Why I Paint
Feb 16, 2019
"I dream my painting, and then I paint my dreams."
- Vincent Van Gogh
Inspired by The Masters, Past & Present
Going to museums and pouring over books of art was a big part of my formative years. I’d look at the paintings from the great masters of the Renaissance era and frequently wonder how in the world they managed to draw and paint so realistically. But it wasn’t until I started paying closer attention to works Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings by Van Gogh and Monet in my teen years that I found myself wishing that I could paint like that. In recent years, on moving to the US, I came across absolutely breathtaking watercolor paintings by John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer’s work and I knew watercolor was going to be my medium of choice.
But it’s not just the artists of the past who inspire me. There are many supremely gifted artists painting in watercolors today. A Pantheon of renowned artists including Alvaro Castagnet, Joseph Zbukvic, Keiko Tanabe, Sarah Yeoman, Tony Couch, and many, many other amazing personalities have elevated the reputation of watercolor as a Master Medium through their jaw-dropping paintings. Their works and life-stories are an instant source of inspiration for artists like me.
Meditation and Accepting the Unknown
The act of painting quietens the mind. When one paints, one’s brain becomes completely absorbed in observing what the hands are doing. It focuses on assessing the visual information, interpreting it, and then providing input to guide the next stroke. This kinesthetic experience is an excellent stress buster.
A big part of successful meditation is letting thoughts come and go freely, and not getting caught up in emotions. I find I can do that more easily painting with watercolors than when actually sitting down to meditate.
The very act of picking up a pen, pencil or brush is akin to raising one’s foot to step out of the box, metaphorically speaking. This is especially true in my case since I have an introspective personality and I tend to stay in my safe zone. When I paint, I feel as if my hands are pushing away the walls that threaten to enclose me and helping me to open up to the possibilities that the Universe has to offer. Painting both expands my world as well as helps me reaffirm my place in it.
There is another equally significant way in which watercolor painting is very similar to meditation. Watercolor is a challenging medium in that one of the primary ingredients is water, which by its very nature, is difficult to control. This very unpredictability means that artists learn very early on to a play with this medium instead of fighting against it. We also learn to accept accidents and making the most of them!
Paying Attention to Fleeting Moments
Creating art is so much more than just looking at one’s subject and capturing it realistically on a surface through lines, shapes, forms, and colors. What ends up on the paper is only a part of the process. Art is about conveying one’s emotional response to the spectator. It’s a very unusual way of expressing one’s empathy to a theme, subject, and/or event.
When I am out for a walk, I find myself delighting in the multitude of nuances in the landscape around me. The gently swaying shadow of a tree on the surface of a pond, the early morning light filtering through swirling mist, the subtle change in color temperature as the eye travels between the foreground and the background - to me, all of these are fleeting moments of indescribable beauty. The more I look, the more I see. The more I see, the more I want to paint. With joy, with freedom.
To become an artist is the best I know of to put myself on the path of lifelong learning. I frequently meet artists who have been painting for decades, but still say that their practice is teaching them something new every day! I feel happy that I am traveling on a path that will give me endless opportunities to observe, experiment and learn.
Traveling and Meeting People
In the last few years, I have traveled to many beautiful locations, attending painting workshops and plein air events. Artists tap into their creativity consistently. To be in the company of like-minded people is extremely enriching.
I am not the first person to say this, but I had to live it to realize it. It’s one thing to just travel. It’s something else entirely to capture one’s experience in sketches and paintings. Painting onsite helps me experience a new place much more deeply than in the past. Moreover, I come back from my travels re-energized and motivated to paint with mindfulness.
Adding Beauty to Other People’s Lives
As I type these words, I feel I have saved the best for last. Creating works of arts that can become a part of someone else’s life is a great privilege. It’s also so much better than just painting for oneself (which I did for a long time, till fairly recently). The ability to add an element of beauty to a family’s shared or private space is very rewarding.
As I grow older, I find myself contemplating the fleeting nature of our lives. In the vast scheme of things, we are but a proverbial drop in the ocean. Once they are gone, who are the people we really remember with happiness (other than our near and dear ones)? It’s the visionaries, thinkers, and creators who are more likely to be remembered with pleasure. Every day, I challenge myself to create art that will hopefully make people say, “she used her time on earth well’. While my art is about the journey and not the destination, seeing the bigger picture does help me stay motivated!