Process Painting with Meriel

A few years ago I hit another depression, suddenly life began to become very dark and just getting out of bed felt like a struggle. Although I had an element of fear about where this would take me I had come to see that my inner pains were teaching me something, if I would only listen to their voice. With a deep breath I went on another heavy journey of my inner world, visiting old stories of childhood blues, this process lasted just over a year.

When I was a small child I would happily paint all day. I had no fear of mixing colours and applying them to paper, I didn’t care about making a mess, I was permanently in the present moment with whatever media was in front of me. However, as I got older I began to doubt my ability to create art (sound familiar?), until one day I stopped altogether. And yet in this depression I had such a strong craving to paint and have that experience I had once taken for granted as a child.

About 6 months into the depression I met up with Meriel Nicoll, an Alanon friend of mine who happens to be an artist. I explained about my craving to do some art as I felt this might lift me out of my depression but I had no idea where to begin. I was both surprised and delighted when she told me about her art class called ‘Process Painting’. I had never heard of this process so I was intrigued to find out more and quickly signed up.

I was very nervous when I first walked into the large studio in Brighton which over the next few months became my place of refuge. Meriel warmly welcomed me into the space as I joined the others who sat on meditation cushions, surrounded by crystals and shamanic readings waiting for the sharing circle to begin. Meriel explained that we didn’t need to know how to paint, we could simply start with a brush stroke and see where that took us, that there were no rules except we were not allowed to abandon our paintings, that once we started we needed to commit to our painting and go through whatever blockages and emotions we had. We were allowed to cut, rip, and add to our paintings, we could turn it upside down – but not give up on it. I noticed as she spoke I had a strong sense of relief and yet another part of me wanted to give up right then and there as a strong feeling of not being able to do this came up in me, “can we use pencils and a rubber?” I meekly asked – “Oh that’s another thing – you can only use paint” and with that she led us through a sharing circle followed by a meditation.

As I approached the large piece of paper stuck on the wall, I became very aware of my inner voice saying ‘tree, tree, tree’ at first I didn’t even notice the voice as I pondered on what I should paint, but then I heard it loud and clear as if from a deep well within, and so I began to paint a tree. For a moment I was completely at one with the painting as I painted the trunk and the branches with different shades of colour. When I left that first afternoon I felt a feeling of satisfaction, something I hadn’t felt for a while.

The following week I turned up to class, but as I looked at my painting again I felt a sense of doom – I couldn’t figure out where to go next with the painting. At this point Meriel asked me what was going on inside me? To be honest I just wanted to tear the whole thing up and start again, but instead Meriel suggested I introduce myself to the painting and ask it where I should go next? I thought this sounded ridiculous, but I had nothing to lose so went along with her suggestion whilst Meriel waited with pen and paper in hand. Suddenly words started pouring out of me … nothing to do with the painting as such but very much to do with where I was at in my depression. Meriel held the space without judgement and I felt free to pour all of those words of frustration and gloom out. After speaking I closed my eyes and waited and then suddenly ‘roots’ came to my mind without hesitation I added more paper to the bottom of my tree and began to paint the roots. The next week the word ‘mouth’ came to me and suddenly the roots of the tree were coming out of the mouths of small babies who appeared to be in great pain with the weight of life they were bearing, I identified very much with the pain. The babies eventually disappeared and two goddesses appeared, one with golden fiery hair and who had the gentlest voice (I came to see this goddess as my inner voice and guide – who has been with me all along) and the other a forest goddess barely visible but with unbelievable strength (she too was part of me).

One day my painting was complete – I knew there was no where else to go with it and as I stepped back from it I had a strong sense of the journey I had just completed and the profound sense that something had shifted deep within.

The pictures I have included here are from Meriel’s own Process Paining work as unfortunately I have lost the images of the different visual processes of my time with Meriel, but hopefully I’ll find them again and I can then add them to this post at another time. If you are interested in joining Meriel’s retreat here then please contact us to book your place.

Process Painting with Meriel at Rural Escapes Portugal on the 5 – 12 June 2019

For more information about the Process Painting Retreat click here.