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Ellen and I decided to treat ourselves to a weekend at Kripalu out in the Massachusetts Berkshires for our 14th wedding anniversary. It was a full weekend of yoga, workshops, great food, good conversation, and yes, a little painting. I decided to use the couple of hours in the morning before my workshop started to sketch/paint in the cafe overlooking an incredible view.

The first morning I decided to try my hand at sketching the early-morning risers who were enjoying breakfast or a cup of coffee outside. It started out as two vignette sketches, but after I finished I decided (or rather, my OCD decided for me) to connect the two (the mountain lined up between the two sketches, but the hedge didn’t… thus the L-shape).

I refrained from painting the top surfaces of the picnic bench all brown. There was a glare that I was trying to capture, and it took discipline to not just smear brown paint all over the surface (I was remembering a key lesson in Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (GREAT (and classic) book!) — we often draw what we think we see instead of what we actually see). I was also pleased with how I captured the sideways sitting position of the orange-hooded person (the one you may have thought — as Ellen did — was sporting some strange orange/red hairstyle).

I painted the background first with a very watered-down ultramarine blue wash extending from the sky down to the hedge. After letting it dry, I did another ultramarine blue wash (only slightly darker) extending from the last mountain range down to the hedge. I continued this process for the other two mountain ranges, and added a little green for them. This gave the effect of hazy mountains in the background and more distinct mountains in the foreground (those of us from out west would call these hills…).

I forgot to finish painting the green-shirted woman — I left her scarf and head-band white. Other mistakes: I’m missing a leg on the chair (upper left leg should be showing), and the vertical leg of the woman in the chair shouldn’t be at the same level as the back legs of the chair. I tell myself it’s good for me to note these kinds of mistakes after I finish a sketch, but to not get too worked up about them — it’s all part of the learning process.

I was going to do a similar sketch the next morning, but I was inspired by my workshop to try something different. The workshop I attended was led by David Deida and was all about unpacking the “masculine” and “feminine” and the interplay between the two. One of his books in particular (“The Way of the Superior Man“) has been inspiring to me — talking about relationships from an energy perspective as opposed to the standard role-based models that never really felt like they hit the mark for me.

Deida describes the masculine (which can reside in a man or a woman to varying degrees) as pure conscious presence, and the feminine (which, again, can reside in a man or a woman to varying degrees) as radiant and flowing energy. The two complete each other when the masculine’s conscious presence is offered as a structure or container (“riverbank,” as Deida puts it) through which the feminine energy can flow. Too often, he says, the masculine will try to confront the feminine energy (which can sometimes feel rather stormy to us male bystanders) with logic and rationale thinking instead of entering into it with attentive and conscious presence. There’s a lot more to it than that (and who knows if I got it right — it’s pretty abstract stuff), but those are the concepts that I decided to try to capture in my Sunday morning sketch.

Masculine: The masculine is grounded and rooted in the earth. His stance is solid, stable, and attentive. He maintains an open heart. His consciousness eminates outward and is connected to a greater consciousness beyond himself.

Feminine: The feminine is pure energy and flow in all its forms. She is radiant, enlivening, relaxing, and moving. She is volcano, ocean, forest, storm, rain, sun, moon, stars, and more. She radiates beauty and fury and she dares the masculine to enter into her flow and not shrink back.

There is much in this way of seeing masculine and feminine that challenges me to grow beyond my many default modes. And Ellen loves the idea of me chalking her stormy moods up to being a radiant woman in all her glory.

Most people who have seen this painting say that their eyes are immediately drawn to one or the other. I’d like to hear your thoughts (and I’m kind of interested in how this differs between men and women).

This painting experience was different for me than my usual. Instead of painting what I was seeing with my eyes (which is what most of my sketches have been), I tried to open my mind and connect with what I was learning and feeling. I suppose looking internally and seeking to translate what one sees there into a sketch is similar to translating what one sees externally into a sketch. But it’s less concrete and more abstract, which is not my practiced way of seeing and knowing. It requires more right-brained action — there is an extra layer of translation going from conceptual to visual than when going from visual to visual. I’d like to try more of this.

Which painting do you like better? When you paint, do you prefer to paint what you see or what you feel?

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