A mild transition?
Sometimes transitions are obvious. They are marked by a single event, such as a marriage or a divorce or having your first baby or starting a whole new career.
But other times transitions might only appear as such in retrospect – a little like the sun rising on a cloudy day. You know it has happened but can’t pinpoint the moment of those first sunbeams.
That is a little like Megan’s story. “I don’t think there was a watershed moment. I don’t think that it was, ‘oh, that’s what this is!’ I think it is perhaps what happens when you have 10,000 hours of practice that you actually get somewhere.” Megan is speaking about a change that occurred for her in 2020, a change that led to her first solo art exhibition.
Inner and outer Factors
For Megan, there was a convergence of inner and outer factors. “It was a change, but not like the sort of change where you start a new job. For me, it was a change in confidence. It is one thing to paint and dabble for yourself, but quite another to bringing an artwork to completion for other people.”
Megan goes on to explore some of these inner factors. “I would say that I grew up in an art gallery. My mum was an artist, so it was just a part of my growing up. I lived in a place where art is both appreciated and struggled with.” Having studied art in High School and Design in University, for Megan it is something that has always been there. Yet it wasn’t until about twelve years ago after doing an eight-week course in acrylic art that she concluded there was something much more in her. Sometime after she also teamed up with a close friend and for the past six or so years, they have met on Monday afternoons to paint together. It is a routine she does not deviate from, and even if there are circumstances that prevent them from meeting, she always finds time to make it up.
Part of her development as an artist also seems to have occurred leading up to 2020. “My work was mostly floral. Maybe it was the focus on the one area of subject matter. I love flowers. I also love colour and I reached a point where I said to myself ‘oh, I think I know how I want that to work.’ For her, she grew in her understanding of how to represent colour and tone, which led to greater satisfaction in her work.
This growing confidence and satisfaction coupled with an external factor. “A public space became available. So, there was this combination of me having a body of work to exhibit plus someone who had a space and who wanted to have a public exhibition. We worked together and it happened.”
Taking the decisive step
Taking the next step wasn’t easy though. “Having an exhibition was putting myself in a vulnerable position. It is my work on display. And as much as I had feedback on my work and some internal satisfaction, there is a point where you say,
‘Is it worthy?’
‘Is it any good?’
‘Will people really come?’
Leading up to the exhibition, I was feeling quite nervous. I had never hung an exhibition before. That is not my skill, so I was very thankful there were others who stepped in and did that for me.”
The personal gamble to expose her work is something that any artist could relate to, but the added dimension of 2020 being a year of lockdowns and social distancing added to the nerves. Yet, an unseen hand seemed to be at work, “the exhibition happened at the right time of our pandemic year and it was quite overwhelming that so many people came and seemed to enjoy it.”
A self-imposed shadow
Another important element that Megan grappled with was what she refers to as living in a “self-imposed shadow of a creative person” in her life. That person being her mum.
“There are maybe all the years you have lived believing you are not at the same standard, but maybe it was the 10,000 hours of practice where you see that you have travelled a little closer up the scale. Maybe I let go of that comparison, that competing with someone I thought of as a real artist. Getting feedback from people was helpful to my coming out of the shadow. I could see that I had actually improved and that I had work which was satisfying.”
Megan adds that of the 300 people who came to the exhibition, she knew probably 275 of them, although they came from different parts of her life. “It was very humbling. I have lots of feeling words when I think of it. To get that level of support and sell three quarters of my paintings was amazing.”
Megan also discovered an entrepreneurial streak within, “I printed a series of cards and calendars based on my artwork and promoted them through my Facebook page. I don’t think it was necessarily the money-making side of it but converting my work into a product for people. There is a big difference to spending hours painting something and then jumping online and making it into a saleable product. I got a real kick out of that.”
The colours and shapes
Speaking about her love of painting, Megan explains that it is the process of making a decision or solving a problem that captures her. “So, how do I get that shape to look the right way, or what is the right colour?
Is it too pink or too blue?
How do I replicate the shape?
Do I need more light or more dark?
Am I looking at the negative space to define the shape?
Is it the patterns on the leaf or petal that I need to highlight?”
The fact that her paintings also have a defined start and finish is also appealing, especially compared to other aspects of her life. “The other parts of my life, like parenting or pastoring don’t have a defined start and finish, they are open-ended. Painting has corners and edges and a point where you can say, ‘yes, this is done’ and you can rest.”
Picking up on subtle cues
For Megan, her practice as an artist and the person she is seem to meld in the way she sees the world. “I am a noticer of things, of spaces and objects.
I notice when someone has a haircut or a flower comes into bloom or vegetables come into fruit. I think perhaps noticing things helps me notice people, seeing less tangible things like their emotions. I think those skills help me understand what should be captured on canvas as well as picking up cues in personal interactions.”
Resilience, Identity and Faith
Megan’s painting also represents a means of building resilience. “When I paint I use my body: my hands, my eyes, my mind and I am problem-solving. When I paint I am not thinking about all the other things that are going on in my world, like what are we going to have for dinner or how do we deal with all the fears that are being inflamed through our media. That all goes away.” This is particularly important for someone who is an obvious extrovert in providing focussed solitary time.
Painting has reinforced in Megan something about perseverance and determination. These were qualities she prayed for as a child, though could not see them in her life as clearly as she does now through her artwork.
It is interesting that she baulks at being called an artist, not entirely sure why she feels that way. This becomes an open-ended discussion which lands on her musing whether someone becomes an artist at the point of their art being a means of paid employment. Maybe that is the next level of accomplishment? Or, “maybe it is somewhere along the spectrum of being a novice to becoming accomplished. Maybe there is a line where you say, ‘ok, that’s it.’”
Yet, the musing and uncertainty change as Megan talks of her faith in the Creator. “When I think of God who creates I just stand in awe of how he has used his love to complete our world in beauty, tone, colour and shape. I think this beauty reflects God and his character.”
As she reflects on her own work as an artist, she muses on her imitation of the Creator, “Sometimes when I am creating, it is like I am emulating God.
I think, ‘I could take out that petal, or include this shade here.’ Artwork is all about creating. I often meditate on how vastly, impressively beautiful and sensorially satisfying the world is when you look at it. It is not easy replicating that world on canvas.”
Her final word is as open-ended as other parts of our conversation, “When you look at a canvas and there is nothing on it, you are reminded that God created out of nothing. How did he do it? Yet, when he did, he rests in the satisfaction of the world he made.”
Malcolm Gladwell refers to 10,000 hours as something of a limit to developing mastery in his book Outliers. There are, of course, other factors that lead one to become a master of their craft or practice. It seems that Megan’s 10,000 hours has served her well in creating significant growth in her life as an artist.