Living and Painting within Limits

In a forest village over the last two autumnal weekends, I uncovered the painful necessity of living and painting within my limits.

Painting my portraits for passers-by drove home a two-fold lesson:

First, look for accuracy in lines: with this I had to go slow and steady, focusing on each person’s face, asking “What sets this person’s face apart from anyone else?” I was gifted this lesson from a master-artist friend of mine who shared the necessity of striving for accuracy and not speed.

So I had to work carefully, which meant more slowly, which meant less profit. Then I remembered I was here at the Festival to enrich and contribute my gift of demonstating painting. So by just showing up and painting, I was doing exactly what I needed to do. For that reason, I was much happier with the majority of my portraits this year.

Second, know when you’ve completed the job, and step away, surrendering the results. Nothing will be perfect, and to expect otherwise frustrates the creative process. If we are content with showing up reguarly, then we will gradually grow more perfect. This means knowing when to take breaks, knowing when to call a portrait finished, and when to say you’re done for the night.

The last little nut was painfully driven home late at night, half-way through the festival.

I had the opportunity to paint a friend’s lovely parents who were visiting out of town. I finished their portrait around 10pm after a long day (I arrived at my booth around 3:30pm).

They asked if I could do their son. Instantly I felt my body say “Uh, honey, it’s too late.

But my ego pushed back, “Of course we can do it! We can muscle through!

And so I said yes.

We found the young man.

He didn’t fancy standing still and liked the idea of me painting him rope climbing. I supported the him in doing that. It was right up my alley of capturing things in the moment.

So down the mulch path we tromped, carrying my art supplies, across the wooden bridge, lit by warm hanging bulbs, to the enclosure where the rope climbing was.

I sketched him prepped to climb, and then hell broke loose for inside my mind.

My mind started freaking out because of how dark it was. The paint started being uncontrollable, partially because I couldn’t see very well (it was pretty dark), and mostly because I was exhausted and emotionally had reached the path of no return.

But I wasn’t going to give up yet.

I started all over again and drew the young man in a different pose this time.

Somewhat satisfied with it, and almost crying with the frustration of the darkness, I muscled through it, starting to paint.

Again, dark paint bleeding all over the page, obsuring the sketch, I tried staunch it’s flow, determined to make it successful.

Simultaneously, the singer at the near-by stage across from the pub seemed to get louder. His raucous tones with which he always sang the late night songs sawed away at my concentration, splitting the splintered strands of patience and compusure.

And then those strands all but split. Tears were now in my eyes. Finally a maternal voice in my head said, “Bridget, why don’t you refund them, apologize for the dissappointment, and explain that you are just not able to finish it?


Yes. So I did that. I know I dissappointed the mother especially. To dissapoint others is torture to me. But there was nothing within me to finish this. It was one of the most humiliating things I have done in a long time.

The next weekend, I made sure to do no paintings after 9:30 pm.

What bliss! It was so nice to have the reserve time to visit with passers-by and enjoy the festival. And though there were a few paintings that still took much force to surrender the portraits to their owners, because I was not fully satisfied with them, I lasted much longer and was a better presence in the festival, living and painting within my limits.

4 thoughts on “Living and Painting within Limits

  1. Bridget, I so enjoyed your post, and I could relate to your question of whether your portraits were ‘ready’. I was once a cake decorator and I remember many times asking my mom to look at my work and I’d ask, “Am I done? Is it finished?” Knowing when I could walk away from it was oft times the hardest part!

    But the greater theme of acknowledging our limits is such a valuable life lesson. When we are faced with limits it is no accident, but part of a larger orchestration, with the loving hand of God conducting. Submitting to His will in all things is where we’ll find peace and contentment. I’m so glad you did, and that you enjoyed the festival, AND painted some very beautiful portraits!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jill for such a beautiful encouraging comment, and a story from your own life! A decorated cake for someone’s life event is also a difficult (and edible) work to call finished! And isn’t it interesting that we look to our mothers to validate us and affirm us that our work is good enough?


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