“An artmaking space is a “mishkan” a portable sanctuary. Each artist working there is alone with her image and the message it brings as well as being in a subtle communion with others in the space. (…) The witness of others and our ability to struggle alongside them deepens our engagement in the process. Safety grows as we learn to travel back and forth between speaking with our images and attending to mundane tasks like washing brushes and refilling water containers for painting.” ~ Pat B. Allen, Art Is a Spiritual Path
It was nearly the end of a five-day workshop at Esalen when one of the participants turned to me with tears in her eyes as we stood in front of her painting. She said, “Thank you, thank you all for making such a safe place for us — I don’t know how you do it, but it is wonderful.”
In that moment I could feel what a rare treasure it is for most of us to be creative in the company of others and to feel completely safe. She was new to painting and shy about her skills. She had been dancing with the image of a full female torso for days. It had appeared small and tentative in her early paintings and grown to occupy the center of her later painting as she became bolder. I had watched her slowly fall in love with this image. As her connection grew, so did her desire and willingness to fully engage this very personal form.
In the decade I have been process painting, and the four years I have been facilitating, my appreciation for the importance of the rare safe space of the studio has deepened. Here I am in a group of people I most likely don’t know, invited to follow the energy of my creative urges. If I really let my self go, I might find I am painting something I deem icky, scary, sexy, violent, sappy, trite or intensely personal. How is it safe to do this?
The trinity of no commenting, working in silence and a facilitator’s “unconditional positive regard” are the scaffolding for this safety. When all our personal experiences are normalized as a part of the greater human experience, we can relax and access courageous creativity. In the process, we get to meet our hidden selves.
By the end of a workshop, I have witnessed painters bravely, happily and courageously surrendering to anything that arises — buoyed by the silent support of everyone around them doing the very same thing.
Lydia Marshall is a facilitator of The Painting Experience. She has a B.A. in studio arts and an M.A. in architecture. As a facilitator, she is honored to be present with others as they discover their inner images, energies, and stories — and she brings a deep love and respect for the artist that lives in each of us. Lydia will be facilitating with Stewart Cubley and Annie Danberg at next weekend’s painting workshop in San Rafael, CA. She also leads painting workshops in her home city of Seattle. To learn more, visit her website.