Painting Lessons

Painting Lessons

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a paint night hosted by Moses Lunham. I first met Moses in 2018 at Museum London where he held a class in rock painting. Each finished rock displayed one word of the Seven Grandfather Teachings. Truth rock sits on my desk, always in view as I write. Some rocks, like Respect and Wisdom, grace my herb garden, a lovely reminder when I’m picking Gaia’s bounty.

I’ve been following Moses Art on Facebook since we met, but my schedule never synchronized with his paint nights. Until this one. It helped that it was a Zoom gathering.

You may have guessed from my book title, Breathing With Trees, that I am enamored of trees. Just like one of the characters in the story, I am building a tree wall in my writing office. Life imitating art.

Each piece on my wall holds significance. The metal tree sculpture was added when I published my book. The framed birthday card of birch trees and a John Muir quote was a gift from my dear friend, Colleen. There’s dried cedar from an ancient forest where I hiked with my son. When I saw that Moses’ paint night was to be Falling Leaves Moon, I knew I wanted it to be part of my tree wall.

My past experience with painting was limited to rock painting at Museum London and grade nine art class. The art materials were inexpensive. (Moses sent me a picture of the supplies needed, available at any dollar store.) During class, Moses expertly angled the camera while giving instructions, knowing precisely when to zoom in on the palette as he mixed his paints, when to zoom out to show the whole picture, giving a wide viewpoint. He talked while we worked. About the painting, about his culture, about the technique.

The hours flew by and, before I knew it, I’d finished my painting. I examined the result, comparing it to Moses’ canvas. My leaves were too big, my sky too dark, the fallen leaves too many. Worst of all, my trees looked like cornstalks, not trees. Disheartened, I left the painting on the easel, determined to paint a new one the next day to correct all the errors.

Life got in the way and, for the next week, I didn’t have time to paint. I’d see the painting every time I stepped into my office. After a few days, my inner critic softened. I began noticing what I liked about the painting. The blue of the moon, the arc of the earth.  I remembered the joy I felt in creating it.

On morning walks, I began noticing the fallen leaves. Fat linden leaves and thin larch needles. Pointy pin-oak, jagged beech, gingko fans. Tree shadows on the sidewalk reminded me of the play of light and dark in the painting. I discerned bare trees silhouetted against the morning sky. Trees with a graceful central branch. Bifurcated trees with Y-shaped branches as if giving a blessing. Yes, even, stubby branches that looked like cornstalks. All different, co-existing. Accepted.

Slowly, I realized that paint night wasn’t about having a thing to hang on my wall. It was about creating a relationship with Gaia, becoming attuned to her colours and shadows, to her beauty. Paint night was a chance to experience the sacred. To find acceptance for myself. To reframe mistakes into learnings.

It’s true, my picture didn’t look exactly like Moses’ painting. It wasn’t supposed to. We are all different. We each bring unique perspective to creation. Isn’t that a gift!

Chi miigwetch, Moses and Gaia, for the painting lessons.

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