Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

If you were once one of my art students, you can preemptively put your finger underneath your jaw and apply a little pressure– just to keep it in place for what I’m about to say. 

Most days lately, I go into the studio without a plan or a sketch. Without so much as a notion. Typically this is fine on a small canvas. Small canvases are innocuous little things, easily repurposed or discarded. The paint “wasted” is negligible. 

But a large canvas, I once proselytized my students into believing, requires a level of planning. It demands at least a thumbnail sketch or two. We’ve got to get in there and figure some things out before we go big, before we’re four tubes of titanium white in and decide it was all for naught. 

I wish I had told them that their lives are full of changing seasons and the one that existed in that classroom –3201– was one where we needed to experience thorough planning if only to roll down the windows of our training and let all of it just fly out when the days got shorter or the leaves started falling. 

The season I am in now is one where risks feel powerful and trusting my intuition important. With school back in session, my studio time, while still limited, has become undisturbed once again, and I have felt forcefully pulled toward it, wanting to dive in headfirst, wasting no time in the abstract but getting right to the physical act of applying paint to the canvas. This week, I did just that. Without planning, fretting, designing or rethinking, I jumped right onto a large three foot by four foot canvas. Painting big allows me to use my whole body; this one felt satisfying not just in the colors and shapes but in the actual movement. 

I tried not to think about it too much and moved intuitively from one color and shape to the next. I reserved (somehow) my judgments, and let it be whatever it would be. I recently read a beautiful book called The Wisdom of your Body. In it Hillary McBride describes the healing nature of intuitive movement and dance. My studio practice recently felt akin to that kind of embodied and yet unselfconscious kind of expression. 

The painting I began isn’t finished. I don’t even know if I’ll still like it the next time I walk into the studio, and by that time it may be a new season, one of refining, thoughtful decision-making, and even a healthy dose of frustration.  

The saying goes that you have to know the rules before you break them, and maybe that can be true in certain seasons. But don’t we, more often, break the rules before we’ve ever heard of them? We stumble before we know the mechanics of walking, babble before we understand nouns and verbs, wiggle before we pirouette. Learning the rules is applying structure and guidance to what we have already intuitively experienced, expressed, and lived. 

When my world feels hyper-defined by written and unwritten rules about who, what, and how I should be, I find the practice of intuitive painting liberating. Let me know if you have any similar experiences with your intuition and I’ll keep you posted on how this piece develops.

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Written by Denise Hopkins

More From This Category

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

If you were once one of my art students, you can preemptively put your finger underneath your jaw and apply a little pressure– just to keep it in place for what I’m about to say.  Most days lately, I go into the studio without a plan or a sketch. Without so much as a...

read more
Imperfection + Persistence

Imperfection + Persistence

  This is a backwards “s” painting. I’ll explain. I’ve been having this memory playing on repeat in my mind recently. I was around six years old and reading a book with my dad. I don’t remember the book, only that it had one of those “This book belongs to” pages...

read more
A Softer Place to Land

A Softer Place to Land

I was looking through an old journal recently, skimming it for inspiration. What kind of inspiration I was looking for, I’m not sure, but even though I’m not a very consistent journal keeper, I always know I can go back and find some insight you can only get by...

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The one thing you really need at your wedding reception.

The one thing you really need at your wedding reception.

I’ve painted at more weddings than I can count, but I tried, and it is over 300. I have seen fine china; I’ve seen paper plates. I’ve seen cowboy boots, four inch heels, sneakers, and no shoes at all. I’ve seen super slow and maybe a little awkward first dances, and full-out choreographic masterpieces. I’ve heard twenty-piece bands, amateur DJs, and even dueling pianos. I’ve seen oyster shucking stations, lucky dog carts, portable snowball stands, and donut sculptures. Firework displays, wardrobe changes, photo booths and props of every kind, color, and shape. Favors you can eat, plant, wear, or stick on your fridge. I’m not saying that I have seen it all, but I might be pretty close.

Based on Vast Experience….

I think I can confidently say that most of it is lagniappe. Delightful, fun, great for pictures, but still lagniappe. 

But there is one thing that really gets me every single time, and you don’t even have to factor it into your budget at all. It is free. 

The One Thing

I’ll stand by it. Every wedding needs at least one good, genuine toast. At the reception itself. In New Orleans, the tradition is often that the toasts are given at the rehearsal dinner. I don’t go to many of those, but I’m sure they are lovely, intimate experiences, and I’m all for them. But toasts to the couple that happen during the heart of celebration and not just the anticipation– those are really beautiful and worth doing too even if it’s just a repeat from the night before. 

I’ve given five wedding toasts. I’ve heard about a hundred or so. What I like so much about them is the beautiful pause it provides. We stop, for a moment, not to think about the current fashion, lines at the bar or buffet, or where the after party is. We stop and give all our attention to two unique human beings and listen to what those who most love them have to say. We join in wishing them well on what is not an easy and effortless path. We say, “we are cheering you on from the very start of your lives together. You are worth cherishing. We celebrate you, here, on the starting line.”

Does it get much better than that? 

Let me suggest this: I doubt you will remember exactly what your flowers looked like or how the attendants did their hair, even what all you ate, or who you were able to grab a hug from. But I’m pretty certain you will remember something someone you love said to you in a place full of people that love you on the day you did a very life-changing thing. 

I remember what my sister said to me in her toast on that day. And I remember quite well what I said to her a few years before. 

Need something to make your wedding special? A painting is really nice.  A toast from someone who loves you? Even better.

What was the most memorable part of your wedding or one you attended? Have you ever given or received a particularly memorable toast? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Written by Denise Hopkins

More From This Category

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

If you were once one of my art students, you can preemptively put your finger underneath your jaw and apply a little pressure– just to keep it in place for what I’m about to say.  Most days lately, I go into the studio without a plan or a sketch. Without so much as a...

read more
Imperfection + Persistence

Imperfection + Persistence

  This is a backwards “s” painting. I’ll explain. I’ve been having this memory playing on repeat in my mind recently. I was around six years old and reading a book with my dad. I don’t remember the book, only that it had one of those “This book belongs to” pages...

read more
A Softer Place to Land

A Softer Place to Land

I was looking through an old journal recently, skimming it for inspiration. What kind of inspiration I was looking for, I’m not sure, but even though I’m not a very consistent journal keeper, I always know I can go back and find some insight you can only get by...

read more

Comments

A whole decade of loving you.

A whole decade of loving you.

It wasn’t easy, the way you came into the world. I started labor on a Saturday afternoon. You were born at 8:03pm that Monday. Your dark, straight black hair covered your entire head and even came over your ears a little. They put you on my chest and I wept. The truth is, I didn’t really believe in you, that my pregnancy would end in me holding a living, breathing, human child on my chest until that very moment. 

I think there might just be a handful of events that mark such a profound change in direction of our lives that we forever think of ourselves as two distinct people: the one that is before the event and the one that is after. In this case, the change you brought about feels so all-encompassing that the after seems to blur and distort the before. Pre-you is like remembering an old movie– one I know well but not because I lived its events. 

You asked me once why I became an artist, and I told you it was because of you, to which you said, “you’re welcome.” On the edge of so many uncertain paths, your little face made me want to try, even if it meant failing miserably. Never particularly brave or prone to take risks, I decided to attempt to design a life I could love; for you, yes, but looking back now I think it was mostly for me. I needed to navigate the world not just as a victim of circumstance but as a force who not only responds to but creates the world in which she lives. I needed to show you how to care for yourself, how to fail again and again and still believe in your worth instead of never risking anything except your own sense of self. 

In the beginning most of my art taught me how imperfect I was– as a painter and as a mother. Most of my early blog posts are about how hard it was, how much you cried, how deeply I loved you.  But my worst days always ended, gave way to new chances to begin, to right my wrongs, and if not that, then at least work towards something new. 

An entire decade of knowing you, and I’m still learning so much about how to care for you, how to be your mother and still an entirely separate person from you. My first impulse is to make every sandwich, fold every shirt, correct every misstep even though I know you are strong, capable, resilient, and whole. 

You’ve taught me that control is an illusion. That love is deeper than I ever could have imagined. The difference between a white and speckled trout. That hugs cover a multitude of sins. That ice cream is very often a good idea. You’ve taught me that being a mom isn’t marveling at a mini-me but learning who someone else really is and loving them without a single condition. 

Ten years ago I was so scared. Today I’m grateful that I get to do life with you, learning from you, rooting for you, making art you inspire, and, if I’m really lucky, holding your hand when no one else is looking.

 

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Written by Denise Hopkins

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More From This Category

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

If you were once one of my art students, you can preemptively put your finger underneath your jaw and apply a little pressure– just to keep it in place for what I’m about to say.  Most days lately, I go into the studio without a plan or a sketch. Without so much as a...

read more
Imperfection + Persistence

Imperfection + Persistence

  This is a backwards “s” painting. I’ll explain. I’ve been having this memory playing on repeat in my mind recently. I was around six years old and reading a book with my dad. I don’t remember the book, only that it had one of those “This book belongs to” pages...

read more
A Softer Place to Land

A Softer Place to Land

I was looking through an old journal recently, skimming it for inspiration. What kind of inspiration I was looking for, I’m not sure, but even though I’m not a very consistent journal keeper, I always know I can go back and find some insight you can only get by...

read more

A Softer Place to Land

A Softer Place to Land

I was looking through an old journal recently, skimming it for inspiration. What kind of inspiration I was looking for, I’m not sure, but even though I’m not a very consistent journal keeper, I always know I can go back and find some insight you can only get by combining something from the past with something from the present. Hindsight is not 20/20, but it’s definitely helpful. 

I stumbled across an invocation I’d written:

So come here, imperfection, and sit with me this morning. I’ve still got two sips of coffee left and I’ll try not to drown you in my own suffering. Pull up a seat. I’ll make room on the couch. Let’s not fight today. 

When I wrote it, I was struggling with molehole-turned-mountain type of stuff. To invite imperfection was to accept reality– and neither some the-world-has-ended reality or a there’s-always-a-silver-lining platitude, just a these-are-the-raw-materials reality. Here they are; no more, no less.

In Art and Fear, the book we will be discussing at the gallery on Sunday, July 24, Bayles and Orland write: 

“To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done.” 

In this spirit, I’ve been getting comfortable with imperfection, trying to give my flawed and tangled thoughts a softer place to land. So often I’ve tried to lecture my inner voice into being a certain way which usually sounds something like “don’t think that!” Now I try to just give her space to say whatever it is, profound, flawed, nuanced, trite, distorted, biased, or kind. And by doing so, she usually finds a way through the more tangled and distorted parts. She gets curious about them because she can finally see them clearly just by letting them out. 

I’ve seen my work changing, too. What started off as thick, heavy, abstract strokes piled on a subject’s head has transformed into leaves and vines, messy but soft, a place where things might bloom, die, and bloom again. A softer place to land. In fact, little birds and bees have cropped up in these new environments. It seems to me that I went from thinking about thoughts themselves to thinking about the environments in which they might live and die, thrive and wilt. 

I’m curious to see how these images keep evolving, how I’ll think or rethink what it means to have a vibrant, imperfect interior world. 

What do you think? If you could paint not what’s going on in your mind, but the place where what’s going on resides, what would it look like?

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Written by Denise Hopkins

More From This Category

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

If you were once one of my art students, you can preemptively put your finger underneath your jaw and apply a little pressure– just to keep it in place for what I’m about to say.  Most days lately, I go into the studio without a plan or a sketch. Without so much as a...

read more
Imperfection + Persistence

Imperfection + Persistence

  This is a backwards “s” painting. I’ll explain. I’ve been having this memory playing on repeat in my mind recently. I was around six years old and reading a book with my dad. I don’t remember the book, only that it had one of those “This book belongs to” pages...

read more
A Softer Place to Land

A Softer Place to Land

I was looking through an old journal recently, skimming it for inspiration. What kind of inspiration I was looking for, I’m not sure, but even though I’m not a very consistent journal keeper, I always know I can go back and find some insight you can only get by...

read more

Comments

Fresh Air.

Fresh Air.

“Sometimes I need

only to stand

wherever I am

to be blessed.”

Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems

 

I like painting at weddings. I like performing. I like mixing paint and spreading it on a surface with a knife, and I like what doing it so often has done to my ego– all but annihilated it. When I’ve got a job to do, I don’t really have much time to worry about whether I’m all that good at it or not.

But 

Painting without traveling an hour to get there, including my friends and family in the painting, using my own gallery as the background, sharing what I do nearly every weekend with my community, that felt different. My ego noticed. 

Last Friday, I hosted Nashville songwriter Scott Southworth at the gallery for our monthly Gallery After Hours series, and I fretted about it for over a month. Scott is an amazing performer I met at my husband’s work conference. I won’t say what kind of conference it was, but I will say it isn’t one where you’d expect to meet a songwriter. That he could come to the coast for a concert was a stroke of very good fortune.

I fretted for a thousand different reasons– was the gallery big enough to host such a talented singer? Were the venue and the performer an aesthetic match or would people be confused? Would people even come? Should I even do a live painting or was that silly? Where would he set up, outside? Inside? Under a tent?

I tend to spiral in direct proportion to how much something matters to me. Turns out, this mattered. My worries about the event joined forces with worries about the gallery in general that had been brewing– how can I sustain it? Will it grow? What about the slow months? The concert/live painting was the fresh air I needed– not only a break from numbers and spreadsheets, but a reminder that not everything need be directed towards that end, that some of the very best parts of a business, of a life, are what can’t be measured, marked, or filtered. 

Here’s what happened:

1. Scott is an even better performer than I’d thought from watching him on youtube. Not only is his voice captivating, but he’s a natural performer. He interacted with the crowd (there was a crowd!) effortlessly. Even people from the restaurant across the street were enthralled. (We put him inside facing outside. The best of both worlds). 

2. Sharing live painting with my local community felt less like work and more like connection. I paint at weddings in New Orleans so often that I forget that a lot of people aren’t all that familiar (or burned out) on the concept. Instead of commuting an hour away lugging my rolling cart through crowds of French Quarter tourists, I got to paint on my own turf, with the gallery as my backdrop. And all of that is truly lagniappe compared to the very best part. 

3. My ninety-five year old grandmother, who has never seen me paint live, was able to travel all the way from Lafayette, Louisiana with my Uncle and Aunt (who ended up being the dancing stars of the painting). I’m not sure what your grandmother is like, but the very concept of what one is has been distorted for me. Mine is an incarnation of kindness, and I’m still not sure I can fathom that others aren’t also. My Shirley sat next to me the entire night, genuinely marveling at almost every stroke, every once in a while telling me how she’s been around artists her whole life (she’s the sister of my beloved Aunt Catherine, and her father, brother, and son were/are all artists.) To be near her, is to feel loved and important. 

Would this even be my blog without some grand takeaway?

Here’s the biggest take away, and I’m writing it down so that I’ll remember. I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t pick art for your home that matches the sofa. I believe instead in magic. When you pick art you love and connect with, it miraculously goes with whatever decor you have. Of this I am certain.  Maybe classic, country twang isn’t what you immediately think to pair with an art gallery. But, Lord, did they go together. I’m not as much of a storyteller as Scott, but I like to think that’s some of what we have in common. But more than that, I think what I want with the gallery, what I’m trying to work into a mission statement (eventually), is something about authenticity. That’s one of the reasons Scott was such a good fit, why he brought so much life to the space. I grew up on a golf course in suburbia, and I don’t own any cowboy boots, but the art doesn’t have to match the sofa when it’s sincere. 

The next time I find myself full of worry and doubt, I’m going to remember that it usually is just my brain’s way of telling me I care about something, that it matters to me. And what matters usually isn’t making perfect matches or cultivating perfect experiences. What usually matters is finding connection– through art, through music, through grandmothers who think you hung the moon. 

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Written by Denise Hopkins

More From This Category

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

If you were once one of my art students, you can preemptively put your finger underneath your jaw and apply a little pressure– just to keep it in place for what I’m about to say.  Most days lately, I go into the studio without a plan or a sketch. Without so much as a...

read more
Imperfection + Persistence

Imperfection + Persistence

  This is a backwards “s” painting. I’ll explain. I’ve been having this memory playing on repeat in my mind recently. I was around six years old and reading a book with my dad. I don’t remember the book, only that it had one of those “This book belongs to” pages...

read more
I got lost looking at the peacocks.

I got lost looking at the peacocks.

"Leaves a Trail Behind Her" 36x48, oil on canvas I wrote about how I got the title for this painting on instagram back in October. I told the story of how when I was a kid, okay not just a kid, a young adult too, my Dad used to say quite often, "Oh that Denise, she...

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