The Artist’s Journey: Experimental Painting & The Adjacent Possible
This is how it all started- the first of 288 blog posts since 2015 (this post was originally published on May 20, 2015). In 2019, after the holy triumvirate of a trip to Florence, Italy with Stanford Medicine’s Art & Anatomy studies, speaking on stage in Austin, Texas at Author Advantage Live, and giving The Artist’s Journey Retreat workshop at 1440 Multiversity in Scott’s Valley, California- my beloved Dr. Bruce Sawhill, Stanford educated theoretical physicist, mathematician, and composer, joined me in writing this blog.
The Artist’s Journey: Experimental Painting Workshop
Activation of the paper with automatic drawing and painting
I teach experimental painting workshops every year to physicians and doctoral students from Stanford Medical School and Medical Center at Stanford Sierra Camp. It’s located at Fallen Leaf Lake near Lake Tahoe, California.
This workshop is about deep exploration and experimentation. It’s about opening creative channels. It’s about accessing the adjacent possible.
The Adjacent Possible
The adjacent possible is a concept from evolutionary biology described by Dr. Bruce Sawhill and Dr. Stuart Kauffman and others at the Santa Fe Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the early 1990s.
The idea is that any move you make, any decision, opens up a set of possible paths that would not have been possible beforehand if you had not taken that step or made that move or that decision.
These possible paths were not only invisible but didn’t exist before you stepped into action and decided to move forward.
Your action changes the environment you are in.
To me, it’s close to but different than the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
In Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle the act of observing affects what is observed. In The Adjacent Possible, your act of creating affects existence itself.
An important component of creating is realizing that with every step you take, every brushstroke, every mark you make- you are making decisions.
As artists we are continually deciding what to do next in our art even as we do not know where the painting is going. There’s a deep element of trusting yourself in order to take risks- to be willing to explore, experiment, and make “ugly” art.
You are not going to love every painting you create.
And that is ok. In fact, it is wonderful!
Our “ugly” art is vital to our unfolding as artists.
Being an artist is about stepping into the unknown, allowing “not knowing” and accessing the adjacent possible. It is about continually evolving your art.
May you continually evolve your art.
With gratitude from my studio to yours,
P.S. Exciting News! We’re hosting a Cover Contest for our forthcoming book The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation. We’ll show you possibilities we’re considering and get your feedback. Be on the lookout- we want to know what YOU think.
Testimonials from Stanford Sierra Camp The Artist’s Journey workshop:
Nancy’s workshop was phenomenal! I have always had a hard time getting started with a painting project as I would stare at a blank canvas. What will I paint? Will it look like what it should look like? These insecurities often led to passing up on the opportunity to paint for another day. What I’ve learned from Nancy’s workshop is that I don’t need to necessarily know what I want to paint. Simply activating the canvas makes starting much less intimidating. The abstract pieces I created in the workshop will serve as a reminder and inspiration to me that I can paint with confidence. Julie Huang, Palo Alto, California
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the experimental painting workshop, but I really enjoyed it. I have very little experience painting, but Nancy made it easy to get started. I learned how to separate the action of painting from its evaluation, and after a short time I felt much more confident about diving in and “making my mark.” Whether you’re an experienced artist and simply want to explore abstract art from a personal perspective, I would definitely recommend working with Nancy! Daniel Sprockett, Palo Alto, California
The acrylic workshop was a great introduction to abstract painting. Nancy guides you through each exercise regardless of your skill level or prior painting experience. I left the class feeling more at ease, relaxed, and excited to paint more. Afaaf Shakir, Palo Alto, California
Nancy Leigh Hillis has empathy for human suffering, and the forces which hold us back from our creative expression. She teaches her painting workshop with a sincere, calming, generous, and warm spirit. I found that learning her process of intuitive painting can heal, by bringing one into the present. Taking her workshop was a joyous adventure. Ira Batra Garde, author and poet, Orinda, California
Dr. Nancy Hillis combines a deep professional experience in psychiatry with an intuitive, creative, childlike approach to painting. Magical insights come out of this wonderful mix. Through her own personal art journey, she has thought and lived deeply the process of moving beyond fear. She teaches playful intuitive painting workshops with such heart and enthusiasm that even people who think they can’t paint begin to remember that they can! Tammy Pittenger, founder of Lighted Life coaching, Santa Cruz, California
I’ve had the privilege to work with Nancy Hillis as an artist. She paints with great passion, boldness, and spontaneity. Her enthusiasm and childlike playful freedom in the painting process is infectious. This is one infection I’d like to catch! Annette Crosby, abstract painter, Valdosta, Georgia
Nice photo in the field of flowers. Looks like you are on the UCSC campus. Lovely view!
Ah…thank you Shawnee! Yes, indeed- UCSC campus! Love going up there and walking and swimming. Love the view!
Hi Nancy though I have never experienced a workshop with you the pleasure I have found in simply being on the Master Class and allowing the course to flow into everyday life.is stupendous. Looking at the work on the Facebook group is inspiring, as one sees how growth simply happens with miles of canvas!!! Starting is now great fun and finishing is merely something vague into the future awaiting my decision not an end product!!! Thank you so much for all the care you bring to the show!!!
Hi Lesley, Thank you for your lovely comment. It’s wonderful having you in the Masterclass and I’m delighted it resonates deeply with you and is meaningful.
I am grateful to have found Dr. Nancy Hillis and her inspiring and encouraging writings about the creative process and most especially how to overcome all the learned and existing behavior that holds that down.
I cannot wait to put in practice her advice.
Thank you so much Marisol.
My daughter and I are 5 time participants in Nancy’s workshop at Sierra Camp. It’s consistently been our favorite activity of the year. Her gift is most well appreciated in confronting , channeling and ultimately controlling fear and anxiety, the enemy of reason and creativity. It probably helps that she’s a shrink. Art is psychotherapy.
Hi Tom! Wow! What a lovely surprise to see your comment. We sure had fun at those workshops! I loved watching you and Olivia explore your art- always a delight. Take care and hope to see you at Sierra Camp!
HI Nancy, Your marvelous books have helped me let go and let the art happen. I have gone from controlled movements to free flowing, I have moved from Pastels to acrylics and now to alcohol inks. Thank you so much for your work and dedication to healing.
Hi Stephanie, Thank you so much! You brightened my day. I’m delighted my books have resonated so deeply with you and that you are feeling freer in your art. Have a beautiful day. Warmly, Nancy