Stephanie Soper | Portrait of an Artist

Stephanie Soper grew up in Rhode Island, and currently lives in Washington D.C. where she does intuitively-guided emotional healing.  Previously she was an education consultant, which included leading a project for the State Department's Office of Overseas Schools that designed standards for the American overseas schools.  Her three childhood dreams were to be telepathic, an artist and to be a doctor.  Though not a doctor, she does help people heal.  With the addition of her newly-revived habit of painting, she is living out all three of her dreams.

I've been ruminating on the idea of daring to dream in the weeks since I first encountered Whitney's website.  It made intuitive sense to say dare to dream instead of just dream, but I kept wondering why dreaming requires daring. Seems like a thing we all do naturally, right?

I also thought about Janna Taylor, who has guest blogged here.  I've watched Janna's own dreams (and her accompanying fears) unfold over the last two years. There's been daring in what she's doing. It's been thrilling to watch, but I haven't been sure I had the nerve to do the same.  Janna introduced me to this site because she knew I was trying to start painting after a long time of avoiding it (about fifteen years) and was trying to make a go of my home business.  I thought the home business was the big issue for me, but it's turned out to be my painting that has really taken some daring.

Besides Janna, I've been fortunate to have in my life two other friends, Jan and Michaela, who have steadily ‘noodged' me back to painting, which is my dream. They, in turn, have been trying out, but dancing around, their own dreams of becoming published writers.  They are both so gifted that it seems ridiculous to even imagine that they might not succeed if they brought their dreams to life. But I also know how horrifyingly natural it can be to sabotage one's own dreams.
A few weeks ago, while Michaela and I were on the phone telling each other yet again that we REALLY SHOULD paint/write, we simultaneously had this ‘feeling' that we should promise each other to write (her) and paint (me) for three hours each week and report on our work each Thursday afternoon.  Miraculously, making a commitment to one another has worked; we have now checked in with each other four weeks in a row.  She has a story nearly finished, and I've completed one new painting, finished three that have been half-done for forever, and started a new one today.  It's been about more than painting and writing, though — it's been about figuring out our fears and stepping through them.
I finally finished two works that put out in public view my grief over not having had children (I'm 49, not yet married, childless, and Mormon — not an easy combination).  More to the point though, these paintings made ME acknowledge my own grief.  I think that part was harder.
The first painting is a forest along the banks of a river.  I knew it was missing something, but didn't know what.  About a year ago, I figured out that it was little ghost babies, the five babies I'd always wanted, and that the river was a River of Tears of Grief.  I couldn't make myself paint those babies until last week.  The other is called The Offspring; it has similar themes.  Finishing these paintings has been surprisingly liberating.


River of GriefBoth of them were done in the medium I'm comfiest with — temperas.  Tempera paint (basically the poster paint we used in kindergarten) has saturated, brilliant, opaque color.  It's cheap and it dries fast so you get quick satisfaction.


The Offspring


But the real reason I use temperas is to avoid oils.  Using oils always seemed like a real commitment to painting; it means saying I am an artist, not just that I do a little painting.  And wow, have I avoided that.
About a decade ago, I bought a gorgeous collection of little oil paint tubes, a palette, brushes, turpenoid, the works.  They went untouched until today, when I finally used them.  I had to wrench the caps with pliers to get them unstuck (kind of metaphor, I guess).  I half hoped they were too dried out to use, but alas, they were still fresh and I had no excuse to avoid.
The result?
I did a so-so job with the painting, and I'm almost unbelievably ok with that and am willing to keep trying.  For a perfectionist's eldest daughter who's used to success at everything I'm willing to try because I so carefully avoid doing what I think might end in failure, this is a titanic shift in perspective.   The dare part of dare to dream came alive.  I was well into work on a canvas when I decided it was too big.  OK, I made a wrong choice — not a big deal.  (But thinking not a big deal WAS a big deal).




I began again on a smaller canvas and made a fresher-looking drawing.  It looks like it's just a sailboat far from the shore; in fact it's a metaphor for my capacity and willingness to sail in deep emotional waters, to become my whole self.
Because oils take so long to dry, all I have to show right now is the rough undercoats that look, frankly, dreadful.  And yet it feels OK that it's a work in progress.
OK that it's not perfect.
OK to put this on the web where it will be seen in its way-less-than-perfect state.
OK that I'm doing something that I really want to do, even though I'm not very good at, and that after all the work that lies ahead, I may still not like it.
OK to have to learn instead of starting out as an expert.
This — for me — takes daring.


In the post Listening to and Learning from… I mentioned the importance of our bearing witness to another's grief.  I am honored, and hope you are, that Stephanie would choose us — our community — as a safe place where she could talk of her grief.  You may say — it's not us — but that's not true. Were your comments not so insightful, supportive, and generous, she would not have shared her work with us.  I believe that.

The systergy that Stephanie experienced was crucial to her moving forward.  Is there something we want to do, that making a commitment to another trusted friend will become our pivot point?

In one of our e-mail exchanges, Stephanie remarked, “now that I'm painting, I feel like I can breathe again.”  Her answer as to why she feels this way is broadly applicable:  “I often catch myself holding my breath
[before I sit down to paint], but when I do finally settle down, I feel my whole body and mind relax, and I flow, and breathe.  On a deeper level, I think there is a connection to prana, the breath of life, that by the act of non-painting, I deny life itself.  When I paint, I become whole again.  This wholeness is not just the painting, but the sense of joy and peace I feel.  I shift from part-me to whole-me.”
Is there any piece of your self that it is time to bring back to life? 

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