My Photography

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Filling a canvas

This weekend I was able to participate in a truly unique experience. My dear friend Ingrid and her husband kindly opened up their home for a Mandala painting workshop. Anne-Marie and Erik Grind came to Casablanca from Sweden to lead the weekend, and while I wasn't able to participate fully because of work, it left me very moved.

The workshop began on Friday, while I was still at British Council teaching a class of 17 preteens. I arrived an hour and a half late, and was taken to a table full of face-down cards with "Life Angel" written on the back. I was told to breathe deeply, center myself and choose a card, which would be something to reflect on as I began the weekend. I chose one, and it said "Gratitude". Considering my recent focus on thankfulness (as seen in some recent blog posts) and considering I decided very last minute at Ingrid's prompting to join, it made sense. It also did set the tone well. I had arrived late and would miss all but the last hour on Saturday because of work, but I had to remember to be grateful that I could be there, and not be envious of the others who wouldn't have to miss anything.

The beginning. Photo courtesy of Ingrid Pullar.
I did arrive in time to choose the pattern for my mandala with the others, and for the explanation of how to transfer them to our canvases. It didn't take much sifting through the scores of patterns they had before I found one that was clearly perfect for me. Not too boring but not too intricate, full of symmetry and with a hint of mystery. I got to work and was the only one to have mixed their colors and begun painting on the first day.
The neighboring table.
This time of year is hectic for every teacher, I think, and Friday and Saturday were both pretty bad days at work. But once I reached Ingrid's front door my frustration seemed to melt away, and I threw myself into my painting. I was the last to arrive each day, but also the last to leave. I worked with intense focus, and nothing else seemed to matter much. I somehow managed to put a lot of myself into my mandala without really meaning to.
Erik working on a giant mandala
Ingrid is making as a gift.
A work in progress...
When finished the workshop on late Sunday afternoon, I was still convinced that my painting was unfinished and very imperfect. I was a total beginner, and had never painted on a canvas before, but was surrounded by others with incredible talent and experience. Every moment my mind seemed to change its attitude... I loved my painting... I was embarrassed by it... the others were so much more beautiful... mine was clearly pretty cool. It was confusing for a while. But as I looked around at the other mandalas, though their beauty inspired me, I wasn't particularly drawn to any of them. The more I got to know the people who made them, the more I saw how their art reflected their personalities and journeys. By realizing that their creations were truly theirs, I came to understand that my mandala really was a glimpse into me. Up close it is full of imperfections, but as a friend of mine once said, "Imperfections make things beautiful." Maybe at some point in the future I'll feel the need to go back to work on it, but for now it is done.
Ingrid and her mandala!
As I told the others at our wrap-up session, I still can hardly believe that I was able to paint something so powerfully simple and beautiful. Even now at home I keep staring at it on my wall, in disbelief that I made it. Of course I didn't do it without guidance or help, but in the end no one but me put their brush to that canvas for more than a few seconds.  
Anne-Marie made this one, entitled 

I grew up with a mom and sisters who are very artsy, and do like to paint, watercolors being their favorite medium. While watercolors never spoke to me, painting in vibrant, rich acrylics has always appealed to me in a distant sort of way. I would look at canvases and brushes at the art store longingly, but made all sorts of excuses to myself. "I'm not artistic, all those genes went to my sisters." "Painting is too expensive of a hobby." "Look at that clean canvas. You'd ruin it." It took this weekend-- a time of non-judgemental fellowship and guidance-- to make me realize that I was blocking myself in a really stupid way. I'm not sure why I did, but I'm glad I'm over it, at least for the time being.
Part of the deal of the workshop was that we could take the brushes and the leftover paint home if we wanted, along with our canvas. Since I was the last to leave I got an unclaimed set of brushes and about 30 little containers of paint, hehehe. I was Christmas shopping today and bought a canvas that I'll work on this week as a present for Othman's cousin who is hosting us in France for the holidays.  Can't let the momentum run down, or the paint dry out!
The finished product! Photo
of Ingrid Pullar.
The group, with Erik as the photographer. 

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