A Lesson from the Hummingbird: Open Doors and Closed Minds

One summer I was visiting my parents and as I walked through their garage to get to the side door, I heard a little bumping sound. Even though both garage doors were fully open, a hummingbird had gotten trapped and was banging its head against the ceiling believing the only way out was up.

After a few minutes of googling, I learned that hummingbirds often get trapped in garages. They are stubborn little things and will buzz around the ceiling of the garage searching for an opening “up” until they become so exhausted and anxiety ridden that they keel over dead. Sunshine, blue skies through the open door be damned. They just won’t go down to go up.

Two weeks ago in my post I felt very much like that stubborn hummingbird I’d seen years ago (don’t worry my dad was able to get her out gently using a garden rake). And, as fate, would have it, I was working on a hummingbird painting that just wasn’t working when I was at the height of my frustration. After an hour or so of doing the same thing over and over again with my knives (up, must go up!) I abandoned the painting all together. Took a break.

I went back to it with fresh eyes yesterday. Magic.  Distance often creates perspective. When I stop banging my head, sometimes, I can see the opening, the escape, the fresh air that was there all along.

I’m proud of this painting partly because it was born of struggle. When I get sad or upset, sometimes my almost-five-year-old will look me in the eyes and say “Don’t give up, Mommy,” a phrase I now repeat back to him when he’s struggling. By temporarily throwing in the towel on this one, I gained the perspective I needed to not give up on it in the end. Worth it.

It’s hard to know when you’re finding solutions or just banging your head. But I think taking a break is always a good idea.


Care to take a break from your undoubtedly busy life? This painting, and many, many like it will be on display and available at my upcoming show. Details below:

Open and Free to the public

Featuring: Classical Guitarists Kelly Roth & Dr. Kerry Alt,

and the artwork of Denise Hopkins

When: 4:00pm: Music – 5:00pm: Art and Reception

Where: Christ Episcopal Church, 912 South Beach Blvd, Bay St. Louis, MS 39520

Click here for more info.


But You Love What You Do: The War of Art

I recently had the pleasure of attending a classical guitar concert after which a few musicians chatted about their art: did playing guitar ever feel like work? The consensus was a resounding yes. One guitarists suggested that he is happiest on a beach somewhere, miles and miles away from his instrument. I get that.

We tend to glamorize art careers. How amazing it is to be able to do the thing you love every day. True. But sometimes the thing you love wears you out, beats you up; it sometimes spits you out.

Once again, my repeated claim seems to ring true: painting is an awful lot like parenting. Immense, other-worldly joy paired with a big scoop of fear, heartache, and frustration.

I struggled in my studio yesterday. The colors weren’t working, the strokes of the palette knife looked muddled rather than intentional. The more I worked, the worse it seemed to get. But, just like parenting, I find the best way to win the war of art is to keep showing up to it– the way we have to when we parent. We don’t walk away from our children after a particularly unimpressive day of parenting. We stay in it. We keep going. We try again.

I needed a break from my painting yesterday. And even though I’d rather be on a beach somewhere miles and miles away from my palette knives, today I’m going to get back to it. It’s routine and ritual that save me from myself. It’s the frustration and the pained strokes that build toward those rare magical painting days where every stroke feels divinely inspired. Hoping that by showing up today, I’ll get one of those soon. And if I do, I’ll definitely be letting you know.

But for now, I’m off to the battlefield.

Out, Out Damned Yellow Spot: Painting is Like Parenting Part II

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My painting is like my parenting: sometimes so glorious I feel tempted to write a book about it, sometimes so painful and frustrating I wonder why I keep trying day after day at all.

My son’s pre-k assigns dots to each day in the calendar he brings home in his folder. Blue means great day. Green, good day. Yellow? Let’s just say the chart says yellow means “lost in the woods” (they’ve got a camp theme going this year).

We’ve been lost in the woods for a few days now, and every time I think we see an opening, the trees seem to close in front of us or the trail we thought was leading somewhere just brings us right back to our sad little campsite, a dying fire and a cold night about to descend. Too dramatic?

I worry too much about yellow dots.

I wish I knew how to convince my four-year-old that telling the truth is best, that he has to be quiet when others are talking, that he can’t go around knocking over lunch boxes.

But he, like me, I suppose, is a work in progress. So full of life and energy. So obstinate and assertive. So convinced of the truth of things he doesn’t know couldn’t be.

This painting, I kid you not, started as a big yellow dot. I thought it was going to be an abstract ode to the trials of parenting. It turned into spring flowers that I happen to believe are some of my best. The painting wasn’t painful or tortured. The strokes came easily. The colors worked without me having to pull out any of my hair. I didn’t even bleed.
I’m waiting for my little guy to come out of the woods. Into the sunlight where I know he’ll bloom. 


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