No Mud, No Lotus

by Rosemary Leach

I was taking a shortcut, scrambling up a steep rock face, fingers grabbing a horizontal crack in the granite. The lichen was like crispy green-brown cornflakes growing from the crystalline surface. Georgian Bay lay flat behind me.

To my left,18″ from my hand, a greige snake slithered like a blink.

Though the snake is long dead, I still hold a grudge.

My husband loves snakes and considers any encounter with wildlife a gift, which makes me feel I have a bad attitude about snakes, but greige ones in particular.

As an artist, who finds colour and tone enough for a lifetime of growth, I blush to think of how many years I spent fighting warm greys.

Disgusting.

***

“My question is, once I mix a colour I like, I forget how I got it!”,  is a frequent complaint amongst my students.”Don’t,” I suggest. “Create a field of oranges, don’t wallpaper with one.”

I blame colouring books.

“Yuk” my painting student will say mixing three primaries together in our colour mixing exercises.

I urge: “Don’t turn your back on a colour you don’t like. Include it in your palette. Make it part of your vocabulary,”.

As if I hadn’t spent a lifetime avoiding that mucky colour.

A thousand times, that colour I was avoiding—a warm grey, pale or dark–was the magic missing link, the salve to a struggling painting.

Bright colour doesn’t sing on its own, it needs a dirty bystander. Like wealth, everything is relative. Earthy pastels come to life with a black cushion or lampshade to set them off.

Contrast is everything— flip over to the other side of the colour wheel.

***

Frank Ostaseski, a writer and buddhist hospice worker has sat at the bedside of thousands of dying people.

“Embrace everything, push away nothing,” he advises.

***

Clara’s mother is dying.

Sibling phone calls, hurriedly filling suitcases, the gas tank. The heartache and adrenaline filled road trip across the province, my heart goes out to her.

Memories of my own mother’s extended dying, the pensive hours along highway #7 linger in my chest a decade later.

The chapter included a refrain of finding my mother’s room in the hospital, wrongly anticipating the state I will find her in.

It included staring at cafeteria food with an empty heart. I scrutinized people on the elevator with their paper mugs of tea, medical staff, patients, who knows what people are going through.

The days were long.

Oddly, that chapter wasn’t bad so much as bittersweet.

In that period I was wide awake; heightened connection, tenderness, curious about my own mortality.

Who knows what is good.

***

I have just painted several walls in my house a warm grey. White trim, the colours through the window appear rich and vibrant.

My son, 20, calls and has had a bad day. I nod empathetically into the details. He is smart and to my eyes, everything that happens in his young life is either celebration or learning.

No mud, no lotus.

Rosemary Leach is an artist living in Almonte Ontario. 

For workshops, art and inspiration go to www.rosemaryleach.com

Rosemary’s January workshop is sold out but for notifications drop a line rosemary@rosemaryleach.com