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 a stroke of insight 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.
It is amazing how versatile those five words are still. I use them on myself when I get so caught up in empathizing with others that I misplace my own take on things. 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 picture is of a painting that I actually thought was finished until I looked at the photo shown above. 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 places to linger and wander for a while. This is especially important if they are going to purchase it and live with it for a long time! I knew changing the curvature of the hill crest 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, realizing the natural late afternoon light was fading in my studio, I stopped (another moment of ‘listen to your intuition’) 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 never 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 of my paintings is infused with an invisible layer of, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
In my heart I know I am one lucky girl.