Zen and the Art of Painting

Updated on April 12, 2016


I have always been interested in drawing and art, but always as just something I would doodle here and there. I never felt confident enough to actually put anything on canvas and share with other people. As a gift a few years back I was given a tiny 5x8 canvas and an art easel. I had a desire then to paint, but still to this day that canvas sits blank. Looking back, I now know why. Fear. Staring at a blank canvas can be very intimidating and scary. “What if I screw up?” “What if it looks horrible?” “What if people make fun of it?” All these negative phrases kept playing in my head enough to scare me into not even making a mark on the canvas. And what did I have to show for all that fear and worry? Nothing. The fear kept me from wanting to even make a mark that might be “wrong”. But in art, there is no “wrong”. I have been taught a huge lesson lately, that painting and life, are very similar.

So where am I going with this? I recently went through some tough times that opened up a desire to create. What started out as just finding a cheap canvas on sale at target, has turned into a shift in my mind, and an inspired way of thinking, living and interacting with the world around me. I bought this canvas on sale and found a cheap set of markers to go with it. From that, I gave a big middle finger to fear, and I made my first blemish on a canvas. What I created was this…

This final product was something of a shock. Not because I thought it was some important piece of art, but because it wasn’t horrible. It was a picture that I created, good or bad. Lucky for me, the canvas I bought came in a pack of two. So here I was with another blank canvas. So I created another…

I realized in just these two pictures that the fear I made up in my head was all bullshit. I didn’t believe that I was some great artist that the world has never seen and I should pack up my stuff and move to a studio apartment in New York City and live off of top roman so I can “suffer through my art”. But I did believe this one simple truth...fear is the greatest piece of propaganda the world has ever sold.

So I could have just stopped there. I could have said, “Aw, that felt good. I’m glad I bought those. Well now what?” But I started listening to my body. I felt a desire deep down that was calling to create more. So I went out and found more canvases. Not only that, I started to challenge myself and I bought paint pens instead of markers.

Then I got actual acrylic paints and brushes...

And more…

and more...

I wanted to just keep painting. Keep creating. And keep exploring and learning. Every new painting I did I would learn how to shade, and mix, and create shadows all because I was experimenting with it. I haven’t slowed down since, and I don’t plan to.


So what have I learned through this and how can it be applied to a Zen approach to life? Well, I have learned a lot that mostly is ineffable. But here’s what I can explain…(I put it in lists, because that’s how I roll)

1.) Every Brush Stoke is a Decision That Effects the Outcome-

Whether you are talking about painting or life, every decision we make produces an outcome. Every line we make, or choice we make is a piece of the puzzle that makes up the final picture that is our life. Sometimes there are hard lines drawn that don’t end up looking the way we thought, but if we soften the edges and blend it in, we can make it look the way we want it to. In one of my early paintings of the trees shaped like a heart, I made a mark in the middle of the heart on “accident”. So I looked at the line and thought, “what can I do to fix this?” My first thought was to just use white paint and white it out. But I stopped myself and said “this was supposed to happen.” So I took the line I made and made it a wing of a bird. And then I liked that so much I added another bird right next to it. Now I love that painting even more because of the two birds flying in the middle of the heart. What that taught me was, make every choice with purpose and confidence, but know that every choice can be made into a bird.

2,) Share Your Work/ Gifts With The World

One thing I started to do as soon as I finished a painting was to share it on social media. These pictures are wanting to get out of me, so I felt it was my duty to get it out into the world. The response was incredible. People blown away that I was even able to do these, people offering to pay for some. But what I realized is this is not about the praise, or money, (of course that all feels great), but it’s about doing, and creating the things that you know are inside of you. Do what you are meant to do. I always wanted to paint. Listen to your inner voice and honor it. Had I not told fear to ride shotgun (thank you Melissa Gilbert) I would have never known how freeing it can be.

3.) Be In The Moment...Always

When you are in the thick of it, you have to be present. There is no zoning out when painting. It forces you to be aware of every mark you make. It makes you pay attention to the color you mixed, to the brush you use, to every detail. Life is the same. Pay attention. Be present and aware to your life. If you are not, you may mix a shade of blue in with your red that you didn’t want. You may grab a wrong brush and make a blob of a situation instead of a dusting. Wake the F*%$ up and be aware to what is happening around you.

4,) Don't Be Afraid to Get A Little Dirty

Painting is messy. Life is messy. Don’t be afraid of it. Paint will get on your hands, and situations will push you mentally. Don’t run away from it, accept it. The messier the hands, the more colorful the painting. Acceptance of the current moment will save you from suffering.

5,) Don't Force A Painting That Isn't Ready To Be Made

I had paintings that I wanted to do but every time I sat down to create it I just felt like it I wasn’t ready yet. Whether it was because it was a little more advanced painting, or whatever the case, I just listened to that feeling and told myself, “it will be created when it’s ready to be.” So only the paintings I continued to think about where the ones that I ended up painting. There are many moments in life when you really want something. Be it a new car, a new video game, a promotion, a relationship, ect. When you try and force your desire into existence, it usually does not work out. But if you continue to visualize it, it will happen in the way it is supposed to. Whatever that may be. Everything will happen in the manner of which it is supposed to.

We are all a blank canvas. Choose your colors wisely, and let your actions and words be the brush strokes to the world around you.


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