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Letting Go: Lessons From Water

You know those days when nothing seems to go right? Where even the littlest things seem to put you on edge. I’m talking about when you’re working intensely on a project and suddenly you pencil flies out of your fingers for no reason, flipping like an Olympic gymnast across the room. Or, when you make an effort to look good for work, sit down at you desk and immediately spill you coffee on yourself. You think to your self , “GEEZ! Even the little things I enjoy are working against me!” Yeah, It’s one of those days.

I began a painting today only to find the colors I had mixed made the person I was depicting look like a tan zombie. What's worse is that no matter what I did to fix it they always ended up looking, well, dead. Usually when I paint with Oils, they are very forgiving. Not only is it a medium that stays wet for hours so you can come back to it later, it also allows the ability of great control over where paint spreads over the canvas. That’s why I love it. I can control the paint with great precision, not worrying if it will run into another color or cover up a white spot. If I make a mistake, I can just cover it up. Like I said, forgiving.

However, since my oil paints seemed to have limited their forgiving habits today, I told myself, trying not to freak out, “take a break, work on something else!” That's when I jumped into an entire other medium: Watercolor. I’m not sure why I thought watercolor would brighten my day up. Perhaps it was the vivid colors and light textures. Or maybe the fact that I was doing a floral commission I had been looking forward to starting. Really, I was ready to do something meditative and quiet.

This was a moment I set myself up for even more frustration. I forgot that painting a watercolor is a race against time for me. It literally has me painting with both hands at the same time. One hand laying a stroke of color an the other applying water to the stroke to soften edges, spread pigment and create gradients of one color. I have to consider EXACTLY where each brush stroke should go, careful not to muddy colors together creating accurate layers to depict space and depth. Oh, and don’t forget those white spaces that need to be protected and worked around. Accidentally paint over one? Well, Sorry. No amount of scrubbing will get that pigment totally out. Your paper is forever stained! For me, watercolor isn't quite as forgiving as oil painting.

By my description, you probably understand how my jumping into a watercolor didn't go exactly as planned. Even the first few layers of yellow were frustrating! I would lay the pigmented stroke and by the time I hit it with some extra water, a hard edge had formed making the painting look like a two-year-old’s stripy, uneven, Crayola painting!! AUGH!

Seriously though, I reflect upon bad days like this and examine how and why these painting projects go so poorly. Usually, I find fault with myself instead of blaming the tools or the medium, but today was just a day of denial. It wasn't my fault!! Or was it? The fact that I had to change the way I worked with the paint just threw me for a loop. I longed to have more control over my medium, but did I honestly think I could control water with extreme precision? What I realized was,

Water never works FOR you. It works in it’s own way.

I had to forget my precision and control over color and blending, letting the water work for itself, in its own way, on MY painting.

Now I do acknowledge that sometimes circumstances do get in the way. The things that we have (or do not have) severely effect how our day goes. Sometimes that is very true. But, in this case, my own frustrations were not caused by my situation, tools, or resources, but by my own impatience. To challenge myself (and maybe prove it wasn’t my fault) I examined what I had truly done wrong:

  1. For my oil painting, instead of mixing entirely new colors, I skipped that step trying to save time and paint, and added brighter colors to the “undead palate” to give it more life. My shortcut resulted in my figure looking like they had a slight case of jaundice.

  2. I quickly moved into another medium looking for relief from my frustration, but never considered evaluating exactly how to execute the work.

  3. I expected my watercolor to be like an oil painting. A lot like expecting an orange to taste like a strawberry!

What I pull from all of those mistakes is that I had no patience. I was rushing to get something done. I was trying to cut corners.

I was trying to regain my control over my work and it just made everything worse!

Once I realized this, my inner voice spoke up saying, “Isn’t that SO much like a relationship with God?” We desire to have complete control over our destiny, painting the details the way we want. We want our life to go according to the plan we lay out, and when it doesn’t go our way, we blame all the people and things around us. We get frustrated and angry at our ‘inadequate’ tools, or lack of resources and we blame God for putting us in such a situation. In reality, God knows what he is doing and reminds us to look inward at ourselves for the solution and presses us to remain patient, diligent and open to other possibilities. He assures us the flow of the water has purpose even if we can’t control it. And until we let go of our need to control, it just makes things worse.

That’s the beauty of Watercolor. It taught me to be patient and to let go of my desire to control. It taught me to trust in the water's ability to work the way it should. It turns out, when you trust your medium, your tools, and your time, you get this beautifully complex piece that makes people say, “How did you do that?” It’s so hard to answer those people too because it is almost as if you didn’t paint it at all. It just became what it is, because of the water.

God is like the water. He carries the pigment of our life the way it should go, but only if we trust Him. Sometimes it doesn’t go where you want it to, but the painting still ends up being more beautiful than we could ever imagine.




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