Top 5 Things I Learned by Painting


I can’t remember a time when art was not a part of my life.  In fact, I have a photo of myself at age 4 where I am happily finger painting at my Mickey Mouse table.  I owe that to my mom, who always encouraged creativity and even let me paint flowers on my bedroom wall in high school.

Because painting is like breathing to me, it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how much I have learned about myself and life from painting.  Let me know if this resonates with you.



Susie – 8″x10″ mixed media painting

Every good painting needs contrast (light vs. dark).  When I look at a painting, I try to make sure there is enough contrast to be pleasing to the eye.  If a painting was entirely light or entirely dark, something about it would feel “off” to our eyes.  You need contrast.

So how does this translate to my own life?  I recently painted a piece to reflect the essence of one of my dear friends.  When describing it to her, I told her it was open and feminine with specks of darkness.  Just like she is.

It hit me that just as the painting wouldn’t be the same without those specks of darkness, neither would my dear friend.  And if it is true for her, than it must be true for me.  You need the light and the dark.  The highs and the lows.

Maybe your darkness is anxiety, depression, a chronic health condition, or low self worth.  Instead of hating these parts of ourselves, why not embrace them and honor them for what they are?  Just as a painting’s dark spots are not reflective of the entire piece, our own dark spots are not reflective of who we are as a human being.  They are just a piece of who we are.  (Trust me, I have some work to do in this department.  I am not claiming to have it all figured out.)



Sacred Circles – 24″x24″ mixed media painting

I’ve decided if it is true in art or nature, it is nearly always true in my life.  Wow, is that ever true when it comes to rushing things.

Just like you can’t “hurry up” and make a tree grow, you can’t rush a painting.  Or a relationship.  Or a child’s development.  Or weight loss.  Or learning crow pose in yoga.  I could go on and on and on for pages.

I am not from the world’s most patient family.  But it is something I’ve learned to cultivate as an adult largely because of art.

I paint intuitively (fancy way of saying I start a painting without a plan and let it come to life organically). There are some times that a painting is just not ready to be born.  So it may sit for days or weeks or months.  It can be uncomfortable to sit patiently and wait.  And it is really uncomfortable to wait for things in life away from the canvas.  Lord, do I know this one to be true.  Thankfully, by painting regularly, I’ve developed my patience and can say honestly that I am better at it now than I was before.

There is a famous quote by Lao Tzu that says, “Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished.” I try to remember that when I find myself impatient in life inside and outside the studio.  Every time I’ve forced something into existence, the result is almost always something lower in quality.  There is benefit in slowing down and being patient.



Grace – a 16″x20″ mixed media painting

Every good painting needs balance.  When I am painting, I try to make sure colors and objects are distributed within the piece in a way that feels harmonious.  If a painting was lopsided or heavy on one side, something about it would feel “off” to our eyes – like walking into a living room where all the furniture is on one side of the room.  You need balance.

So how does this translate to my own life?  Just as a painting wouldn’t be pleasing with an imbalance, neither would my day/week/month.  I learn again and again that if it is true in art, than it is likely true for my life.  You need balance, an ongoing pursuit for the majority of us!

Does your life feel balanced?  Maybe your diet is lopsided leaving you exhausted in the afternoon, or maybe your work week is unbalanced and you just barely make it to the weekend.  Does work outweigh fun regularly?  Don’t judge yourself for it.  Now that it has your attention, invite creative solutions into your life to help correct the imbalance.



Birthday – a 16″ x 16″ fine art print

I’m surprised there isn’t a butt imprint on the windowsill in my art room.  When I need to see how a piece is coming together, I take about 4 steps back and sit on my windowsill.  I do this about a million times per painting.  It helps me see where things are going – what is working and what isn’t working.

Oh, perspective.  If only it was as easy to take 4 steps back from daily life and see where things are going.

If you lean more towards the controlling side like me, perspective is like a deep breath of fresh air.  Painting has actually reinforced this in my life off the canvas.  I have to remind myself frequently to take a step back, breathe, and look at the big picture.  When I focus on the tiny details of life, things can look distorted.  Perspective helps bring the whole picture into view.  And somehow that is really calming, even if you have to do it a million times.




Secret Garden – a 36″x48″ mixed media painting

Each painting I create starts with what I call a “fun filled layer.”  There are no rules for this layer.  I turn on music and make a big, joyful mess.  I love to involve children in this layer, so my 7 year old is often involved.  We dance around and let the joy spill out onto the canvas.

My paintings are repeatedly called joyful, and I often wonder if it is because the energy of this first layer seeps through.  (Side note: The painting to the left, Secret Garden, was actually started at an elementary school picnic.  Dozens of children worked on the first layer.)

Since I am an intuitive painter, the next layers of a piece come from me quite literally following the joy.  I see what parts of the piece I like, which parts I don’t like, and take it from there.  I follow the joy one decision at a time.

So how does this translate to my own life outside of art?  Whoa.  I am no stranger to anxiety and depression, and I can be controlling.  Following the joy is not something I did for the first several decades of life.  So it probably comes as no surprise that this is the single biggest lesson painting has taught me. 

For me, following the joy means honoring my intuition and listening to what my heart really wants.  This is not easy.  It often feels risky.  Isn’t that interesting?  I think it’s how we are groomed to be as humans and especially as women.  I can say with certainty that following the joy is top priority for me right now.  I am good at it on the canvas, and now it is time to practice it off the canvas.