Reinventing Yourself One Brush Stroke at a Time

Tricia DowningBlog, Redefining AbleLeave a Comment


Like everyone else, the New Year brings to mind thoughts of change, starting over, or working harder to become better. Though change for the better can happen any time of the year, there is something symbolic and, in our minds, magical about January 1st. It is like a fresh canvas has been presented to us and we have the chance to do something new and different with it.

What will you do with yours? 

If you are ready to go out on a limb, make a change or completely reinvent, following is an experience I had with getting out of my comfort zone, trying something new and enjoying myself during the activity. This process has spurred the list topper for my goals in 2014…take more creative risks in writing, art or whatever creative endeavor I can come up with. I hope you will share in my journey and find the things that get you excited and make you feel accomplished.

When I was a kid, I fancied myself an artistic. And truthfully, what child doesn’t? When we are young, we are all artists—willing and able to create because we have not developed a sense of good and bad, right and wrong. We haven’t become jaded by judgment and comparison. But the older we get, these ugly measurements get in our head and we throw our hands in the air and say, “why try? I’m not good enough.”

I remember how happy it made me to create. My parents divorced when I was in elementary school and my mother dated a man who I thought was just wonderful. Every time he would come over to visit, I would come up with a new creation—drawing, painting, cut and paste, 3D objects. When he would invite us over to his house, it was overflowing with my projects. He had kept every one. When I was in middle school I took an art class and created several paintings of which I was extremely proud, and my stepmom bought me a large artist’s portfolio in which to keep my work. It made me feel like the real deal. Here and there after middle school I dabbled in artistic projects, but my willingness to go out on a limb and create, took a serious nose-dive into my adult years.

Since then I have often thought, I need to get back to my creative side, but I rarely do.

Not long ago, I was invited to spend a Saturday afternoon with a friend at one of the popular Canvas and Cocktails sessions and I thought, what better way to get out and create.

As I sat down at the canvas, in my mind, I set the ground rules for myself:

1)   No words of judgment allowed

2)   Have fun, explore

3)   Do not look at the canvasses around you and compare yourself

Three easy rules, no problem. But immediately I was afraid. What if I’m no good? What if my friend is better than me? No sooner had I set the rules than I was breaking them.

As I looked around the room we were in, I started to get excited about this event. Displayed on the walls were all of the different designs they offered through their various sessions and I began to see possibilities. I picked out the ones I wanted to make and where I could use them as decoration in my house. It felt like a new world was opening up to me. I couldn’t wait to dive in.

The instructor got up and started leading us in the painting exercise.

First step, mix some of the yellow paint with the white paint and fill the canvas with a lemon colored background.


I took a look at my masterpiece, and as far as I was concerned I had the perfect background.

Next though, we were to draw a tree that would become the home to two lovebirds and branches of flowers. The painting was called Cute as a Button.

The instructor demonstrated with ease, two flowing lines that were the outlines of the tree trunks. She did it so effortlessly and they looked perfect. Then she told us she’d turn on some rockin’ tunes while we took our turn at beginning our tree trunks. As soon as she turned on the music and turned it over to us, I froze.

In my mind I thought, what if my tree trunk doesn’t look like hers? This is the basis for the whole project, what if I mess it up? I can’t do that.

In that moment I recognized exactly where I have been so many times in my life. I doubt myself before I even get started. And then, I abandon ship.

But not today. There are sixty other people around me who are diving right in. And I’m going to join them. I began a chant in my head, I can do this….this does not have to be perfect…I am here to have fun, not to judge…I am enjoying myself… On and on I went, and before long, I jumped in with both feet. Because painting is like that, once you put it out there, it’s on canvas and you just have to work with it.

I loved the step-by-step nature of the process. The instructor would give us a few lines or circles to draw or an object to fill in, and then she’d turn the music up to let our creativity flow and when time was up, she’d turn it down and give us another instruction. The whole morning went just like that. She broke the painting down into bite-size pieces, which turned it into a manageable creation.

As we were all in hard-core painting mode, the instructor asked us to stop. She explained some of those thoughts I had rolling though my mind about being intimidated, or not feeling skilled. She gave us this advice: “take a step back. Look at your painting with a less critical eye. What do you see?”

When I stepped back, and looked at my painting, focusing only on what I did and not what anyone around me had done, I have to say I was proud. Not because I am an amazing artist, or because my painting looked anything like the display. I was proud of having taken the first step, even when I was scared I wouldn’t be any good. I was proud that, all things considered, it didn’t look too bad. And I was proud I had taken the risk to put my talents and my efforts onto the canvas regardless of the outcome.

At the end of the session, I finally allowed myself to look around, and what I saw was, to me, symbolic. Even though we all had the same directions and were emulating the same sample painting, every tree in the room looked different. And you couldn’t classify them into good or bad, because they all had their merits. At one point, I had looked over at another woman’s painting and my judgment voice said, “that’s not very good.” But at the end of the session, it had morphed into a stellar painting. I had spoken too soon. Looking further I noticed every one had strengths—some painted great trees, some did better with the birds or flowers. Some people took creative license and used different colors than the recommended. The same painting had become classy, cute, or serious, depending on the artist. One could not have looked around the room and judged good and bad, black and white. Because the room was full of color and personality. Just as the world is around us.

This painting exercise reminded me of what it takes to re-create or reinvent your life. We all have the opportunity to go back and start with a blank canvas anytime we want. And when you’re ready to start over, or life changes your direction without warning and you have to start over, there are a few simple rules:

1)   Be open. Don’t worry about right or wrong. Follow your heart.

2)   Every once in a while, do the “lean back” test. Take a step back and look at your accomplishments without judgment or comparison.

3)   When your internal negative dialogue gets too loud, turn up the music!

4)   Finally, remember even if you have a role model, a goal, an ideal ending place in mind, you are a one-of-a-kind creation. Embrace your quirks and differences and enjoy the meandering path that life takes you on along your way.

Here’s your Redefining Able Action Plan:

  1. Where do you need to take an inspired risk in your life? (Do you want to write a book, learn to cook, build a new skill set, start a fitness program, etc.)
  2. Write down your goal.
  3. Break your project down into steps, just like the painting.
  4. Each time you set out to work on your project, encourage yourself to put into action one of those steps.
  5. As you work towards your goal, fill your mind, not with judging words, but with encouragement.
  6. Keep track of your accomplishments. Write them down. If you can’t see them immediately look through a different lens. Lean back, take a step away, and see what you have accomplished.






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