Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fearless Painting, Memory and the Enduring Heart

We've just finished week 3 of BIG, A Fearless Painting Adventure and I've thrown myself so completely into the process and the painting, as well as taking the time to really love, heal and reconnect myself to the things I need that I haven't shared anything about it yet. When time is sparse, you can only do so much, sadly.

But tonight, I find myself with a glass of wine and an empty house (save the husband and animals, who are all curled up on the couch in the other room) since my friends have gone home and I figure it's time to share a bit. I've been sharing my experiences with the other gals who make up the current BIG Tribe, so I'm going to share the same experiences with all of you now. This is going to be long and very emotional, fair warning. Some bits have been copied and pasted from my original postings on the BIG forums, so they may read a little oddly.

For background, the first week of BIG was spent scribbling, doodling and generally getting into the groove of letting our intuitions guide our brushes, to let go of over inflated expectations and to get comfortable with the process. We also became familiar with our fear gremlins, those little voices inside of us that tell us something is ugly, or stupid, to give up or not to share this and that - the voice that stifles as it attempts to protect us. Now, what I'm going to share is my painting and process for week 2. Connie, our fearless leader, asked that we work with Memory in our first real, honest and fearless BIG painting. To just pick a memory, the first one that comes to mind or the one that keeps reappearing and popping in to say hello!

I watched the intro and the first video, popped over to the first discussion and read through it. My paper was out and ready to go and I closde my eyes, let my mind go and waited to see what the first memory that comes across my mind is because that, THAT is the one I'm going to paint...

And my mind goes blank. There are memories there in the depths of my mind, oh are there ever. Big bright shiny ones and deep dark terrifying ones but none jump forth and say 'paint me!' So I wait some more. Then I distract myself with some music, who knows? Maybe in setting up this small ritual I've scared them off, over thought them without even realizing it. Hours go by and nothing. I wait to hear something... yet nothing comes.

There are the obvious ones I could go for, like getting married, buying a house - you know, big life things. But when I think about using them for the project I get this feeling in my gut that says, nah. Not this one. Keep waiting.

When I decided to undertake this adventure, it was partially in order to break down my difficulty in not overthinking things, to learn how to trust and to let go of total control and expectations of the finished product. While I'm not consciously aware of doing any of these things while waiting for my memory to come, I wonder if they aren't hindering me somehow just the same. I continued to wait and sat down at the desk in my studio, opened youtube and this song was in my recommended que (not sure why - I suppose the Universe needed me to hear it.)

My guts churned, I cried. I knew what I needed to paint.

I'll admit, I was (and still am) a bit scared to share my memory painting. Opening myself up wide and laying my innards bare and raw for people I've 'just met' to see isn't something I do, ever. (Hell, sharing this level of myself with people I know well is rare.) So, I'm taking a fearless leap here, one of faith and of trust and I'm going to share the process and the memory here - to let it and myself be seen.

I was caught up in choosing a memory, but it was given to be by the universe in a song and a rush of clenched guts and tears. I know that it was said that we didn't need to dive into a deep, dark, heavy memory as we get our toes wet in the water of fearless painting... but that's what my guts, my soul, the gods above brought forth from the depths for me to work with. And I did.

The memory dredged up wasn't a one time event, but rather a period in time. In my late teens, my small world shattered around me. I was in an abusive relationship, my parents were divorcing and kept putting me in the middle of their spats as referee and bargaining chip, my younger siblings clung to me for love and stability. I fell into an incredibly dark and desperate place, barely clinging to any real will to continue to exist... I began to self hurt. Or cut myself, in more blunt terms. Over the course of those few years, I covered myself with hundreds of marks, always hidden by clothing as they bled and subsequently healed. 8 years after the last time, I still have 22 very visible scars just on my forearms and wrists, which people seem to be drawn to ask about. When they do, I become uncomfortable and nervous, worried they'll judge me for something that is long past. Terrified they'll look at me as 'one of those crazy people'. I decided to follow my gut and paint this time period in order to attempt to lay to rest those feelings and make peace with my past.

I put the song back on as I chose my colors; grey, grey-blue, blue, red. I let the tears fall as I sketched the shape on the paper. Hunched, cross armed, trying to maintain a small shape in the large space.

I just let it roll out of me and then, I added the heart. My fear gremlin went wild - she was livid and terrified all at once. How dare I expose my heart? Isn't that why I existed in that dark place, to shelter myself from further hurt? Isn't that why I hurt myself - to relieve the emotional pain? To remind myself that I was still alive and could feel?

I poured her a glass of wine and we cried together. I held her close and told her it would be OK. To trust me and our gut. She hid behind me as I began to fling blue onto the background. Grabbing red next, I slathered it over the blue. As I painted, I wanted to get physical with the process, so I tossed my brush aside and went at it with my hands and fingers - mushing red into blue, creating bruised purples. (In retrospect, I think my sub-conscious was putting the colors of my hurts onto the paper, as I was always badly bruised around the cuts afterwards.) Barely stopping, I grabbed the gray and began to fill in the body - as I covered the heart, my gremlin sighed in relief. It was safe, hidden - protected. As it should be.

Dipping my fingers in red, I cut at the wrist and the chest, swooped outlines around the figure in vibrant blood tones. Looking at the wrist I felt revulsion and tried to cover it back up with gray, resulting in a pink mess. My gremlin was upset but my gut said to put the red back and taking a deep breath, I listened.

Quieting my mind and the gremlin for a moment, I really dig deep and let my guts talk to me. I cry again, the sort of deep, heaving cathartic cry that comes on when you've been holding something in too long. I let the music in the background wash over me (I had a playlist on, not the same song on repeat just in case anyone was worried I was torturing myself) as I sat on the floor and cried. The gremlin came back over, patted my shoulder, trying to tell me I'd revealed too much - see? It told me I'd get hurt. I understand that it's trying to help me out, to look out for me, but I shoo her away. Not unkindly, but firmly. We need to do this, my guts have never, ever steered me wrong when I've taken the time to really listen to them.

And now, my guts tell me to get up and paint. I've got a lot of work to do. I grab a dark brown and add in hair, straight and stringy, falling forward to obscure some of the face; yet another safety mechanism that I only recognize in retrospect. Taking out the black, I give her big, bold outlines. My gremlin pops up again - 'That's not your style!! That's not how you paint!! She's cartoony, ugly!' I shush her again, after all, this isn't my typical subject matter nor is it a particularly pretty memory. I keep on, this part of me, this woman on the paper - she wants to be seen. She NEEDS to be seen. And big bold lines catapult her into view, where she cannot be ignored or pushed aside.

Stepping back a moment, I don't want to cry - for the first time since starting this. I don't feel lost, miserable, ashamed when I look at her though there is still some melancholy there. A sort of heavy eerie feeling down in my bowels. My gut chimes in, since my goblin has washed her hands of this - I'm not listening to her anyway - informing me to paint white circles in the background. I get to work, filling half the background with them before my gut says 'stop!' Step away and stop. And I do. I clean up my brushes and leave her, knowing somehow that she's not quite done with me yet.

As I look at her, she strikes me as sort of pretty and sort of powerful. Maybe not in a traditional sense, because there's a lot of pain and darkness surrounding her, but she's sort of light upon the page. Like a bright spot. And those circles, they make me feel hopeful when I look at them.

I let her sit on the easel in the studio for a day and a half. Friday, when I was on my lunch break journaling about this painting (she's taken up 10 pages in my composition book so far) I realized I was excited to see her. To get home and ask her what she needed, to work with her. The 4 hours of work were the slowest I can recall in recent history, not work volume wise, but to my rapidly spinning mind and needy heart.

When I bounded into the studio and grabbed my palette, my heart shouted 'Grab the red and the the yellow! And your favorite color blue! Oh, and white too!' And I did. Adding deeper hues of shadow to her, giving her more definition and somehow, despite blue being very melancholy - brightening her up a bit. I scribbled yellows and whites around her side, a sort of aura of hopeful energy - a sign that there was still so much life in her. A will to continue, to live. And then, my gut and heart whispered the most important part conspiratorially to me, quietly, so as not to wake and anger the sleeping gremlin. The finishing touch, the final lesson that she has to hand me:

To live, to let my heart beat fierce and free. That time is over with and not only did I live, I thrived despite all the anguish and pain. I pulled myself out of that darkness and rose like a phoenix into a new life, in which I wanted to let love back in to my heart. And how can you do that, if you lock it away?

This process, this painting, helped me in ways I can't even quite express right now because I am still absorbing it all. I plan to pin her to my wall for a while, to let her lessons sink in further, to have her help in overcoming the last remnants of shame I feel over my past like a great guardian angel birthed from a black seed in myself. My gremlin is pursing her lips at me for sharing all of this, worrying how this will be judged and for right now, I'm ignoring her and feeling so very, very free.

This journey, this adventure, has been bigger for me than I ever expected. I'm not learning new techniques, not fussing over the outcomes. Just letting the the process take me where it will... and it is an exhausting, magical, spiritual, beautiful process.

Comments from my fellow fearless painters, whose support and love I will cherish always.

Comment by Connie Hozvicka on July 16, 2012 at 3:04pm

First, I have to whole heartedly--with every drip of my Soul--acknowledge the incredible courage and bravery and pure genuine FEARLESSness it took to share so openly from your heart. I feel so honored and humbled to experience your process aside you. Thank you for letting me in--letting us all in. I feel healed on some level of my own life as well by traveling through this with you.

She is beautiful. You are beautiful. Your story of rising above so much darkness in your life is beautiful.

Wonder how much a ticket to South Carolina would run me?! I'd love to wrap my arms around ya in a BIG hug!

Sending you so much LOVE!

Comment by Michelle Turbide on July 13, 2012 at 5:53pm

I can't even speak I am so blown away by your courage not only to explore this memory for yourself but to be so open and honest in sharing it with all of us. Thank you so much for letting us know you in this way. I feel blessed to be a part of your process.

Comment by Colleen McCarthy on July 13, 2012 at 3:53pm

Thank you for being so courageous and sharing your story. And especially for ignoring that gremlin - Lovelovelove you!

Comment by Sharon Bode on July 13, 2012 at 1:02pm

...right now, you are very much loved. Thank you...for sharing your pain, your tears and...your heart.


  1. Bravo darling girl....we cuckoos applaud your courage and beauty.

  2. You did great. You transformed through you art and healed!

  3. She is beautiful, and the fact that you can use those dark places to create is amazing.

  4. I think your bravery in art, openness in journalling and connection to your creativity are more healing and cathartic than years worth of therapy. Keep up your life's work momma, and keep sharing what you can with your Sisters. We all learn from one another.


  5. I have tears in my eyes! I am so moved by this post. You're art has always been powerful Darlin' but this is simply...well...heart wrenching and hopeful at the same time! I cut myself once when I was dealing some of the very same issues and the relief that flooded my body scared me to death. I stopped immediately because I was caught off guard at how much it helped and how good something so hurtful could feel so good. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It was a huge leap of faith to let us in and I know I'm the better for it! (((HUGS))) *sniffle*

    1. It *is* scary how good something like that can feel when you're in a bad head space isn't it? It makes it so hard to stop, I'm glad that you were able to after just that one experience.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences as well, love. *hugs*

  6. I applaud your strength. It sounds as if this was the 'time'. Hugs!

  7. Healing yourself with your art is a tremendous leap. I am glad you shared this process, I was interested in all you wrote, all those feelings about that nuisance gremlin, the guts and end result. Excellent, responsible, reasoning post!!!

  8. This post is amazing.....your painting, your story, your a beautiful thing to see....and I feel so very honored that you have shared that with us. This must be the time of deep healing.....I know so many people who are doing this is various ways....including me....and it is a wonderful feeling.

  9. I found my way here through Oma Linda's Oz list but I have to say I couldn't move past this posting. Your personal journey captured my heart ~ I cried and cheered for your journey and strength. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, words fail to convey how deeply you've touched me.

  10. This is a beautiful post. I actually came here to share a blog award with you (, but I feel that's secondary compared to how moving this post is. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I actually played the song you included while reading through the entire post and it felt like one of those moments in a movie where you're happy, sad, upset, tormented and relieved at once. Your words and bravery are beautiful.
    I was in the same place a while back - I cut, but for different reasons. I carry white scars on both arms now, but I have finally reached a point where I'm not scared or ashamed to explain to people why they're there.
    Your painting is amazing - I would proudly display it on my walls. :)

  12. Wow! What a ride you took us on through your words, your thoughts, and your memories. The process was very cathartic for you and that gorgeous painting was the result of it. A remarkable story behind such a moving painting.

    Congratulations on allowing yourself be free and ignoring the inner gremlin. A very powerful message.

    I love the painting and all that it represents. I love the circles of hope and the aura of hope.

  13. In a world filled with hate and self loathing, your journey seems to be a guiding light for others too afraid to admit their own fears and insecurities. It takes great courage to expose yourself the way you did and I admire your strength, even though at times you did not feel very strong.

    I do not believe one can ever truly "Heal" from a dark place like that. I do however believe in acceptance, and moving forward.

    The scars you carry both physically and mentally will hopefully now allow you to help others as you were unable to help yourself.

    Thank you for sharing such an epic journey. You just might have saved someone you don't even know.

  14. That is one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen, Danni! We all have gremlins, esp. the one's who appear in our teenage years which usually are full of angst and pain. I am so proud of you that you listened to your gremlin with love, yet didn't stop the process because of her wanting to protect you. Thank you so much for honoring us all with your journey and the beauty that was found because of your courage.

  15. This post made me cry, and made me realise how much hurt I have hidden away. Your art is beautiful, and an inspiration.

  16. Oh Danni! You are truly an inspiration. This post is beautiful, as is the painting. I love the visual I get of the painting process and the back & forth between you and your gremlin. Such an apt description, and one that so many can relate to and understand. Thank you for allowing all of us to walk along that path to recovery with you. Though we've not met, I feel like you are family, through the magic of the internet. :-) Brightest Blessings to you, your gut, your heart, and your gremlin. I hope she has learned that the world is not so scary as she thought.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.