Do What You Love: Shared Stories/Process Painting

Stephanie Gray

I am finally doing it! I am living the life of my dreams by co-owning Creative Nectar Studio and sharing the gifts of process painting with those who are seeking greater authenticity.

It all began in 1998 when I attended my first process painting workshop with Sarah Oblinger. (Process painting means painting from the inside out. The idea is not to produce an end product that will hang on your wall, but to fully  engage in the creative process and honor how it wants to appear on the paper.) I was nervous about going because even though the description of the workshop clearly stated “no experience necessary”. I was still scared to look foolish. I had never taken an art class of any kind and I was sure my painting would be the worst. But something was stirred deep inside me at the possibility of it all. I had to try. Something shifted for me during that weekend workshop. The process had already begun working on me in very subtle ways.

There was something about the combination of Sarah’s soothing yet powerful questions she would ask when I became stuck in my painting and the magic of the creative process, that stayed with me weeks after I had left the workshop. I guess I really knew then that the process work would be with me for the rest of my life.

In less than a year I was helping Sarah with the studio prep work for her weekly classes and in turn I was able to paint at an affordable rate. Shortly after that a studio was built in the basement of my house and Sarah was holding weekly classes there. I discovered painting 2 to 3 times a week was knocking things loose for me and I was on my way to really getting to know myself. I also realized painting was providing me powerful tools I could take into my life away from painting. Although the studio in my basement was only open for a year, it was during that time.

I met my now business partner Jenny Hahn. She had been painting in the classes and her journey was knocking things loose for her too. She was unlearning what she was taught in art school and discovering how it felt to be spontaneous within the creative process.

Because the painting was in fact transforming me and the way I wanted to live my life, I ended up moving to California and sadly leaving the studio behind. I stayed in California a year but had to return home to Mission Kansas because it was becoming clear my father was very ill. That was the beginning of a very dark time for me. Within a 6 year period I lost my father to cancer, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and in the middle of helping care for her my fiance left me. I was lost. Painting had fallen away because I was taking care of my mother, working full time and grieving the loss of my father and my partner. It seemed I didn’t have time to do anything else.

But at some point it became too much for me and I knew the thing that would help me most was to paint. Luckily, Jenny had a studio in her attic and she was offering classes. It was wonderful to reconnect with her and to paint with others again. I worked through my grief with paint and because we didn’t comment on each other’s paintings during a workshop, I felt free to paint whatever wanted to appear. Some images were sad and some were really dark but having the freedom to express them in a safe environment allowed things to shift over time and I painted through the grief. Jenny and I decided to facilitate a few Saturday workshops together in her attic and I think it was then that we started realizing how powerful this work was and that we needed to share it with as many people as possible.

Things didn’t happen overnight. We both had fulltime jobs and I still had a mother that needed lots of care. But 4 years and more life challenges later, we were both ready to take the leap of faith and do whatever it took to make the dream we had for Creative Nectar Studio a reality. Once I knew what I was supposed to do with my life, the old ways of being and moving through the world no longer worked for me, So I quit my job of almost 10 years. It helped that Jenny had done the same only a few months before me. I had a retirement fund I cashed in and , although i was very scared, I felt alive for perhaps the first time in my life. It’s been a year now that the studio has been open. Things are really starting to happen and although it can still get a bit scary at times, I know this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing with my life. Now days you can catch me telling anyone who will listen that if you have something inside you begging to be born and know it will set your heart on fire, you must do it. I have been supported in ways I could not have imagined after taking that first step. There can be challenges along the way. You must be prepared for some things and relationships to fall away as you grow into who you always knew you could be. But, the payoff of expressing your true self in the world is far too big to ignore.

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and your discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” - Patanjali

[Images courtesy of Stephanie Gray. To find out more about Stephanie visit her website or connect on Facebook or via Twitter @Creative_Nectar]

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