Trusting the Process

Yesterday I did a post on Instagram about my art and OCD and I think it’s worth sharing here.

I’ve been reflecting on why I create the art I create and why my process is the way it is and I think there’s a very close relationship between my art and my OCD.

 

There’s been a lot going on in my life over the last year or so (longer if we go back to my breast cancer diagnosis in 2017). At times of stress and anxiety my OCD goes through the roof – when life is out of control so I get compulsions to exert control in what would appear, to non OCD sufferers, as rather odd areas of life. So for example yesterday I was on my knees after work desperately trying to place an electric cable in a “perfect” way so that it didn’t touch the sides of the desk nor the cable extension box nor have the end curling back and lying on top of the cable in any way because all these things are, in my OCD world, high risk positionings for a cable (even though it is switched off at the mains) and cause me a great deal of anxiety. Or I have various intrusive thoughts that I have to touch my forehead three times to “eject”. Or spiralling prayers that go round and round my head, every attempt to word them correctly seeming to get me deeper and deeper in trouble with God. Such is my mind. Such is my brain. But NOT when I paint. And NOT when I painted THIS today.

 

The moment I started to mix my oil paint with the cold wax medium and apply the blend to the wood panel my brain gently eased into a very different zone, an OCD free zone. In this zone I’m absorbed in the present moment, perfectly mindful, only thinking of colour, composition, value, the feel of the paint spread across the canvas, the freedom of scraping the layers back and scoring the panel with marks. And I think the art I create reflects this equilibrium, the peace and calm at my core during this process. And in turn I hope that my art becomes a source of rest and rejuvenation, the process of creating it accesses that quiet still part of myself and allows it to be reflected in the painting. The part of me reflected in my painting is the part of me that OCD cannot reach. So I share my art generally, and this piece today, in the hope that it brings the same sense of calm to those who see it and need that peace in their minds too.

Since posting the above I’ve been thinking more about why my abstract art helps me get in this flow. The more I think about it the more I think it’s about trust and lack of control, two concepts that don’t always go well together.  Abstract art, and particularly my process which involves applying oil and cold wax layers and scraping back to re-discover what lies beneath,  means there is a great deal of freedom to my movement. There’s no need to hesitate before applying a brush stroke (I hardly even use brushes anymore!), there’s no need to overthink. I know it’s all going to change and evolve and I trust that from that chaos something amazing will emerge. Because it does. Time and again. So whereas my OCD is all about controlling whatever I can control in the chaos of life, my abstract art is all about embracing that chaos and trusting that from it something amazing is being created. And so whereas OCD fills my brain with all sorts of thoughts about all sorts of awful things that could happen if I mess up, in my abstract art it’s ok to make mistakes, these are part of the process and these mistakes are in fact wonderful changes of direction that transform the art. It’s a bit like life really. Sometimes over time you look back at mistakes you made and things that went wrong and  say “Actually I’m glad that happened because look what happened next …” . I firmly believe that God (or Higher Power, Divine Source, the One, whatever you may believe in) “…works to the good in all things” (Romans 8.28). In abstract art you see that “good” emerge time and again  despite any “mistakes” you make along the way. You just have to keep going and something magical will happen. Again a bit like life really.

I think OCD will be with me forever. It’s certainly showing no signs of leaving. But art is a huge source of relief for me, an escape from the endless spiralling thoughts that fill my mind and  take me nowhere. Of course once I finish painting and re-enter the real world a lot of these  can slip back in, easily, swiftly, as if they were only standing outside the door waiting for me to finish. But I believe that getting out of my head for these precious painting hours is important and gives me a chance to breathe and heal. I believe my art reflects that easement of my mind and soul, the tranquility that my brain can find in my art even in my  busiest and more energetic of sessions. There is peace and harmony at its core . My art soothes my soul, I hope it can soothe yours too.