Back in the summer of 2015 I found myself in the midst of a wild adventure. I had left everything familiar, essentially moved into my car and, with only a rough idea of where I was physically going and the vaguest notion of what I was doing and why, I found myself in Asheville, North Carolina. Familiar or not with the area, Asheville has a reputation as a hub or stopping point for vagabonds, travelers, street kids, hipsters and musicians. On nearly each street corner a lone musician, whole band, or vendor of various hand made wares vyed for the attention (and the change) of various onlookers and tourists. I would find out over the course of another 6 months or so of travel that many folks made a living, albeit meager, or at least supplemented their lifestyle this way.
So there I was, with a car full of clothes, cooking materials, and, you may have guessed it, art supplies. It all started at the drum circle. Wandering around the city I noticed, as early in the morning as it was, folks congregating in the central square, which was somewhat of an amphitheatre with a paved circle at the base, elevated riser-like seating, and a typical park at the top complete with benches and greenery. What I do know about this trip is that my intuition was as strong as ever. People and places would light up like beacons, beckoning me there either for some lesson , experience, or tip that would lead to a resource or the next leg of the journey. I sat quietly on the riser seating and, soon enough, an older gentleman quietly sitting in the same wistful and wonderful capacity as I was, lit up. To be honest, I don’t remember now how our conversation started, who approached who, or really what was said. He was a musician, he had been in Asheville for a long time, but had also traveled for a long time, and had heard many various stories from the many various passers-through. I drew him as he talked, sharing various stories, experiences, and life lessons that I no longer remember. When the talking was done and I felt ready to move on, I gifted him the portrait. He seemed deeply pleased, smiling in that way people do when they’ve recieved a sincere compliment, with a glow that eminates from somewhere deep inside.
So I kept drawing portraits. I walked up and down the streets offering portraits for five dollars. The folks who obliged often paid more, and sometimes I would just do the portraits for fun. I was rejected, sure, but in the free and easy, sort of embodied and all encompassing flow state I was in, it didn’t matter, it didn’t even touch me. A few times I even sold old paintings and drawings from my old calendar-turned-folder full of art scraps, paintings, musings and doodles. I can’t say they were particularly good, the portraits, but perhaps I offered something more than just a rendering. An ear to listen, the capturing of a moment, a momento of an experience. I drew a young man who told me of his relationship troubles. I drew two friends in the midst of a deep conversation about honest communicaton and self doubt. I drew a strange self proclaimed shaman adorned with years of beads and trinckets who had a smile like the sun and a childish laugh, who was sure he would be famous. I drew a young gay couple on their very first it’s not a date date, and listened as they recounted how they met, their faces and body language warming as they spoke and perhaps, realizing how much they actually did like each other.
I would go on to draw some friends later during the trip. At this point I started to embrace my own style, trying less to make them LOOK accurate and trying more to make the portraits FEEL accurate and, as a result, if I could not offer an accurate portrait or even a laughable charicature, I could offer something deeply revealing and unique, certainly one of a kind at the very least if not aesthetically pleasing. I started to develop my voice.
When I came back to New York I was so deeply moved and inspired, not to mention with child but, that is a deep and complex and most beautiful story certainly best saved for another day. I was touched by the places, cities and towns and landscapes, for each I could write a love poem. I was astounded by the people, the experiences, the wildness and freedom- and, most of all, the plethora of alternative life style, the determined rebellion against all things conventional. So many people out in the world searching for their voice, finding it, using it, and refining it based on what happens when they get up, get out, and do their thing. The people will tell you what’s good. If you know it’s good and the people still tell you it’s bad, it might be time to find new people. If you find some new people and they still tell you it’s bad, don’t give up, refine. Grow. Improve. Augment your abilities. Be open to constructive criticism. Be wise enough to know who sees the vision and wants to help it grow and who sees the vision and wants to snuff it out. Both will always exist. Remember, too, that ‘good’ is subjective. One thousand people could abhor your craft but if one is moved or inspired, you’ve succeeded, as far as I’m concerned.
So what else could I do, but get up, get out, and do my thing!
First chance that presented itself, I set up my table at a popular art show. I did about eight portraits that night and, really, the same thing occured that had when I was out on the road. People would talk. They shared stories about their lives, their pasts, presents, and futures, their hopes and their fears. Another, perhaps more talented, or more accurately- better trained, artist took my seat and did portraits for awhile. It was working. Did it sting a little to see her anatomically correct and value accurate rendering, complete with a mastery of materials? Yes, but the excitement of being on to something was much stronger, and my newly developed albeit fairly short lived assurance and empowerment of and in who I was at the time was strong. My adventures in creative entrepreneurial exploration, at the end of the day, are not only to see what I can do utilizing my own abilities, but to see how the action of doing the thing may inspire someone to tap into their own creative potential. How could they use their own natural talents and acquired skill sets to better serve/provide for themselves and their community- or, to just have fun expressing themselves and sharing their gifts? It’s been a wonderful and revealing adventure through and through. You can check out the mostly complete collection of portraits and some accompanying stories here.
To this day I’ve done Intuitive Portraits as I like to call them at three events, with the exception of one or two single portriats when the situation called for it. Each time, some wonderful connection is made or revelation had, an opportunity presented or relationship fostered. It’s not for nothing, as they say, and it never has been. I have had my attachments to ‘doing’, released them, developed them again, released them again- a connection, developed at some point and reinforced at other points, between my sense of worth and having something tangible or quantifiable to offer. Still, it’s never been for nothing. At the end of the day, I’m just following breadcrumbs (and my heART).
I still offer portraits, on occaision, when it feels right. I’ve missed many opportunities, more for self doubt than any other reason. Self doubt has been my biggest adversary as it is for most anyone learning to excercise their individuality and develop a healthy ego in a world of status quos and fierce competition bred by lack mentality, poor genuine confidence, and communities fragmented by ‘the grind’ and the inherent isolation ‘the grind’ seems to entail. I am no better. For all the moments of visionary truth and utopian dreams of cooperation I struggle with jealously, envy, or shame, sure. I isolate myself when I don’t feel adequate in one capacity or another( I also isolate because I’m an aquarius rising that gets peopled out relatively easy and rather listen to podcasts about aliens in utopian societies or hide on a mountain, but that’s besides the point). In these moments I try to exercise awareness, identifying the thick welling goo of such emotions and remind myself that what is meant for me is mine, if I work for it. I offer support and encouragement as much as possible, even when not returned in kind. Sometimes I fail and stew in my own self doubt, bitterness, resentment, and unworthiness. At the end of the day, it is up to you. You can hate on the person chasing their dreams and using their voice, chomping at their oversights and mishaps, or you can go home to your notebook, figure out what you want, and do it. Mind Your Business. Face the fear, face the doubt, the insecurity, the shame, the anxiety, the rejection, the criticism, the pessimism, the fear of failure and the fear of success- all those fun deep seeded sensations instilled through a variety of experiences and events and circumstances that are so invariably human. We are at a point where the only lions and tigers and bears to fear are ourselves, maybe each other. But most definitely the weather.
I would like for this story to end on some inspirational or propitious note, however, I myself have been feeling worn down and just a bit tired to be frank. It feels like when I came back to New York, pregnant and glowing and afraid and inspired, I felt stronger then, more resilient. I do inherently understand that this lull is temporary, for nothing good is handed to you, and all things come in waves. The builder, out of steam, may put down the hammer in exchange for the headlamp and pic axe of a miner, seeking out darker tunnels to uncover some new and hidden jewel. It takes trying and failing. It takes striving and rest. It takes doing some things right and a lot of things wrong, over and over again(at least for the experiential learners). It takes seeking out new paths and reverting back to old ones, only to start anew again. Somewhere in there, are the quiet moments. The moments where you come so close to giving up, calling it quits, however that might look from circumstance to circumstance. There are those moments, too, from a dark cave just the tiniest light might peep through. Would you follow it out into the sun? And where, then, could you go? Should you find a breadcrumb, and then a next, where might it lead you? Most anywhere, really, if you could muster the courage to believe in yourself and your dreams.
I guess it did end up being just a tad inspirational.
For some reason I think of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, in the cave with his makeshift calendar, watching the tiny beam of light move across his markings on the rock. Patience and perserverence make for survival. I’m curious, now, what this thriving is all about.
It’s funny, too, that I came here to talk about portraits.
Cheers to the journey.