Learn the alchemy
true human beings know.
The moment you accept
what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will be open.
~ Rumi

I’m sharing with you today the process of a painting I recently completed; it was something different in terms of process and has, as Rumi suggests, opened a door.

You may have seen on Instagram that I shared some charcoal experiments I’d been doing on paper. This painting was influenced by those experiments. Below are some examples; I had a compulsion to create imaginary mountain ranges using the charcoal on its side, which then developed into more completed drawings.

charcoal mountain sketch _ Tara_Leaver

The most successful experiment

charcoal and watercolour sketches_Tara_Leaver

Playing with watercolour and charcoal

Following is the painting, from a point early on through to completion. Let’s just say it doesn’t include all the phases!

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to convey the actual experience and process of this one in words. In part it’s perhaps too soon to know how, and also I suspect it’s not something that can actually translate into verbal language. Nevertheless it feels like an important part of my journey, and perhaps something in the relating will be of interest or useful to you.

So anyway, the painting.


Still in landscape mode and struggling. Loved the colours, hated the flatness and lack of interesting marks. Plus the composition wasn’t working.



Still struggling. Trying things without knowing really why I was trying them – something I now realise doesn’t work for me. Still too much pushing energy.



It just gets worse and worse. 🙂



Now it’s losing even more interest. Interestingly, {because unusual}, I wasn’t. I was not feeling good about it but wanted to persevere too.



Trying a different orientation. I liked the curves and suggestion of a figure, but not the way the canvas divided into three. It felt jarring and wrong and I didn’t feel like trying to make it work this way.



Trying a new reference image and chalking in possibilities. I love chalk for this – it’s easy to wipe off without disturbing the paint. This had potential but still didn’t feel right to me. Way too much trying energy. Too much contrivance.


Soon after this point I reached the end of my rope, ‘gave up the troubles’ like Rumi says, and quite literally collapsed in a heap on the floor. I don’t usually cry over paintings not working out; however that day there was a lot going on internally, and painting was acting as a catharsis, even if it was adding another layer of frustration to things.

What was interesting was that after a short time I stopped crying, got up, stuck both my hands in the gesso and returned to the canvas to create this:

nothing to say_ Tara_Leaver

nothing to say


You can see that all that’s left of the original is a softened version of the high horizon line, now vertical. In fact if you go back to the first image the face is evident from the start. At the time I didn’t see beyond what I thought I was creating; my own plans and desires were limiting both me and what was possible.

The process of this final step was the exact opposite of all that had gone before. It was as though ‘I’ disappeared – the best I can describe it is that I went blank – and that created a clear channel for a purer form of expression. The fact that the painting became about this pure expression means that whether it’s ‘good’ or whether anyone likes or doesn’t like it becomes moot. It doesn’t even matter what it’s an expression of, the expression itself being the main point.

It is very hard to describe this in words in a way that doesn’t sound pretentious or that even comes close to the actual experience.

I learned something new about process that I feel may change everything; perhaps not all at once but over time as I learn this new surrendered way of being with regard to the world and my experience as a physical being in it. The painting carries multiple layers of meaning for me which I won’t try to describe; best to leave space for you to have your own experience of it.

I wish I could be more articulate about this. Perhaps that too will come with time. I don’t know yet what it means for my work, or even for me as a person; it just feels like something has shifted. I actually feel like I don’t know anything at this point, which according to Socrates means I’m very wise now. 🙂

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

~ Socrates