Grief and Hope in the New Year

©Dora Sislian Themelis, Pond Turtles, 4×6 Watercolor for Twitter Art Exhibit

As I contemplate the year that has just passed, and look forward to the new year ahead, I am both grateful and regretful. Full of hope, today I picked up my favorite book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, my guru, and this quote was the first page I opened to.

It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.

-Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary of the 5th century B.C.

What do you know?

New year’s resolutions are well and good for some, but I find that every time I make them, I break them soon enough. So why bother? It’s futile.

However, there has to be a strategy to mark the months ahead. Some grand plan to not just study “war,” but “live” it. I’ve been on the losing end, in a way.

The last year gave me a lot of grief, and plenty of hope. Early on I had my first solo art exhibit that went very well and taught me some valuable lessons. Selling some work gave me validation. No sooner was the big event over that I fell into a work slump. Dashed the blog, the painting, the creation, the Muse left my side and I let other things get in my way. Resistance at it’s worst.

Here and there I pushed through only to fall into more Resistance. Why bother was my mantra. Hence, the grief.

Then a ray of light, a commission came out of the exhibit and I got myself together to get the work done. Great! Once I finished and delivered the painting I felt a sense of accomplishment. Soon after the Twitter Art Exhibit info came out and I painted and sent off my postcard sized watercolor painting. Hurrah!

Since then the tumult of winter holidays and obligations began, and there went everything to the trash.

Boom.

The hope is that I made it to the blog today to complain about it all. Spill it out, tell the story, stop studying the war and fight it.

I think it’s a good thing.

Can’t Get Work Done

Sketching in watercolor at my favorite spot at Pt. Lookout Beach, NY
Working at my favorite spot at Pt. Lookout Beach, NY

As it turns out, saying I’m going to get work done and actually getting work done are two totally different things. I’m the kind of person who does what I say, but Resistance is in high gear and there’s nothing.

Since I “work” from home (art studio is in the basement) I am elected to get to the stuff that all the “working” people can’t do.

You name it and it’s been thrown my way: my stuff, family members’ stuff, house emergencies, husband’s stuff, kid’s stuff, errands, appointments, business stuff, car stuff, and everyone needs me to help in their stuff one way or another.

Hey, excuse me, I know I’m at home, but I have work to do over here.

Three weeks worth of everything but painting, has been way too long away from the easel. It becomes a bad habit. Promising myself I will ignore all forms of communication and start my work every day at a set time has not been fruitful.

Never mind blogging. Who has time for that?

An artist I follow on twitter wrote a tweet this week that read: “Hi I’m David. I haven’t painted in 24 hours.” I countered with, “Hi I’m Dora. I haven’t painted in 2 weeks.” Resistance is running high with other artists, too.

However, ending my 3 week dry spell by sending myself to the beach on a warm, sunny day with an open window of time proved just the thing I needed. Food, drink, travel watercolor equipment, sand chair, and I was golden.

After I plopped myself into my chair, I set up my supplies. I chose the shells I bring along in my bag and started sketching in the watercolors. Twenty minutes maybe, and I was done.

Let’s see how my week unfolds this time around. I’ll let you know.

The Greece Dream is Over, Get Back to Work

A view of St. John Theologos Monastery on Patmos Island, Greece on the easel
Painting of Patmos, Greece on the easel today, 9×12 acrylic on stretched canvas

So the Greece dream visit is over. Wonderful as it was, it’s done. August is almost finished as well, and it is high time I get myself back to making art. Being in Greece for any length of time and one can lose themselves in the beauty, the deep blues, the ocean, the light and white, the weather, the music, the food, the people..

Yeah, it’s all that, and more.

Work has been a struggle this past year. More than once I let my head get in my way. Life happens, yes, but it shouldn’t mean work, the blog, the whole thing, needed to suffer. Soon as my solo show was over I was spent.

Now that I’m home from dreamy Greece, and feeling a little better, days are my own for right now, artwork just has to happen. This week I pushed Mr. Resistance aside more than once to make sure I painted something, anything, to get into the process again. He wasn’t happy either.

Yes, I worked a little while I was away. No, it wasn’t any big deal, just some sketching in my Moleskin with watercolors a couple of beautiful beach days. I’ll show you soon enough. It’s more than I’ve done on other visits to our Greek island home. The plein air palette I purchased specifically for travel painting never made the trip with me. I was too stressed about where it would go in my bags that I couldn’t handle it. Next time.

All that being said, I have made a pact with myself. Posting to the blog must become a habit again. Rededicating my inner child artist once again to working at the easel regularly is the direction. Work isn’t going to happen by itself and the hustle has to pay off in the long run. The next art show is my focus and goal.

As long as I can continue in this manner we’ll be okay!

Fingers crossed..

Finished Artwork in the Process

Fall Day 18x24 Watercolor ©Dora Sislian Themelis
Fall Day 18×24 Watercolor ©Dora Sislian Themelis

With the following mantra in my head “It’s the process. It’s the process” miraculously I beat back Mr. Resistance and pulled off this latest watercolor painting.

It wasn’t easy either.

Quite a while back I visited Clark Botanical Garden in nearby Albertson, NY and snapped a few pictures of some of the landscape gardens. A couple of those photos ended up as paintings. When I went through those a couple months ago I decided to push myself out of my artist’s block and throw some paint around.

That was it, then we left for Greece. On our return I really wasn’t interested in continuing on deep, fall colors. Geez, we just came back from the bright whites and blues of the Greek islands!

I almost ripped this off the watercolor block to toss it when my head said to just try to finish it. If I hate it afterwards, by all means, throw it out.

Process first and foremost, I pushed through. It’s a finished work at the very least.

Resistance and Rationalization

Resistance and Rationalization

Resistance is fear. But Resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if Resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.

Resistance doesn’t want us to do this. So it brings in Rationalization…The spin doctor.

~The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

Trying to get some painting done..
Trying to get some painting done..

How does author Steven Pressfield know what is going on in my own head? It’s so easy to just let other things going on in life walk right in and take over my precious time at the easel. Pressfield has such way of explaining Resistance that makes sense to me. I can hear my own New York accent in my head, laying it all out and making it plain as day.

It’s Resistance’s way of hiding the Big Stick behind its back. Instead of showing us our fear (which might shame us and impel us to do our work), Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we should’t do our work.

The big take-away is that reading The War of Art, and talking about it with you, really helps me stop letting life stuff distract me.

What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly. Tolstoy has thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting.

Reading these words sets me on my path, reminds me what I’m supposed to be doing for the day, and pretty much kicks me in the butt. Well worth the effort.

Just like everyone else in the world, I am a busy person. There’s a lot going on around me, much of it has to come from me, but my real work is painting.

Now what’s the problem?

 

Working Past Resistance and Something to Show for the Effort

The amazing thing about studying getting past Resistance is how it really works.

Yes, I will raise my hand here, I have been slacking on my work. I was on a roll, and now I’m at the point where something has to happen or I am so firing myself. This is no way to run a business.

Subscribing to Steven Pressfield’s newsletters have been a great resource as well as his books. The other day I picked up Do The Work and read a passage that smacked me across the face, hard. It said to read some statements about what we want to do our art, and if we chose one of the lame statements we should just stop right then and throw his book in the garbage.

Wow. But you know what? That’s the thing that made me paint something. Anything. Just do the lousy work already! Process, something great can come of  just the process.

Working with watercolors with Marabu pan paints
Working with watercolors with Marabu pan paints

At my desk looking at an old set of pan watercolors in a tin box my Pop gave me years ago, I thought I’d just try them out. Just a small Arches pad of paper would be enough for a sketch in paint, I figured. I never thought I’d love these old Marabu watercolor paints, but the colors were surprisingly vibrant. By the time I decided I’d done enough I ended up loving my “job.” The paint just flowed on the Arches paper, nice mixtures of colors mingled together within pleasing shapes. All in all, a nice, satisfying effort for the day’s work. Yeah, well, let’s say a half hour’s worth. Sometimes, if I’m in it, that’s all I need.

 

RedPeppers
Red Peppers ©2014 Dora Sislian Themelis 7×10 Watercolor, Arches paper

Could it be that reading the butt kicking work about dodging Resistance helped? I think so.

Now, get to work!

Pay Attention to the Potatoes, says Steven Pressfield

My hero in Resistance awareness, Mr. Steven Pressfield, has hit another nail on the head with his latest newsletter post How I Get Ideas. I am grateful to the Universe for directing my attention to this person who understands the Resistance phenomenon so well.

Grateful may not even be the best word to describe how Mr. Pressfield clears away the cobwebs, but it’s the only word I can think of right now.

Sketch of Bethesda fountain in Central Park, NY, 8x10 Conte crayon on pastel paper
Sketch of Bethesda fountain in Central Park, NY, 8×10 Conte crayon on pastel paper

In his post Pressfield lists 10 “observations” on how he gets ideas for his creative work. You really need to read the whole post yourself, but his process sounded just like my own.

“1. Ideas seem to come by themselves, unbidden.”

Really, where do ideas come from? For me, and for Steve apparently, ideas pop into my head at the weirdest times and places. I could be no place special, but see shapes and colors that I’m intrigued by.The paintings come together in my head before I ever get to the easel.

Many of those times the painting is junk, but the process works anyway, when it happens at all.

When Steven says after a good idea appears, Resistance is following right behind ready to dismiss it as worthless, I know that all too well.

Me and Mr. Resistance? Best of friends right now.

Pressfield tells of a time he was at a farm watching farm kids sort through potatoes flying by on a conveyor belt, sorting the good ones from the bad. Ideas are like that, he says, coming in all day, flying by, but we have to recognize the good ones quick enough to hold onto. Noticing that great idea, the next painting, is my job.

“10. Pay attention to the potatoes.”

“Here we are, you and I, standing beside that conveyor belt in the underground bunker in Idaho. Thousands of potatoes are rolling past us every hour. Some of ‘em are stone beauties. Snatch that spud. Grab it like the brass ring—and hang on for dear life.” Steven Pressfield

 

 

Resistance is the Devil?

The Dark Apple Hides Shells ©2012 Dora Sislian Themelis, Watercolor, Arches paper
The Dark Apple Hides Shells ©2012 Dora Sislian Themelis, Watercolor, Arches paper

There comes a time when working at the easel becomes a chore, rather than a comfortable experience. Maybe that’s what happens when you turn pro?

Oh, so now it’s a job? Well honey, it is most definitely a job! A happy, fun, exciting job when it all works the way it should.

For a good long while I was whistling my happy tune, sort of, and painting away comfortably. Every day the Muse came by to drop some really good ideas right into my head. Mr. Resistance was nearby, but he was busy doing his own thing, thankfully leaving me well enough alone.

Lately he’s been pestering me to do other things instead of visit the easel. Sure, he says in my ear, painting can wait. Go read another email, check the internet one more time, do some laundry while you’re at it.

Mr. Resistance is the devil. And now I have proof! Wonderful Mr. Steven Pressfield says it, so it has to be the truth. I trust that guy 100%.

His newsletter whooshed into my inbox one day and his words just smacked me upside my head! Bam! Where would I be without him? In the gutter I tell you, with my paints and brushes!

It’s title alone hit me, How Resistance Proves the Existence of God. Hallelujah! He was writing about a pianist who wasn’t playing the piano, doing everything but, and deeply feeling the pain of not being a concert pianist. Pressfield explained in the newsletter that this was the definition of Resistance, that this man was “operating as an amateur.”

Suddenly, he goes on, something snaps in this man’s head, and he does absolutely nothing else BUT practice piano, losing himself in it and every other thing he had in his life besides, like a crazy person. Pressfield says that this proves there is a God.

First given: Resistance is a universal phenomenon of the human psyche.
Second given: Resistance’s sole object is to prevent you and me from becoming concert pianists, writing bestselling novels, founding the follow-on to
Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.

In other words, Resistance’s purpose is to prevent good from entering the world.
Ergo: Resistance is the devil. Ergo: If there is a devil, there must be a God.

I read this and it took my breath away. Not only is Mr. Resistance the bane of my own existence, he’s the devil besides! OMG!

What a light bulb moment as I read, and re-read Steven Pressfield’s newsletter. I knew it wasn’t so easy to shake off Resistance. This knowledge is powerful stuff.

My thought process on this has certainly changed with this information. I’ll be doubly watchful as I go about my work from now on.

Mr. Resistance Overstays His Welcome Yet Again

The newest watercolor painting is waiting to be finished
The newest watercolor painting is waiting to be finished

Mr. Resistance has been overstaying his not-so-welcome welcome. Work is just not getting done. This painting has been hanging around so long. I just can’t get to finish it.

And, as I have learned, catching cold after cold, (or is it allergy attacks?), it is due to Mr. Resistance. Let me be honest in saying I’ve been letting him get his way.

I’m not happy about it and the Muse is not happy with me either.

Which leads me to believe I must be coming close to an important break through in my painting. Man, I just can’t get back to work for anything!

Here’s what I think: Lately I’ve been dreaming about painting in oils again to work larger than I’ve been recently, and how it would be cool to have a gallery/studio space outside of my home. Of these ideas, renting a space is the most costly and may be out of the question for now, unless I can find some other like minded artists to chip in. It’s just an idea. What do I know about gallery stuff anyway? Nothing.

Apparently, deep down inside, the inner artist-child must be scared to death of these ideas because everything is happening so that nothing happens.

Does that make sense?