Going Big in the age of hunkering down


I am sitting in my painting studio right now. I have just finished putting a coat of gesso, that white covering that goes on canvases before you begin to paint on them, on the largest canvas I have ever done, three feet by ten feet.

It has taken longer to prepare the canvas than I thought. I had never stretched my own canvas before and in typical “how hard can it be?” fashion, I learned how to do it on the internet, finding out of course, that it never quite goes like the internet says.  I won’t say I bungled it, but I bungled it a few times.

But it is done. When this coat dries (The third coat), I will be ready to paint. Maybe as soon as this weekend depending on how warm things are.

Earlier this year, when the calendar was turning from 2019 to 2020, I didn’t exactly lay down any resolutions, but I took to telling people I wanted to “go bigger”.  I didn’t have a clear idea of what that meant or how I was going to do it. I just knew I have been hunkered down in my little corner of Vermont for a long time now, healing and growing and becoming after a dark time in my life, and I feel renewed. Even though I turn 65 in an embarrassingly few months. I don’t feel like it is a time to slow down, but instead a time to pick up, expand, grow, become something more.

And a larger canvas is just a part of that.

Everything has suddenly hit a standstill with the coronavirus. We’re all locked in our homes, working or not, watching and worrying about the people we love (I have three kids, spread out in Virginia, Florida and Missouri.) and the things we love (small businesses, how do they weather this?) and the places that touch our soul (My little Vermont church has switched to on-line services. Museums are closed. Galleries are closed. No live music concerts.)

I am lucky. I have an art studio just across the state line in New York. It is still isolation, but at least the scenery is different.  There’s more traffic. You don’t feel as isolated.

I am also an introvert. I discovered the value of that when I was a kid and my parents would punish me and send me to my room, where I could gleefully play and read, feeling almost as if I was being rewarded for my bad behavior.

So I am pretty lucky. But things did come to something of a standstill over the last few weeks and suddenly my path to going bigger ground to a halt.

The painting, this large canvas that has taken me so long to prepare, was sort of a symbol of that whole going bigger thing. Until now, the largest canvas I have ever done was four feet by two feet. They end up being expensive. Not everyone’s tea. I don’t sell many of the larger ones.

So why do an even larger one with an even smaller market? Just because I can. Because I want to have the experience. Because I like doing things I haven’t done. Because…. you never know.

Art is like many things. You do it because you love it. Because you feel compelled to do it. Because it lets you express in a way words don’t. And for all my writing, I sometimes struggle with words.

Pretty much everything I do in life is like that. It has been an expressive life and career. Always changing with where I was in life, what family I did or did not have around me. What moved me or lifted me up or what I struggled against. Sometimes that has been profitable. At times less so.

I don’t feel like I am very well understood, even by most of those close to me. It’s not their fault. I seem to be either more complex than I think I am, or worse at describing all the moving parts that make up me than I would like to be, despite a life of study and work in communicating. We could go into all sorts of psychological studies of why I am the way I am (and I have) but the fact is, I struggle to let things out, get things out, explain things.

And so I love to do things that let me express myself, facets of myself, better than my own words do. What I do or what I am may get misunderstood, and often is, (I love having people tell my what my poetry or art means. It’s often nowhere near what I meant it to mean, but I never correct them. It’s what it means to them.), but that’s OK. Just to be able to get it out when I felt so stifled for so long in life has been a place of rejoicing and thanksgiving for me.

And sometimes, when you just put things out there, things happen. There are lots of explanations for that, from the spiritual to the metaphysical to quantum mechanics to psychological to practical. I don’t know which things work. But if we consistently put out what we want to be and become, and stumble our way through it with some work in that same direction, stuff happens.

It’s embarrassingly been the way I have build the three businesses I built. Churches I helped grow. My artwork and poetry. Put it out there. Try. Fail. Goof up. Take a detour or four, but keep putting it out there and somehow, most things can happen.

Even painting a big old canvas.

The whole art part of my life is part of this same story. I’ve drawn, pen and ink, for forty years, since I was in college and a girlfriend gave me some engineering pens to try my hand with.  I mostly just piddled with it. A lot of friends and family liked the drawings so I gave a bunch of them away.

When I came up here to Vermot, I took an art class because a girlfriend asked me to join her. I had the time. Why not?

One day while in the studio a person came by and wanted to buy one of my paintings. The idea had never occurred to me. I just knew I loved doing it. I didn’t have any idea what to charge. (My teacher bailed me out on that.)

I’ve been painting ever since. First with a small studio in my house, and then with the encouragement of the woman I love (and who has become my wife) I kept putting it out there that I wanted a larger studio. I probably would not have kept at it putting it out there without her. Everyone needs an encourager in their lives. She’s mine.

It took a while, over a year, but it happened. A  friend of mine bought an old Presbyterian Church. He had a room in back of the sanctuary that would be perfect. Not fancy but large and with lots of windows. He even installed some great lighting in the room for those cloudy days and charged me a pittance.

And so I have a studio. Selling a single painting a month pays for it, and most months I do better than that. I can’t tell you what I did. There was nothing strategic in it all. I just put it out there. Kept working. And then did not hesitate when the opportunity arrived.

That’s how I found the woman I love, How I came to Vermont. How I build businesses. How I managed to get my kids back in my life after a long period of estrangement. How… I pretty much got everything I have so far.

Belief is a strange thing. It has power. Whether what we believe is good or bad, positive or negative. It has power.

It may take time. God’s time is never the same as ours. But it comes. Persistence trumps talent and plans every time.

We’ll get through this mess. I know that. I believe it. It has already lasted longer than we would like and longer than they told us at first, and there will be pain. I have felt some already and so have you. It’s scary. But we’ll get through it.

In the meanwhile, keep whittling away at your dreams. Visualize them. Think about them. Put them out there. Claim them. They are closer than you think. Even now, they are closer than you think.

Go big.

Be well. Travel wisely,



  1. “Art is like many things. You do it because you love it. Because you feel compelled to do it. Because it lets you express in a way words don’t”

    These words really stuck with me. I feel the same way about art. A really motivational article and i wish you the best of luck with your art!

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