Soft Art

“Beach” in cold wax and oil by Angie Noll

“Beach” in cold wax and oil by Angie Noll

I’m sitting in my writing room - the tiny, hot no-man’s land of the house. It used to be the old entrance hall, but no one has used the cracking, ill-fitting wooden door to enter the house for years. I can imagine, in it’s glory days, people coming up the cracked, grey stone steps outside and wiping their muddy shoes on a door mat before opening this front door. There are still hooks on the fake wood-panelled wall where they would have hung up their coats. There might have been an umbrella basket, right behind the door.

Today, the creaky, rain-swollen front door is open, and I look down those grey stone steps at the dying hydrangeas and the plum tree that never bears any fruit but announces the beginning of Spring with the most beautiful white blossoms. It’s the end of summer, so there are cicadas singing in the bushes, and the sweet smell of the overripe grapes burgeoning just next to the stone steps wafts into the room.

There’s a canvas propped up against the same fake wood-panel wall with the coat hooks in it. The canvas might be in the same place where the umbrella basket would have been, decades ago. I don’t know what to do with the canvas. It makes me feel uncomfortable and irritated every time I look at it. We’re at a stalemate. I refuse to change it or add to it until it shows me what it wants to become. The canvas, in turn, is refusing to reveal itself.

It’s nearly time for my daily Yin yoga practice. This is where I go to learn how to live life, and how to make art, because in Yin, we follow three principles:

  • Get to your first place of discomfort

  • Become still

  • Stay there for time

When I’m working on a piece of art or writing, there always, always comes a point where I feel discomfort. I know this is the stage where my ability to express freely bumps up against an as yet unnamed fear. Fear might be a bit if a dramatic word, conjuring up images of the cliched tortured artist, but I use it because it’s the all encompassing word for anything that holds us back from expressing ourselves with certainty and with confidence.

I used to ignore the unnamed fear and just battle it out. Force something to appear on the canvas - apply more paint, scrape some away, add texture, cover the whole lot up with a good dollop of white gesso and start over or simply toss it away. Write, delete, write some more, delete some more….

It doesn’t work. What does work is to apply the principles of Yin yoga to making art.

When I feel discomfort, I stop. I don’t force my painting or my writing. I simply stop.

And then I become still. In art, this means I quiet my mind and I detach from the process of making art. I might sit still for a while, or walk away all together. I relax, and carry on with other aspects of life, or simply with other art projects.

Lastly, I hold for time. I remain detached from the art/writing until I feel the discomfort naturally easing away. The fear has dissolved and I can move forward freely. I never analyse these bumps too deeply. It’s my personal belief that asking”why” is not only an aggressive act towards the self, but also a pointless one. (read more on why “Why” is a pointless question to ask here.)

A path forward will reveal itself at this point, and I’ll continue with the art. This phase, the holding for time, can be anything from a few minutes to a few weeks. But I know by now that I can trust the process. The alternative - fighting with my art - never works. I always lose.

Step two is the key

I think that the right time for the next step is dependant on how well we do step two. The more completely I detach from the artwork, without harbouring any negative feelings towards it, and without being passive-aggressive about it, the quicker step three goes.

Yin yoga has taught me not only how to create art with a softer, more gentle approach, but also how to live my life with more ease and less resistance. These three simple principles can be applied to just about any situation in life, and it’s bound to yield better results than the forceful, pushy, demanding approach that we’re so accustomed to.

My canvas will stay in the corner a while longer. I know that one day, I’ll look at it, and instead of feeling confused and irritated, I’ll see it, and I’ll know what to do. This just happens to be a longer Step 3, but all step 3’s have to end at some point so that creation can start again, and we can encounter another Step 1 moment. It’s the Step 1 moments that lead to growth and to better art making, so I welcome the next place of discomfort inside of me.

Writingangie Noll