It’s warm. The sun is making its way up toward noontime, but it still has a way to go. There’s a slight breeze, and the light is rendered nicely off the trees as they sway.
Stamped canvas? Check.
I have everything I need on me as I make my way to the perfect spot: the carriage barns at Granger Homestead. They’re tucked into a back corner of the property, and there’s a dappling light in the front that I can’t wait to capture.
I have only minutes to get my easel set up once I’ve found my spot. Two hours to paint. One chance to get it right.
I know that the clock is ticking. I’m aware that others are seeing this same magnificent light. I can anticipate the judges’ critical eyes on my piece when all is said and done.
And yet, I’m here. I’m present. I’ve spent years exploring my style and honing my skill in preparation for moments like these. I’m owning it.
I paint with color; with light; with vibrance. Even with just two hours, I’m able to dive fully into the moment and my surroundings, slowing down and taking the time to let the scene lay itself out onto the canvas with my brush and hand as the vehicle.
The clock ticks down; it’s time to wrap. I have half an hour to frame my piece, price it, and take it to the judging station, at which point the judges will decide their winners as we artists reconvene excitedly.
It’s the Community Paint Out at this year’s Finger Lakes Plein Air Festival, and I’m one of those artists, waiting excitedly -- though not expectantly.
Needless to say, I’m thrilled when I hear my painting has won an award.
My piece. Not my best piece, but a piece I feel good about hanging. A piece I had very little time to explore yet, at the same time, everything I needed to get right. It earned an Honorable Mention, hanging amongst the winners with a ribbon on it.
I’ve entered contests before. I’ve felt my self-esteem ride the roller coaster of ups-and-downs that come with recognition and rejection. But I’ve never felt the spark that came with this level of validation amongst a varied, experienced, and well-traveled group of painters and judges.
I, perhaps like you, have been quiet about seeking other’s validation. It feels negative; greedy; unnecessary. Yet striking a blend of internal and external validation as we learn and grow can be a strong source of inspiration and motivation to keep leaving our mark on this world.
On the easel that day, I’d experienced true internal validation. I felt the years of hard work and learning ease my mind and flow naturally from my brush. Later, in front of my fellow artists and the panel of judges, I felt recognition that gave a new level of meaning to the inner work that’s been done.
Paint for yourself. Write for yourself. Create for yourself. Slow down. Learn. Be present. And when the time is right? Don’t be afraid to seek validation, gratification, or appreciation from others. Much as we might try, our fires simply can’t stay lit on their own -- and that’s okay, because our need for each other is what makes this world go around.