The spiritual process of painting

A chance comment from my portrait painting model and a little introspection helped me to be more present while painting and 'SEE' and PAINT better!

“So do you like what you see?”  I smiled at the octogenarian.  He was intently watching his portrait.  He finally turned towards me and said “I love it.  This is how I see myself, not black”.  I was puzzled.  “What do you mean?” I asked curiously.  He said “I’ve seen many paintings of my race and we are just painted black.  This is how I see myself with color not just black”.  I stared at the portrait I‘d painted.  Howard had just given me a glimpse into my working process that I was not conscious of.  I had just painted him the way I saw him.

You see as a painter I was well aware that any skin has many colors in it but what surprised me was his comment that other paintings he saw of black men were devoid of color, just black.  Though my ego was hinting that I was a superb artist and others were just not upto par with my skills, I had a nagging feeling that was not necessarily true.  Why and what did the other artists see or miss?

I studied my face in the mirror.  My skin color was closer to Howards.  Was my painting more nuanced because I was used to the nuances in my skin tone?.  I wondered what race the other artists were whose paintings Howard wasn’t pleased with!  Were they white?

If that was true, was I able to perceive color in lighter skin Caucasian tones in a nuanced way?  I started becoming more aware and paying more attention to my Caucasian portraits and noticed that the responses I got now were far more exciting than before.  I had shifted the needle on my perception meter a few notches towards “sensitive”.  An off handed remark by a model had shown a glimpse into my creative process.  I understood myself and how I see a little better.  You see we don’t just see with our eyes.  We see with our hearts and with our minds too.  Learning to paint is about perception and learning to see better.  Training our minds to see things as they are, not as the stories we have in our head.  One has to be present to do that.  And being present impacts everything.  That realization just intensified my belief that painting was not just about enhancing connections with the world around, it was spiritual.