Embracing detours in the studio {or my shortlived and entirely unexpected love affair with painting palm trees}

Let’s talk about how sometimes you’re merrily going along in the studio, painting things that all look reasonably related, and then suddenly you find yourself going off on some weird tangent for no apparent reason.

Ha! The art imp {which I just made up but is totally a thing} is making an appearance, to keep you on your toes!

If this happens to you, I want you to know it’s valid! {I mean, everything is valid, but we all need reminding of this from time to time, myself included.} And if it doesn’t happen to you, well, you can just enjoy the video. 😉

Instead of criticising ourselves for being erratic or unable to stick to one thing, what if we just embraced it as a glorious, if unexpected – even if not particularly welcome initially – part of the process of being an artist and developing our art? What if it was actually something good? What if it was necessary for growth even if not in any obvious ways?

To illustrate my point, in this post I’m sharing my recent inexplicable need to paint palm trees. Although you will no doubt notice that they are not entirely unconnected to my usual style, which is heavily ‘vertical line oriented’, they have been popping up recently now and then in the midst of my ongoing abstracts, and as such are a bit of an anomaly.

I could try to ignore them, or I could get annoyed with myself for being all over the place, inconsistent, and ‘not a real artist’, or whatever. Or, I could just follow the thread and let them happen.

Obviously I picked the last option. 🙂

Here they are showing up in my sketchbook, at first sort of abstractly…


…and then a bit more overtly.


And here’s a fully fledged palm tree on canvas.  The only one of its kind! It’s all texturey and yummy because I painted it over an old one. There’s lots of wrinkled tissue paper and a bit of mesh on there.


And here’s a video I made of most of the process of my absolute favourite, on paper. Unfortunately I didn’t film the final stages, because I wasn’t ready for them and they just happened before I thought to get the camera out.

You can see the finished piece below. It hangs by my bed and I can’t seem to get enough of it, so it’s not currently for sale. When it’s finished doing its thing for me I’ll put it in the shop. 🙂 It’s called Tropical Storm, because it makes me think of how things look through torrential rain.


The thing about all this is that it looks like a detour. I have no precedent for painting palm trees and don’t plan to keep doing them. I have no idea why I started painting them. They’re fun, and I like them, and it’s a very good excuse to go vertical line crazy should I need one, but they’re not really part of where my art is going.

Or are they?

My point is, sometimes things happen that seem out of place, or irrelevant. I believe it’s all relevant, even the detours, even the mistakes, even the paintings that don’t work out, even the things we try and then wish we hadn’t.

A huge part of process, perhaps the biggest part, is trust. An artist who doesn’t trust the process, even when things get weird, isn’t allowing their full expression to come through.

We have to let go, and if like me you find that quite hard sometimes, detours are a gift. They are the art imp tapping you on the shoulder and saying, dude, this is an opportunity. This is a way for you to learn the surrender required for pure and true self expression in your art. Because you don’t know why this is happening but it is happening, and you’re invited to be part of it and see where it leads.

The question is, will you accept the invitation?

How about you? Do you experience these little anomalous detours? What kinds of things do you find yourself making when you thought you were doing something else? Do you let them happen or do you fight them? What might happen if you trusted they had a secret purpose, even if you never found out what it was?

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