Display or Field?

First the oil painting, then the story that inspired this art and the update. Are YOU at a “display or field” crossroads in your life?

Watch me paint “Natalie at the Fountain“, 5 minute time lapse

“This iconic fountain is at Forysth Park in Savannah. It is a well photographed, well painted tourist attraction that appears often on postcards, websites, and gifts. Many who visit Savannah don’t leave the city without taking a souvenir photo of themselves and loved ones by the fountain.
Forysth Park is a large, active park. Many events are held in that location, as well as recreational activities and a good place to take a fitness walk. Some events are planned by the city, such as ones sponsored by the library system.
I was a participating author/illustrator for a large children’s book festival held in the park. Before the big day, I painted the fountain to display it on a large standing easel, just a few yards away from the actual fountain. It was fun to watch people do a double-take, as they realized that the painting was of where they were currently standing.
The day I took the photograph that I used as a reference (this particular perspective of the fountain, as seen from the vantage point of an adjacent sidewalk), I was completely unaware that my husband was taking pictures of me, taking pictures of the fountain. This was suprisingly endearing, so I decided to paint myself into the picture. I realized later that this made my art a self-portrait, which wasn’t intentional, so we can think of me as simply ‘the lady in red’, even though I call myself out in the painting’s title. If you look closely, you can see my camera in ‘lady in red’s’ hand.
Spanish moss drapes from many tree branches. Don’t touch the moss. It looks soft and inviting, but apparently there are bugs that live in it. Enjoy with your eyes!”

– from book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

I was cleaning and organizing my work space last week. It was a bittersweet experience. I stumbled upon the event merchandise, banner, giveaways, badges, and other investments I’d made for the event in the park. My daughters were with me, and as they have artistic aims of their own, I displayed under a family logo that included them. We had T-shirts made up and everything. There’s much more to say about this, but I’ll save it for the next blog series, which will be called “The Real Stuff”.

But for now, the relevance to the update is that the event fell flat for us in ways that I didn’t understand at the time. About three years later, it’s coming into focus for me. For the event, I purchased a field easel to display my oil painting. I was the only artist there who brought original art on canvas. Most illustrators used digital, pencils, pens, or watercolor, and displayed their art as books only (did not bring any original art with them, just reproductions). I may have been the only oil painter there- I don’t know. We didn’t get much chance to mingle. My point is that I was a square peg at this event. I was trying to make the experience something that it wasn’t.

I could have purchased a commercial display easel for the event, but that was an expensive option and I found a great deal on a field easel. So, I bought an easel meant for active painting outdoors, for display purposes only. I wanted to keep it pristine for events- meaning I can’t use it or else I’ll get paint on it.

My field easel in its rightful place

Often, things are obvious in hindsight, and you already know where this is headed… especially if you saw yesterday’s blog post “New Painting! Plein Air“. Yes, after sorting out the sad unused event material from years ago, I decided it was time to use that easel I’d invested in, for what it was designed for. It wasn’t a “display” easel, but a FIELD easel. It was meant to be used. It will get dirty. It will be stained with paint. It will be mine.

So, I added it to my work schedule. The next sunny and glorious day, I’d set up my field easel and paint outside.  And, as you know, I did exactly that. The display easel now has paint on it, and thus the transition is complete. Display or field? The answer is unquestionably “FIELD”!

I’m sure you sense where this is going. “Display or field?” is a metaphorical and spiritual question. Do we passively tick off the boxes we’re placed in, putting even ourselves in expected locations, and our true talents and desires sitting… waiting for permission to act? Who was going to invite me to step up into the bigger life that I wanted? How long would I choose “display” over “field”?

Successful people don’t wait for permission to shine. They go after what they want with their full energy. We don’t have to be a bold, aggressive, highly competitive type of person to have this mindset. It’s a matter of changing our way of thinking to one that prioritizes positive thinking and applying energy to the right places. 

It’s an easy metaphor…

  1. Display Easel: imagine me (who I hope feels like someone you know by now, a friend), standing behind a table with my display easel behind me at a groomed park, heavily populated by tourists and school groups attending the event. Sometimes park regulars zipped by on bicycles, skateboards, or wheeled shoes. I was engulfed by crowds flanking me on all sides. The din was hurting my ears and my throat was sore from trying (and failing) to be heard over it. I stood for hours, with nothing to do but attempt to interact with strangers. I kept a close eye on my watch. I feared I wouldn’t have enough patience to stay until the end, and I was obligated to do so. It was part of the contract I’d signed.
  2. Field Easel: you don’t need to imagine me standing behind my field easel, as you’ve seen it in yesterday’s blog post. I was peacefully painting in solitude. Only my cherished family members interacted with me, and that was welcome. For most of the time, I was alone in nature. I lost all track of time. Normally I listen to music while I paint, but I felt no need for that when painting outside. I hadn’t signed any contract. I had no obligation to anyone. Yet I achieved more in that afternoon than I had at the event at the park.

Let me clarify… I can’t measure your achievements, nor can you define mine. Mine are always evolving and I don’t always know my destined plans myself. I stay open. So, perhaps such an event would one day work for me, or for you… that’s not the point. The point is recognizing when we are at a crossroads and it’s time to choose the “field easel”.

I won’t be painting outside again any time soon. I’m still swollen with bug bites and I have a lot of worthy projects in progress on my indoor art table. It’s much easier to make my videos in a controlled environment with stable lighting. But spiritually and metaphorically, I’m “in the field”. My field easel has the battle scars of paint on it. I have made the choice to commit my full energy to the areas of my life that matter most. I will not stand behind a table (barrier between me and what I want), but behind an easel (actively working toward my goals).

While I’ve always been a trail blazer who doesn’t really wait for permission, there are crossroads in my life in which I recognize that I’m meant to take spiritual and creative freedom to the next level. Much of this relates to my personal and intellectual decisions, but every small better decision leads to greatness. Love more. Live more. BE more. Choose the field easel.

Wooded Lagoon” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

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