-aging and weight loss commercials that make me feel inferior, or look at the lives of successful people from my little fishbowl of a tiny existence, wondering if I will ever make a difference. And that's just it. I've allowed myself to think so small in an age where females are supposed to be empowered and able to do anything they set their mind to. Surely I can't be one of those. I am not smart enough. Rich enough. Beautiful enough. Just not enough.

Around Christmas, I gave myself a gift. For several years, I talked myself out of it. I couldn't possibly afford it. Or maybe I didn't even deserve it. But I took a deep breath, announced my plans to my husband, and hired an art coach for 2017.

I didn't just dip my toes in the water. I took the plunge into self-discovery, and I don't think I've hardly come up for air. My Creative Life Coach Pattie Ann Hale has helped me stay immersed in a daily practice of intuitive doodling, and special homework assignments that are birthed from the symbols and themes that emerge from this consistent practice. I had three choices for art coaches, but I chose Pattie because she works from her incredible intuition and authentic spirituality. I had already "known" her for several years, and also took an online class she co-led called "Unlocking the Heart of the Artist." I am already seeing an unlocking and transformation in my own life - a holistic change that includes a change in my whole perspective and not just my creative process.

For "Self Possession", I first approached this painting in a very abstract way. This is often my approach for intuitive art, allowing the painting to speak to me along the way and unlocking the mystery. Part of my homework to prepare for this painting was to watch two short films on Netflix from the Moving Art series. Moving Art: Oceans and Moving Art: Underwater. The main emphasis was on the underwater ocean life, since there was an underwater and submerging theme in my daily doodles. I took that information to inform my process when I began to lay down blocks of color on the canvas. I could almost feel the ocean waves as I scraped paint on the canvas with a palette knife...back and forth....back and forth. I wondered what mysteries awaited in the deep of the painting.

Beginning the journey into the deep, finding my way through the currents. 
Discussing the work in progress with my art coach, we looked at the painting from a variety of angles, even turning it upside down. In the early stages especially, an intuitive artist has to keep an open mind! We discovered two figures in the painting, shown in blue and in coral, and when I thought about it further, I realized it was a dance of male and female energy. In the original orientation of the painting, the blue figure was actually composed of cascading water, like a waterfall, and this "Living Water" felt alive and energetic. The coral figure had a muscular strength and stretched her arms upwards towards a beautiful cresting wave. Her body appeared to be made of tightly woven DNA. A closer look revealed a yellow birthing sac, and the watery figure appeared to help her in this birthing process with a nurturing, supportive presence. The peachy coral is a color of healing trust in my personal color language. I relate it to the total surrender that happens in the womb, when the baby feels fully loved and protected. It was a "breakout color" in this composition that started out with familiar sea blues and greens, and a declaration that I was trusting this intuitive process in unchartered waters (I learned a couple weeks later that intuition in Icelandic is Inn Saei, literally "the sea within")

The dance of creativity & the birth of something new

By now, I hope you haven't turned away, as I share my "birthing pics" with you. Maybe at the beginning of this painting process, I might have been too embarrassed. But this "birth" was actually the beginning of a wonderful transformation in my life, and I am not ashamed!

My "baby" - aren't all creative works our babies? 

Because I don't have an easel where I currently live, I painted this canvas on the table and sometimes held it on my knees. It felt more intimate painting this way, a deeper connection with my creative offspring.

But from those nurturing beginnings, the painting became a place of darkness. I wrestled with a male figure in an all-night painting session, much like Jacob wrestled with an angel one night long ago. For a little while, the figure actually was an angel with beautiful wings, but as time went on, the figure became more a source of negativity. I felt the shame that comes from being told by the media that I am not good enough, or recalled past instances where I was judged harshly or felt weak and powerless by the "male gaze." A painting often goes through an ugly stage where the artist even loathes it. This was the "dark night of the soul", a dark cocoon that felt oppressive and represented the worst of patriarchal structures (including some found within religion) that have bound women for centuries. A face emerged in the top right corner, with a huge gray tear and a broken butterfly wing, tormented like one of Picasso's weeping women.

Dark Night of the Soul - dealing with shame from the "male gaze"
I had to let the painting rest a couple days before I could work on it. The all-night wrestling left me spent. I felt the loathing strongly, which I knew was part of the loathing I may have felt towards myself all these years. I needed to reconnect with the painting, so I did that through the sense of touch. I touched the painting with hands of love and transferred love back into the painting and the suffering female figures, the sound of my hands moving across the canvas sounding again like waves, bringing back alignment.

But the dark night of wrestling soon passed, and the female figure began to overcome and dismantle this negativity that was infecting her very womb - her sacred space of creativity and dreams. She was at peace, as my art coach said, "swimming in the cosmos."

Swimming With Confidence - Feeling Peace Within

I still wrestled with the composition, but it was trying to find a pleasing balance to the painting rather than dealing with the epic wrestling of that "dark night." I decided to bring back the Picasso-like face for a little while, but now she celebrated her transformation and no longer wept. The overall feel is carnival-like. I liked the fish that emerged as part of her face and some sly hidden imagery that was a response to surprising information I learned while studying Picasso.

A Celebration of Boldness & Response to Picasso

But as much as I enjoyed this face, I felt it overpowered the composition, so it had to go. Who knows? I will use it for future inspiration, and remember how she made me smile, and her overall boldness. I feel these changes happening internally in my own life, little by little. And the fish, a sign of abundance and fertility, later made an appearance again, as you can see in a later stage below.

I played with various color combinations and tried unifying different elements, including the caterpillar figure on the bottom right. I added a seagreen color and then all of a sudden disliked the dullness of it. I decided to do something different to make the painting come alive again, and that is when I added some raised stenciling with gel medium. The mandala shapes and texture began to harmonize the composition. I especially liked the white pattern in the middle of the piece. It resembled a dream catcher. I could see the beginnings of feathers in the composition as well, and a few streamers. This symbol seemed to fit perfectly with the celebration happening in my painting, and the dreams and transformation I was expressing.
Raised Texture Made the Painting Come Alive

As I moved into the final stage of the painting, I decided to return to a darker background. But the dark color, a mix of ultramarine blue and Payne's gray, didn't feel oppressive. My unashamed female figure swam in the moonlight, Her head, which might almost appear mask-like, is actually a picture of her true self. It has a Van Gogh quality, reflecting a Starry Night.  Her womb now pearlized and full of light, with a tiny green transparent leaf growing inside. The dream catcher moves with the breath of angels. The bulb in the bottom left reminds her of her many-layered soul, beautiful and multi-faceted. She is liberated. She is free.

Another look at Self Possession, AVAILABLE for PURCHASE

If you are interested in purchasing this painting, please leave a comment or leave me a message on Facebook.

Painting Info:
Self Possession
Acrylic Painting
18 x 24 inches Gallery-Wrapped Canvas

xo Sandra