The Ugly Place

Any time I start on a new painting, I pass through different phases: the nervousness of starting, the excitement of finishing the sketch and starting to add color, and then what I call the “ugly stage.” The ugly stage can turn a painter inside out, and it happens to all of us no matter what the project. You know you are in the ugly stage when certain thoughts come to mind: “Why did I ever start this?” “This is nasty looking!” “I have no idea how this will ever work out!” “Ugh! I should just rip it up and destroy it!”  

If you are doing something that you have never done before and it seems especially hard, maybe you are in the “ugly stage” but do not recognize it. And so you just give up: The dessert is just not coming together, so you call the bakery. Your plans are not adding up, so you decide not to start the business. Or you never get as far as trying and just call the handyman or go to the store, and then watch TV and growl when someone asks you about that project you were thinking about starting. 

That point when you are wondering whether to quit — that point is the critical make-or-break point. Maybe you really have bitten off more than you can chew. There are times when we need to call in an expert. But maybe there are times when all we see is the ugliness, and so we quit way too soon.

The ugly stage

Once I understood that there is always an ugly stage, once I was able to recognize it for what it actually is, I was able to work through it. The ugly stage is just part of the process; it is just one phase, but not the whole project. I had to learn that creativity is not merely a matter of gritting my teeth and pushing through, but also a matter of seeing things in context and recognizing what will pass.

In other words, though endurance is necessary, there is more to life than persistence. There is also perspective. Gritting your teeth on a project might work, but lack of perspective often chokes your creative flow. 

Here is my advice for the ugly stage: Step back in order to get some perspective. Take a break, call a friend, listen to some music, go for a walk, ask for advice. Remember that we are all works in progress, that God’s perspective on us in Christ is not to look back on our faults and our failures, but to look at the perfection of His Son. He sees our ugly stage in the perspective of His transforming work. We can give generously and risk sacrificially because He is able to make all grace abound to us so that we can abound in every good work!

More than a Mouthful, no longer ugly

 

Are you going through, are have you gone through, your own ugly stage? Maybe sharing it will encourage others. Leave me a comment! 

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Too busy to be still?

Have you noticed that “busy” has become the normal response to “how are you?” No longer do we brush folks off with a “fine” response, but now we sigh and say “busy” or a variation on it (crazy, barely making it, running wild, tired out). We wear our tag of “busy” like a badge of honor,  almost as though it were a contest to see who can be the busiest. Why are we so busy? Or are we not as busy as we think? Do we just feel busy? Do we just want others to believe we are busy? And what would happen if we suddenly stopped being busy? Is that even possible?

Some recent health problems have meant that I have been housebound, and at times couchbound, for the past three weeks. No housework, no cooking, no laundry, no errands, no activities, no driving. I know — some of you are thinking, “That sounds AMAZING! What I’d give to have some down time when I couldn’t do anything.” To be honest, the first two days were pretty amazing. I slept whenever I felt like it, checked email, wasted time on Facebook and binge watched HGTV. But by the third day, I was restless and cranky, and I took it out on those around me. The real issue wasn’t so much that I was bored with nothing to do. I work from home on the computer, which was still very doable. I was able to complete some larger projects that had previously been left undone, and I certainly do enjoy my share of Fixer Upper

As I stopped to think about it, the real issue was that I wasn’t doing the things that earn me the “busy” tag. I wasn’t busy doing stuff around the house. I wasn’t busy being doing mom stuff. I wasn’t busy cooking delicious meals. I wasn’t busy being a chauffeur for various activities. I wasn’t busy running errands. The reality was that if I wasn’t “busy,” I felt useless. In the stillness of a forced time of rest, I felt as if I had lost my sense of identity. My usefulness was tied to my busyness which was tied to my self-worth. 

I think we like to be busy, and have others know we are busy, because we are afraid of what we might find out about ourselves if we weren’t busy. But here’s the reality: My worth does not come from my work. My worth comes from my Creator whose eyes saw my unformed body when I was still in my mother’s womb. My worth comes from the Sovereign ruler of the universe who has made me in His image. It comes from the Redeemer who loved me and gave Himself for me. It is in those moments of stillness that I can see my own frailty. I can run from that, or I can let that direct me to the One whose power is made perfect in my weakness.

water lillies

My challenge for you this week is to be still. I know some of you will immediately object “but I’m too busy.” Yes. That’s all the more reason to do it. Take a look at this painting from Monet; it is one of my favorites. The Water Lillies is just a slice of a collection of paintings by Monet. While the largest collection is in France, you can also see several panels in New York. The paintings are displayed all along the walls of an oval room, so that the viewer can sit in the midst and be engulfed by the painting. Have you ever noticed that art museums have benches everywhere? The idea is to sit, to be still in order to look closely.

What is stopping you? It’s not your schedule. We make time for the things that are important to us. Can you take time to be still? Will you? Your worth does not come from your work. In your stillness, remember the One who made you, the One who loves you, the One who rules the universe. All your busy activity does not keep the planets in orbit. He’s got that. He’s got you. Be still and know that He is God.

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How comfortable is your comfort zone?

Safety and security, that’s what most of us crave! However, when we step outside our comfort zones, we learn ever so much more! That’s what I want to encourage you to do this week.

Experiment! Do something different. 

As Americans we spend a lot of time watching and admiring other people do the things we wish we could do. There’s nothing wrong with learning about how someone climbed K2, known as the Savage Mountain due to the extreme difficulty of ascent. It’s always exciting to watch someone train for the Olympics, or perform in a singing competition, or photograph strange bugs and plants in the Amazon.  These programs can spur you on to greater things, but sometimes they dampen my enthusiasm. A spark of discouragement waltzes into my brain.  “I’m not him or her, I don’t have that kind of drive or talent, or resources…so it’s just easier and safer to watch the experts.”

The fact that I want a great end result and I want it fast can prevent me from even trying. I want to settle back into my comfort zone. Has that happened for you? You thought you had a great idea, you tried something once or twice and it didn’t work. I’ve learned that as I do more paintings, then I’m bound to make more mistakes, messes and stuff that goes straight into the garbage pail. That’s ok, because all my experimenting leads to better work and greater confidence. Yes, it really does!

I’d love a t-shirt or apron that says “It’s the Journey so I’m going to learn to love the learning!”

LovelocksLavenderTake this painting, it started out as an experiment, I never used this technique to prepare the basic  grounds (or paper) for any of my paintings. I was definitely NOT comfortable. I was tentative, nervous, and wondering whether anything in this painting was going to pan out. I felt my way through it step by step, using experimental approaches, colors, techniques.

I’m not nearly as afraid of messing up, especially after this painting. Experimenting  gives me freedom, and my work vitality. Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” I guess my comfort zone really wasn’t as comfortable as I thought! As it turned out this painting has sold more prints for the Spring Hill Art League here in Florida than any other. You can get a print (or the original) as well here. Sometimes an experiment can turn out to be a delightful success as well as a mess.

My encouraging advice for you is two fold:

  • Make a mess; experiment. 
  • Share your mess with our community here at The Art of Encouragement. 

Transparency is healthy! Let us know about your new quilt, recipe or marvelous mess.

 

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