Doing the Opposite

This morning I woke at 6am, my usual wake-up time on a Friday. But this morning, instead of hopping out of bed and into the shower, I had a headache so strong that I knew I would not be able to make it down to Chichester to run the penultimate session of my Exploring Collections course. So, for the first time in ten years, I cancelled a session. It was early enough that I was able to inform my assistant and all of the participants before they left home and having done so, I went back to bed to try and sleep it off.

My usual way, when ill, is to try and power through it… to show up regardless and do my best, even though I may be feeling rubbish. This morning my body had other ideas and forced me into taking some down time. For once, I listened… I napped, I woke later, made a green smoothie, sat quietly and then, when I felt a little better, pottered about and even did a little bit of painting in the fresh afternoon air. With the boys away with their Dad for the day, it felt good to be putting myself first and just do what my body asked. Fresh air, nature and art are always the best tonic, but I don’t always treat myself.

After reminders from a good friend recently, I made a conscious effort to breathe deeply and be aware of each breath. When I am stressed, I fall into a pattern of shallow breathing, today I did the opposite and made each breath deep. That felt better!

In the garden, I worked on a piece that had been sitting for a while, awaiting the moment when I was ready to revisit it. When I left it last time, I felt it was almost finished, but coming back to it, it needed some serious changes. I spent some time sitting on the grass, masking out areas, painting over and around the tape, adding colour to the gaps. After a period of frustration I stopped. It just wasn’t working.

I had not picked up a paintbrush in a couple of weeks, but I had spent a lot of time at work and out walking, painting in my head. I had new ideas, thoughts of fresh colours and different approaches, but in working on this older painting, I had returned to the place I left off, still working softly in pastels. No wonder it wasn't working out too well!

So I stepped away, went indoors and sat quietly again. I thought about what I had been doing - continuing with the pastel shades - and thought about what I could do instead. What if I did the opposite? Yes, that was it!

After a little while pondering, I returned to the painting, this time mixing up a blend of teal (Phthalo Turquoise) and black. I pencilled in some random leaf and flower shapes and I painted around them, leaving little windows of pastels visible against the dark background. This felt GOOD! A little later, when it dried, I went in again, added dots and lines and a little bit of glazing in leaf green, pink and a touch of white. Later still, after dinner and a shower, sitting at the kitchen table (studio) in my dressing gown, I went back in with a blend of white with rich and fluorescent pinks on top - more bright flowers! For now, that’s where I have left the painting. There comes a point (for me, usually late at night), when it’s wiser to step away when things have just turned from good to uncertain. If I don’t stop at that point I could be painting all night! Many times I have done that… up with brush still in hand at 3am. Tonight, I am doing the opposite.

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Julia Elmore