Tag Archives: comfort zone

Florence, Day 5: What Can One Day Teach You? And Other Reflections on Life and Learning

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The sun rose on a warm and glorious day in Tuscany. After sleeping more (much-needed) hours than I can count, I woke up good as new, excited and ready to work outside in Florence. What can I learn today?

My mentor here in Italy is Enrico, a kind and patient teacher — thankfully, because, well, my prior training and the rules of Italy are different. For example, when I studied art in Mexico, my teacher would say, “Now that you are done looking, close your eyes and think how you feel. I don’t care so much what you see as how you feel about it. Now paint that.” I suspect if it were not for that very long and extremely well-established art history here, Italians with all of their wild, impassioned ways would be like this.

You see, Mexico does not have Michelangelo to live up to. But as my winemaker friends have explained to me, when you’ve been doing things a certain way for literally hundreds of years, you do it a certain way. There is only one way to make a Chianti, a Brunello, a Barolo. And so it is with art.

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My local winemaker friends say they have a freedom that a winemaker in Italy or other well-established regions don’t: They can experiment. And so it is with me.

I have to convince Enrico that it’s perfectly OK for me to leave that unsightly pillar out of my drawing, or forget about the big wall to my left, blocking my view of the city. He says, “But it is there.” Still, he’s patient with me; he’s very talented and kind, so I pay attention.

I, for my part, came here in a large part for the discipline. How do they teach art where they have been masters for so very long? So I stretch my comfort zone. I do as I’m told (mostly), and I’m growing. I’m using my pencil more than I have since college, and I’m slowing down. It’s relaxing on one hand, uncomfortable on the other. But isn’t the old saying, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”?

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Three Reasons Changing It Up Expands You as an Artist

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“I am a studio painter,” I have always proudly declared, following it up with, “Plein air is too frustrating; the sun dries the paint too quickly, and the wind blows everything all over. I like my studio.”

That’s what I’d say aloud, but then I’d see plein air painters and find myself envying the time they were able to spend surrounded by nature while exploring their craft.

Nature is good — it’s healing — and outside is where I long to be. So within me, two warring factions were at work: the longing to be in the great outdoors versus the comforts and convenience of my studio.

My avoidance of plein air came to a screeching halt when, this past January, I took a trip to Ethiopia with three other artists. Plein air painting was the major focus, so I had to learn. No more excuses. So I contacted a plein air painter I knew and asked her to show me the ropes.

It is like learning to paint all over again. All my created comforts were gone. I normally use jars of Nova Color paint — many of the colors I mix myself — and my palette is a large piece of plastic on a table next to my painting surface. This can’t be done outside, as the wind blows my plastic over and sends paint flying everywhere … that is, if the sun hasn’t already dried my large dollops of color to a crisp.

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I have to learn new ways and habits, and for this endeavor, I had to step out of my comfort zone. I learned that if I used a paper plate for a palette that I held in my left hand, the wind couldn’t blow it away. If I only squeeze out a small amount of paint, the sun won’t dry it before I could use it. Outside, I traded my big, cumbersome Nova Color jars for tubes of paint by Holbein, allowing me to dispense less paint at a time.

It was a challenge, and, I admit, there was some frustration. But I did it.

Successfully accomplishing this new-to-me process in Ethiopia became the impetus for a new project. Today, I started a new series called “Out and About Grand Rapids” — a series meant to force me to go be uncomfortable until it is natural for me — and the rewards have been big so far.

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• I was outside today, after a very long, very cold winter. Today I spent the day outside along the river that is my backyard. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and I thought, “YES, this is good!”

• Any time you venture outside of your comfort zone, you expand yourself, and I know I will be a better painter for stumbling through this new practice until I find myself in a new place of really being comfortable painting outside. And that expands my options as a artist in a big way. As an avid traveler, this is a big deal.

• Speaking of travel, painting outside has taught me how painting a place lets you go deeper into that place. I see Ethiopia differently now that I have painted it on location. I have also painted on the Michigan wine trails on location, and the vineyards became even more endearing to me. I felt more connected to the land than I ever have before. And now, painting in my own backyard and around the city I live in — well, it’s priceless.

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So whether you are a painter or not, whatever scares you, whatever you resist, I encourage you to move towards it and you will be rewarded!

I invite you to follow me this summer as I continue my journey from painting around my home town of Grand Rapids to stealing time away “Up North” on my beloved Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula, expanding my understanding and getting comfortable with being, at times, uncomfortable.

Cheers to learning, growing and being expanded!