A Creative Journey through Process Painting
by Barbara Kaufman and Kate Ulrich
Admit it. In your secret heart of hearts don’t you long to pursue a creative endeavor? To take a risk. To explore unlimited possibilities? Watch five-year olds at play, they follow a pure creative impulse. Give them paper and paint, images pour out; give them pots and pans to bang on, spontaneous rhythms and melodies arise. But something happens as children learn the rules for living in the world. Conditioning often obscures our longing and passion for creativity. We learn to value only things done perfectly. Encouraged to compare ourselves with others, we judge ourselves harshly. Doubt creeps in. The monolithic concept of “talent” casts its shadow over the idea of play.
Creativity, the energy of life, flows through all of us, but we learn to label it something unusual, special, requiring rarified glorified skills, harnessed to precise rules and regulations. We begin to believe that creativity is for those with talent; its goal, to produce something perfect enough to be called “art.” We practically define the term talent by an ordinary person’s inability to have it. Everyone has a longing to create. That longing is itself the essence of creativity. Only our fear of an imperfect or unacceptable outcome makes our ideas seem shallow and small and unworthy.
So what is this creative impulse? Where does it come from? Why is it so easily blocked and shouted down inside us before we even try? Why does it temptingly beckon us? Why do so many of us day dream about singing, dancing, making films, drawing, painting, writing, but then reject any opportunity to pursue our dreams because we lack “talent” or don’t consider ourselves “creative”?
The best way to learn more about the creative impulse is to follow it. Investigate the mystery of creation. Experiment. Explore. Discover. Play!
Process painting can be your vehicle for exploration. Through painting, you give yourself more experience with this forgotten passion. When you put yourself in front of a piece of blank paper, you express your willingness to explore. Just showing up and saying “yes, I’ll try” is an amazing tool for opening the door to your creative journey. Where will this journey lead? You can’t know in advance. Engaging in process painting, you enter uncharted territory. But if you keep going, you’ll discover many things--joy, wonder, excitement, mystery, compassion. You’ll move through rich landscapes—expansion and contraction; playfulness and doubt; delight, sadness, awe. In the long run you’ll find it is the journey that’s important. Sometimes painting the smallest line, the simplest shape brings immense satisfaction, the warmth and comfort of returning home after being too long away; sometimes just using a color that calls to you from the table of paints becomes an exciting adventure. Can you imagine painting something risky—a body, a strong color, an image you dislike? The risk may shake you up, but it’s part of an exhilarating ride. Soon, the ride becomes more important than the destination. The adventure is so intoxicating that you want to keep exploring, taking risks, again and again.
At the Center for Creative Exploration, the physical tools of painting are simple, like those given to young children: large sheets of smooth white paper, cups brimming with paints in a wide spectrum of colors, plastic palettes for mixing any other hues your heart desires, quality brushes in many sizes. In a given class, you may find students ranging in age from early twenties to early eighties. They come to painting from diverse backgrounds. Some who’ve had art-school training are dissatisfied with the established rules that confine the product of their art; others have never painted as an adult or have allowed criticism to shut down their desire for expression. The Painting Studio is a pleasant, welcoming space, with large, south-facing windows. Lush ferns and flowering plants cascade from windowsills, tables, and shelves. A circle of comfortable couches defines a space for gathering and sharing, teaching and questioning. The painting room is quiet, yet filled with the intensity and energy of the group. Moving from student to student, checking in, the teacher invites you to enter your process—encouraging you to question your doubts; your old habits; the beliefs that make you feel stuck or blocked or uncreative; helping you find within yourself the permission to take risks, to make mistakes, to keep going.
Process painting is a simple and direct way to experience your unique creative voice. The satisfaction you find in connecting with that voice will keep you returning to the process again and again, to continue your own creative journey.