Maggie Parr

Connecting with the Muse

For me, the process of creating a painting is very deep. Sometimes it's thrilling, sometimes exhausting - in fact I only know it's complete when I can't look at it anymore - but it's always gratifying. Because every time I paint, I connect with my Muse. And nothing feels better.

"That first feeling"

I once took a class from a master painter from China, Jove Wang, who mostly spoke through an interpreter except when he said "you must find that first feeling." He knew if a painting would be successful in the first 20 minutes, simply by how it looked and felt. I have my own version of that. I put on music, clear my mind, and jump right in, allowing myself to paint whatever I feel. Even if it doesn't make sense. Somewhere early in the process, I'll get hit with an electric bolt of sensation and emotion, then I cry, then I'm fully plugged in to whatever Source guides my hand. It happens every time - and I don't know why.

In this painting, the Muse took over and scrawled out words, shapes, and an angel holding a sword and a baby. I never know where it'll go from here.

The first layer, using a limited palette of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue.

The Middle

After that initial rush of feeling where I fall in love with the painting, I start the long process of bringing it to completion. For two or five layers, sometimes separated by weeks or months, I wait for the breakthrough to come. I build up paint on the canvas or board, letting each new shape tell me what to do next. I listen to more music. I get lost in the weeds, painting details and experimenting with color. I get bored.

A middle layer. Still no direction yet, although the angel wanted to be red.

The Breakthrough

Finally, I get a new inspiration - and with it, the courage to risk destroying the piece. Because that's what it takes to break through. Break through what? And to where? To bring a painting to completion, I have to let go of its pretty beginnings. I have to let the Muse take over again. I'll cover it with a dark color, or introduce an unexpected element - and follow that to its end.

By adding a mandala pattern - inspired by a recent project - I changed the piece entirely.

Letting it go

After the breakthrough, it's fun for awhile. I get to play with shapes and color again. It's exciting to approach the ending. In this stage, it's too easy to over-paint; to exert my vision on the piece, instead of letting the Muse stay in control. The process slows down as I consider every stroke of the brush. That push-pull with the Muse becomes harder and harder. Eventually, I can't even look at the piece - that's how I know it's done! I put it away to dry and don't look at it until it's time to varnish. At this point, I fall in love with it again - but awe at what the Muse created, not me. It doesn't really belong to me anymore.

The final piece.