Yuliya Gulmi (YG): Sarah, please, tell us what kind of art you create and how your creativity was discovered and developed. Do you see the artistic creation as a process of energetic transformation?
Sarah Clinton (SC): My family was all very creative in different ways and I was always encouraged by my parents. I bounced around between mediums when I was young. I started off loving pottery and working with clay. I would paint and draw too, but was very drawn to three dimensions. I valued what was useful and functional, like a mug or a bowl that was perfect for me, versus a pretty picture I could decorate my wall with. I didn’t yet have the appreciation for what inspirational surroundings could do for you. My perceived value of what I created was based on function more than subjective beauty or anything abstract.
It wasn’t until later that I understood that creating was what made me feel whole and content. Now, I am more accepting that what I create may not resonate or seem valuable to everyone but if I like it, and it has meaning for me, chances are at least one other person will react and connect to it too.
Artistic creation is physically and metaphorically an energetic transformation. I am physically expending my energy to render a lifelike portrait, for example. I am also trying to infuse my own feelings into two dimensions to evoke a feeling or question from the viewer. Now, I love to paint things from everyday life, whether it is a candid portrait or a landscape or a still life. Everything, with the right mood, in the right light, has a spark and I strive to capture that.
YG: You put your energy into a painting, then the painting evokes feeling in a viewer and possibly inspiring that person. And that’s how the energy transfers and transforms. Art is very healing. Qigong is a healing art. What similarities do you see between the creative artistic process and the flow of the healing energy?
SC: Art, like qigong is a tool for healing. For me, Art, began with practicing and learning the skill. I learned how to really see and how to transcribe what I see with whatever medium I was using. It could be learning to draw a face, learning to use and mix colors, learning the way a form bends and is shaped. With qigong it is learning to breathe correctly… You must practice until it becomes second nature before you can start to really put your emotions into it. I feel like I have done my best work when I have been disciplined about the practice. When I have (tried to) master the mechanics, so that the emotion and feeling can shine through.
YG: We learn and practice technique and form to achieve the desired function. We master form until there is no form but pure flow and bliss. It’s likely that each one of us knows a person who deliberately used art as a healing tool. Have you experienced that? When you paint, does it heal you in any way?
SC: Absolutely. I started painting murals in my daughter’s school shortly after she was diagnosed with developmental delays and later with Autism. The process of creating murals in her school, which was designed to be inclusive of every ability and background, was very healing. I was physically near her, in a space that she worked in every day. I saw her and other children struggle with their unique challenges and the people and families who supported them. When the murals made people smile it just filled me with gratitude for the opportunity to create something new there.
Painting is an escape that lets you release your emotions from the day, process and put them back together in a way you can control (sometimes) – on the canvas.
YG: When a person is experiencing a challenge, and there is another human being with them in the middle of it, witnessing it and feeling the tough feelings together, – this is a form of healing. If we engage in joy together, we create synergy, and we magnify the joy. Art is a tool for compassion, and compassion diminishes suffering and magnifies joy. Qigong works the same way.
Do you prefer to paint in a meditative state? Why? Do you start painting and then realize that it has a meditative impact on you or have you intentionally tried to meditate first and then start painting?
SC: I didn’t really think about this until you asked. What I do to prepare to paint is much like meditation. I put music on. I clean my work space and place the right tools out. This takes me a while. I go through my reference photos and notes that I make on ideas I want to explore until I hit on what feels right. I don’t like to start the process if I know I may be interrupted (which results in some late nights, painting after the kids are in bed).
YG: Before you paint, you go through a ritual, which is meditative. During the ritual, you may be feeling love for your artistic process, and gratitude for being able to perform it. These two emotions are the most powerful, and they can take your ritual and meditation to the next level.
The art has a power to transmit energy. What energy do you put in your work? Do you ever consider how it may affect people who appreciate your artwork?
SC: The energy I put in my work is sometimes very deliberate and other times subconscious, depending on what I am doing. Sometimes I will be working on a figure study and there is a connection to my feelings and the work- and it might be obvious to others what I am feeling to the point where it makes me feel vulnerable. Other times I am just concentrating on getting it to look and feel “right” or “real”. Usually when there is a connection to my feelings, I get a better end result, but of course that is subjective.
YG: I think that feeling vulnerable and still going for it is a step away from insecurity and worrying about outcome towards new possibilities. In qigong, we work on three levels- physical, emotional, and spiritual. Would you say that the creative process works on these three levels as well? How does it work for you?
SC: What I have learned is that I can’t wait until I am in the best physical, emotional and spiritual place to start working. Sometimes I am physically tired but force myself to work. Sometimes I do not feel like I am emotionally or spiritually in the right space to start to work, but again it is important for me to follow through with the habit of doing something creative, however small, every day. Most of the time the process of creating helps me get to a better physical, emotional and spiritual place.
YG: This is great – you cannot wait for the three aspects to perfectly align, because that happens rarely. But what happens all the time is that if you start somewhere, where at least one aspect leads you to paint, then the other two aspects will certainly be impacted and begin working for you.
SC: Yes, and there is that worry about outcome as well. I typically have a vision for what the outcome of a new piece will be, but I can get paralyzed in the middle of the process if I get too emotionally attached to certain aspects. If I really like a detail and I don’t want to do anything to upset or “mess it” up, that fear really blocks any progress. I have to be willing to let go of that attachment and mess it up- go through the process of upsetting certain aspects I like to get to a piece that I am proud of. Sometimes the finished product is not what I imagined, but better.
YG: Children are very sensitive to subtle vibrations. How does your art influence your kids? Does it help you be a better parent?
SC: I find that my mood is always better when I have some time to create, so it probably does make me a better and more patient parent! I love creating with them.
One of my daughter’s favorite things to do is to ask you to draw something, or help her draw something. She is minimally verbal so she doesn’t put long complicated sentences together yet, but she can say “Draw teapot,” “Draw eyes,” etc. She seems really fascinated with how things come to life in a drawing. She loves to play through that – she will ask you to draw all the things she loves, and in the process, she is telling you what she is thinking about and what brings her joy.
My son and I once had a competition to see who could draw the saddest eyes. You know the at teary, cartoon eyes that you see? It was so interesting to experiment with how altering the shapes and colors could cause you to at one glance feel so empathetic towards what was drawn on paper. You looked at it and immediately said, “Aww… Why are they sad?”
YG: This exchange with kids is great. And teaching them about emotions is invaluable for the kids. I love your habit of doing something creating every day. That is a great habit to have. Those of us who do not do it should give it a consideration. Thank you, Sarah.