Monday, October 5, 2015

Bloom True, Portland - September, 2015

Courtyard of the Tiny House Caravan Hotel

I've been home for a week from the Bloom True painting workshop in Portland with Flora Bowley. It is hard to find words for it - there are so many words. It was everything I had dreamed it would be, and better.
My own space, for four nights! Everyone should stay in a tiny house, just to re-set your idea of what "enough space" feels like.

Better, because it gave me time alone, in a new situation; the opportunity to go to bed alone in a Tiny House Caravan, wake up alone, reflect on my artistic self, my life, and anything else that arose into consciousness. I spent my days in a gorgeous, light-filled studio, led by an inspired artist, surrounded by unconditional friendliness, painting to my heart's delight.

My heart found delight in painting, for the first time in over 30 years: delight, freedom, pleasure, energy, joy.
New friendships were forged. The students in the workshop (all women - 17 of us) came from all over North America, with various backgrounds and levels of experience - from those who had never painted, to those who teach art.
Each day, I arose early in my tiny "Caboose," made coffee, read, reflected and opened my heart. Readings like this appeared, day by day:
- There is no expected pace for inner learning. What we need to learn comes when we need it, no matter how old or young, no matter how many times we have to start over, no matter how many times we have to learn the same lesson...Our greatest chance to change our life is to close our habits of mind and to open our ever-virgin hearts...The time has come to put our stones down. For hands clutching stones can't freely drum. And hearts fisting the past can't freely sing...stop defining who I am by those who have hurt me...The pain was necessary to know the truth but we don't have to keep the pain alive to keep the truth alive... - Mark Nepo
- Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between these two banks the river of my life flows. - Nisargadatta Maharaj
- Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. - James Baldwin
- The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. - Bell Hooks
- Art, myth, and poetry invite us into the transformative world of sacred story. This kind of knowing has the power to change us at the level of the subconscious and intuition because it can open mind, heart, and body simultaneously.  - Richard Rohr
After meditating on these things, I showered in the tiny shower, dressed, and met the group at the curb to catch our ride to Flora's beautiful studio.
Photo credit: Flora Bowley
Photo credit: Flora Bowley (those are my paintings, in progress, on the far right)
Photo credit: Flora Bowley

In the evenings, spent - yet energized - from painting (standing up) all day, some of us went out to explore and found excellent local places to dine. The neighborhood around the Tiny House Caravan was absolutely perfect for blooming artists: filled with small shops, boutiques and restaurants, all brimming with unique goods, rather than touristy trinkets. We talked and laughed, and shared our lives, led far and wide and a world apart, yet connected by the brilliant thread woven through all: art.

Each morning, the readings and reflections which arrived in my in-box were spot-on for where I was in the process (and this is a process). Each night, I wrote with gratitude in my journal. The journal was a gift to Katie for her 12th birthday from a beloved hospital staffer; I had never dared to write in it before, but couldn't part with it. I knew that this was the right time to add my story to it.
In the mornings when we arrived in the studio, we gathered in a circle, and Flora shared a reading, words of wisdom, a ritual, reminder, demonstration or a combination of all of the above. 
Her dog, Pearl, was an important member of the tribe - our resident angel/silent therapist.
On day one of the workshop, Flora had a gift for each of us: a clutch purse made of her design, filled with nurturing goodies like sun tea, lip balm, soap, etc...
Sun tea, hand-made by a wonderful local herbalist

...and she had painted a miniature with a message for each of us. These were lying face down (white side up) on the table, and we were invited to select any one, turn it over, and receive its message. This one was mine:
...perfect for someone who was blocked for years, after making a serious study of art in college.

As I painted under Flora's gentle guidance and tutorials, I began to see deeply into myself. I began to let go and find new freedom. I enjoyed the encouragement and camaraderie of others who were undergoing the same process of stepping out in faith and wonder, doing their best, liking/not liking the results, and beginning again, over and over, moment by moment.

One of the things I love best about Flora's process is that we can begin again, at any moment. I have never experienced this wisdom in other art classes. Titanium White, or any color of opaque paint, can render the most awkward area of a painting (or an entire canvas) completely new and fresh again. It is never too late; no painting is beyond redemption. And they can be turned - any side can be "up." For example, a painting can evolve from this
my new studio space at home
to this
 to this,
and still be unfinished. We don't have to know "where it's going," don't have to think it through or impose a destination or meaning upon it. We can allow it to emerge in its own way and time, naturally.
 We were offered delicious, healthy, beautiful snacks each day, laid out under this window; a morning yoga session with artist/yogi Lynzee Lynx; an evening pizza-wine-and-painting session. I could have stayed for months, rather than days.

Flora's exercises and demonstrations were fun, challenging and exciting. Her demo painting went through many phases; here are a few of them:
Lots of freedom and fun from very the beginning
Then, unifying...
...unifying with shape and color
...adding some "POP" with color
Flora teaching us - such a gentle, wise, spiritual, experienced, full-hearted soul!
Fun with lines and shapes
Some "Brave, Intuitive" changes - and turns of the canvas
This is where she stopped - pure gorgeousness!
Detail of one of my favorite areas of Flora's canvas

When I arrived at home, I shared my work in progress (because my paintings are not finished yet) with Gregg and my parents.
Last day in Flora's studio: my work in progress

I shared the process with them, as well; I could see that it was all a bit radical to them, but they were delighted in my happiness and progress. Gregg was so engaged that he immediately helped me to set up a studio in our house - so now, I am continuing to paint at home.

"Bloom True" is one of the greatest gifts I've received in my life, for which I am hugely thankful. It has moved a block behind which I was stuck for over 30 years. I knew intuitively (by grace) that Flora was the right teacher for me, and am now enrolling in her "Bloom True" e-course to help me keep going. I don't know where any of this will lead, but it is taking me into more freedom, joy and full-heartedness, and that is enough. To Flora, Anya, Katie and my fellow Bloom True tribe members, thank you for being part of this joyous journey! I love you and will never forget our time together.


Blair said...

I was so honored to have shared this amazing journey with you!! I am SO proud of you!!!! Keep painting, keep your heart full of all this rich goodness. I look forward to the day when we can paint together again. xoxox Blair

Elizabeth said...

I am just floored by what you've described here, Karen, and by what you've created or are in the process of creating. I know it must have been hard to write and do justice to this bounty -- but you did! I feel the energy and love and radiance in your words, here -- and the colors! The art! The quotes! I am so excited for you Karen and feel like you're on your way to an amazing new part of your life. I'm just floored.

jandi said...

This sounds fantastic! I'm so glad you had this experience!

Kim Andersen said...

I hope to go to one of these someday! I'm glad for you to have this great opportunity and revived love of paint play. It sounds fantastic!

Anonymous said...

"It was everything I had dreamed it would be, and better."
So happy for you...

Julie said...

What a beautiful experience you have shared and I am so darned excited! I will be there in mid October and am looking forward to painting in a community and co-creating. Thank you for showing us a glimpse of your process.

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Julie, you are in for a treat! I am thrilled for you. Blessings to you as you go!

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Kim, I recommend it wholeheartedly. You deserve it!

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Elizabeth, I thought of you at Hedgebrook- perhaps it was a similar experience (though telescoped into four days). I am so grateful that both of us had these intensive immersion experiences. XO

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Thank you, Jandi!

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Thank you, dear Carin. We are thrilled about what happened at the BENefit while I was in PDX. You are "going out with a bang," for sure. XOXO