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Face to Face With My Comfort Zone (part 1)

Thanks for tuning in! Before I jump into my own personal experience I thought I’d first build a little foundation. I decided to break the subject of the “comfort zone” into two parts to really emphasize the importance of this phenomenon.

I taught a watercolor workshop over the summer called “Kick Start Your Creativity”. It was a fairly intense 3 days. Aside from watercolor technique the underlying focus of the workshop was breaking through creative roadblocks and reconnecting to inner creative impulses. It was a very personal workshop where each student was confronted with their “comfort zones” and worked to overcome them. I’ll tell ya, these gals followed me down the rabbit hole and out the other side. It was an awesome and emotional experience and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The COMFORT ZONE is a cozy word for “trap”. It is a very alluring place to be. It’s a safety blanket. It’s “pretty”. It’s also a cage with golden bars. Everybody has their own comfy, toasty, delicious little comfort zones. An ongoing exercise in the workshop was learning how to recognize them. This is the first step to breaking through them.

Artistically speaking let me give you an example: The painter sits down to her canvas and paints a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I mean it’s breathtaking. Perfectly composed with masterfully rendered petals, soft light, thoughtful colors, the works. She looks at the painting and decides it’s finished. She places the canvas on a stack of other beautiful floral paintings and decides to make herself a cup of coffee. In the kitchen she stirs in her sugar as she looks at her other lovely bouquets hanging on the wall and sighs. She decides to take a walk so she grabs her coat from the closet; she needs to move a few more of those gorgeous paintings out of the way to reach her jacket. Outside she strolls down the street to a café and orders a sandwich. There is some local art and photos hanging on the wall so while she waits for her turkey club she looks at them. They’re not finessed gallery-quality pieces but she is drawn in nonetheless. The black and white photos are simple and the paintings are bold. She is mesmerized by the different-ness of the art and is inspired. She takes her sandwich back home and brings it into her studio. Rejuvenated from her outing she decides to try something new, pulls out a blank canvas and begins to paint. BAM! Bold colors. BAM! Big brush strokes. BAM! She shoots from the hip. A couple hours into the painting she’s feeling pretty good so she stands back to assess her progress. After a few moments in front of the canvas her thoughts wander…“Will people like this? Will this sell? What if this doesn’t work? Hmmm…I’m not too sure about this.” She begins to tighten up a few of the brushstrokes here and there. Soon her abstract brush strokes begin to resemble petals. “OK, this is more like it.” This feels a little more familiar so she continues. The initial bold brush strokes are eventually whittled down and the raw colors become over-thought. After another hour she steps back to look at her work and she sighs. She takes the canvas off the easel and leans it on the wall next to her other pretty paintings.

Yes, this piece was different from her usual work but it lost the initial energy she felt when she first sat down. The sense of adventure, the new-ness, got too scary and she fell back into a safe place. She knows she can paint a successful floral so she began using those tools to get her back on track. There’s nothing wrong with using the tools you have, but when they become your default you can be stunted by “what you do well”. Of course this example goes beyond the floral painter who wants to loosen up, beyond the abstract artist who wants to try photorealism, or the classical violinist who has always wanted to experiment with jazz. I most certainly have my own comfort zones, heck I even have comfort colors! Never fear, Jaya – Green Gold to the rescue! I work on recognizing my little “safety nets” and then I confront them head on. If you never challenge yourself, how do you grow? How do you reach your full potential? I mean, it’s your own personal glass ceiling and the funny thing is the more you work on your craft the clearer it becomes. You’re on the inside looking out and it’s a beautiful day outside.

PART 2 of “Face to Face With My Comfort Zone” continues next week with my adventure in Charlie Levin’s encaustic class…

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