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.


Time For A Gift Give-Away

Sign on my email list for news and a chance to win The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

A while ago I received this great gift in the mail. I wrote a post about it at the time, too. The publicist of the author Steven Pressfield, (a genius on artists and Resistance in my opinion), Callie Oettinger, sent me copies of his books after reading my tales of Resistance woe. Needless to say, I was in heaven.

This blog was new in this WordPress space, having migrated it from Blogger, and I thought it would be a great idea to do a give-away contest with these great books as a gift for readers who signed on to my email list.

Guess what happened? You know it! Mr. Resistance decided that it would be such a stupid idea. He told me I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to do it anyway so why bother. That guy did so much yapping in my brain I couldn’t stand it.

This email sign up stuff has been the hardest thing I’ve had to overcome. Since reading The War of Art I recognize it’s the one thing I need to do to move ahead. I’m having Email List nightmares.

Have I figured out how to manage the give-away? Nope, but I’m determined to do it now as soon as possible. I’m going to give myself a deadline and tell you right now that by year’s end I am giving away The War of Art to a random person who signs up for my list, details to come.

There, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet Mr. Resistance. Let’s watch the fireworks happen now.

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?


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.”


Resistance Study on Tuesday

Dark Apple Hides Shells, Watercolor  ©2012Dora Sislian Themelis
Dark Apple Hides Shells, Watercolor ©2012Dora Sislian Themelis
Resistance and Self Dramatization

“Creating soap opera in our lives is a symptom of Resistance. Why put in years of work designing a new software interface when you can get just as much attention by bringing home a boyfriend with a prison record?”~Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Steven Pressfield knows how to crack me up. No I can’t relate to this section of his book, but I’m sure there are plenty of creatives out there that do.

I do love his way with words and laughed out loud at much of this. In fact I may have watched TV episodes of some sitcoms that sounded just like this craziness:

“Sometimes entire families participate unconsciously in a culture of self-dramatization. The kids fuel the tanks, the grownups arm the phasers, the whole starship lurches from one spine-tinging episode to another. And the crew knows how to keep it going. If the level of drama drops below a certain threshold, someone jumps in to amp it up. Dad gets drunk, Mom gets sick, Janie shows up for church with an Oakland Raiders tattoo. it’s more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a damn thing done.”

Can you imagine this scene?

More importantly, would you ever think this is all about Resistance?

Just hold that thought for a moment.

The idea that artists, or anyone in the middle of an important endeavor, would raise hackles like this only to put off doing their work is way out there.

But is it, really?

Since I’ve been studying this Resistance thing, it’s become easy to imagine how many ways there to not work. Really, the thing we most want to do is the thing we try hardest NOT to do.




Back to The War of Art, Again

Resistance and Procrastination, Part Two

“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.”
~Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

What a mouthful! Can you just imagine for a moment, putting off doing the work one day thinking you’ll get to  it tomorrow, and tomorrow becomes the next day, or even the next after that? Days could turn into weeks unless we  stop ourselves from jumping down that rabbit hole. There is every possibility that months can pass without putting brush to canvas, pen to paper.

Chose your poison.

Why is procrastination such an easy habit to develop? Life would be so much better if we could flip it around so that getting our work done consistently becomes the habit.

Somehow I am going figure out how to flip the switch and turn Mr. Resistance on his head.

Steven Pressfield’s Newest Book, The Authentic Swing

The Authentic Swing, by Steven Pressfield
The Authentic Swing, by Steven Pressfield on my art table

Synchronicity abounds lately. It seems that when we are ready and open to receive the “gifts” things start to move. The Universe sends it’s power our way. Use it or lose it.

A while back, as I was writing here about beating Mr. Resistance by reading Steven Pressfield’s great book, The War of Art, I received a note from his lovely publicist, Callie Oettinger. She liked my posts and sent me copies of Steven’s other books. What a thrill that was! I wanted to read Turning Pro and Do The Work after I finished with The War of Art, and here they were on my doorstep. Thankful and grateful for such a generous gesture toward me, an artist writing this little blog about life and art.

Just a couple of weeks ago I spied a package at my door. To my surprise it was Steven Pressfield’s newest book, The Authentic Swing, about his writing process for his novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance. I was swooning once again.

After I stopped jumping from excitement I started to read and found it magical in the way Pressfield describes his process. Page by page I had Aha! moments.

Yes, like golf, the artist is on his own. Yes, like golf, artists need to find their own voice/style, Authentic Swing. Yes, like golf, art is an individual sport. I could identify with so much of this book it made me dizzy, the way I lose myself in painting. That kind of dizzy.

A section in the book gave me pause. I held my breath as I read it. The title of the section was Cover The Canvas. Yikes! I know all about covering the canvas, quick before I lose it.

“My mantra for first drafts is “Cover the canvas.” What I mean by that is that our supreme priority is to get SOMETHING down from Page One to The End-no matter how incomplete or imperfect.

Don’t stop. Don’t think. Don’t look down.

The enemy in the first draft is not incompleteness or inexactness of imprefection. The enemy is Resistance. The enemy is self sabotage.”

There it was, the enemy. The bane of my artist existence is Mr. Resistance, self sabotage, myself.

Am I ever going to get Resistance behind me? Learning how by reading the process of accomplished professionals like Steven Pressfield helps tremendously. As I study his books my time away from painting is much shorter than it once was. I am learning how to invite the Universe and ignore Mr. Resistance standing in the corner.

Now, if I could harness that knowledge to get over the fear of moving forward with this website, I want to hold a free giveaway of the extra copies of Mr. Pressfield’s books. When I figure that out, and if I could hide what I’m doing from Mr. Resistance, I’ll let you know.

When Resistance is at Bay

Patmos Goats ©2013Dora Sislian Themelis 9×12 Watercolor

While I go on and on about not meeting the requirements of the latest challenge, something clicked inside my artist brain the last few days.

Just to keep you updated, I’ve been reading Steven Pressfield’s wonderful book on Resistance, The War of Art, again. It was a wonderful help in the past and is now.

That, and this 30 paintings in 30 days challenge. Or, as I should call it, my Not 30 in 30 Challenge. Man, I am so far behind I’m not going to bother to catch up.

The thing is this: I know I want to paint, but something has to spark my imagination. Like Steven Pressfield suggests, I have to just do it, be present, sit down at the desk and be ready for the Muse/Spirit/Whatever to inspire. More about the wonderful Mr. Pressfield to come.

The garden is fading. The colorful flowers are gone, their stems are drying, everything is either green or brown now. None of my shells appealed to me. Neither did the apples I like to use. The last few paintings had apples and shells together at the beach. Ok, but now I needed something new. Some photos from my summer trip appealed to me and I chose a few to try. I sketched the scene quickly in paint and as it dried I worked in more detail, just feeling satisfaction in the process and the colors.

When Resistance is at bay synchronicity abounds. It felt really good to get something on the paper. Done.

Today I decided I wanted to paint this same scene from my photos again, but differently, going for an even sketchier feeling. The day was free, nothing on the agenda, the house was quiet, and the equipment was ready.

Another try..looser this time
Another try..looser this time

Pushing myself to look at the whole rather than just the subject, I dropped in paint and tried to mold the forms with color being mindful of the wet areas. Watercolor is unforgiving. To keep the work fresh I moved around the paper to drier areas. Twenty minutes and this is where I stopped. I went back to it after it dried so it has more detail than you see here.

Another day, another look-see.