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Growth in stepping back?

January 4, 2019

“Oh it’s finished- don’t touch it, it’s perfect like that,” my dad pushes excitedly, waving his hand toward my painting that is still a work-in-progress. The joke’s on him, though, because none of them have ever been “finished".

How do I know when to stop? Until recently I'd been under the impression that I stop when it’s balanced, when it's comfortable.

Looking back at my older work, I remember it differently- I feel now as though I may have been stopping when it was uncomfortable, and that was what drew me in to painting to begin with. Ripping off all of my own bandaids.

This fall I've felt a more obvious need to explore unexpected results, discomfort, and “just being okay with where it's at” once I call it finished. I suspect that lately it’s partly due to the fact that, where I live, we hate wasting heat energy in this big west coast house, so we’re stoically practising the art of layering clothes when it’s 12°C in here. (We're fine, we have an entire drawer packed with different kinds of tea.)

For my can't-sit-still nervous system, the discomfort I explore comes in the form of simplicity. Weeding through the noise and fine detail of a memory with the goal of simplifying and examining each shape thoroughly. Separating the gestures, one at a time. Allowing the discomfort of revealing detail in a minimally altered lick of paint, when what I really want to do is prod and modify it endlessly.

My fascination with discomfort has definitely grown this past year. Coaching myself while rock climbing, paddling myself farther down the lake than usual, and then painting fewer strokes. With each activity, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” rings in my ears, almost like a mantra. And the repetition is necessary; it’s an ongoing process, continually reminding myself to gnaw on this growth-mindset nugget of truth.

"Be bold, start cold,” I proclaim as I start off on a winter run.

“Don’t touch it,” I hold my own hand back from adding any further changes to wet paint.

A balancing act of getting in a flow, then swimming against the current to see just how much strength I can acquire after completing this exercise.

In the end (is there an end?) I’ve been pleasantly surprised with each “finished” painting and the growth discovered under all those ripped-off bandaids. To walk away from something and allow it to be enough is a feat in itself. I always want to have the last word, but instead I let it speak for itself.

On a more-than-weekly basis social media floods me with “you are enough”, and although I accept this softness as truth, I am also looking for growth. Growth is uncomfortable.

The layers in each piece reveal my process and the history of the piece, and part of my job is to step back allow my decisions to be on display.

So, I guess that’s where the real fear is- making decisions that people can see.

- Ang


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