Paint Away The Pain: On Hard Times and Creating Art

whimsical whimsy owl squirrel mouse fox mooseElune and I are discussing artwork and the creative process. She asks me: “Have you ever used art to paint your way out of your hardest times in life or your inner struggles?”

This past year, I addressed some painful issues: depression, financial insecurity, old wounds, and disillusionment with church leadership. These topics probably seem even heavier when juxtaposed against the lighthearted and fanciful style of my artwork. How does my life experience inform my artwork? How can someone who thinks about such dark things create such whimsical pieces?

I’m not sure I have an answer.

When I was young. I read books like they were oxygen. Reading was exciting, it opened up my mind to the possibilities of the universe and afforded my spirit a degree of mobility that I lacked in the flesh. Back then, I dabbled in visual media, but my main art form was poetry. I carried an army green messenger bag with me everywhere, along with my spiral bound journal. I wrote constantly.

But I was too hungry. I wrote like someone desperate to make a mark, lest she disappear. I wanted to BE something, to REALIZE myself. I wanted to create an imaginary reality, then step into it and live there, but it was disconnected from my actual life.

Eventually, life snuck up on me. I was depressed, suicidal, and I wasn’t sure what I believed about God anymore. I scorned my creativity, because, up until that point, it had facilitated my escapism. So I left it behind.

I wrote no poetry. I created no art. I let the field lay fallow, so to speak.

I spent years addressing the hard issues of Real Life head-on, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life. I was looking for my calling. I was trying to be true to my deepest spirit.

Then, about two and a half years ago, I started coming up with ideas for paintings. I wanted to create art that showed connectivity and tenderness in the family relationship: breastfeeding portraits, babies sleeping with siblings, playtime and togetherness and cuddles on the couch. Parenting is hard work, but it is also beautiful. I dreamed that, by painting simple moments of connection, I could show how beautiful everyday life truly is, and inspire parents to slow down and savor the fleeting days of early childhood while they still had the chance. I wanted to point out how extraordinary the ordinary truly was. I wanted my art to spread contentment. I wanted my paintings to encourage attachment.

My watercolor art has never been about frivolous whimsical scenes, detached from the true reality of life. Not at all. My artwork has always been about hope.

We return to this conundrum: How did I get to this place? How can someone with so much darkness create such lighthearted artwork?

The paintings I create now are not like the escapist poetry I used to write. I am not trying to ignore hardships or run away from pain.

I think…what inspires me to create art is the fact that, no matter how shitty life gets, we can always survive. There is always something good that survives. There is always a flower growing wildly in a field, an act of kindness waiting for a weary soul, a rainbow after the storm.

Life. Is. Hard. People are awful to each other. Cars break down, heirlooms break, appointments are missed, deadlines run late. Then I look in the mirror and my imperfections and incompleteness weigh me down. But, no matter how awful things get, moments of hope and kindness crop up everywhere. Human suffering inspires compassion and community. So we fight, and we rage against the dying of the night, and, when all the lights are out, and the stars are black behind the polluted sky, we cuddle under quilts and sing lullabies.

We are not the ones who cause flowers to bloom every spring. No matter what we do, blooms break through the grass and the sidewalk cracks. Yellow heads burst into stalks of wishes, caught up in the afternoon light. You must choose, when you look out over your yard, what you will see: Are they weeds? Or are they wonderful?

All of life is like this: the dirty dishes in the sink, the empty bank account, the imperfections of your spouse, the way your kid screams. Your life is full of difficult things because your days are FULL OF LIFE. Everything is fighting and teeming and going crazy. And here you are, in the middle of it. Here you are, surrounded by swirling colors and improbable signs. Here you are, one more weed in the grass, opening up your heart to the sun and bursting out over the wind.

The question remains: “Have I ever used art to paint my way out of the hardest times in life or my inner struggles?”

And, I guess, I’d have to say: no.

I use my art to redefine the way I see reality.

I am not trying to avoid struggle, like I did when I was younger. I embrace struggle. I accept it as a part of me, and celebrate its beauty. Life is hard, yes. But it is tenacious. Life keeps coming back for more.

We are survivors. And there’s something kind of fantastic about that.

— Erin

The artwork featured above is a commission I completed for Andrea. Final painting measures 11 x 15 inches. Watercolor and ink on watercolor paper.

Are you interested in commissioning a painting? Check out this page for general information on getting started, and feel free to email me with any questions!  I am currently not accepting new portrait commissions, but you can email me to get on my waiting list, or follow my blog and instagram feed for updates.

andrea ronca team tee pee marshmallows kids Photo Dec 14, 12 13 37 PM Photo Dec 14, 12 13 21 PM Photo Dec 14, 12 13 17 PM Photo Dec 14, 12 13 05 PM


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5 Responses to Paint Away The Pain: On Hard Times and Creating Art

  1. Sherri Erickson December 16, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    “Yellow heads burst into stalks of wishes, caught up in the afternoon light.” Your writing is so true, it sings.

  2. Stephen Erickson December 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    I just read your latest blog. Holy Crap on a tree branch! You are amazing. Your words flow into poetry so fluently that your blog reflects beautiful images rather than simply words on a page. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  3. Crystal Rowden June 17, 2015 at 9:37 am #

    Thank you. I needed to hear all that you have said. I’m sure that you have touched a thousand lives with this… But even if I’m the only one, and I know that I’m not, your words were worth it. I needed this today and will be forever grateful…

    Crystal Rowden

    P.S. Be encouraged! you are impacting the world!

    • ekwetzel June 22, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

      Crystal –

      Wow! Thank you so much. It’s so touching to read your comment.

      <3 Erin

  4. Bethany Yoder August 8, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

    I was so blessed by this post. Thank you so much for showing us a glimpse into your beautiful soul…you are a treasure!