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Encounter - Dealing with the messy middle

Our lives are complex, and our direction and vision can change, so some paintings go through several “reincarnations” before I feel that I have captured the message that fits the current season. The “Encounter” painting emerged just in time to be entered into the the summer art exhibition in Portsmouth Cathedral (1st to 11th August 2021).

The artwork started off as an eco-experiment. I was exploring the properties of the avocado dye I had just “brewed”. I was fascinated by the unusual pinkish purple that emerged out of green skin and brown stone.

Further inspiration was provided by yellow chrysanthemums. I loved watching them exploding into their full glory over several days before they gradually faded. (If you look closely, you can still see print marks created by chrysanthemum petals on the canvas - for example in the top left corner.)

Layer upon layer of paint, ink, dye and matter created an image that was dynamic and had a lot of energy. However, I wanted to take the painting beyond exciting mark making and bring some simplicity and serenity to the piece – yet the task felt like swimming against a strong current.

When I showed the painting to others, they talked about the sense of strong movement in the work, an autumnal feel, bonfires and journeying through a wilderness. The process of creating art was once again revealing what was going on in my soulscape – a whirlwind of movement, starting to explore a lot of options, but no clear direction yet!

They say that there is always a phase where we feel stuck when there are major changes in our lives. I may have successfully navigated the ending of my counselling career but have now entered the “messy middle” in the transition process. (Some call this phase the neutral zone but neutral sounds calm and peaceful, whereas working out how to live life differently is often confusing and frustrating!)

I try to follow Frederick Buechner's advice: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

And life surely includes our creative processes and the thoughts, feelings, memories and stories that are bubbling up as we make art, write a story, try out a new recipe or express our creativity in other ways...

This painting has taught me that in the messy middle, my art process will be messy too, no matter how much I may strive for greater order – there are no short-cuts to growth.

I will share further insights I gained while working on the "Encounter" painting on 7th August 2021. In the meantime, please let me know your thoughts. You can comment below or e-mail me at


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