Thoughts – A Sense of Safety

The picture above is from last week’s art lessons. Rona and I go each week for a couple of hours and paint. We’ve been at it now for some time, taking lessons from Ruth Sauer at North Main Gallery in Salem, NY.

For me, it’s been an exploration of color. I’ve drawn using pen, ink and pencil for probably thirty years now, and I tend to draw in painfully small detail – castles, old homes and landscapes. All in black and white.

That monochromatic theme has largely permeated much of what I did for many years. I liked to decorate with white walls. I wore white shirts and gray pants. I wasn’t actively afraid of color, but I seemed to avoid in my decorating, my art and even in my writing, which rarely mentioned color, only shades of light and dark.

But since moving to Vermont, my life has become more colorful. When I painted rooms in my house, I have, so far, gone with rich, warm colors. My living and dining rooms are a goldenrod color. My daughter’s room is rich with burgundy and gold. My own bedroom is a bright sage green, with white trim.

My writing too, has begun to use color in the descriptions and writing. I am not sure if it is because I am more aware of color than I used to be, or if there is some other reason. I just know it’s so.

And now, my art is changing too.

I chose to go to art classes not because painting was something I wanted to do particularly. No, I was fine with my painstaking black and white drawings. But when Rona decided to take up painting last winter, I decided to join her, more to spend time with her than to branch out in my art work.

But once I got there, I began to experiment. Line and composition sang to me less than color and mood, and I drifted to water colors, experimenting and learning how to layer colors to create moods. In much the same way that all the elements of life layer themselves to create something rich and deep, I am using color to create that same sense of depth and deceptive simplicity.

My studio is full of paintings now. Plain. Matted. Framed. They cover the walls and the sofa and give the room a life of it’s own. Heck, I didn’t even have a studio until I began to paint. But after I moved from my black and white world, I re-arranged half my house to carve out a room to pain and draw in.

None of this would have happened had I not begun to take art classes with Rona at Ruth Sauer’s gallery and studio.

Ruth is not only a talent artist who has shown and sold work of her own and others at galleries here and throughout New York and beyond, but she is an encouraging soul. She not only teaches, she encourages. And most important, she makes it safe to create.

It’s only been in the past few years that I have come to appreciate the power that a sense of safety has. In Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way”, creating a sense of safety is one of the first things she has her reader/students work towards.

Cameron has an innate understanding of something counselors and psychologists also understand – that despite our oh-so-mature exteriors, most of us are still children underneath, a bit afraid and intimidated by new things. If we want to create, then we need a safe place to do it, where we can stretch, try, fail gloriously, fail happily, mess up and make messes, and learn, not from a sense of fear, but a sense of joy in the learning.

That same sense of safety is important in everything we do. I’ve lost it a few times in my life, often at the hand and harshness of others. Regaining it has always been slow. At times, it took leaving behind the harsh critics. At times, it meant getting counseling and help in creating my own sense of safety. And at time, it has come to me like a gift, from the kind hearts and open spirits of people God has sent into my life.

I think one of the reasons I like Vermont is that it is perhaps, one of the most accepting places I have ever lived. We embrace our eccentrics, our artists, our quirky souls. Less than most places, we embrace the fact that people are all a bit broken. Here, there’s no need to be perfect, because we take it to heart that no one is, and in fact, we seem to relish the quirks in a way I’ve never seen any where else.

It’s a safe place to be human. It’s a safe place to write. To create. To paint or photograph or do…. whatever.

I’ve also learned as I have aged, that we create our own safe places. It might be that Vermont is perfect for me right now. But it is also true that in recent years, I’ve become better at creating my own safe world – by putting myself in the midst of accepting people, by finding and sharing encouragement, by learning who and what builds me up, and putting that knowledge to work.

Because in the end, it is up to us. There are tools out there to help us create our own safe place. It’s not about resisting the nay-sayers and critics. No, it’s more than that. It’s about finding and letting the encourages fill our lives. It’s about reclaiming a tiny but vital part of our childhood. It’s about making a place in our life to be safe in a positive way.

One of my favorite stories is one I have used in sermons before, in a different context. It talks about castles.

I love castles. I’ve studied them, read about them, and drawn them for decades. I’ve been blessed to visit many of them (and hopefully will visit many more in the years to come.).

One of the interesting things about castles is that we think of them as fortresses, as safe places to hunker down and survive attacks. But the truth is that most castles that were primarily defensive, eventually fell. Because give an attacker enough time, and he will find his way through any defenses, and destroy them.

But the castles that never fell? Yes, they had the same thick walls and muddy moats, but there was one difference. The castles that never fell were not primarily defensive in nature. They were a place to gather in safety, then launch offensives against their enemies.

Too often, we think of places of safety as a place to hide while the battle rages. But I think in life, it’s different. Finding a place of safety means preparing and building our strength, learning how to carry our safety with us, and launching out into the world, trying something new, again and again.

That’s true safety.

So now I paint watercolors. I add that to other creative things people pay me to do. And just as important, I find joy in the creating, and joy in the safety of it. And thankfulness for those who contribute to my sense of safety, who help me launch out. You are all special to me, and treasured beyond words. Parents, friends, children, church family, fellow artists… all of you are a great gift to me, and have taught (and continue to teach) me a lot.

You are a blessing.


My studio, taken this evening.

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