“Landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence, where you can truly receive time.” John O’Donohue, poet and philosopher
This “mindful mode” is the greatest gift I receive from my walks and wanderings in the nature that surrounds me as a city dweller. A stroll down at the lake can reveal beauty so elegant and full of grace that my racing mind stops in its tracks so I can marvel at a lacy cedar branch silhouetted against a silvery fog. Nagging worries fade when I catch sight of two saplings at the lake’s edge leaning on one another, embraced by a tender vine.
O’Donohue’s words struck me as an apt description of the challenge I have set myself in my work as a landscape painter. How can I re-create that transcendent moment for the viewer? In the studio, it is a process of distillation, of paring away whatever is unessential. Perhaps this is why I have always been drawn to fog-laden mornings: When the distance is a mutable blur, it is easier to attend to the here, the now.
Stripped of excess, reverence comes more easily as I seek to convey what remains. There’s the character of and relationships between the two or three players on stage. The imperfectly perfect placement of the dried leaves that cling to a winter tree. The silhouetted strokes of bulrushes against the light-drenched view across the lake. The pewter-grey boards of an empty dock, worn by weather and seekers of an unobstructed view.
With patience and experience, I am more often finding myself in that blessed space where I can experience mindfulness within the process of creating. The fine, detailed work is a sort of meditation, and the moment-by-moment decision making requires complete presence and attention. Is this one branch too many? Is that the right distribution of leaves? Is this painting even worth pursuing anymore? If not, let it go, move on.
As my sense of discernment in painting grows, it spills over into life. Distractions are recognized more quickly; disappointments are acknowledged and learned from, less lingered on. I float a bit more, flail a bit less. The essence of a worthy life comes more clearly into focus—day, by day, by beauty-filled day.