A Painting A Day. Day 2. This is proving to be an interesting experiment.

Working in watercolor, I am finding, is the best media for an impatient painter who also likes to write. I can put my brush down and let layers dry while I exorcise these wild thoughts that keep flowing. I see that some escape my journal and find their way here.

My lesson today: face your fears. If you had asked me just 3 days ago “Are you afraid of painting?” I would have snorted a definitive “No.” Turns out, when I tune into my physical body during the act of painting, it is contorted with fear. I catch myself holding my breath, crunching up my shoulders and bracing for…? What? What is manifesting as fear in my body? Well, it is watercolor after all. I suppose I am afraid of adding the wrong tone, overworking the paper, messing the lines up. I am afraid of failing my subject (a landscape with real depth and details). Why am I afraid? Who cares? Again, a breath.

Then something even more profound occured to me. One of the lessons I used to teach my art students came to mind as I inhaled deeply. I taught art lessons to students ages 5 to 65 throughout my college career and a few years after. It was always a question of did the student need to focus (usually the kids) or loosen up (mainly the grown ups)? I would have those in need of focus practice drawing one object, for short bursts of time, then moving on to another object. For those who needed to relax, I put random things in brown bags and asked them to draw the objects without looking (texture included). It was a joy to see the results from both groups.

So what a revelation today when I saw myself in the tight group. It was only when I realized this and let myself go that I was able to relax and enjoy the process. And as the light shifted from sunrise to early morning, the nuances of the scene outside softly made their way into my hand. The process is just as important as the product.

Artist Sherri Dobay's watercolor landscape

I was recently approached by a horsey friend who wanted advice on how to encourage her sister-in-law back to being a productive artist. While cooling our horses one evening at the old redwood barn, we talked as we circled around the arena. My friend told me of the very talented, but stuck, Patty.  “She really wants to do it. She wants to be a successful artist.” I asked, simply, “Is she painting?” “No.” My friend’s reply was heavy with sadness.

Suddenly filled with wisdom, my instinctive answer was in my mouth and on it’s way into the arena. “Well, you can’t be painter unless you paint.” My friend came back with, “Yes, but she is sort of paralyzed. She has a lot of excuses and is simply not working. She needs a kick start.”

I then went on to advise this artist-in-waiting to unhinge herself by creating one painting per day. “Just anything. No time limits, no subject rules. Just one painting a day. She can burn it or tear it up or file it away. No one has to see it. It is all for her. One painting, every day.” The rhythm of the four hooves under me completed my thoughts. “It is like the exercise of making a horse more supple. You put them on a circle and then unhinge them by bringing their haunches inside the track and then outside the track. Suddenly they are thinking differently. They are literally out of their tracks. This simple act has a wonderful loosening effect on their whole being. A few of those exercises and the horse is tuned in. Opened up. And then you have a horse in your hands.” She liked this analogy as I knew she would.

“It’s the same thing with art. You think about it. You think you know about it. You have a bunch of expectations. And they limit you — even paralyze you from actually making art.” The advice flowed from me to her through my horse and up into her own saddle. “Once you set yourself free from these expectations, and your only goal is to produce, you tap back into the joy of making art. You remember why you started in the first place. Just touching on that again is enough to inspire bigger and more specific goals. But you have to unhinge and open the flow again. The rest will follow.”

Our horses were cooled off. My friend thanked me and nodded that it made sense. “So, Sherri, are you painting?” I told her that no, I had put it aside lately to focus on completing my book project. It then occurred to me, like the feel of the hard ground when you are thrown off the back of your horse, that it was time for me to take the very advice I had just so wisely passed along. After the initial jolt, it made me laugh. It is still amazing to me how the universe communicates to us if we are listening. And to my own delight, what I had predicted for the other artist was true. I needed to paint again. And so here she is. Day one.

blue horse one by sherri dobay

Getting ready to pounce on the kitchen. There are just a few more recipes to finish up for the book. Today, going back to my rustic almond cake for another run. And I have prepared my candied fruits just like Grandma did, and they have been curing properly for days. No maraschino cherries allowed in here! We have our own version made with plump, sweet organic cherries candied in turbinado sugar and amber agave nectar. They are so beautiful, fat rubies on a plate waiting to be tucked into loaves today. I may have to rename this Fruitcake. It may have to happen that way. Will see. More later.