Embracing what we ARE

I spent a few days in Italy last week attending Squamitalia. I wasn’t teaching a class so the plan was to just chill my boots and take a painting class with the very lovely Flora. I did some painting back in the day at art college, and have dabbled here and there over the years, but I had no expectations for the class other than it might be fun to mess around with paint on a hillside in Abruzzo.

Here’s what I discovered: I am not a painter.

Not that I ever thought I was, you understand, but there must have been some small assumption floating around in my sub-conscious that because I am so creative in most areas of my life the painting thing would probably come naturally to me.

Well, it didn’t.

In fact, it totally sucked.

Sure, I got some nice colour-combinations and had fun splodging paint on in a random way. But when we switched from random to doing something with a bit more intention, it suddenly became difficult. There was no ease. The paints were too dry, or not the right colours, or maybe I couldn’t figure out what the right colours were. The paper felt too big. I tried to let go and painted over bits I liked only to regret it. I felt like a monkey wearing boxing gloves. It was ungainly and awkward and not fun at all. It was frustrating and annoying and I didn’t like being a beginner.

Just as I was remembering what it was like to be a beginning blogger the other week, I was once again presented with an opportunity to start at the beginning of something I do not know how to do. And maybe I could improve if I painted twenty, thirty, forty more paintings. But here’s the coolest thing I got from the entire experience: I really don’t want to. When I finally realised this I wanted to whoop and shout and jump in the air:


I don’t have to be good at this because I’m good at other things… things that bring me a lot of joy and satisfaction and contentment. When I realised that I didn’t have to finish the painting, that I didn’t have to try to be better at it, I honestly just wanted to run to my laptop and cameras and hug them tightly. I have my own beloved tools and the love I felt for them in that moment was big and profound :)

So, once again, the teacher had to learn to be the beginner. There’s been a lot of that happening this year and it always sloughs off a few more layers. I certainly wasn’t expecting my painting to be perfect, but I hadn’t been prepared for the discomfort; it dovetailed perfectly with what’s been bubbling in my head lately, the fears around this next stage of my life and the general fatigue I’ve been dancing with these last months. There were a few tears, and friends to witness them, which was just what i needed.

Italy was sunshine-y and gorgeous and I was happy to discover I still remember a few Italian words and phrases (though considering I spent 10 years with an Italian boyfriend you would have thought I’d know more, but anyways…). The retreat was fabulous, as they always are when Elizabeth spins her magic, bringing together like-minded souls and inspiring teachers (Flora was truly amazing, holding the space for us all and sharing her process without being intimidating in the slightest — I bow down before her paint brushes!). If there’s a Squamitalia next year I highly recommend signing up if you can — you won’t regret it.

Below: my classmates — you guys rocked it! xx

Last photo by Elizabeth

32 responses
  1. cococita

    I admire you for your honesty Susannah!
    Flora is a wonderful woman: I took her very first online class and I have fallen in love with painting and found another medium to express myself with. We are all unique, each with his or her specific talents: that’s what makes the journey of life so special and fascinating!
    Hope you enjoyed the beauty of this southern country …

  2. Cora

    Oh yes … I know that feeling.. and it is a fine one.

    I had a similar experience when learning to surf a couple of years ago. I absolutely love surfing – LOVE it – the whole immersion in the sea and sailing atop it makes me want to write poetry but alas I am not good at it. I am not very co-ordinated at the best of times and the whole ‘pressure’ to get your whole self up and standing just didn’t gel with my sensibilities or limbs.

    It was absolutely marvelous – and eureka like – when the penny dropped that I didn’t have to be great at surfing (or even good!) and by the same token that I didn’t have to quit either – I could just lol around at my own pace and enjoy the bits that were enjoyable to me. The whole surfing episode has had great resonance for me outside the water – as it finally hammered home the truth that the only one I am ever competing with is me – and as I am the boss of me – I’m free!
    Congratulations on not being a painter Susannah xx

  3. susannah

    “the only one I am ever competing with is me” — so so true!

  4. La plume et la page

    Oh it’s so true! We can’t be good at every things we do. The most important is to try and tell: “this is not for me”.

  5. Sherry

    I love that last photo — you were feeling “la dolce vita”!!! :) I love the honesty here and when we realize that we are “not” something and we are okay with not being “that something” it’s such a release and a relief isn’t it? It took me I couldn’t tell you how many e-courses to discover that I do not like art journaling…when I finally admitted to myself that I don’t like it I burst out laughing. I kept thinking “everyone” else loves it and is good at it, so I need to be too. Say what???? lol!! So if you had to learn that you are NOT a painter…what a beautiful place to make that discovery!!

  6. Catherine Denton

    I love this! I wrote a post today (yet to be posted) about what I’ve realized I’m not; fashionista was among them. It’s good to see what you’re not, so you can rediscover what you ARE. :D
    Catherine Denton

  7. patti scanlon

    Thank you for your sharing of yourself, It truly insipires and teaches. Does Flora still have a online painting class? I have always wondered if I could paint or not.

  8. kat

    i think that’s one of the gifts of getting older for me…just being able to say, kindly and gently but firmly, “you know…this just ain’t me.” you don’t mind the door closing a little on some paths, because the ones you have opened are truly the ones that light you up! xo k.

  9. Melissa Jaine

    I think the image of a monkey wearing boxing gloves will stay with me all day. :)

    I’ve been addicted to beginnings. How many times have a started a new blog, or made over the one I’ve got? Trillions would not be an exaggeration. Now I’ve committed to a 365 day series. It scares the hell out of me. I think that’s good.

    And who is that you are feeling up in the last photo, haha ;)

    Thinking of you this month as you transition to your new sparkly life.

  10. Gennifer

    Love this post, Susannah! My husband is a painter, so I’ve tried to make myself enjoy painting with him. But it just doesn’t come naturally to me. It can be fun sometimes, but I’d rather grab my camera and head to the woods or the beach. I am not a painter and I don’t want to be one. I am a photographer and I LOVE it!

  11. Lovelyn

    Embracing who your are is essential. I come from a family of musicians and I tried for years and years to be a musician but when I was honest with myself I realized that I liked listening to music not making it. That has lifted such a huge burden from my shoulders.

  12. julie

    if that is a photograph of one of your paintings, I really love it!

  13. Jo

    Hell yeah! I blogged last week about realising it was okay not only to be not creating a huge online presence with a zillion followers and a legacy product but, um, not to WANT to. What matters is turning on your light by being truly happy. Even if it’s just for an hour a day. I love that you know you’re not a painter and I love that you so quickly connected that experience to your next life step, using it positively. And I can’t wait to hear all about it because coffee and swearing with you makes ME happy. X

  14. susannah

    bless you, Julie but that painting is Flora’s :)))

  15. Rhianne

    I was going to write something profound but then I saw that last photo and completely forgot it, haha, I love your face in it :)

  16. Fiona

    Love the pic of the feet and feather. Feathers are needed for me today, even virtual ones.

  17. elizabeth

    I love you so much– this post is everything– and I love how you embrace the lesson even when it hurts or is not what we wanted– cause many times that is how it comes in and you are so flipping honest and so brilliant with your photos, my god woman– your photos!! xoox, e

  18. Nina

    Yes! I’ve recently realised that although I’m ‘good with words’, I can’t make art with them. I can write the world’s most concise and cutting letter of complaint, and I have a proofreading and copy-editing certificate, but I can’t make words beautiful. I don’t even have a feel for it. And while I do certainly have a feel for making things with fabric and yarn and thread, for me that’s more about making pretty stuff than about expressing anything deeper. Music’s the only medium where I feel like I get anywhere close to dealing with anything bigger. It’s kind of a relief to know it, isn’t it? So I don’t need to write a novel or open an Etsy shop. Phew.

  19. Bella Moon

    Ohmygosh. I love your face in the last picture next to the cutie! Adorbs!

  20. Patti L

    This def resonates with me. I have to remind myself that its ok to not be good at everything! I too think bcz I’m creative & crafty things will just work, and while most of the time I feel good, sometimes I don’t. So I’ve resolved to just pay for things I can’t do from other self-employed, starving artists if I can help them out then.

  21. Jet Harrington

    Kudos! I love the honesty and genuine joy in this post, all the way from, “this sucks,” to “I know what I rock at.” We do not nearly need to be good at everything – that’s why we have community and collaboration, to tap into and share each other’s strengths. Also, you are totally getting your flirt on in that last photo – good practice!

  22. laurie b

    It really is liberating when you can “let go” of certain roles and focus on others with that energy instead. It sounds like you had a wonderful time with some good friends. :-)

  23. india flint

    sweet piece of writing but i winced when i saw those paint covered hands…rule for contact, only let it touch your skin if you know it’s safe. acrylic paint [and yes i’m making an assumption about what the paint is] quite simply isn’t safe to be rolling around in.
    that said, i agree entirely. life is too short to be doing everything. although sometimes i find that the one thing i do best has so many possible strands to it that my life map ends up looking as though someone has been idly scribbling on it with a biro
    the sort of scribbles you make when you’re trying to get the ink to flow. hmm.

  24. L.McG.-E.

    Perhaps you aren’t a painter, we don’t all have to be everything. You ARE a writer, a photographer, a teacher, a daughter, a sister, an aunt … so many wonderful things at which you excel.

  25. Carol

    I really love the look on that young mans face… It’s pure ‘Oh my god, this woman is gonna eat me alive’ LOL

  26. michelle gd

    such a liberating and reaffirming experience. i love the tones of this…

  27. Jen

    LOL – great photos.

    Feels like you are learning so many new things about yourself in these last few posts. Particularly about what you allow yourself to do and be and feel – something I am experiencing with great gusto this year too!

    Mind you, it’s getting to the point where I’ve stopped doing a LOT of things because I just don’t want to complicate my life anymore, or some things genuinely no longer fit my life anymore. It gets easier to recognise the things that don’t fit, as long as I listen to my intuition. We really should be okay about sucking at some things, and being kickass at others :)

  28. maria

    I really loved what you wrote, it resonates a lot to me as I have recently being through a similar experience.
    May I ask you where about in Abruzzo were you guys? I am from one of those hills, you know. I’m now living in another country and those colors, those vineyards, those hills kind of melt my heart

  29. susannah

    Hi Maria, we were in Moro d’oro

  30. Kathryn

    lovely words, gorgeous images

  31. Sadee Schilling

    Susannah, I love what you’ve written here and the photos are fabulous too, of course. Most of all, I just love YOU and I’m so glad I got to know you a little in Italy!

    While I am a painter, I was really frustrated at times too in Flora’s workshop. I had so much fun with the paints, like you said, but I had a hard time following through and making the paints DO something! I love that this experience reinforced what you ARE, because I feel like it did the same for me. I’m on the right path doing the work I’m doing, and that’s something I really needed to be reminded of.

  32. victoria

    this is funny, I commend you for taking it on. :-)

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