|Patti Chisholm in Her Own Words
I paint in a studio much of the time, yet most of what I paint is based upon what I experience when I'm in a natural setting. Nature is where I go to start the process because it frees me. Sometimes I photograph, other times I make simple sketches, write and/or take quick notes in my sketchbook. It could be as simple as looking out over the ocean and seeing an amazing array of color. It engages all my senses—color, sound, the feel of the wind blowing foam off the ocean. I feel surrounded by all of it and that allows me to escape my own person and become part of nature. I know now that painting will happen out of that.
When I go into nature it calms me down, like a form of meditation. Taking long walks alone allows the junk to escape and all this good stuff to come in. My peak moments are being by the ocean. You’re part of the water and the wind, mixing with it all. When I work with water-based acrylics, there’s a partnership between the water, canvas, the paint and me. Each has its strengths. You’re putting it all together knowing the strengths that each element brings.
Music also moves me to paint. When I’m dancing, or when I’m with people listening to music, feelings move around in me in response to the music. I don’t know where it will lead. “New Rhythms” is a painting that sprang from allowing the energy of music to move through me. I can start painting by allowing the colors, the brushes, the materials to do their own thing—the arm just dances around the canvas enjoying the act. It doesn’t always lead to a finished painting but sometimes I have a surprise. I stand back and go “Wow.”
When I first started painting I got into watercolors. I could take a deep breath in a field and it was almost like a Zen meditation. Everything became aligned. I could take the brush and go. The painting would be over in 20 minutes. Some thinking is involved—I know my materials and what they can and cannot do. But it feels like play, the same as dance. Once I learn the basic steps I’m free to express. I lose all sense of time and place and am in that moment. I’m not worried about anything. It’s just me there, my own energy, and the “stimulus package” of colors, sky, waves. When you’re finished you wake up out of that state and feel very filled, very satisfied.
It’s a matter of trusting that all of this is going to happen and I’m at the point now where I can trust that feeling when it shows up. I do this kind of painting for myself, because I need that energy. I have to have it. It’s like an addiction, a drug. If I don’t allow the energy to get out in that way, it can become too frustrating for me internally, sometimes leading to a negative mood swing. So I address it through painting, or dancing. There’s a release of an unbelievable amount of energy. When I’m finished I feel light.
Being in nature, feeling the sunlight, the water, the wind, with my brushes there, everything comes together and it’s a magical feeling. There’s nothing better. That has been my major motivation to paint. Since childhood I had a lot of tumultuous stuff going on inside of me and was fortunate to grow up near water. The ocean was always nurturing for me. I had a lot of frustration and no creative outlet. When I was very young some teachers saw my talent for painting but it was discouraged by my parents. Later, in college, I studied photography because it got me out into nature. I could hike to my heart’s content and it was magical to be in the dark room and watch a picture developing. The camera is still my friend. Now it records things I want to know more about.
In my late thirties, I needed another form of expression. I had to find a way to address all that was locked up inside of me like a tight ball. I studied pastels and loved the sound of the pastel sticks on the textured paper. It calmed me down. Then in 1997, a woman teacher set me on a new path—the path of Intuitive Painting. This gave me permission to play, to have fun, to make mistakes and not worry about it. A light went on and I started really enjoying it.
Healing is a big part of painting. There are books on the healing power of art. The expressive self has to be allowed to come out; it can be damaging to your soul if it doesn’t. If I hadn’t had this outlet I don’t know where I’d be. I’m also fortunate to be aware of what my process is—to allow myself to be playful instead of fearful. I’ve overcome that burden of “serious painting.” If you set out to do painting as self-exploration, there’s no way you can “paint to sell”.
I start with a lot of feeling—whatever’s going on. Then I stop and have to look at it. Now, instead of stopping and putting it away if it’s not finished, I’m in it for the longer distance. I’ve built up the muscle strength—physically and emotionally—to stay the course. I’m not afraid of failure so much anymore. I’ve realized it’s just paper or canvas. Now I can enjoy this “intuitive land” and combine that with taking a deep breath and saying, “I’m going to follow it through.”
I call myself an explorer, an adventurer. That’s why I like to hike, to be out in the wild. In the act of creating a painting you’re exploring as if you’re on a path in the woods. Sometimes it’s a bit scary, like being in the Grand Canyon on a narrow path, looking over a ledge and seeing the depths below, or you’re on the main path and go off it because there’s another path you want to explore, though you may have to return to the main path. In painting you’re doing the exploring with your materials and your own self. I never know where it’s going to end up.
When I take myself into nature, a spiritual force comes into play. That’s where it happens for me. When I’m painting, or photographing, I know I’m with that force. Painting on location—with that force—is it for me. Sometimes the energy that fills me sits really deeply and stays there and I can address it in some fashion. The big trick is to bring that calmness and the power from that connection back into the studio.
When I’m aligned with the energy flow and painting, a part of me is almost shaking inside with excitement. If I closed my eyes and tried to visualize the brain synapses, it would be like they’re all lighting up. It feels like everything is lit and sparks are flying and the energy is pouring out through my body. Sometimes I paint on the floor on my hands and knees. There’s a lot of kinetic energy—my whole body gets into the expression, not just my hand.
Some people say that artists should address the issues of our times but I find that I can’t go into those dark places any more. I choose to bring beauty into the world. My own exploration has to be guided by truth and beauty. The spiritual is such a powerful, positive force. I wish everyone could tap into it; there’d be so much less depression in this world. My best work is guided by that force. If one person connects with my work, that’s enough for me.