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.


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.

Beating Resistance

Resistance Can Be Beaten

If Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no Fifth Symphony, no Romeo and Juliet, no Golden Gate Bridge. Defeating Resistance is like giving birth. It seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty million years.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Urn in Garden 8x10 Acrylic on Canvas ©Dora Sislian Themelis $100
Urn in Garden 8×10 Acrylic on canvas ©Dora Sislian Themelis $100

As my “friend and mentor” Steven Pressfield writes in his great work The War of Art, Mr. Resistance can be beat. I can tell you he’s right because I’ve been successful at it, here and there.

If beating down Resistance would happen each and every day, it would be a grand thing for me.


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.


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.

Resistance is Bad For Your Health? Wow

Apple with Broken Shells ©Dora Sislian Themelis 7x9 Watercolor
Apple with Broken Shells ©Dora Sislian Themelis 7×9 Watercolor

I don’t know how he does it, but that Mr. Steven Pressfield is one amazing, intuitive guy. Today I read a post on his blog dealing with Resistance yet again, and again, he hits home. I literally hit myself in the head with my hand as I read it.

Where does he get it all?

His post in Writing Wednesdays: Advance Forms of Resistance stopped me in my tracks because I already had an annoying morning of sorta disaster, like he describes in his post.

Tuesday is my day to study with Mr. Resistance. Did I do it? No. Did I post? No. I thought about it, but didn’t act. I did, however, do some work, thank goodness.

Hitting my stride, working out my kinks, feeling okay about the work that’s happening in the studio. I even listed some work in that Etsy shop I have. Yes I know I should be doing that right here, but I have to figure it out first, okay?

Some how I didn’t post yesterday, and today here’s Steven Pressfield, telling me that Resistance is becoming bad for his health! He banged his hand badly, cracked his skull, broke his toe, all as he was nearing the finish of his work.

Amazing thought: he says it’s Resistance! Yikes!

Surprisingly, I’ve been having that kind of stuff going on with me, but not as drastic. Yesterday inside my refrigerator it was snowing. Okay, had to fix that. This morning I knocked over my beloved fresh hot cup of coffee all over the tablecloth, the floor, and inside The Mr.’s shoes. Okay, clean that up. Just before sitting to write this post I put in a load of laundry, was distracted by some other thing and before I knew it the laundry cycle was finished and I didn’t add the clothes to the machine. Yup, it washed nothing.

Just great.

Thank you Mr. Resistance.

Resistance vs Muse

Starting a new work
Starting a new work

Mr. Resistance is quite a character. Over the time I’ve been studying about him I’ve gained somewhat of a respect for his talent and ability to totally screw up my daily agenda.

I still hate him, but I know he’s there, and what he’s capable of doing to me.


However, since I’ve been following Steven Pressfield’s thought process on Resistance, I’ve become enamored of his idea of the Muse. You know, you’ve got to have good and evil, yin and yang, the Good Witch or the Bad Witch.

Mr. Resistance’s other half is this kind of entity.

In Pressfield’s imagination the Muse flies around in her little plane thingy. As she flies by she checks to see if the good little artist is at her easel. If  not, she whizzes away. She’ll try again the next day. Not there? Okay, she’s gone again. Stay out of the loop enough times and she doesn’t bother coming back.

The Muse is totally not like Mr. Resistance, who never leaves. Please, leave.

Turning a corner on that creep I showed up at the easel. Low and behold there was the Muse, hovering over head. I sorted through my idea pile, got out the large watercolor block and just started in on this new work.

Twenty minutes in, I stopped to let the paint dry, and a little bit later I tried working in more color to define the shapes and shadows.

Another twenty minutes later
Another twenty minutes later

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do this painting, but so what? May as well catch the Muse as she flies by and drops some fairy dust on my scattered brain making the most of the process.


Resistance is Weird Stuff

The Restful Spot ©2012 Dora Sislian Themelis
The Restful Spot ©2012 Dora Sislian Themelis

The more I study the many forms Resistance takes, I am shocked at how it manifests itself as normal, every day stuff of life.

Well, you and I would think it’s life stuff. However, according to Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art, much of it is Mr. Resistance at work. Which means No Work.

Resistance and Self-Medication

“Depression and anxiety may be real. But they can also be Resistance.”
~Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Get a load of that! Let that sentence soak in.

Many of us have had our moments, I know I have. But conjuring up anxiety or depressive spells to avoid doing our work?

Is it a little weird?

Maybe the point is it’s subconcious.

“When we drug ourselves to blot out our soul’s call, we are being good Americans and exemplary consumers. We’re doing exactly what TV commercials and pop materialist culture have been brainwashing us to do form birth. Instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work, we simply consume a product.
Many pedestrians have been maimed or killed at the intersection of Resistance and Commerce.”