I am an extremely sensitive artist type person. Fear, anxiety and self doubt can cause stagnation in my abstract art practice, and life in general.
But thankfully, I have found tools to help get past these times of sluggishness. One of these tools is surfing. There is nothing that puts me in the moment and shows me my place within the universe quite like being in the waves.
Thank you to TinyBuddha.com for publishing yet another one of my essays, How Surfing Helped Me Turn My Fear and Anxiety into Confidence. Take a read and comment below and/or share if it resonates with you.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! Don't forget to get outside and play after all that turkey and pie!
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The abundance of ocean art and surf paintings is proof of just how much inspiration the ocean gives.
I've just returned from Baja and although the surf Gods were not really stirring things up in my favor this trip, I left Mexico reminded, once again, of the power of Mother Ocean. Visually, there is nothing in comparison with looking out over the vastness of the ocean. There seems to be no end, and in comparison to the self centered, ego driven, social media heavy life that people in our culture gravitate toward, the ocean puts us humans in our place and makes us remember how small we really are.
Mother Ocean astounds me. Graceful, beautiful, and I am yet a twig in comparison to her power.
Mentally, the ocean seems to change my brain waves. My gerbil wheel of a thought process slows down when I'm ocean side allowing me to ponder more deeply and not be so reactive. Physically, the ocean lets me know that I am nothing in relation to even her "small surf", as seen by the mighty mouse of a wave that grabbed me under water, flipped me around 4 times, and injured my back on the last day we were there. (An hour later I was standing in a taco shack and salt water came pouring out my nose.) At times she beats me down, but in doing so I get stronger and stronger.
But I love her so. Even if she kicks my ass every now and then. She keeps me in check. She helps me remember what's important. She reminds me to be present in my life. And she encourages me to keep challenging myself even when I feel I've been beaten.
While my art is not as "surfcentric" as some, it is certainly influenced by the ebbing and flowing of the tides and the ever changing, yet somehow repetitive surface of the water.
Below are images of some of my very favorite ocean and surf inspired art.
These artists see Mother Ocean through the eyes of water dwellers. If they're anything like me, a piece of them feels like it's missing the longer they're away from the sea. Sand in my toes and water up my nose. Yeah. That's my happy place.
Wolfgang Bloch: Wolfgang's painting are moody, mysterious and alluring; reminiscent of the the beauty and danger of the ocean. Calming to look at yet uncomfortable in their darkness and distance, these paintings are the simultaneous trepidation and elation I experience sitting on my surf board on the edge of the ocean. So joyous to be on the water yet unsure about the world under my dangling feet and the white thunder that will inevitably come rushing towards shore.
Untitled NO. 175, Mixed Media, Wolfgang Bloch
Untitled NO. 7, Oil on Vintage Painting & Wood, Wolfgang Bloch
NO. 1025, Oil on Wood Panel, Wolfgang Bloch
Untitled NO. 3, Oil on Vintage Wood, Wolfgang Bloch
Pelican, Reclaimed Indonesian Teak, Ross McDowell
Hammer Time, On Reclaimed Indonesian Teak, Ross McDowell
Honu, On Reclaimed Indonesian Teak, Ross McDowell
Complexity, Water Color By Heather Ritts
Purity, Water Color By Heather Ritts
Fourth Watch, David Macomber
Wind and Waves, David Macomber
North County, Joe Vickers
The Original Birdy Beach, Joe Vickers
Panhandle Summer, Joe Vickers
The drawing at top was done by me about 4 years ago. Just pencil on paper.
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I have not been in the ocean for over 2 months, which is the longest lapse in the past 5 years or so. I have been working on a website, setting up and keeping up with social media, learning how to create ads, reaching out to potential customers and making art. On top of that there is family, which is always a priority, and rest (because if I don’t get enough rest, apparently I go bat shit crazy). What has been lost? Exercise and getting to the coast.
I’ve been trying to be better about exercise and I can gerbil at the gym with the best of them, but I need to get outside. I’ve been thinking about my love for surfing, mountain biking and skiing and why those activities are part of my art practice; part of my formula for creativity.
Me surfing in Del Norte, CA. Photo credit: Christian Dalbec
When I was in art school at Boston University, Professor Peter Hoss http://www.peterhoss.com/, my drawing teacher and the only teacher that I really connected with, made us read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Zen and the Art of Archery. While I haven’t read either in over 20 years (I probably should as a refresher), they resonated with me so deeply that I scored the highest in the class on the written tests pertaining to these books. It boggled my mind that I could see the message in these books so clearly and yet be so uninspired by art school. In the most abbreviated and loose interpretation, the Zen books are about getting lost in the moment. Going to such a meditative space when engaged in an activity that you love, that all else slips away and time melts. Even though I wasn’t happy in art school, I clearly knew what that was like and recognized that I felt it when making art.
Me in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Photo credit: Chris Goodyear
When I am on a surf board in the ocean, I do not have time to interpret the thoughts in my head. When a wave is approaching me, my body and mind are one and I can only “do now”. It puts me in a present state the same way that flying down a trail on a bike, or down a mountain on skis does as well. There is no time to think about my actions, I just have to trust that my body will react to what my brain observes and know that if I simply relax and roll with it, I have the best outcomes. Engaging in these sports feeds the part of my brain that is able to let go and just be.
Skiing on Mount Shasta. Photo credit: Chris Goodyear
Each time I fill up that bucket of present-being, it flows into every part of my life. My art is richer, deeper and more complex. Balance and composition are not such a struggle. Color choice is not overthought. It is easier to surrender to the moment. One thing flows to the next in a smooth and graceful stream of action and a painting appears.
When I don’t fill up that bucket I am more resistant to that stream. When that bucket is running on fumes, I overthink and swim against the current. I can keep it from running out entirely by practicing seated meditation each morning and getting out to hike, but my brain can still get lost in thought when doing both. I need to be part of the speed that gravity creates or to feel the power of the waves. Engaging with forces that I cannot control results in an overflowing abundance of present sight. I have to focus on, and only on, what is happening NOW. The ticker tape of thought is paused and instinct kicks in. Brain and body work together in a brief moment of synchronicity, where there is no time to question either.
That being said, I best be planning to get to the ocean soon. Even if just for the day. Even if the surf report is less than ideal and that blasted south wind is whipping. I need to get out, paddle around, say hi to the sea lions and literally be immersed in nature. So down the Redwood Highway I go to the wind lashed, foggy, rugged, temperamental paradise of the Northern California Coast. Time to inhale the marine layer and get lost in the sound of the waves. Surf’s up y’all.
Painting at top is Quiver 28"x22" Mixed Media on Canvas - A gift for my amazing surfer dude husband.
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