Practice is a Painter’s Preparedness

Practice risk taking, practice discipline, practice different methods, practice boredom, practice not practicing but practice – insists the imagined studio master. Leading lines, point of view, colour harmony, rule of thirds, breaking rules, painting from life, painting from memory, painting wet-in-wet, using a dry brush method, starting with grounds or underpaintings, studying moving light, noticing the cool and warm shadows…… practice!

But for what does a painter practice?

“Now, the answer to that” says the imagined studio master with a wink “is good luck.”

Not just any kind of “good luck” but “good luck” as described by Deepak Chopra where “Good luck is nothing but preparedness and opportunity coming together.”

 If we accept for the moment, that this is a workable definition, then what is preparedness to the painter? Practice! If we are enhancing our skills daily, we are more likely to be prepared when an opportunity arises. We will be able to recognize the possibilities in an ordinary and yet unexpected, profound moment.

By way of example I am going to share a story I reread recently in The Zen of Creativity by John Daido Loori on page 153-154… Ryokan, a Zen master and poet, lived in a simple thatched hut. He was born around 1758 and ordained at the age of eighteen. Shortly after receiving dharma transmission, Ryokan’s teacher died. The poet went to live in a hermitage on Mount Kugami, where he spent his time sitting zazen, talking to visitors and writing poetry. Many stories of Ryokan’s simplicity and his love of children have come down to us, as well as of his indifference for worldly honor. In fact Ryokan called himself Daigo (Great Fool)….. One evening, when Ryokan returned to his hut, he surprised a thief who was naively trying to rob the hermit. There was nothing to steal in the hut. Yet Ryokan, feeling sorry for him, gave him his clothes, and the thief, shocked, ran away as fast as he could. Ryokan, shivering as he sat naked by the window, wrote the following haiku:

The burglar – neglected to take – the window’s moon.

In the next paragraph by Loori continues… To be simple means to make a choice about what’s important and to let go of all the rest. When we are able to do this, our vision expands, our head clears, and we can better see the details of our lives in all their incredible wonder and beauty.

This kind of simplicity and daily practice are what I seek for this next intention or project of The Moon is No Longer There. I believe it requires that I make a few changes in order to gain the perspective and rigor that is necessary. The moon is just an anchor and symbol of this intention, an everyday reminder.

But we know this don’t we? One of our greatest pianists today, Mitsuko Uchida, was recently quoted in an interview by The Telegraph as saying “It is not enough to play the piano – it takes a lifetime to understand music.” As I listened to her release each note of Mozart’s Concerto No. 20 in D minor K.466, with such preciseness, passion and excellence, I hear the music for the first time – every time that I listen. Her rigorous practice is visceral. I am, in that moment of listening, the breath between the notes. This same quality of practice is required for painting our natural world as well. It is not enough to paint a tree or a mountain or the sea – it takes a lifetime to understand our ordinary, everyday natural environment and translate these sensory experiences onto a surface. Painting from life by itself is not enough – it takes a lifetime to understand our universe. I can only hope that I may paint someday in the same way as Uchida plays! It is in the preparing or the daily practice, that I may possibly find an opportunity which provides me with the tools to render the essence of the universe in say – a single tulip.


Why am I so compelled by this project? I suppose it is an action that is driven by despair. I believe humanity has broken a sacred trust with nature. We are consciously destroying our natural world and ourselves in the process because of a pervasive character flaw – GREED. Our survival and the survival of our planet depend on our ability to understand and recognize our interconnectedness within the universe. We each have a responsibility to do whatever we can to address this situation. We are the only hope for one another and a large number of plants and animals. By our very breath, we depend on each other. Unfortunately, as an urban populous, we tend to be alienated from this simple fact. We can no longer see the moon and nor do wish to seek out its presence. For far too many of us, we have become intellectually and emotionally blind to nature and so the moon is no longer there.

This is why I must practice until I can bring you “the moon.” I must practice rendering our ordinary everyday with the best tools that I know how to use – my paints. I must practice until humanity collectively changes its ways. This is not work for a hero. It is work for the humble, the simple and possibly the fool. I find it comforting that I am not alone. This is work that is done with the companionship of many. It is collaborative work, as survival always is.


Paul Cezanne, shortly before his death in 1906, asked himself “whether the short time given us would be better used to understand the whole of the universe or to assimilate what is within our reach.” He goes on to say “I have to work all the time. I must strive for perfection, only for the satisfaction of becoming truer and wiser.” (The Life and Art of Paul Cezanne, May 5, 2014, Film, PBBS)

I find Cezanne to be an excellent companion to take with me on my travels.

The small slice of the moon or my practice that I bring you this week is…

Tulips in the Studio 18 x 14 inch oil on canvas

This is an alla prima work completed in the quiet warmth of a January afternoon in the loft studio. When I saw these beauties at the grocery store, I knew I would bring a few home as a reminder of our pending spring. Even on Mayne Island, there are no tulips this time of year. These flowers have been imported from some unknown location. Our natural world has traveled far to reach me this week and undoubtedly precious fossil fuels were burned in the process. So with this acknowledgement, and some guilt, I am determined that the sacrifice is not wasted. The elegant vase is on loan from a good friend. These kinds of colourful winter still life painting days warm my heart and keep my spirit light.




What practice is your preparedness?

As always, I would deeply love to hear from you and feel free to include links to your work. If this is your first time commenting on the blog, be patient, I will need to approve your comment this one time only.

If nothing comes immediately to mind, one simply practice that will engage others is in this project is to thoughtfully share this post and my work. By thoughtful, I mean introducing the post with a sentence or a paragraph of your own considerations and then invite others into conversation with you by hosting a question or an idea related to the post. Because together, we can do this hard thing – because we must! Our natural world, which includes humanity, is worthy of our efforts and is depending on us. In this I am hopeful!

And welcome to all the new Creative Potager blog followers! Thank you for joining me in my inward travels.


© 2017 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to


Photographing and Painting seams in time with John Daido Loori

Mist fills the valley and hugs the side of cliff-face and my heart as lights starts to creep into our day. I am not going to take us to this moment though but to another. It is the one where we have already been in the brightness of the dawn on the first day of 2013.

The sun has not quite broken over Saturna Island and the sky is washed in tangerine and cotton candy. I sit waiting for its arrival next to these palm-size clusters of stones being slowly released by the rain and the sea from their sandstone and clay beds. At this moment, it seems, Time is infinite, the sun will never burn out and I shall live forever.

A Meeting by Terrill Welch 2013_01_01 092

Where are we is often a question I ask without a satisfying answer.

where we are by Terrill Welch 2013_01_01 104

However, John Daido Loori‘s work and writing in The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life has certainly taken me further in my exploration in this musing.

“There is no place to search for the truth. Though it’s right beneath your feet, it can’t be found.” – John Daido Loori.

Yet we want to know – the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead we must settle for fragments, interpretations and inadequate translations of specifics that will forever escape or fevered inquiring grasp.

Good morning sun by Terrill Welch 2013_01_01 109

Possibly, it is this stumbling to understand that is the appeal of simple mathematics. There is one sun in our solar system. There is one earth. There is one me.

Seams in time by Terrill Welch 2013_01_01 138

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

so close by Terrill Welch 2013_01_01 197

I wonder if he too was trying to unravel the mystery of existence? Could it be it is the driving question of creative beings which is then only veiled in texture, hue, shape and expression?

“Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein

Dawn breaks on shore 2013 by Terrill Welch 2013_01_01 253

Which brings us to the idea of “suchness” or “thusness” defined in Zen literature as “a truth, reality, or experince that is impossible to express in words.” John Diado Loori describes it as follows:

It refers to the “that”, “what,” or “it” that is self-evident and does not need explanation. It is essentially being as it is, the all-inclusive reality that is manifested in as a sense of presence… Thusness is the points of two arrows meeting in midair. It is a quality of being that is nondual and does not fall into either side… Suchness is not something added from outside. It is being itself. It is in living life itself. It is the “isness” of a thing, indeed, the isness of existence itself… To bring that sense of thusness into a painting, poem, or piece of music gives it a vitality that is easily experienced, although difficult to pinpoint. It may be only an istant in time, a moment out of the constant flow of life. But to sense thusness and to be able to express it brings it into our own reality.  (p. 141 – 142)

This is the inspiration for my latest large painting ” Even and the Arbutus Tree” which is to wet to share the finished work from yesterday. However, here is an image from an earlier stage for our musing.

Evening and the Arbutus Tree in progress 36 x 60 inch oil on canvas by Terrill Welch 2013_01_03 017

May the moments in your day whisper their presence to you because as we know, the whisper is the easiest to hear.

© 2013 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to


Sacred Breath of Editing

motor block reclaimed by sea

I question the concept of relying on divine intervention to complete a finished work. I have heard many times from writers, painters, photographers, musicians and gardeners that their creative muse works through them and it is not them creating. It is the divine, the muse, their sacred self. However, I believe it is a mistake for us to stop there. Allow me to explain beginning with this quote:

When you breathe in, breathe in the whole universe. When you breathe out, breathe out the whole universe.” – Koryu Osaka

I admit to slicing through ego thinking and allowing intuition, my muse, the divine to “have its way” with the page, the brush, the lens of my work. It is this first blush of inspiration, of whole body mind and seeing that comes from a still point where we connect with all that is… seeing, hearing and being as if for the first time. However, that is not the end point. As John Daido Loori, author of The Zen of Creativity, confides, we must continue our journey straight ahead from the mystical peak “down the other side of the mountain, back into the world. It is in the ordinariness of our lives that this intimate experience of the self merging with the absolute can begin to express itself.”

view from the top

This is why we need to learn the sacred breath of editing. Creative work is rarely ever completed in a single session or in the first instance it comes to us or is given to us. We receive or are inspired by the essence of what must be expressed. Now we must also complete the work. We must edit, taking away the extra, closing in on the core essence of what we intend to convey. The sacred breath of editing is the breath that allows us to reconnect with the resonance present when we first created the work. Then we remove what is not absolutely necessary. If we lose the resonance we know we have gone too far.

all that is - reclaimed

So just as your muse, the divine, your sacred self has a role to play in your creativity so does your critical mind applied to the sacred breath of editing. To bring your gift of creativity into its fullness requires a critical viewing, a reviewing and shaping. We must bring our whole self to our work. Trust your critical mind and strengthen its ability just as you have learned to listen to your muse. Yet remember not to invite your critical mind too soon. Savour and complete that first blush of creativity without review, editing or engaging in critical thinking. Allow the work to rest then breathe it in again and begin editing. Ruthlessly edit – with purpose, care, passion and regard for the essence which inspired you in that first instance.

Sprout Question: What might your sacred breath of editing sound like?

© 2010 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

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From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada