Practicing the Power of Now

Practicing the Power of Now

Practicing the Power of Now

 

You might have read ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. This book is about the importance of quitting the excessive thinking about the past and the future, and realizing that there is only one moment: ‘Now.’ Everything else is a mental construction. Even if you think about the past, you are still doing it Now. And when you worry about the future, you also are doing it Now.

Painting is a beautiful way of drawing you into the Now. There is little thinking required. Yes, thinking can come in handy for practical matters. You can ask yourself for instance: ‘How can I prevent the water-soluble crayon from smearing?’ Or: ‘What colors do I need to mix a beautiful green?’ But thinking about your next brush stroke usually does not make your painting much better. And worrying about the mess you just made even less.

 

Negative thinking and worrying

Still, we tend to think and worry a lot about painting. Regret, comparison, judgment, jealousy, shame, and self-criticism are often not far away:

  • I can’t paint!
  • Am I a real artist? No, I’m fake.
  • I will never be able to paint like the other ones.
  • I should have gone to art school; it’s too late now.
  • I should have pushed myself further years ago; now I haven’t learned as much as I could have.
  • My friends have expositions, and I don’t.
  • Everybody is going to laugh about me when they see this rubbish.
  • I’m going to look like a fool when I have my exposition.

And so on. I have had a lot of thoughts like these, and sometimes they still put a spell on me. But I know one thing for sure: those thoughts and worries don’t make my painting more enjoyable, and they don’t make my painting any better. On the contrary, I postponed painting for years and years until I finally dared to pick up the brushes and just start.

 

Practice being in the Now

Good news: painting is a beautiful way to practice being in the Now, in the same way that running or singing or being in nature helps you to become present and feel connected.

Since painting is such a sensory thing to do, you can use your senses to the max, which draws you away from your thinking head. You can watch the colors, see how they mix, feel the paint with your fingers, smell the typical scent of the paint, hear your ink pen scratching over the paper. You can feel your inner body, as Eckhart Tolle calls it: the inner energy-field, the aliveness in your body. And when you notice that you are thinking again about the future or the past, or when you hear your inner voice whisper judgments, you can purposely go back to your inner body and use your senses while painting.

So, if you feel trapped in negative thinking, in worry, in stress or general unhappiness, grab a piece of paper, a bit of paint, and some crayons, and start making marks, color fields, shapes, and textures. Without any plan. Get amazed by the colors, like you would do if you would see them for the first time. Feel the excitement when making marks, just like you would do if you were a toddler, having a crayon in its hands for the first time.

 

Let your thinking come to rest, and simply enjoy being alive.

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

How mark-making gets you into the flow of painting

How mark-making gets you into the flow of painting

How to get into the flow of painting

 

When I start painting, I usually start with scribbling, making marks, adding some paint. I am just doing something. I am ‘activating the canvas’ as some artists call it.

I like that expression. Before, the canvas (or the paper) is silent, inert. Once I put some marks on it, it starts talking back to me. It starts moving and having its own opinions about where it wants to go. There evolves a wordless back and forth between me and the painting. It’s like an intimate dance, as I have described it in my blog post about non-duality and painting.

My first and almost random marks are a starting point; from there the painting will evolve, more or less out of itself. And even those first marks are not ‘random’ of course. They depend on my mood, or on the mark making tools close by on my table. If you get really philosophical, there could not have been another mark than that particular one. The whole universe led up to that one mark, you might even say.

 

An insight

Lately, I was making a collage. I had made marks and covered some parts with a layer of glazing. The next thing I did was add a scrap of collage paper that almost covered all of the underlayer. My first thoughts were: Why did I even make all those ‘activating’ marks in the first place? They are useless now; nobody will ever see them. I might have activated the paper, but now there is nothing left of it. I could have glued the collage paper on the white substrate with the same result!

But then an insight struck me. Those first marks not only activated the canvas. They also activated me!

By activating the canvas, something inside me starts to move. My inner artist awakes. Inspiration strikes. The dancer enters the dance floor. My subconscious starts to flow, and from there, my hands start moving.

In this case, my hands took a scrap of paper that had the size of almost the whole underlayer. But if I would not have made those first marks, my inner artist might not have awakened. I might have thought: Oh, let’s drop this collage. I have no inspiration at all today. I’ll paint tomorrow.

These first marks did not only get the collage started, but they also got me started, and helped me to get into the flow of painting.

My conclusion is: if you don’t know how to get into the flow of painting, just start somewhere. From there, your inner artist will wake up and lead you.

 

Bye!

 

Let me know your experiences with activating the canvas and activating yourself below in the comments.

 

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

Non-duality and abstract intuitive painting

Non-duality and abstract intuitive painting

Non-duality and abstract intuitive painting

 

What I’m going to write about now might sound very difficult and theoretical. But I believe that every painter knows from experience what I will try to say here, and moreover, that it is one of the big reasons why people are so drawn to abstract intuitive painting.

 

Non-duality

What does non-duality mean? I’m not a philosopher, nor a theologian or ‘spiritual expert,’ but non-duality means to me that ‘you’ are not separate from ‘the world around you.’ You are not an isolated individual who is trying to work her way through life, trying to get ‘somewhere.’

On the contrary, life is one big moving and flowing entity, and we are an integral part of it. A famous metaphor for this is the metaphor of the sea and the waves. You can see different waves if you are looking to the ocean, but they are all made from the same ‘stuff.’ The ocean is one swirling, moving being, and the waves fundamentally can’t be separated from it.

 

The sense of ‘I’

We are brought up to believe and experience differently. When we were still in the womb, we did not feel any separation between our mother and ourselves. And when we were babies and toddlers, the sense of ‘I’ had not formed yet very well. But the older we grow, the more we start to feel separate from other children and our parents. And that’s a useful thing. Otherwise, it might be very difficult to survive in this world.

There is a big drawback to developing this sense of ‘I,’ though. The older we get, the more we forget to realize that fundamentally, we are not separate from each other. We are all made from the same ‘stuff,’ just as the waves are made from the same water. And we don’t have to ‘find our way in life’ since we are life itself. Life is living its way through us.

This might all sound very theoretical. And actually, it is theoretical, because those things can’t be put in words. Words point to something but never are what they point to. Like the zen-masters say: ‘The finger that points to the moon is not the moon itself.’

 

Experiences

But even though my story is theoretical, we all have experienced moments that this fundamental ‘being-one’ is palpable, when we have a baby in our arms for instance. Or when we are immersed in nature, we sometimes can feel at one with the mountain that we hike, or the woods that we are in.

But things don’t need to be ‘special,’ for you to experience the non-dual. Sometimes you can sit in the sun with a cup of coffee, and suddenly without reason all so-called ‘problems’ fall away, and you just ‘are.’ Or you throw old papers in the paper bin, and suddenly, for no reason, you experience a state of simple bliss. Or even if you pass by a very ugly industrial area, you can recognize the beauty that’s hidden in everything (which does not mean that you cannot fiercely fight the planning of ugly industry terrains, but that’s a whole different story).

Soon after we experience this state of non-duality, our perspective usually returns to the habitual old dual perspective again. Life becomes something that’s threatening, or problematic, or that has to be dealt with. But there always stays a sweet memory of those non-dual moments, and deep down we know that that’s the real thing. That that’s life at it’s truest, instead of the ‘problematic’ life that we live most of the time.

 

Painting

Now, what has this all to do with abstract intuitive painting?

Usually, when we start painting, the painting that we want to make is ‘there,’ and we are ‘here.’ We have to work and to learn and to practice to get from here to there. And of course, this is true. We need to go the store and buy paint that we did not have before. We need to learn how to apply the paint to the brush, and how to move it around. But this is all very practical, and we don’t experience that as problematic or difficult.

The problematic part is the way that we are afraid that we will not be able to paint a beautiful painting. We doubt ourselves, because we don’t know how to force the paint where we want it to go. We struggle with our materials, and we can be very critical about the results, and about ourselves as painters. We secretly think we are not ‘real painters.’ And we usually compare ourselves to ‘the other painters,’ who make ‘better work,’ and therefore are the ‘real painters’ that we would like to be.

 

Non-dual awareness

And then, when we’re wrapped up in our self-doubt and constriction, something can suddenly change. Our ‘problematic self’ can disappear, without our even realizing it. We enter the ‘non-dual’ terrain—which we of course never left. We only were not aware of it because we were captivated by our dual perspective and our mind running around dividing the world into ‘ourselves’ and ‘the rest of it.’

In that ‘non-dual’ awareness, we don’t work with paints and colors and textures and shapes, no, we are paints and colors and textures and shapes. We as separate individuals disappear, and there is only the act of painting left. We are dancing with our materials, and our materials dance with us in one colorful dance.

Making a painting from that non-dual perspective is effortless. Every step on the road evolves from the former in a completely natural way. We don’t have to think about our next move, we just ‘wait’ for it, look forward to it. We are curious—hey, how will this turn out? What will my brush do? Which crayon will jump in my hand? What color will appear?

I am convinced that people are drawn to making abstract intuitive art because they know deep down that this is how they want to live. Effortlessly, dancing with the world in a completely natural way, without striving or competing, without pressure or self-doubt.

 

Analysis and techniques

This does not mean that you can’t analyze your work afterward. You can recognize what works in a painting, and what doesn’t. You can feel what your emotional response is to your work, what you don’t like and what you do like, and reflect on that.

Learning about value, colors, mark-making techniques, and so on is not opposed to ‘non-dual painting,’ either. All those things don’t interfere with your free-flowing movements. On the contrary, they become an integral part of the dance between you, your materials, and your evolving painting.

 

Daily Painting

And here we come to why I believe that daily, or regular, painting is so worthwhile. If you paint often, you train your ‘non-dual muscle,’ so to speak. You recognize better when you are entering the state of non-duality, and you can more easily stay there. You realize when you are getting constricted in forcing yourself, and you practice letting go of striving. You start trusting that this oneness is always there.

You just have to change your perspective.

 

Bye!

ps: Please share your experience and ideas below! I would love to read them.

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

Challenge the art-stories in your head!

Challenge the art-stories in your head!

Challenge the art-stories in your head!

 

One thing I realize over and over again is how the stories that you tell yourself can shape your reality.

For instance, if you have the conviction that you are the sort of person who would never be able to have a good job and earn a decent living, chances are that you will indeed not be able to do so. You don’t react to advertisements with exciting but challenging jobs, you don’t start a business and go for it, you don’t increase your prices when it’s appropriate, you don’t do scary things that would help you to reach your professional and financial goals, and you don’t negotiate about your salary.

 

The same is true for art-making. Some common limiting beliefs that might be running through your head, are:

  • You are not the sort of person that can make art.
  • You don’t have the talent to create beautiful and inspiring paintings.
  • You should have gone to art school instead of having a business career.
  • It’s too late now to start making art since you’ve wasted your time instead of practicing your skills.
  • It’s better to postpone making art until your kids are older or until you retire.
  • You don’t have the money to buy art supplies.
  • Your house is not big enough to start painting.
  • You can’t make time for it in your day.
  • Your partner, children, or friends will laugh at you.
  • Your parents will shake their heads.
  • You will first have to find a decent teacher and take art lessons.

Chances are, that if those stories run in your head, you won’t make a lot of art.

 

My stories

I know I have had a whole bunch of stories in my head around making art. These were mine:

  • Art-making is for another kind of people, not for me.
  • I don’t have the talent.
  • I will never be able to make money as an artist, so I should not spend my time on it.
  • It’s too late now (I was only 30 years old when I had this thought. Can you imagine?).
  • If I can’t make perfect paintings, I would better not even try at all.
  • I have to choose between my passions and not following them all.

It’s incredible how powerful those stores are. If you are not aware of them, they stay unnoticed deep in the basement of your mind and secretly influence your life.

 

Out of the basement

If you have the feeling that some negative art-talk is discouraging your inner artist, you should get to know those stories, invite them to come out of the basement, pour them a cup of tea, and ask them in a gentle way if they are really, really true.

It might well be the case that those stories—once they get some loving attention—will admit that they are not that true at all. Maybe they originated from the stories of your parents, who wanted to protect you from an uncertain career, or who had their own limiting beliefs that they inherited from their ancestors. Maybe they stem from from the vulnerability that you experience if you step out into the open with something very personal. Or maybe they reflect the pervasive ideas in our culture about making art that we are not always aware of.

 

Positive stories instead of negative ones

I think life is best if it flows naturally, without too much thinking, without any stories at all. But of course, positive stories are better than negative stories. So it is wonderful if you could replace those negative stories with positive ones.

These are some possible new stories:

  • Everybody can make art.
  • The importance of talent is overrated; my dedication and willingness to learn are much more important.
  • I can be an autodidact and make fantastic art.
  • It’s never too late to start making art.
  • The best time to start is now.
  • I can make art with very inexpensive materials.
  • I don’t need a lot of time and space to make art.
  • I listen to the people who support my art and ignore the nay-sayers and the critics.
  • I don’t need to make money with my art.
  • If I want to make money with my art, I will seek possibilities to make it work.
  • I can pursue more than one career and have many interests and passions.
  • I can start my art-journey and be happy with every step that I take.

 

Journaling

If you want to challenge old and negative stories in your head, it helps to start journaling about them. This way, you get to know your stories from the inside out and give them the possibility of dissolving. New convictions about yourself and your art get the possibility to grow and slowly become an integral part of your life.

This way, your reality will change. You will be happy to start art-making right where you are now, you will enjoy the process, and you will be proud of every step you take.

 

What are the stories in your head? How can you challenge them? What positive stories would you like to tell yourself?

Let me hear in the comments, or let the ArtNowCommunity know! You are more than welcome there.

 

Bye!

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

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What to do if you don’t like your painting

What to do if you don’t like your painting

 

What to do if you don’t like your painting

 

When I started painting this morning, I did not like the result. Often when I paint, I feel happy and uplifted because the painting rolled out of me seemingly without any effort. But some days I look at my painting and just don’t feel satisfied with it. Moreover, I still feel the forcedness and restraint that I felt while I made the painting. And if I don’t feel in a flow while painting, it usually shows in the result.

There are (at least) two ways to react on this. Firstly, you can focus on the product you made. Secondly, you can focus on the process you went through while making it. (If you want to read more about my personal experience with this, you can read this blog post).

 

Focus on the product.

If the product of your painting session did not turn out well in your eyes, looking at the painting is usually not a pleasant experience. You are disappointed by your ‘failure’, and this never feels good. All kinds of self-degrading thoughts might accompany your feelings: ‘I can’t do this.’ ‘I don’t have the talent.’ ‘I am just not the kind of person that is able to make beautiful paintings.’

You might throw away the painting as soon as possible, and try to forget it. You push away your feelings of disappointment and go on with your life. The next time you paint you are a bit afraid because you might make another painting that you don’t like. And maybe it even makes you avoid painting altogether.

 

Focus on the process.

When you focus on the process of painting, you might still not like the painting. But instead of getting frustrated by this fact and pushing your painting away, you take a closer look at it. What is it exactly what you did not like? Are there any technical problems you did encounter? At what moment did you get stuck, and why? If you ask yourself these questions, you can learn a lot about your art-making and yourself as a painter.

And if you go even deeper, you can look the feelings of inhibition and forcedness that you experienced while making your painting straight into the eye. Those feelings are a fundamental part of your human experience, and denying or avoiding them gives them more power over your life. If you accept them and allow yourself to feel them in your bones while painting, they can transform into a fierce energy that makes your art come alive. The result is that your paintings become more powerful.

This might seem a beautiful but theoretical statement, not attainable for us, ordinary people. But that is not true. The first time you make another ‘ugly’ painting, you can honor it as a tangible proof that you committed yourself to this wonderful process of art-making and that you stuck to it. You can give the painting a place of honor, and breath in the feeling that it gives you. This way you slowly but surely integrate the parts of yourself that you don’t like.

 

So, if you make an ugly painting shortly, rejoice! This is a beautiful chance to permit yourself for being an imperfect, struggling, inhibited and limited human being.

Doing so, you give yourself permission to live life to the fullest, and make your best art along the way.

 

Bye!

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

 

PS: What do you do when you don’t like your painting? Leave your comment below, or join the discussion in the ArtNow Community!

 

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Throw away the art you don’t love!

Throw away the art you don’t love!

Throw away the art you don’t love!

 

I am writing this blog at the first workday after two weeks of Christmas holidays. In these weeks, I have been busy with cleaning up our house, decluttering cupboards and closets, and throwing things away that are old, broken, or that we don’t love anymore. For a few years, I have been inspired by the Japanese declutter-guru Marie Kondo to do this on a regular basis. Her motto is that if your house is cluttered with all kinds of things that you don’t really love, your life gets stuck. You literally don’t have space for new things to enter your life. She encourages you to take a look at every object in your house and ask yourself: ‘Does it spark joy?’ And if it doesn’t: remove it from your life!

In past years, I decluttered my house quite a bit, but I never asked myself the spark-joy question for the big pile of old paintings that I have in my workroom. They are mostly studies on paper, so they don’t take up too much space. Therefore, I could get away with them piling up for a few years. But since I paint every day, and make a lot of studies, my cupboards were getting completely stuck with big heaps of paper. So I decided to go through all my past paintings and ask myself for each and everyone: ‘Does it spark joy?’

To my surprise, I threw away almost all the studies that I had, and only kept a very few that I really loved. Doing so worked out very well. Decluttering my paintings this way gave me lots of new energy and a lot of eagerness to start painting again in the new year to come.

I have thought about why this throwing away was such a positive experience. There are at least five reasons for that.

 

Gratefulness for the fun and the development

First, I loved going through all of my old paintings. It made me realize the development that I made, and the joy that I had making them. At the same time, I realized that I am not going to continue working on these particular paintings anymore and I am not going to show or sell any of them. They were in my cupboards to witness the past. By going through them and being grateful for the painting years behind me, they had fulfilled their function, and by letting go of them I could make space for new things to come.

 

Dedication to the process

Second, throwing them away made me dedicate myself even more to the process of painting ahead of the product. I am a big advocate of process-oriented painting, as I have written about a lot in my articles about developing an art practice. By throwing away old paintings, I emphasized the importance of working in this process-oriented way, day by day, being in the present moment, not caring about the future to come, and not clinging on to what I left behind.

 

Attention for the loved ones

Third, by keeping only the things that I love, I have given them more space to shine. Because they were covered by dozens and dozens of other paintings, they could not get the attention that they deserved. Now they are uncovered, I can really enjoy them.

 

Trust in the flow of creativity

Fourth, I realized that I kept my old paintings as a kind of proof that I really am a painter. Now that I have removed the traces of the past, and stand with bare hands before the new painting year, I have to trust the flow of creativity that is going through me, instead of leaning on old work to reassure me. And that feels good since I believe this natural flow of creativity is the real basis of making art.

 

The blog as archive

Fifth, the fact that I keep my daily painting blog makes it easy to throw things away. If I would ever like to go back and take a look at my old work, I have my daily painting blog as an online archive. I probably won’t do that often, because I hopefully will rather be painting new work than scrolling through old work. But the possibility is always there.

 

 

How do you deal with old work? Let me know in the comments below, or join the conversation in the ArtNow Community!

 

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

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