Incorporating it all

layered 1Though it is a metaphor I have played with before, I find I am newly aware of  just how much my life process mirrors my art process…or is it the other at around.

Seen from the painterly perspective, I find my evolving methods as an artist have been an almost exact mirror for all that I’ve been learning from life these past years…which is that even the chaos is divinely inspired for it allows us to ‘get some paint down on the canvas’ of life, some dark and some light and all shades in between…to mix it all up, swirl it around. It may look far less than beautiful to start with, or even like a horrible mess, but it provides the very building blocks of the more refined ‘picture’ that we create for ourselves later. Or rather, it will do if we are prepared to take timely pauses and then keep coming back to it, developing our creator skills as we go along, rather than becoming downhearted at the initial mess and declaring ‘I just can’t do this’.

As a painter, I find this process delicious, addictive even, knowing full well I can sort it all out later, cherry pick the best bits and work with them (its all part of the problem-solve-and-refine mentality that I’ve shared before). Sure, I put some basic time-savers in place, some chalk marks to guide me before I start…and I always have a general idea of what I’m aiming for; after all, I’ve been here before and have some idea what works and what doesn’t. Yet I leave plenty of room for the unexpected to unfold and the end result is always a surprise. A fixed outcome and strong desire to control the process were abandoned a long time ago as a painter…this is all about going with the flow!

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But going back to that initial ‘mess’, and this is key: as I set about making those first few marks on a pristine canvas, my only priority is to get something down on that canvas that I can work with, covering as much of it as possible in that first sitting. Its a bit like the way we try to live life to the full chaotic max in the first manic years of our youth; we just have to do this, try it all out, mix it all up, whatever our parents might say.

Afterwards, there’s no room for – or point in – regrets. To spend time over these is to remain stuck in the territory of that first layer of paint, tweaking and cajoling it into place when it would progress so much more quickly if stepped back from, allowing it the time to dry. Just knowing when enough is enough is so very key to the art of painting and this comes from having the faith that it will all be alright in the end – because it is, once you allow it to be, without forcing an outcome.

So, having realised we have reached this stage, we very often stop and take pause.

As a painter, this can be the most frustratingly time-abiding bit…if you let it be, waiting for that first layer to dry so you can come back at it and have another go at sorting it all out. Just like those spaces in our life when we pull back, change pace…or even get ill and breakdown if that’s the only way to halt us in order to take this over-view. That stepping back from the canvas allows us to reassess which direction we are going in, whether we need to tweak the colour balance or adjust the light and shade, make certain things more or less pronounced, in order to align the bigger picture with where we would like to take it…and always so very worth the time taken, often transformational, when we do this.

By the time I dive back into my own painting, and with an excited flip of the stomach, I can already feel the lush potential in all that I have waiting for me as I reach once more for my brushes and get stuck back in with renewed vigour.

Whatever state that first layer of paint is in, however awful it may look (and I’ve had to learn not to care about that or what other people may think…this is work-in-progress so get over it) there is always gold to be found in every quarter.


And the beauty of oils is that, where there is less than perfection, it can so easily be painted over…just like that!  Not hidden, but made use of. Whatever is beneath the surface continues to add depth, a sense of the story having developed, not just landed there as as a thin layer of perfection that has been applied in a pristine, precognized way. It’s about building upon it all, including all the many layers of the experience that led to here, capitalising on every bit of what has come before. The incorporation of everything, without regret and with very much sense of the perfection of it all.

Painting, as I do it, is such a tactile thing…fingers interchangeable with brushes, working the layers together by stroking and caressing wet paint into dry. Whilst the painting=life=painting metaphor is far from new to me (after all, its the concept that underpins this blog), a whole new take on the metaphor started to come through to me yesterday, after one of my daily inspiration-stops on top of a hill where, sat leaning against a tree, I admired the multilayered landscape spread out at my feet and newly highlighted meby the vari-shaded curtains of autumn mist that were burning off in the sunshine.

Taking it further, this post was all but finished when, putting it on pause to go for my monthly massage, I was struck by the similarity between these well skilled hands working their oily magic on the very tissue of my body and my paint-smeared fingers working new colour into canvas…and so I allowed myself to go off into a revery of how all the ‘old’ cellular memory of circumstances past, now held as knots and tangles in my physical form, were being (no, not ‘got rid of’, but…) amalgamated and allowed as part of all that I am in my humanness. No longer taken a stance over, like invaders from whom my body must be released, I newly accepted and thanked them all in turn, following the path of sensations created by these wonderful hands…knowing that, in so doing, all polarity was erased, the us and them-ness of my fabric was dissolved in a moment, these memory-knots made obsolete as I allowed myself to be reformatted and blended into many-layered me.  

I see now, with such clarity, that this is why oils are my medium of choice. It’s possible to work into them, with them, to blend and build upon them in such a way that each part of the process continues to express its singular contribution, its unique part in the story, within the unified and harmonious effort of the bigger picture. There is a journey – an experience – involved in getting there and yet that journey is usually the reason we painters do it; there is so much joy to be experienced in the trial and error of it all. Other mediums seem to rely upon so much control, on getting it right first time, one wrong move and its all over (for this very reason, and as much as I admire it, I could never do paper art and would become a nervous wreck in the attempt) and that’s a hard way to be. Yet if an experience of creating through great control is what others are drawn to through the playground of their art, then that’s the perfect choice for them and the particular life-perspective that they are exploring. Oils are messy, fluid, forgiving and playful and so they are mine.

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Its all about exploring our creatorship…and that activity spills over from art and all the other ways that we create structures, systems, arrangements and forms in our lives into the much broader picture of life. Without even knowing it so very much of the time, we are all playing the artist within our own lives. Every single one of us has a thing we love to do that allows us to experience the excited flip in the stomach as we grow something into being from that very first seed of inspiration.

Experiencing these creator moments is what it is to be alive. Becoming conscious of the processes we are drawn to, those methods we like to employ and which have led to life’s most satisfying moments, can tell us so much about our own bigger picture and be used to determine what we are in the process of creating for ourselves next.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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4 Responses to Incorporating it all

  1. As a fledgling painter, I haven’t quite learned how to lose control. I always begin thinking I’ll paint loosely and not worry about something looking the way it ‘should’ look, but in the end my paintings are usually quite detailed and controlled. And this has parallels in the way I live my life – always fighting against perfectionism and the way I think things ‘should’ be. It’s a lesson in being able to give myself a framework and let myself go within that.


    • Helen White says:

      The thing is, my paintings are tightly controlled…in the end…too as they are often very detailed (the one I’m working on now, which is light coming through curtains, is incredibly detailed and wouldn’t work at all without control within the ‘real’ and detailed structure of the window frame, something I’m drafting a blog about now). I used to have a lot of self-judgement – back to that theme again – about how controlled my paintings are, thinking that somehow ‘real’ art is only a fluid mass of expressiveness. Where I’ve got to now is that its a combination of both the fluid and the controlled…I allow the free flow and then hone that into the controlled structure that is my end product. In other words…my theme of the moment..I integrate both ends of the spectrum, capitalising on one end by using the other, if that makes sense.


      • It does. I think whereas I’m confident in my writing, this shows my lack of confidence (and self-judgement) of my art – I’ve found my writing ‘voice’, but in terms of art, I’m still exploring and need to find my artist’s ‘voice’ – I need to allow myself that exploration and experimentation.


  2. Pingback: Picturing synergy | scattering the light

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