comfort zone

 |  January 7, 2015

Ok, so I lied. I am reflecting on last year, but in a different way than I normally have done it in the past where I list what what I accomplished the previous year. I have been thinking that one of the things that I gained from last year was that the importance of getting out of my comfort zone. Throwing the one night art exhibit last June was way out of my comfort zone in many ways and I learned a lot and gained a lot from it. It was a really good experience, all around. So getting out of my comfort zone of doing the usual gallery exhibit route was a definite learning experience and a good notch under my belt.

But what really has stayed with me and is still pushing me from last year was the last second decision I made last September to join a plein air painting class under the tutelage of Lisa Mitchell. This was out of my comfort zone for several reasons.

1. I had never really painted plein air in a formal manner. I didn’t even have a plein air easel or anything that one needs when one paints outdoors.

2. Not only was I painting outside, but I was painting was in oils, which I do love to paint with, but it’s not a medium that I have painted in for many years.

3. The artists in my class were so good at painting these beautiful landscapes in under 2 hours. It was amazing. The talent floored me every week. In the past years I have mostly been keeping company with abstract artists and this was a completely different crowd. The way we talked about our paintings was different. Complete different worlds. Neither is better nor worse than the other, just different. But in some ways, the same.

4. My medium for the past 12 years has been mixed media- either with acrylic or encaustic, on a journal cover or on wood panel, but always with a collage element or utilizing one of my photos. My creations have not been just paint since, gosh, probably my early twenties.

By the River
By the River
oil and cold wax on canvas
12×9 inches

BUT I gained so much. I learned that it’s good, albeit uncomfortable, to feel like a beginner again. I learned that light is like a main character, the protagonist, in a play. So much hinges on it. I learned that I am quite an impatient artist. I might even say, lazy at times. I learned to tell myself, slow down, take the time, look, attempt, look again, slow down. I learned that I love being outside, by myself in the silence of the outdoors, which really isn’t ever silent, with paint and canvas. I learned that I love delving into the materiality of the paint. I learned that I love working with color again. And I learned that even if it’s uncomfortable and I do worry about how my exploration may look to the outside world, I learned to say to myself- meh, whatever. I am exploring and I am enjoying it so thoroughly. Fortunately I am in a place and time where I just have to answer to myself.

October Fields
October Fields
oil and cold wax on canvas
9×12 inches

And more importantly, I learned that the paintings that I do outdoors really are just studies for me, not completed paintings. I figured out that my process involves bringing the small studies back to my studio and then painting on top of them with bolder colors and blocks of shape. Always drawing upon my natural tendency to block shapes and colors out like a quilt. I use my plein air studies as a jumping off point upon which I start creating my own landscape. Editing and adding to the painting without referring to any photo or study. Figuring this out took some time, but once I did, it was very freeing and helped me to develop my larger landscape paintings.

I have been listening to different podcasts while I’m in the studio and also when I’m folding the eternal mountainscape of laundry in my house or doing the dishes. I am a huge fan of the Savvy Painter podcast and I just listened to this interview of Sam Bennet called “Get it Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 minutes a day” and it is really good to listen to for those of you who do set intentions, goals, etc for the new year. This isn’t for new year resolutions per se, but rather figuring out your desire and following that through and looking at the things we throw at ourselves to stop us from following through. Reframing the way we talk to ourselves. Good stuff. Take a listen.


  1. by emily on January 7, 2015  10:02 pm Reply

    hi there! i'm trying out a new blog reader and i'm so happy to find this post in there this evening. i feel like so many of your words could be coming out of my mouth, bridgette. i'm enjoying seeing your oil paintings, i always love seeing your process, and i'm looking forward to visiting again soon!

    • by Bridgette Guerzon Mills on January 9, 2015  4:37 pm Reply

      Hi Emily! Glad you found my post and that it spoke to you too. Thank you so much for your own words

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