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Reflections from the scaffold: creativity and gratitude at 18 feet.

For me, making art is a lovely escape from my multitasking life. A few times a year I will hang up my consultant’s hat, pause from my client’s objectives, turn off the cell phone and get massively present.

Moving a visual idea from my head-to-paper-to-wall is an exercise in focus, presence, perspective and a constant practice of letting go of ideas as new ones emerge.

Last week I ended a 7-day painting blitz working on a 60 foot X 18 foot mural on the orange line in Southeast Portland. I found myself on ladders and lifts for 12-hour stretches, face pressed close as the brushes moved my ideas from my head to the wall.

What I loved was shutting out the noise and distraction and wrestling with a creative problem. This was where I found a state of flow that reminded me that I am alive, part of something bigger, and can deliver a few small surprises to the world. My currency is emotion. I love to make things that evoke joy, laughter, reflection, connection. On the wall these past 7-days I took the ear buds out and got to experience some of that for myself. I turned off the podcasts and made myself listen. Here are some of the things I heard (and learned):

1. Intention is different from reality: I paint the same way that I work. I improvise. Each evening as I came off the wall I would look at what I made, one stroke informing the next, building a picture one-moment-at-a-time. As I ended the day and made my way back home my mind would race with all of the new things that I wanted to do based on what emerged. I would attack the wall the next morning with excitement and enthusiasm, ready to impose my new ideas. And that’s when reality would hit. The images in my mind looked different once I faced the real wall surface. My mental pictures didn't account for real distances and relationships. Or, I couldn’t mix the exact color blue from my imagination of the previous evening. My ideas had to shift, adapt, morph once they hit reality. I was reminded that this is always true. On the wall or off, what I want and imagine are only part of the picture. What I do is what matters


2. Perspective is everything. Things look one way when you are 5 inches from the surface of the wall, but look completely different when you step back 20 feet. One moment I was 16 feet off the ground creating giant strokes and the next moment I was horizontal on the ground focusing on a one-inch line. Nothing was ever certain until I changed my perspective. Seeing things one way was never enough. I had to get near, far, up and down to know what I was making. I had to constantly notice more. I had to be deliberate and patient and resist leaping to a conclusion until I had more (visual) data. The other reflection I had, was that my perspective was only one of many. I was making something for an audience. How they saw the work, what their experience was I would never really know.

3. Putting your ideas out into the world is a gift. As I was stretching to reach a distant spot on the wall I thought about the gift that making things is to the world. Living things make things. This is ridiculously obvious but so easy to forget. As I was painting I found myself awash in gratitude to the artists, teachers, cooks, scientists, creators that I have experienced in my brief stint on this planet (yep it got deep). And it isn’t just us humans, nature makes things all the time ( I am just moving too fast to appreciate). It takes courage to put your ideas out into the world. You are conspicuous, seen, and an easy target. Some people can’t get past this. For them, this might be the right choice. But we may never know if we have missed the next Picasso, or Gerry because fear stopped them from making.

So from 18 ft, thank artists, musicians, poets, writers, knitters, cooks, dancers, makers for putting your work out into the world. Your courage makes all of our lives richer.

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