Tuesday, March 9, 2010


One reason we do not give advice in Al-Anon, is co-dependents like me, who waffle between control-freakery, and then with something about which we are uncertain, being willing to substitute another person's judgement for our own. I've just had another example of this for myself,  since I started trying to paint with watercolors.

As a child, I was taught: if you don't know, and you want to know - look it up. Research it, and teach yourself. I learned how to sew, garden, do stained glass, type, all sorts of activities and interests, by getting a book, or several books, and teaching myself. That worked well for me. Painting is different. I don't want to sound too wierd, but it appears that painting comes from another place entirely inside the head. Too many how-to books just get in my way. I tried a painting using techniques learned from the books of a woman who does amazingly realistic watercolors, and all it did was twist me up to the point that I wasn't enjoying myself at all.

Not only that, but I was beginning to walk up to the painting, gaze at it, sigh heavily, and walk away. Substituting other people's opinions on "how to paint watercolors" was ruining my enjoyment of painting completely. I'd begun this process having fun slopping paint around, and before too much time had elapsed, the old perfectionistic thinking crept in, and that wasn't enough. The end result became more important than the process.

Last night I started a new painting, and resolutely ignoring all the advice I'd been gathering through reading how-to books, went right back to the beginning - slopping paint onto the paper, and doing whatever felt right at the time, to get the effect I wanted. It was enormously satisfying, and today, I still like the painting. It's my painting. It's not someone else's painting done with my hand, if you can follow that rather spooky thought.

This appears to be a lesson I need to learn anew with some regularity. Even after all this time in program, just let me be new to something, be exposed to an "expert," and I can begin to wobble and get unbalanced in my thinking. This author can paint astoundingly lifelike watercolors, so she/he must know the "right" way to do it. Stepford painting, if you will. Remove my judgement, and substitute that of the other person.

I was talking to my spouse about this, and they were idly glancing through the introductory chapter of the painting book which I'd been trying to follow, and said, "This artist works largely from photographs, so it's no wonder her technique isn't working for you - you're trying to paint a still life from life, using techniques she uses to paint from photographs."

Clunk. Understanding slots into place. That's why I felt such a disconnect. I don't read prefaces or intros to books of this sort, I skip right past them. If I'd stopped long enough to read the book's intro, I'd have set it aside as not relevant. I can't paint from photographs. I know that works very well for super-realism, but it puts a barrier in between me and the subject; I feel like I'm painting the photograph, and not the subject. And anyway, super-realism has never appealed to me particularly, because the paintings look like photographs, and I prefer paintings which offer me the artist's vision....so why was I getting caught up in this?

Why? Because I was researching "how to paint with watercolors," and this was a reference book from the library. So it goes. I've decided to go back to where I was, before the books I'd requested began to come in -  paint without reading any more reference or instruction books. I was happy at the start of this, it was only when I began to read advice and try to implement it. that I got myself all skewed into such misery that I wasn't painting.

This rather long and rambling post gives a classic example of why I am eternally grateful that we do not give advice in Al-Anon. Just try extrapolating this into major life choices - makes my teeth stand on end, imagining the outcome.


  1. I may have erred in this area today. I'm glad I can make amends when the time arrives. I did not advise but I did share and wasn't asked for my e,s, and h so in my head that is probably the same thing. ::sigh:: progress...progress


  2. I heard a lot of advice tonight in the group conscience. It left an uneasy feeling as personalities were placed above principles. I suppose that is just another example of how we edge God out.

  3. I'm a painter, mostly in watercolor and think your post today contains some wonderful insights and analogies. I've had some formal training but most of my experience is of the self-taught variety, much as you've described yours, from research & trying things out. Years ago, I went through my how-to books and sold most of them on eBay. I kept one Watercolor book and use it as a Primer because it is basic, not preachy, points to solutions, answers questions. It always reminds me of the great value in Keeping it Simple. I've learned more by doing what feels right to me than doing it by the book. Are you ever going to post any of your work? I wish you happy painting. Thanks for your really helpful, thoughtful posts.