That expression, “In your heart you know” was said to me over twenty-five years ago by a man who was refusing to cooperate. At the time I had a big decision to make, I had weighed all the pros and cons, and I still was undecided. The deadline was approaching, so I needed an answer. In my infinite wisdom I thought of John, a man who loved the sound of his own voice (as do I at times), who was often free with his unsolicited advice. This trait of his, annoying to many, was just what I was looking for.
After a Saturday morning gathering of a bunch of us friends, I approached John in the parking lot and explained my dilemma. Relief was in sight, I knew he would have a crystal-clear suggestion. He looked at me, nodding as he listened, then pulled his glasses further down his nose so he could look me right in the eye. With no prelude at all he smiled and said,
“In your heart…you know.”
Then turned, walked to his car, and drove away.
I stood there, stunned. It was so utterly out of character for him, to be handed a bully pulpit and say no thanks. Where was the John I knew and loved, whose favorite sport was pontificating?
Then, standing in the middle of the echo, I heard what he had said, snickered, and said to myself, “Damn you John, you’re right as usual.”
To this day I remember the sunlight in that parking lot, the fresh scent of spring teasing us away from winter blues. It was one of those moments in life that burns deep into your psyche, your very being. Had anyone else said it, I probably wouldn’t have heard it, or would have brushed it off as new-age woo-woo nonsense. But out of Brother John it was a ten-pound pearl.
And it is amazing how versatile those five words are still. I use them when I get caught up in my drug-of-choice: “O.P.O.”. That stands for Other People’s Opinions. Ugh, it is intoxicating and devastating, and everything in between. I can get so caught up in ‘blending in with the crowd’ that I forget that I too have a point of view. Carrying John’s pearl of IYHYK goes a long way toward helping me to listen without having to agree, to being with people who actually are not part of my tribe, but are interesting nonetheless.
And yes (I know you were waiting for it), it also applies to watercolor. In my heart, I know when something is ‘off’ in a painting, even if my head has no idea what needs correction.
This first photo is of a painting that I actually thought was finished until I looked at the photo. Then, all of a sudden, when I saw it 1 inch tall and 2 inches wide instead of 8″x 10″, I saw a design flaw that was glaring.
Not that it would bother everyone, but I saw details on the left side (top and bottom), details on the right side (top and bottom), and the crest of the hill, literally in the dead center of the picture, was bare and gently pointing upward, leading the eye up and out of the picture. The goal in any successful painting is to give the viewer a place to linger and wander for a while. This is especially important if I want them to buy it and live with it for a long time! I knew changing the curvature of the hill crest by changing the sky would be impossible (in watercolor it would leave an obvious trail of “overworked!”) So I asked myself, “Do I just quit here and give it up as a lesson learned, or do I stare at it, not really thinking at all, until another option becomes clear?” Then it came to me, an intuition, rather than a calculation: “Plant More Trees!”
I began extending the right-hand forest more toward the center, in decreasing sizes so it would look like the trees were continuing behind the hill. Then, in another IYHYK moment, I realized that I had to stop altogether mid-brainstorm, because it was late afternoon in my apartment, the daylight I use for almost all of my paintings was leaving, and I was running the risk of overdoing it, simply because changing the light source to electric light (even to color-correcting bulbs) changes everything in watercolor. So I stopped and carried on the next day with tidying up the details.
I like it well enough, but of course when I look at it, I relive my entire process, and can’t see the final product as a simple whole. It may be part of the show and sale that begins five weeks from tomorrow at Dos Amigos Restaurant here in Concord NH. It all depends on what secret paintings are still hiding inside my paint palette, just waiting to be liberated in the next few weeks by water and brush, to land on another glorious sheet of pristine white watercolor paper.
When I think of all the work and all the people who were involved in creating each tube of paint I have, each brush, each piece of thick, thirsty paper, I am amazed that at the very end I get to do whatever I want with the fruits of their labor. Each painting of mine is infused with an invisible layer of, “Thank you thank you thank you”, which I see better than anyone else does. In my heart I know I am one lucky girl.