Have you ever had an experience that you look back on and say -- without even a pause -- that was life-changing?
Have you ever had an interaction where you walk away and think -- without a doubt -- that has transformed me?
Have you ever jumped on an opportunity -- perhaps with some hesitation -- then thought, I can’t believe that happened, but I’m so glad it did?
Pardon my vague introduction and the somewhat intense questioning -- but I truly believe we’ve all had all of the above -- the experiences, the conversations, and the opportunities. Fortunately, I was blessed to have them all at once, on a two-week trip to Southern France this fall.
Realizing a lifelong dream
Let’s rewind: At the beginning of 2016, an opportunity presented itself to me. It was a 10-day workshop with Lori Putnam, taking place in Limoux, France -- and it was the last one she’d be running in France in the foreseeable future.
Two weeks away from work, focused entirely on painting? This was an idea that I’d only truly allowed in my innermost dreams. I couldn’t really drop my design work for two weeks. I couldn’t really leave the iPad at home. I couldn't really spend that much money on painting.
You know where this is going: Of course I could. I quieted that inner naysayer real quick (not without a fight, of course) -- and booked the trip.
Becoming a magician
This trip was an experience, an interaction, and an opportunity that was life-changing, transformative, and incredibly gratifying in so, so many ways. I’ll be writing about the grace of letting go next month, but the first thing I have to talk about is the absolute transformation I’ve seen in my painting.
Naturally, being in one of the most beautiful places in the world for an extended period of time focused on finding niches and nooks to paint is going to be somewhat transformative when it comes to technique and skill. But doing it under the leadership of a seasoned plein air painter, Lori Putnam, and amongst a group of passionate collaborators made it even more so.
Here’s how I was able to learn and grow in my painting at a deeper level than ever before:
Accepting + capturing the light: I grew a much deeper understanding of light and value -- and how to incorporate it into my work. I’ve never felt so able to take the light in, and to reflect it back. The difference is noticeable in my paintings from day 1 to day 10.
Appreciating fresh eyes + unfamiliar territory: Instead of being overwhelmed by the newness of each place we were in, I learned to practice gratitude for the fresh perspectives and lack of familiarity of a space. It led me to be more in tune with its unique characteristics, from the sights to the smells to the sounds -- but most importantly, to the colors and the depths and the light.
Eliminating all distractions: For this trip, I stepped entirely away from design -- I didn’t travel with my laptop or my iPad. Never before have I turned off work so entirely, but doing so allowed me to make the absolute most of every minute.
Capitalizing on community. A solo painting trip would be enlightening, no doubt -- but being surrounded by 10 women who were not only there to grow as painters, but as people, was beyond inspiring. In our short time together, we formed unbreakable bonds that will have us growing together for eternity.
During one of our sessions, Lori declared us all to be magicians. The way we capture light; the way we embody a scene; the way we mix until the color is just right.
Never before have a I felt like such a sacred power -- and never before have I appreciated the magnitude of this magic we create.
Breakthroughs + gratitude
In the weeks since I’ve been back, I’ve wondered,
“What if I hadn’t said ‘yes’ to this trip?”
“What if I hadn’t given myself the gift of getting away from it all?”
“What if I hadn’t shown up -- really, truly shown up -- as myself?”
The me of 10 years ago wouldn’t have been able to ask myself these questions -- because I wouldn’t have said ‘yes.’ I wouldn’t have given myself this gift. I wouldn’t have shown up as my truest self.
Which is to say this: Slow down. You are worth the time away. You have so much to learn; to see; to do. Your art will be better for it. Your relationships will be better for it. You will be better for it.