At most Gather art workshops, we teach the girls “brave and intuitive painting.” This is a very free-form style of painting, where there is no right and there is no wrong. It is an evolution, of sorts, that comes from multiple layers of painting—with the girls we work on warm layers first, then cool layers, to avoid a muddled mess of brown. They are encouraged to be free and loose in their painting technique and to try new things, including painting with fingers, dripping paint, scratching into layers and using plastic cards and brayers to layer on paint. It creates a very rich and expressive background from which to work. Then they start to “spiral in” and work on some details and let the piece evolve from their own intuition (rather than saying ahead of time what they plan to paint, such as a tree or a flower). Throughout multiple sessions of painting, they start to see parts that really pop off the canvas, parts they like and parts they aren’t super fond of. And then the painting evolves to reflect each girl’s own unique voice.
There are a lot of metaphors for life that come organically from this process: be unique; be brave; life is a journey, not a destination; things will come, and things will go. I read a children’s book to the girls, Ish by Peter H. Reynolds, which quite simply depicts the theme of letting go of “perfect”. It is common to be paralyzed by having to paint a perfect flower, yet we can all see beauty in a painting that is flower-ish.
Some of the girls need a bit more coaxing to be brave and try new colors, techniques, and bold moves, often having me help them by making a first mark. For most, once they try it, they like it and continue to open up. I am always impressed by their uniqueness and by the fact that they don’t all conform to a prescriptive pattern by doing the same work as their friends.
They also get to paint on each other’s canvases (this is a challenge for them, knowing it is someone else’s work!), but understanding that their “mark” may not even be seen at all in the final piece. I let them paint on my canvas, too. There is a lot of hesitation, but I feel that when they see that I am not attached to its preciousness, they blossom (impermanence, another lesson).
Self-expression and art are curious sometimes. I have found for myself and for my own daughter that it is often more comfortable to follow a guide, to be told what and where and how. There are teachable moments in Gather workshops in which techniques and color theory are taught, but the mission in the painting is to allow the girls to have a chance to build layer upon layer of rich color and texture and follow their own inner guide as to how it develops in the end. That is where the “juicy stuff” comes from, deep inside the artist. These are all work-in-progress pieces; just like each and every one of us is a work in progress, too.
I am forever grateful to the lovely artists Flora Bowley, Alena Hennessy, and Mati Rose McDonough. Their heartfelt joy in guiding artists on their own personal journeys is truly inspiring. With their love and dedication, I am continuing to evolve as an artist and as a person, and I am so glad to share this journey with the girls at Gather art workshops.