I stand in front of the canvas, feet planted firmly on the ground. My palette, to my left, is a mess of paint upon dried paint and opened, crumpled paint tubes. I’m wearing a paint-stained t-shirt and pants. Through my bay windows, the San Francisco fog is more than likely rolling in and covering the distant hills.
This is my place, where my vision takes me from the easel in front of me to the distant horizons of my imagination and back again. When I apply paint to canvas I work my brush hard, at the same time scrubbing and dancing -- painting as both a physical and a lyrical act.
Getting to this place where I can be my true self was a serious test of endurance. A complicated mental illness kept me in a dark and visionless place for many years, where I had only blind faith to rely on to keep going. But without me knowing it, that faint glimmer of a room of my own led me out of the dark.
In late 1995 I had a nervous breakdown that affected me both psychologically and physically. For reasons that remain unclear I had a catastrophic neurological event that affected my ability to organize my thoughts. This was eventually ameliorated with medication, but not until after more than a decade of trial and error.
For years my vision was turned inward. I wanted to re-engage with the world, but couldn’t find a way out. I was in solitary confinement, banging around my padded cell. My nervous system had been badly traumatized, leaving me at the same time exquisitely sensitive and completely numb.
Still, I kept on. I developed a painting practice and went for several years to a modern dance retreat in the Sierra foothills. For years I painted canvases, wiped the canvas with a rag, and painted over again. I wanted so much to connect with others and myself at the dance retreat, but found it difficult.
After an effort to express myself at the retreat that, while trying, amounted to a small success, one of the retreat leaders commented how wonderful it was that I took what was in my heart and put it out into the world. I hadn’t thought of creativity as an expression of the heart – but I let that lead me.
I always knew I was an artist. Now I would use my creativity as a tool for healing. My creative path would be the path that led me out of the darkness. I worked part time as an editor as a way to sustain myself financially and spent almost all of the rest of my time collecting images, daydreaming, and creating.
My recovery has not been perfect. But I have found a place in the world and do my best to be present within it. As I focus on expressing what is in my heart, joy has returned. Rather than looking inward, I am taking the long view. While I stand in front of my canvas, my heart speaks, and I listen.
Lisa Winer is an artist, editor, nature lover, and coffee drinker living in the fair city of San Francisco. You can find her original work on her website and Etsy and catch what she’s up to on Instagram.