When Elliot was just a few weeks old I was overcome with an overwhelming impulse to paint something to go above the bed in the room we all share.
I was still in pain, slightly delirious and so tired that I couldn’t remember what everyday things were called (I had the left hand side and the ‘not left? 🤣). I wasn’t able to stand for very long but nevertheless I convinced my husband (Joseph) that we should give it a shot. Strange as it seemed we soon headed out to the backyard with an easel, canvas, paints, water and a sleeping Elliot in a pram.
I had never painted collaboratively before but Joseph and I both felt that this artwork needed to be an expression through us working together. It was more than a painting to us. We were painting to remind ourselves of the stars we come from and will return to. We were painting to remind ourselves to hold our relationship with ourselves, each other, our son and all others in sacredness.
It started out easy enough, Elliot slept and we had fun applying paint to canvas, each working our way from one side ‘lady and the tramp’ style to meet in the middle. Soon I began to notice that my ‘husband’s side’ of the canvas had too much blank space for my liking … it was taking every ounce of restraint I had to bottle up my feelings but I carried on believing I’d maintained my composure and given him his ‘bit’ (oh dear).
It was fairly obvious that tensions were rising at this point. Elliot woke up and started crying for food. I fed him and returned to the backyard to continue our efforts. I began to surreptitiously paint over bits on ‘Joseph’s side’ feeling the tension build as I worked. After a little while I turned to Joseph and said “do you like it”. He gestured to ‘my side’ and said “that looks a little flat”. Oh boy. He is a brave man I’ll give him that.
What ensued was not pleasant to say the least with each of us expressing our hurt and disappointment. Our painting efforts descended into chaos. Elliot was crying again. We abandoned ship and I sulked leaving Joseph to clean everything up. Not the festival of light and love we had planned at all 🤦♀️
Over the next few days we both expressed honestly, working through where it all went wrong. Our painting experiment had shown us much more about our relationships than we bargained for! Instead of truly working collaboratively we had discovered that we were two lone wolves trying to do our own thing and stitch it together. It’s obvious that our approach wasn’t working and it had implications far beyond a dodgy painting effort.
I talked about being told that I would fail art class if I left any part of the canvas ‘untouched’ and realised that I had a whole bunch of strange beliefs about how things should be done based on what I’ve been told by people with perceived authority. I could see that I’d given my power away, how crushing this was and how much it got in the way of allowing natural expression, not only my own but that of others too. It was an ouch moment to say the least. We also talked about the implications of parenting from two ‘sides’ and agreed we didn’t want to do this as it’s obvious how destructive this approach would be.
My mum always taught me that a painting isn’t finished until you love it – If you make mistakes you don’t need to withdraw and give up. If you change your approach, commit and let go, things can turn out more beautiful than you imagined. By painting the universe I learned that this is true in both painting and relationships. A few days later when we put the finishing touches on the canvas together abandoning ‘sides’ for what felt true it all came together. The ‘universe’ now sits above our bed reminding us of what true collaboration is every day.
Highly Recommended Further Reading