Life Begins…at the End of Your Comfort Zone

This article was published in the May 2017 issue of Nashville Arts Magazine.

by Rachael McCampbell

I gave myself a great birthday present this year—a three-day workshop in cold wax mediumYou may not know what that is and that’s okay. The point is, I drove from Nashville, Tennessee, to Asheville, North Carolina, and gave myself the gift of being an art student again. I got to forget about my deadlines and worries and work with materials I was uncomfortable using. When I felt frustrated and perfectionist issues popped up, I gave myself the same advice I dole out to my students—Think of this as an experiment that you’ll throw in the trash. Don’t worry about the outcome; enjoy the process—much easier said than done.

These are some of the abstract oil paintings I created in Cindy’s workshop.

When you get paid for the art you make, it’s sometimes hard to extricate yourself from the outcome-centric pressure cooker professional artists simmer in. Once I convinced myself that this artwork was NOT a commission, nor would anyone even see it, I was freed up to play. My teacher, Cindy Walton, showed us how to use powdered charcoal, stencils, oil sticks, print rollers, and much more with cold wax medium mixed with Gamblin oil paints. It was exciting to experiment with these techniques, at times creating nothing but a mess —other times, the beginning of something new.

Posted in my studio is the quote by Neale Donald Walsch, Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. This applies to many walks of life but in the arts, it’s easy to get stuck and produce predictable work. Trying to create abstract art with materials I don’t normally use pushed me. How could I incorporate the experience of this workshop with my current paintings?

When I returned home, I set the abstract paintings I’d made against a wall and asked them to inform me. That’s when I took a 40” x 40” framed painting off the wall (that had hung in a gallery the previous week) and started drawing all over it with charcoal and oil bars. Suddenly, I was 6 years old again. This was worse than being the kid who marks on the wall with a Sharpie. I was drawing on a finished work of art! Since there were no adults to put me in time-out, I was left to my own devices.

It was a risk to draw all over it. I could never get the painting back to what it was. If I ruined the entire thing and wasted supplies and time, I consoled myself that at least I hopefully learned something.

I’ve posted images of this process for you to see. Maybe after the first or second attempt, I should have stopped. I don’t know. Whether or not I improved or destroyed the painting is subjective.

Honestly, it was scary but most things that force growth usually are. If you can, go take a workshop—do something you’ve never tried. For me, it felt very freeing to step out of my comfort zone.

Rachael McCampbell