Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I had a major breakthrough in painting today; it's tremendously exciting.

I'd been working on a floral still life, and couldn't get my vision down on the paper. I'd overworked one group of blossoms, and that is a painting-killer in watercolor - once you've overworked an area, you can't get it back to the fresh and pristine look, and the more one fiddles with bandaid fixes, the deader the thing becomes.

Utterly maddening medium, watercolor.

I'd moved on to another area of the piece, a larger bloom, feeling inhibited by the fear that I was going to overwork it too, trying to make it behave. I was feeling stymied and disheartened.

I mixed a color for shadows, began to apply it, and realised it was about 3-4 times darker than I thought it should be, but I was so frustrated, I didn't care - I just kept slapping it onto that flower. The painting was a disaster anyway. I went so far as to darken some areas even further, feeling like a kid who deliberately wrecks a toy when thwarted.

Suddenly, between one brushstroke and another of that rich, dark color, that blossom stood up and practically waved at me, it was so lively. I stopped painting, and sat transfixed, looking from it to the dead, overworked area, astonished to realise that my loose and haphazard application of paint had brought the flower to life.

I got it. I saw it all laid out before me; where I'd gone wrong, and why it was working now. Once I comprehended it, I was amazed at my inability to perceive it before that moment - it was so obvious!

Understandings in Al-Anon can follow this same path for me. I'm like a remote-control car run up against the wall, backing up and smacking into it repeatedly, in an effort to make the wall move. It can take me a fair amount of time and a sore skull, before I'll try heading in another direction, and some of the best results have been happy accidents, like this flower was today.

Writing this, I realise that what happened, is that I gave up control over the painting. I admitted I was powerless. I let go. And in that letting go, I was sufficiently loosened up and uncaring of the outcome, that I could just look -  from the flower to the page, and slap down the shapes I saw before me.

Letting go is powerful, because I am, in effect, telling my ego,

"Oh, just go sit down over there and shut up, will you please?"

Without my ego yammering away in my inner ear, I can relax, and see with a different lens. It's truly a life-changing tool for me. I was giddy with delight when I finished this painting, small insignificant thing that it is, because now I'm looking at everything as light and shadows, instead of "a particular type of flower."

I was doing yoga exercises tonight, thinking about how to paint the yellow pepper I bought to put into tomorrow night's dinner salad - imagine the beautiful shadows on that. Or a Streptocarpus leaf, all velvety veins and curving rim. Or my little dog, lyingwhere the sun is streaming through the patio door and highlighting the fur along her spine. I can't wait to get started.


  1. Your flower and painting looks great to me. The flower is very lifelike. Sometimes the most obvious things eluded me before Al-Anon. I still have times like that but at least get the Ah-Ha moments much quicker than ever before. Glad that you had one with the painting.

  2. I absolutely love this post. I think you said everything that needs to be said. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  3. Love watercolor as a metaphor for our program. Either way, we've got to watch out for control issues and just do our best! Looks good to me!!

  4. Great painting, great analogy. Thanks for this post.