The Blank Canvas

April 28, 2019

In college, I painted residential and commercial murals as one of my many jobs. I used acrylics, a lot of tape, a lot of brushes, a mutually agreed upon mural design, and a lot of containers. Every time I started a job, I would begin by laying drop cloths on the floor, drawing my design on the walls, taping every thing I needed to mark off, and mixing my palette colors. Then I would step back and study the room. I would get super anxious as the large blank walls stared back at me, awaiting the first brush stroke. Is the design right? Is the color palette right?

The overwhelming feelings at that time in my life were almost debilitating. I wasn't able to work with my mind in those moments, and the deprecating feelings were too loud. The anxiety of not getting it right, the lack of confidence I felt, and the judgement I assumed would come when the client saw my work indelible on their walls, would spill over and I could never contain my fears. These feelings were very young and not about my painting at all. I became aware of what was happening when I started a nursery room design of farm animals...

As I sat in the empty room, I got all of my containers I would use for my brushes and paint ready. I then realized I didn't have enough for the job I was about to start, so I called my dear friend in a panic and said, "I don't have enough containers! What am I going to do?" My friend heard and saw what I couldn't see. She gently reminded me of the metaphor of my emotional containment, that the containers for my paint was not enough. That I needed help. She came over and lovingly provided the emotional containment I needed and practically brought me some more plastic containers. I was able to connect with myself and finish the project.

Farm Mural Finished - 1990

This last Saturday, I sat at our morning table with my sketch book and pen. A typical Saturday includes sketching and writing about my current paintings, or what I am learning. Yesterday, I sat and stared at the blank sketch book page. I felt that old familiar experience from some 30 years ago, and I remembered my friends words. I remembered how I was able to walk through that period of my life with better thinking and finally acknowledging when I needed help.

Saturday morning staring at a blank sketch book page

Yesterday was my first day after my retirement party. I ended up enjoying myself at the party, though I was anxious in moments. I tried to allow myself to show up as myself, since it had been eight months since I left work for medical leave. During my leave, I longed for contact from my colleagues, some of whom I had worked with for twenty years. And yet, my leave had and has been a season to learn to sit with myself and be okay with all that it meant. That same blank sketch book page is still sitting on our morning table, and this morning as I walked by the blank page untouched, I felt okay with it. And with me. I have gained enough containers.

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