Seeing Old Art Through New Eyes

We have recently finished renovating 3 old cabins on Mystic Waters. After a dramatic search for the water connection for one them (it’s a long story), the basics are mostly done. Now it’s time to make them beautiful. The walls really need to be dressed up – and seeing my old art through new eyes has unleashed a whole fresh burst of ideas and creativity. It’s also reminded me of how easy it is to forget what makes me strong.

My husband suggested I frame some of my original art and hang it. My first thought was this: “What a dumb idea. I don’t have anything that is frame-able.” My assumption was pretty simple. When a painting is “frame-worthy”, I frame it and either sell it or hang it. My stubborn desire to always be right kept me from doing anything with this for a while…and then my curiosity got the better of me.

It started with me in the studio, opening drawers looking for something else. In one of the drawers that almost never gets opened, I found a big brown envelope. When I pulled it out, I found the this picture.

I had forgotten that I could do this. The part of me that came out of hiding to produce this piece went back under-cover almost immediately all those years ago.

Finding this drawing stuffed away in a drawer reminds me that art  – or any other expression of ourselves  – is more about the willingness to be real and be seen and to risk not being liked than it is knowledge and technique.

When I was young, my mother -an art major in college – taught me how to sketch portraits. She helped me learn to see the proportions, and most importantly, to understand that the eyes are NOT at the top of the oval, but in the middle.

Just because I knew HOW to draw did not mean that I could bring myself to risk the critique of showing WHAT I would sketch

So 30+ years ago, I sketched this and put it away, only to find it all these years later. Now my curiosity was piqued. What else is hiding in here?

And in the next hour, it was like I had entered a whole new world. My eyes began to see differently.

In that same drawer, I found one of my earliest paintings from my “watercolor era” which started around 2002. An older, gentler version of me was able to give that painting a loving critique and then a slight makeover. By adding some depth to the trees, a “drawer painting” became frame-worthy.

​Still needing MANY more paintings to fill those walls, I started pulling out more drawer discards. Having opening my mind to the possibility of bringing 16 years of experience and the courage to screw it up, I started having some serious fun.

One of my favorite reclamations started with a frame mixed with desperation and a big dose of seeing everything through the eyes of possibility. I had been storing a square frame for years and had never painted a square painting. It’s just a weird proportion. With my new found courage, I pulled out several old paintings that were too big for the frame. Then I started experimenting with finding the best part of the picture:

Just putting a frame on this made it a better painting in my eyes. Here’s the original:

Now I had a choice to make. Which part would I reclaim, knowing that the rest of the painting would be scrapped? I was feeling kind of reckless, so I made my choice and got to work. I figured the worst that could happen was that a long forgotten painting would simply move from the bottom of the drawer to the trash. It’s just paint and paper, I thought.

If only it were that easy. In reality, working with this painting was pretty uncomfortable at times. Once I decided this was going to become a “good painting”, I got more invested in the outcome. Seeing with new eyes quickly triggered the old patterns designed to keep me safe and keep me small.

I started wondering “will it be enough?”, which quickly morphs into the question “am I enough?” Dammit. It’s just an experiment with paint and paper!

I talked myself into having fun with it – and after letting go of a good outcome, I’m pretty happy with the final outcome:

The differences are mostly subtle – I just brought out the parts of the painting that were already interesting. I strengthened what was already there. I reframed what was so -so and made it frame-worthy. It is still full of “mistakes” and imperfections – and those are part of what makes it good.

The painting was enough. With new eyes and a new frame, it is now unleashed. 

This experience has reminded me – once again – that we are enough too. Where do we need to find the courage to screw it up and make mistakes? What will it take to bring our true selves out of hiding? How can we learn to be real and confident in who we are at the same time? Where can we see ourselves with new eyes and a new frame? Where have you forgotten what you are truly capable of?

Your strength is already there.                 

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