I have always longed to live out west. Perhaps it is just me longing for some new adventure or different pasture, but what I am drawn to most are the dramatic mountains. Having visited the Tetons in Wyoming as a child and, more recently, the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, I love the sudden and dramatic ranges that stand in stark contrast to the fields and pastures below. No foothills to warm me up for the mountains; give me the magnificence straight away!
This perspective might make sense to me when thinking geographically, but when applied to my creative life it causes problems. Like the mountains of the west, I love those dramatic, creative breakthroughs that yield a really good painting or well-written sermon. Those are the Tetons and Sawtooths that await an artist, and they are worthy of our best dreams and hopes, but recently I have come to miss the connection the mountains have to the rest of the landscape.
I recently spent an afternoon painting. It had been months since picking up a brush, so I approached the afternoon like the gift it was. I sacramentally put the paints on the pallet, picked the perfect music, and almost bowed to the blank canvas before I began. Unfortunately, the afternoon was one struggle after another. My composition was average, the perspective wrong, and the colors began blending into a muddy mix. I left the studio frustrated and wondering why I even both painting, but I have learned to walk away from such moments and let the important lesson come.
In this case, it was the same lesson the western landscape was showing me each time I visited. Yes, the mountains are dramatic and wonderful, but they would not be so without the field and pasture. Yes, the peaks are inspirational, but only because they tower over the land below. You need both the flat and the mountainous to create a landscape that compels. It’s true out west, and it's true in the studio.
There needs to be moments when life is flat, when we struggle with the most basic techniques, if only to prepare for the joy when everything works. The mountain needs the plane, the success the struggle. The two need each other, so I returned to my studio, once again, just happy to be there.