Over this past week, i finally went into my studio to carry out a practice in portrait painting like i’ve been meaning to for awhile now.
I’ve been putting it off because something in me was quite nervous about shifting from this intuitive process i’ve been practicing back into one with an intentional outcome… as if by doing that i would somehow prove to myself that my deepest fears and doubts are true –> that i’m ‘faking’ it somehow, not good enough, a lousy painter, maybe even not a real artist.
Absurdities of the ego, i know – i even hesitate to admit it – but they are honest nonetheless and good reminders that no matter where we are we still have to deal with our baggage and icky shit inside. i deal with it by moving forward anyhow.
i’ve been practicing sketching women faces for a few weeks now – just a few here and there, and just for the practice of seeing and translating. i’ve been gathering clippings of women in their roles, doing the things we do in the world, day to day.
One of my clippings was of a nurse. so i chose this one for my portrait practice, deciding right away that the finished piece is just a sketch and would be thrown in my pile of work that no one sees, gets re-salvaged and painted over or turned into journal pages. i let go of the outcome i was shooting for from the get-go – that somehow made it easier to get to the work of it, and i was pretty convinced i would be unimpressed by this painting in the end.
So i collaged a little and started painting. and then i discovered something i didn’t expect.
Now that i’ve tapped into this intuitive process in myself – it’s not gonna just desert me if i go back to a more traditional approach. [what?!? you mean i get to take it with me and apply it elsewhere?] It’s here IN ME, a part of me and my process from here on out.
Silly that i totally understood this in regards to other areas of my life – but was still nervous with regards to my art approaches.
As i paint, my mind begins to see connections in ways that it doesn’t otherwise. on this particular evening, i found myself amused that i even chose a nurse out of my clippings for reference… since my relationship with both nursing and art is in the forefront of my mind as deep transformations and big choices are unfolding in my life.
Seems an obvious choice in retrospect, but i swear it didn’t even dawn on me that i needed to work this out in this way.
Here’s a little backstory:
Art came way before nursing in my life. In one way shape or form, i have been making creative expressions for as long as i can remember.
The decision to become a nurse was based on many factors… disillusionment with the fine art and art academic world, the driving desire and call to help people + my infatuation with the human spirit, resiliency and our relationship with body awareness… and the more practical reasons: job security, portability, stability. AND i was tired of feeling like i hadn’t found my “place” or a sustainable level of motivation or my “true work” in the world yet. Nursing was a practical, noble, unglamorous service profession with all the right core values, it seemed.
Fast forward several very long, taxing years… and here’s the truth: i never felt much like a “nurse”.
Granted, it’s just a label we wear, like the uniform on this nurse in the portrait. but still, i felt like i was doing just that – trying to fit into a role, a dress code of skin not my own, a way of compliance and thinking that just didn’t resonate with my own true knowing and values.
Yikes. How did i ever end up there?
See, i am/was a good nurse. i love the elderly, the perpetual learning and teaching. i knew the alogrithms. i am deeply compassionate and people tend to warm up to my presence well.
Nursing has been some of the finest creative training of my life.
It is training in multi-focused observation, adaptability, spontaneous response, and the holistic healing of Presence, connection and release between Self and others.
Nursing is a whole lot about bearing witness and translation.
But still, there came a climactic day when i realized this job was not my way. that there was other work for me to do, even though i felt desperately lost about what that was.
There are many stories from my nursing adventures that i’ll save for another time.
My point is that it has been difficult moving away from the security of the nursing profession even though i know i am not moving toward my higher self and devotion there. People glorify the profession, though the reality is vastly different. And though the financial security is nice, it comes at a very high price. And for me, it became a little bit like staying in a relationship that is only eating you up inside. but still there is this layer of guilt for not “fitting in” in such an admirable profession.
So as these thoughts flashed while i painted, i giggled a little at myself and my subconscious choice to ruminate further on the complexities of my life’s journey and the difficulty of releasing the guilt i have for not finding my path to be the practical, formulated one.
I just surrendered to the painting and kept coming back to my breath as i reflected and painted. When i felt tight, i shifted my approach and movement with the brush, and eventually my intuition had kicked into its flow… and the painting began to sort of paint herself through me, offering me these short distinct realizations along the way:
I am not a nurse. [and that’s ok]
The world is full of great nurses and others who play their role as a step on their journey.
I am an observer, an artist, a fellow human who got the job and wore the scrubs and signed the paperwork… so that i could Be with, listen to, learn from, experience, help, hold the hand, soothe and encourage the healing of other spirits on their unique journeys. And that is beautiful. And that is enough.
I had the flash of these two memories:
My husband saying to me ~ You’ve been a good nurse for a few years. What a great service. It’s ok if you’re ready to move on.
My mother saying to me something like this ~ There are so many ways in life that we are nurses. you have always been one, even before you chose the label.
And then these memories came next:
My college photography teacher challenging me, “Why are you painting on your photos???” [it felt curious and good]
My college ceramics professor (whom i deeply admired and respected) saying, “You have the touch of a painter. Do you paint?” [no. me? no.]
Then, at some point i realized i had stopped looking at the reference photo altogether, and had begun that level of intuitive painting when i’m not really even looking at the painting either… it’s more like tuning into it, listening and just following the movement that beckons.
And that’s when she ‘said’ this to me:
You are a painter.
You are a student and a teacher.
You are painting your own way.
And that is more than good enough.
That was the moment that stopped me in my tracks, and i stepped back and looked at the whole portrait for the first time, and we understood each other…
and i loved her.
Not just because my skill at least exceeded my low expectations for my portrait abilities,
but because we aren’t so very different afterall – this nurse and me.
People often make funny faces and ponder over the jumps i’ve made from art to nursing and back to art again…
But being an artist is A LOT like being a nurse.
We both do what needs to be done, listening, learning, watching, making adjustments.
We are both a witness to self, to process, to healing, to possibility, to miracles.
And our greatest gift to others is the depth of Presence we can offer to our work.
smiling in the light of my truth,