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Painting Outside the Lines  

“Mornin’ Sitter Sue” (though the sun had yet to rise), a gentle nudge to her foot was the unspoken cue that duty awaited. Chores on the dairy farm were not an option. From a young age Valerieann was responsible for feeding, watering and caring for the calves morning and night every day without exception. Pretending to be asleep, she bartered with the stillness of pre-dawn, stealing a few extra seconds of shut eye to enjoy the sensation of her dad tickling her toes. He adored her, his only daughter which was evidenced as he drew imaginary pictures on the hills and valleys of her sole.

Slipping from beneath her warm blankets, she answered his call to arms. The calves depended on her devoted care. Valerieann learned early the value of hard work, rules and attention to details, she loved being a farm girl. A thin whiff of a child yet physically strong for her size, she was determined and knew how to “get things done!” When ice glazed the calves drinking troughs she marched shoulders squared lugging five gallon buckets of hot water to thaw their drink.

“On my fourth Christmas Santa surprised me with a most prized gift, a pad of paper. A whole pad of paper, not the occasional one page. Clean white pages with no lines where I could freely draw whatever I wanted. No guidelines, no one restricting the speed at which I moved from page to page. I could barely contain my excitement as I lifted the cover to begin doodling. I felt alive and free.

With the wooden yellow pencil held firmly in my fingers, I began moving it across the page. The sound of the lead gliding across the paper was music to my ears. The spontaneous scribbles, shapes and nonsensical images brought a smile to every cell. Knowing that I had a fresh page awaiting under each drawing was beyond exhilarating . . . it was fun!”

Valerieann’s artistic excitement mounted when her mom took her shopping for two new pencils and a brand new box of crayons just before starting kindergarten.

Mrs. Stencil’s classroom was up three flights of wooden stairs in the old public schoolhouse. Her small class fit around one wooden rectangle table, the perfect place to sit and draw.

“Coloring time was my favorite activity. The teacher would hand us a carbon copy picture, multilith images in bold black lines. Trees were to be green, skies blue and flowers could be illustrated in my choice of rainbow hues.”

She learned quickly that praise awaited those who colored smoothly inside the lines. Her classmate Johnny was escorted to the front of the class, his picture held high, an example of perfection. Comparison entered her world.

Longing to be acknowledged by her teacher, she did her best to color neatly inside the lines. Even her best efforts fell short of Mrs. Stencil’s accolades.

“In my hometown of town of three hundred people I had no access to formal oil painting classes, so trial and error became my teachers. At the county fair each summer, I intently studied the paintings displayed. Noticing that blue ribbons were awarded to those who painted inside the lines of realism, I was determined to become a master realistic art.”  

Painting picture perfect details captivated Valerieann. Before long she was winning first place and grand prizes as well as being commissioned for her works of art. Word of her painting talents found its way to local and state news.

“I had arrived, or so I thought. Upon completing one of my most beautifully detailed paintings, a perfect likeness of my dad’s percheron horse, I was shocked at my response. It had taken hours upon hours to complete. The painting begged you to touch the velvety softness of the horse’s nose and run your fingers along the leather harness. As I stood back intent to admire my work, my thoughts surprised me . . . “So what, I can paint any subject picture perfect, why not just take a photo? It would take a lot less work.”

That was the moment she knew she didn’t want to ‘work at painting’ anymore. It no longer mattered to her that people loved and wanted to purchase her detailed portrayals of realism.The dissatisfaction was so strong, she determined she’d rather quit painting than continue this way. Then the unexpected happened.

“It was 1995. A woman from Germany somehow made her way to Idaho to teach an art class. “Today we are going to paint joy,” she said. The idea of painting feelings was completely foreign to me. “We’re going to do what?!” I questioned in my mind.“How do you paint something you can’t see,” I wondered. This concept transported me from painting the outside world to an untapped place inside me while blowing all my neatly defined painting circuits.”

Valerieann’s first attempt was met with a raised eyebrow and, “that doesn’t look too joyful,” replied the teacher. “What do you mean,” she disappointedly replied. She’d worked hard to create shapes and use colors she’d thought were joyful. “You have to FEEL joy inside first, then let that joy flow down your arm into the paint and onto the canvas” cooed her instructor. “Wow, what a concept,” Valerieann sighed.

After this brief introduction, Valerieann was curious to further explore the transporting of emotions to the canvas. Sequestering a quiet day she shut herself off from the outside world, determined to test the teacher’s theory.

“I gave myself permission to access my deepest emotions. I mixed paint with no thought as to how it ‘should’ look. I was the paint, merging my essence onto the canvas. I dove in, completely out of my mind, caught up in the joy of painting. A love beyond what I knew love to be, conscious divinity breathed me. It’s aliveness coursed through my cells, I was one with ALL. When the canvas was covered in paint, I thought, ‘am I done?’ I stood back and looked through my physical eyes. I stared in awe. It was beautiful, a cosmic flower.”

Images of pure inspiration had emerged, birthed as new life on her canvas. Transfixed in hushed fascination, tears cascading over her cheeks as she witnessed replete love, her true self.

“I created a painting from my heart . . . I can paint without using my mind!”

Valerieann’s artistic spark had been fanned to a flame. A new aliveness, foreign yet fun flooded her being. Instinctively she’d dropped from her head to her heart. The old ways quit working and she found herself stumbling into each new canvas not knowing. She playfully fell into the paint consumed by its buttery texture. Images magically appeared on the canvases from nowhere. Other dimensions were unveiled, unleashing a language of light that spoke directly to the soul.

“It’s from this place in childlike wonder that I paint today. The awareness in my body is expanded. My heart’s journey is the present moment. As each painting comes to completion, I stand back and behold. ‘It’s exquisite,’ I whisper to myself!”

Painting has become a form of meditation for Valerieann. She’s mesmerized in each moment as she feels into which colors to use. Like a compass, she trusts the excitement in her body to make the choices obvious.

“I squeeze paint onto the palette as emotions build. Touching the various brush bristles to find the one wanting to dive first into the paint. With brush in hand, I feel inward, noticing what’s there. Once feelings arise, I become the observer as they make their way onto the canvas, colorfully revealing themselves. Some emotions are soft and subtle while others are bright, even bold. Painting in this way celebrates the emotions.”

Before going to the easel one day, Valerieann received a phone call informing her of a vengeful act toward someone she loves. Her emotions surged passionately, blood boiled and her anger spiked.

“I didn’t want to miss tapping into the force of such a powerful emotion. Unwrapping a new canvas I let my feelings dictate the course. A large stroke of deep red was brushed intensely onto the canvas followed by more red, then black with red. Blue! A dragon head with fire appeared. The brush moved quickly, boldly and vigorously. Other emotions joined anger, dancing and exploding onto the canvas. Then . . . the energy began to dissipate as the colors consumed the surface. My body felt energized! A softness entered as feelings transformed, indicating the painting was complete.”

And so it is with each paintings she creates. Life happens, feelings arise, in response she steps to the easel and paints.

“There’s nothing quite like seeing your particular brand of anger, sadness or happiness come to life on a canvas. In fact, there are emotions that are beyond a dictionary’s definition. When these emotions are given expression through color and shape their message is magically transmitted.”

“I’m out of my mind when I paint, which is a really good thing! That’s when the best paintings show up. When life gets juicy the paintings reflect the spice of my life and the portrait of the real me gets painted.”

Valerieann’s days of living within prescribed lines are gone with the wind. The picture perfect artist has disappeared. She’s painted over those traditional norms and continues to erase lines that bind.

“This new artist scares me sometimes so I paint the scared and it delights me. The million brushstrokes of perfection from the past are gone, replaced by my free spirited soul, delivering messages from the world within.”

Every canvas is the edge of a cliff. With each stroke of the brush Valerieann jumps . . . free falling into the void where the paint catches her as it splashes onto the canvas.

“Each finished painting is a bridge to a world where you and I connect, that place where we are one.”

“The Universe is Expanding . . . because I’m Painting Outside the Lines!”

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