It’s a Saturday night, and I’m not out with friends. I’m at home, mixing paint with water, a flow medium, and acrylic oil. Once the colors have all been mixed, I’ll layer them in a cup, then upend the cup I’ve poured the different colors in. A few minutes to allow it to settle against the canvas, then I’ll pull the cup, and spend several minutes tilting the canvas back and forth.
People who have known me for more than two years were shocked when I told them I had been taught pour painting by a friend and that I was absolutely smitten with the process.
There’s no real control in pour painting, past the point in the process when you layer the paint in a cup. You can create striations in the paint by shifting the canvas back and forth in a certain way, but the process takes a certain amount of letting go and letting what will be, be.
For myself, learning the process of pour painting was an exercise in the yogic practices of the yamas and niyamas. There was the lesson of Ahimsa, non-harming, on the afternoon I crouched in a squat for ten minutes, slowly adding paint to a canvas through a strainer while a friend of mine spun the canvas beneath it, and realizing the next day I had over extended my hip flexors to the point I had to take a few days off from my yoga practice. Satya, truthfulness, in learning to be honest that sometimes my work was amazing; other times, it was “meh.” Santosha, contentment, in accepting my paintings as they were. Svadhyaya, self-study, in how I always cleaned between pours at the beginning of a pouring session, and would tend to worry about the clean up later on in the process. Ishvara Pranidhana, surrender, more so than any other yama or niyama, because ultimately, my paintings would turn out how they would turn out.
I never intended to become an artist. Raised by a CPA and a hard-core, old-school, traditional Catholic, I was told from a young age that my goal in life needed to be motherhood. College was for the purpose of finding a husband to support me and become the father of my children.
I walked away from a scholarship at St. Gregory’s College in Shawnee, Oklahoma at age eighteen, one month before I would have begun my freshman year of college, the thought in my head that if I continued following the path my parents had planned for me, I’d be lost. My first marriage happened at age nineteen, my second at twenty-seven, motherhood for the first time one month shy of my twenty-eighth birthday.
I’d set out with various plans in place, ideas and ideals about how my life would be, yet things never would pan out as they had on paper. There is a belief held quite strongly by people that if you stray from the path you’re intended to be on, the Universe will shift you back onto that path; sometimes gently, sometimes with great force.
Looking back, so much of my life was spent in the pursuit of fulfilling other people’s ideas of who I should be, how I should look, how I should behave. Yet there would be moments where I’d get a realization of not being my true self, and would feel a tightening around my chest of fear of losing who I was.
Yet I had no idea who that woman was. I had no idea how to figure it out. I had other people’s versions of me they had been describing to me, yet I didn’t have my own idea of who I was.
At age thirty-nine, I had a wake up call. Laying in my bed at 6 a.m., watching diamond shapes of stained glass cast by the light coming through my bedroom window slowly shift across my bedspread I realized that the crisis I had been struggling through the last few years was my fault and my fault alone; certainly other people had taken part in it. Yet I owned the responsibility as the one who allowed it to take place.
I stopped listening to other people’s stories of me. I stopped listening to what they thought I should do, who they thought I was, and only listened to that interior voice, letting it be my guide. I began taking part in things I had told myself I had no interest in, just to see how they fit. I stopped thinking of what could go wrong, stopped being concerned what my friends thought of what I was doing, and put myself first for the first time in my life.
Painting was just that: I had been told for years I had no talent for art. And maybe I did not have a talent for it. But that belief came from people telling me I couldn’t, similar to someone telling a ten year old they can’t drive. They have no experience with it, of course they can’t do it. They haven’t been taught how to do it.
I hadn’t been taught how to paint. I had no background in it. Yet I still signed up for a local paint nite class. My first painting wasn’t perfect, but even now I can still look at it hanging on the wall by my desk in my home office and be proud of the effort and the end result.
One class led to many, and a friendship with the instructor. A part of me I did not know existed came to life.
Two years later, post yoga instructor certification, my friendship with my instructor Jessi yielded an invitation to come to her house and try pour painting. It was like heroin: I tried it once and became addicted. I’d ask friends for color combinations, pour out a painting, and when it dried, hand it over to the friend who had made the suggestions. Or I’d put together different combinations, wanting to continue that rush of seeing what happened when I pulled the cup from the canvas. Handing an orange pour painting to my friend Iris inspired Iris and her husband to hire me to do a larger canvas for their home. Relaying the story to my boss at the gym I work for, he and his wife commissioned me to do a large canvas.
Yet, despite how far I came from that morning in 2016 watching those diamond shapes of colors float across my bedspread, I still couldn’t completely let go. Letting go has never been my strong suit, with good reason: I’ve had to fight for my mental and physical health for years, for motherhood, for jobs, to be remembered by so called friends who always seemed to forget my birthday or that they were supposed to meet me for dinner.
Every time I’ve layered paint in a cup, it’s been an exercise in Ishvara Pranidhana, in letting go, in surrendering to the idea that what will be, will be. Even the commissions I’m hired to do, I warn my clients to not get too attached to the outcome of the test pour, because the final pour will be much different. No two pours are the same, even those that are done with the same set of paints, the same amount of each color, the same order of paint colors. I pull that cup, and chaos reigns.
And in doing so, I began to truly learn to surrender, to have faith, to let go. That even if it wasn’t what I had planned, even if it is not what I imagined things would turn out as, it is in no way less beautiful, no way less needed, no way less important.
In retrospect, those times in my life in which I did let go and not worry about the end result, no longer trying to control the outcome, the Universe gave me the most beautiful and striking experiences of my life.
I’ve named every painting I’ve poured, whether poured for my own experience, my own wall decoration, or a client’s painting. I may have asked for suggestions on names, especially with those pieces commissioned by a client, but each piece stands out, each has been a piece of moving forward, a lesson learned, a gift of healing.
Saturday night, I mixed paint with water, flow medium, acrylic oil. I layered it in a cup, flipped the cup over on top of a canvas, tapped on the top of the cup to help it settle, then pulled the cup from the canvas. I tilted the canvas back and forth, not concerned with the end result, yet attached to the end, wanting to see how exactly this particular painting would turn out. I watched off and on for a few hours after I placed it back on the cups I was using to prop the painting up to dry, seeing the cells of acrylic oil shift and move.
About twelve hours after the pour, the canvas begins to dry, the cells of oil stop shifting, things begin to lock into place. And the end is there. There’s nothing left to let go of, there is only the opportunity to be grateful to have the chance to let go, and surrender to faith that the universe will give us what we need when we’re ready to receive it.
Love yourself and love each other,