“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I went to SQUAM Lake this week, deep in the glorious, clear air of New Hampshire, to teach art. I was invited by Elizabeth Duvivier, an endlessly creative and giving woman, who’s talent also lies in bringing together beautiful, creative people, and providing an atmosphere in which they bloom.
Out of my comfort zone, and having experienced a very bad day of travel, I landed in the dark woods, rolling two heavy suitcases over pine needles and rocks, peeking in cabin windows to find the place I was to stay.
SHADOW PINES the little sign said, a tiny, rustic cabin, just 25 feet off the lake. It’s own private dock, a fireplace, and the reflection of the moon in its thick, rolling water. Loons called in the night. I fell asleep immediately in my classic camp bedroom.
At daylight I was whisked away by Elizabeth to a classic, east coast, camp dining hall, where we stacked two plates with food and rushed to the building where I would teach.
Paints, canvases, papers, a giant fireplace, and another view of the lake. I relaxed for the first time in 36 hours, eating eggs and preparing my mind for the day.
Teaching is new to me, and has never come naturally. On top of that, I love to be alone and well, I wasn’t sure how zapping this would be. What happened next was so unexpected. I was so uplifted by each and every one of my students, as I rolled from table to table, peeking over their shoulders. Each and every one of them had something completely different and lovely to offer up on their canvas. Talking with them and encouraging them came completely naturally.
As I led them through the creative process, they were completely gung ho. There were frustrating moments and delightful moments, and we did our best to work through all of them. We wanted to see what was on the other side.
Painting is not for sissies. There is no pattern like knitting, no expected outcome. There are moments when you have to face yourself, and your failure. Every. Single. Time. And there are moments where you feel brilliant. You cannot be a painter unless you are willing to see all of this. I did my best to shed a few tidbits of helpful inspiration along the way, and to share a piece of myself, because that’s what I had to offer.
All the while, the birds were landing in the water outside our window. The docks waited patiently, and the lake rustled its crystal clear water over sparkling rocks. Deep forests lined its banks. Somehow, this was all so reassuring.
What I told my students was this: Good or bad painting is simply not relevant. Each of us has a unique perspective, something to share that no one else has, simply because we are in our skin, and no one else’s. We have a unique history, our own quirky family crap that made us who we are, our own mistakes and successes, and loves and losses.
In the end, this is what we have to share with the world – something no one else has. And herein lies the value. To not paint, or for me to not teach, is to deprive the world of our unique perspective.
When our paintings look like hell, or my teaching voice is boring even me, I say keep going. Keep. Moving. Ahead. Somewhere in there is something brilliant, and the world is waiting to hear it.
Thanks to all of my students, who made it easy to teach, by being so lovely, and by simply being willing to try.