I men­tioned in a pre­vi­ous post that I’m work­ing on a series about a solo cross-coun­try road trip that I took, where I camped in nation­al parks and began to find myself again after los­ing my hus­band to brain can­cer. To say it was life chang­ing is an under­state­ment.

I also men­tioned that I’d begun three or four paint­ings and then became com­plete­ly blocked. The cre­ative process knows what it needs, and it insists upon hav­ing its way. I’ve learned over the years that to fight it only leaves me bloody and beat­en, so I have come to a place of respect — almost rev­er­ence — of it and its pow­er. I hon­or it now. I backed off and rest­ed and assim­i­lat­ed, and after being nur­tured the way it need­ed, it came back, stronger than ever.

I real­ized that it was telling me I need to fol­low a new path, and that path is toward more and more abstract­ed works that allow me to best express and process all the emo­tions I’ve been through this past year of griev­ing. It’s a bit scary, since abstract­ed works take more courage and knowl­edge and tech­nique and trust than real­is­tic depic­tion, in my opin­ion. There is lit­tle to lean on as far as sub­ject mat­ter goes. It’s not a mat­ter of look­ing out and cap­tur­ing what is there in front of one’s vision; it’s a mat­ter of look­ing in and mak­ing mean­ing of emo­tion, intu­ition, the inter­play of sub­con­scious and con­scious mind, all by putting a bunch of plas­tic- or oil-based pig­ment on a flat sur­face. One needs to know the fun­da­men­tals of com­po­si­tion, design, val­ue, line, col­or the­o­ry inside and out to pull it off, and one has to dig down deep and be brave enough to show the soul at work.

This may sound high falutin’. It’s not. It’s as basic as it gets, this yearn­ing to express, to be heard.

So, that is where I am now. Explor­ing. Trust­ing. Walk­ing through fear. And lis­ten­ing to a lot of music to help me keep ground­ed as I do it.

photo of "A Cloud from Above," original artwork by Dawn Boyer

A Cloud from Above,” 24 x 18 inch­es, acrylic on can­vas, orig­i­nal art­work by Dawn Boy­er.

One of my most mov­ing expe­ri­ences on the trip was dri­ving on the Blue Ridge Park­way. My father’s side of the fam­i­ly comes from North Car­oli­na, and I’ve felt a call­ing to go back and recon­nect that half of myself in the places I so fond­ly remem­ber from child­hood. I vis­it­ed fam­i­ly in the coastal plains and Pied­mont regions and thor­ough­ly enjoyed it. But the moun­tains called as well, and my Uncle Bil­ly was the one who sug­gest­ed I dri­ve the Park­way after my vis­it with friends in Asheville.

I wasn’t the safest dri­ver, because I kept gap­ing at the scenery, at those vast, seem­ing­ly unend­ing stretch­es of moun­tains in all their mys­te­ri­ous glo­ry, fad­ing into ever paler col­ors and even­tu­al­ly into what seemed like smoke. There is no way to accu­rate­ly describe the beau­ty and pow­er of those vis­tas, but I was deeply stirred.

I tried to cap­ture those stir­rings in a cou­ple of paint­ings, but I kept lean­ing on safe­ty and depict­ing things too real­is­ti­cal­ly, so, to me, the paint­ings lay flat. Noth­ing can pos­si­bly cap­ture the vis­tas like the vis­tas them­selves, so, I took a few deep breaths, put on a jazz CD by a bril­liant­ly tal­ent­ed friend named Mike Effen­berg­er and his band Weird Turn Pro, and let the paint do what it want­ed to do.

The music helped me break through. I felt I had final­ly been able to express the impact of those moun­tains on me. In anoth­er post, I will have to write about how inte­gral music is to my process and why, but for now, I’ll leave it that the con­nec­tion between what I was lis­ten­ing to and what I paint­ed was even clos­er than I thought. After I fin­ished the paint­ing, I took a look at the song titles on the CD. The first was called “A Cloud from Above.” I looked at the paint­ing, saw the cloud in the top left (nev­er intend­ed), felt how that’s exact­ly what had been going on for me in my griev­ing process at that time, and knew that’s what the title of the paint­ing had to be. I can’t end with­out men­tion­ing, though, that the vis­tas in the paint­ing car­ry a hope and a strength, a light through the dark­ness, much stronger than that cloud. The Park­way will for­ev­er be a go-to place for me.