When the hour was up and my beer was finished, I realized that I’d just had a blissful Right- Brained experience. Though I couldn’t remember it, I knew it had happened because of the peace and the calm that I felt. I had very little memory of any of the painting I had done. Yet here in front of me was a painting. A watercolor sketch – so called, because it was in my sketch book. I realized I had simply moved from one place to another with paint – a stroke here of brilliant orange yellow next to a startling blue, enjoying the dance – the way they played next to and with each other.
I hadn’t once thought actively about any of my old left brained favorite topics.
- Focal point
- A place for the eye to rest
To my surprise, I actually liked the sketch. It appeared that my favorite left brained topics had somehow meandered into the process after all.
I thought back to the TED talk I’d watched awhile back by Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor. In 2008 Dr. Taylor, a Neuro anatomist and expert in brain function suddenly suffered a stroke caused by a sudden golf ball sized blood clot in her left brain hemisphere. When she realized that she was having a stoke, she began to study it ‘from the inside’ and her remarkable moment by moment telling of her experience is not only riveting, but highly instructional with regard to the functionality and differences between and right and left brain hemispheres. She called it ‘My Stroke of Insight’ and in her 20 minute talk she describes the sense of Nirvana she experienced with her left brain shut down and her right brain functioning. Though it took her eight years to fully recover, the experience she had changed her life.
Her TED talk ended with these words:
“So who are we? We are the life-force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here, right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere, where we are. I am the life-force power of the universe. I am the life-force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form, at one with all that is. Or, I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere, where I become a single individual, a solid. Separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor: intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the “we” inside of me. Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world, and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.”
I understood that I had come fairly close to Dr. Taylor’s Nirvana – in the little bar restaurant at Villa Leonor, just north of Ojochal. So how had I set it up?
Because I was still in a grief state after the sudden death of my partner, my husband Frank, I deliberately chose the easy way to do things instead of doing a lot of planning and preparation. When my visitors wanted to go to the beach, I decided that I would take along just a few supplies to paint, if I felt like it – while they were playing in the surf. I didn’t want to swim and I also didn’t want to sit in the sun. I would sit comfortably at the bar restaurant with a beer – and maybe do a sketch. I put just a few things into an available backpack – a couple of brushes, a Canson 6 x 8 sketchbook that wasn’t designed for watercolor, a collapsible water container, an old travel palette with dried up paints in it and a few sheets of paper towel. I forgot about a pencil.
It turned out that the meager supplies were the best thing I could have done. I reduced my expectations to just about zero. And that was the perfect first step for me to get myself out of my normal left brained ‘always prepared and ready’ mode.
- Reduce Expectations. Eliminate anything that puts pressure on what you are doing. In using paper that isn’t designed for watercolor – i.e. regular sketch book paper, I immediately reduced expectation that I’d produce anything worth saving.
- Create a time limit. A time limit creates takes away the need to ‘finish’ and puts you in the ‘just do it’ place – a place of ‘play’ instead of ‘performance’. In ordering a beer I gave myself a kind of time limit. When the beer was finished so was the painting.
- Choose where you paint. For me it is out of my studio. Out of my usual routine. A restaurant or a bar is good because my left brain can pay attention a bit to the ambiance – activity of other people , etc while my right brain simply enjoys the play.
- Paint whatever is in front of you. Choose a subject with your heart instead of your head – something close at hand that simply engages you. Don’t overthink it – just do it.
The experiences I’ve had sketching with watercolor has changed the way I understand and value myself as an artist. That is what is so good about the ‘one hour sketch with a beer’.