Don’t Fear the Dark



I’m trying. I really am. In the face of my country’s ugliness and shameful behavior, I’m trying to lift my own spirits and to reclaim my joy. Some days, it half works. Others…


There’s been a lot of loss of late in my little world. Layers, in fact. A great aunt passed away recently, and that has required processing. Processing that will continue, probably in ways I don’t yet know. Two days after hearing of her passing, I learned that my mentor was abruptly closing his studio and would be retiring earlier than previously planned. It was too much.



I spent my last night in his studio thinking of what the place has meant to me. I walked around and photographed the unlit corners that seemingly have nothing to do with the beauty produced there. The paint-splattered sink, the tins of paint thinner (“juice” as my teacher always called it), the random articles on a cluttered shelf. All of it greeted me for years, and now it’s gone.



I won’t lie. I cried several times during my final session there. I cried when I thought about my very first visit, when I decided to be brave and give painting a try. I cried when I thought about how my sweet friend Nicole came to my life simply because our easels were side-by-side one night. I cried when I thought about how my time in that sacred space changed my life forever. As I type this, I look around my home and its walls are covered with art, most of it made by me. When someone asks what I do (I hate that question), I tell them I’m an artist. And I am. Some of what I produce is real crap. It’s true. And some of what I produce is so good it makes me want to cry anew, because it is such a gift to create beauty in this world. And in every inky crevice of my heart, I am fully aware of how very “gifted” I have been on the painting front.



And then there’s my mentor himself. On that last night in the studio, I cried because I was allowed to know him. Because I was allowed to be his student and to learn from him. He is a remarkable human soul and I know what a privilege it’s been to study with him. I have learned more about painting than I ever thought possible. I have also learned – from him – about being a decent person. He is kind and patient and wise. I pray that a little bit of those parts of him have rubbed off on me. Maybe they have. Maybe not. I suppose only time will tell.



So yes – I’m processing a lot of loss right now. And it runs deep. If I could, I would probably crawl into a hole and stay there. But that isn’t how life works. If I were to choose that, then I’d become someone I don’t want to be. I cannot succumb to the loss. I know I have to adapt. All of life is change, isn’t it? It keeps evolving and turning over and over again. For me, I know that if I don’t roll with it, there won’t be much point in waking to another day. And if I know anything about myself, it is that I absolutely love being alive. So roll with it, I must.


For now, I plan to practice self-care while going about the business of living. And I plan to give myself some time to figure out how to move forward with painting. I also plan to wish so much love and joy for my mentor. He deserves nothing less. His life should be lived with gusto, with beauty and with art. All my tears can’t stop me from smiling while thinking that. I am so grateful to have known his teachings and to hear his voice in my mind: Don’t fear the dark.


I won’t, Eli. I won’t.


New Painting



A couple of days ago I found myself back in the studio, after a long break while my teacher/mentor was traveling. And what did I do while there? I went bat-shit crazy, is what.


It’s funny. Sometimes I’m painting something so ordinary, so common, and other folks in the studio couldn’t care less. In fact, I’m sure that if they glance in my direction, they find my work boring. And then you have a session like this week’s. During those occasions, the other painters don’t know what to think of me. Sometimes someone will ask what the heck I’m doing. And sometimes that person will flat-out tell me how bonkers I am. Most of the time, however, people just avoid talking to me during my crazy sessions. Even when they’re curious, they don’t ask me what I’m doing. They go to our teacher. And during those moments – God love him – he answers quite loudly, so that I can hear him.


It is also during these experimental sessions that my teacher hangs out with me. I think he’s intrigued by my willingness to step outside the parameters that seem to bind so many students. I’m not afraid to try something new. (Well – I am often afraid, but I try to be brave and do it anyway.) To be fair, there are a few of us who are willing to take a chance in class. And while ordinary can be perfectly lovely, beautiful even, there’s nothing wrong with painting outside the lines once in a while.


So I’ll keep working on this one and report back once it’s finished. And for the record, those are stickers…


Good to Get Back



My painting teacher/mentor is back from various travels. Finally! He’s been away for a month and I’ve sorely missed him and his studio.


I’ve become habituated to painting class and its effects. It’s a great stress-reducer. I don’t know if this is because of the meditative tendencies of the act of painting, or simply because of using one’s right brain (the creative parts). It’s also fun! I have a good time when I’m in the studio. I get to be adventurous in my creativity. I get to socialize. And there’s just something about being around so much creativity that triggers comfort for me. I can’t explain it, and that’s okay.


So yes. My teacher and mentor is back in the proverbial saddle and I’m back to painting. Hallelujah!




There are experiences and situations I aspire to know in this life. Some make sense. I’d like to see Rome, Paris. I’d like to hike down the Grand Canyon. I’d like to learn to speak a foreign language (beyond menu comprehension). And then there are things I’d like to know that, well, don’t make much sense at all. Namely – I’d like to have a mentor.


I’ve felt this way for many, many years. And I’ve never been clear as to exactly what said mentor would teach. I’ve just known I wanted a mentor, that I wanted to be a mentee. It’s dorky, I know.


Anyhoo – I’ve begun work on a new painting. It’s a commission, so I care quite a bit about how it turns out. I very much want the recipient to like it, and because it’s of a personal nature, I want it to have meaning for the family receiving this work. And have I mentioned my painting instructor is on sabbatical? Well he is. And so I’m painting like I do, but I usually at least have the benefit of his telling me to keep going. You see – I don’t always trust myself or my eye. It is during those times that a respected voice can really comfort and inspire, simply by saying something like, “Good, Mikki. Good.” I don’t need crazy praise. And I don’t need someone to do my work for me, either. But I trust my painting teacher, and his opinion is, for me, beyond measure.


So as I’m working on this new piece, I occasionally step back and try to imagine what my teacher would say. I try to see the work through his eyes and hear his comments. This is impossible, of course, but not unhelpful. As it happens, this tactic has led me to make creative choices that are quite beneficial to the painting. And I’m starting to see that I have some capabilities here. There will always be more to learn, but I am learning. And that counts.


At one point while trying to channel my painting instructor, it occurred to me that he is my mentor. That he is teaching me more than I ever imagined, and he is doing it with grace, confidence and refinement. This man is a wonderful artist in his own right, but he is a magnificent teacher, and I truly believe his vein of gold lies in instruction. Not only do I benefit from his artistic knowledge and training, I also benefit from his humanity.


Sometimes we are aware of getting what we want in life. Sometimes we’re not. Finding out I have a mentor took me by surprise. And I am a better person for knowing him. Fingers crossed – I aim to be a worthy mentee…