These days, the wind blows on this island from the northwest, fluttering hard the worldwide flags of the beach-cottagers. Clouds form over the distant coastal ranges, building among the highest peaks. Then they move out into the great gulf and rise to pass overhead. Effortlessly they form and reform. They have their early character and their late. In the morning: blue-gray, transparent, understated. In the evening: warm, purpled, energetic, dramatic. These clouds present the perennial quandary: Do I redesign them to suit a composition — to add control and solidity to the work? Or do I go with the arbitrary mystery of the vapour — the magic of hiding and transformation?
Here on this shore there’s shimmering reflection in the rolling seaforms — the sun half in, half out of the clouds. A couple of kayaks knife the water, their paddlers laid back, intermittent, dreaming. I’m having that terrible feeling that I will never be able to do justice to this.
In Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, law number four is of particular interest to artists. It’s called “The Law of Least Effort.” Chopra’s idea is that Nature’s intelligence functions with “effortless ease, carefreeness, harmony and love.” He gets us into this blissful state when we fully accept our world at any moment, by taking personal responsibility for our current situation, and by forgetting about trying to defend a particular point of view.
Thinking of my art school days, “least effort” is not a term I’d use. Those days were full of painful attempts at matching colours in sun and shade, fighting to get my pencil or brush around compound shapes, toiling over impossible gradations. Now I’m seeing Chopra’s point. That effortless business kicks in when you put your pain safely into your pocket. Like Chopra’s “Laws” the job requires repetition, practice, private effort. Whether you’re building your character or cutting out some clouds–you have to do the groundwork. You have to be alone with it. To float like a cloud you have to go to the trouble of becoming one.
PS: “When we harness the forces of harmony, joy and love, we create success and good fortune with effortless ease.” (Deepak Chopra)
Esoterica: As we progress in our art-making we find it increasingly easy to fall back on our bag of tricks. Alone under the sky I can free myself of this tendency and happily burn through my expendable supports. Where there are few expectations, expediency wins. Nobody ever said you can’t use a six-inch tar-brush or the scrag-end of a cedar stick. Practical stuff is surprisingly at hand. Here on this mossy rock between flights of turnstones one can float like a cloud. Save for Dorothy, no one is looking.
Painting the arbitrary mystery
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
The trick, it seems to me, is to regard the clouds and the space between the clouds with the same attention and surrender that I bring to the trees and the space between the trees. Once we’ve learned the simple things like drawing and mixing color and applying paint, the real work begins. The ‘arbitrary mystery’ of the visual world is what makes it so much fun to paint.
When effort seemed minimal
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I believe that the hardest thing to paint is clouds. The latest direction to my work has been to paint clouds into the West Coast images I have chosen as my voice for painting. I have stood on the shores of the Gulf Islands, making sketches, taking photographs and stocking my internal dialog. Then in my studio they look like balls of cotton hanging awkwardly in the air. I’ve studied photographs, pictures, even other artists’ paintings of clouds, all who seem to nail it. I flopped every time.
Suddenly I let go of what I thought I was seeing and painted what I felt. Your phrase “least effort” is exactly what I was thinking and yet what I painted was looking exactly what I wanted. I kept thinking “I have not put enough into this and yet it looks great.” Each painting was getting better and better with a stronger image of who I am as a painter. When I look back on the times where my painting trajectory has changed the most, it has been during these moments when the effort seemed minimal.
One style breeds effortlessness
by Theresa Bayer, Austin TX, USA
My application of the “Law of Least Effort” has been to settle down with a drawing style and stick to it. Surprisingly, it came about from doing illustration work for children’s books. The deadlines were so tight I was forced to do the work quickly. As a result, it all went into one style, and the style, as you put it in previous letters, “deepened.” With one style I found myself free to portray various subject matter in the assignments I was given. I also found I really love children’s illustration and that the whimsy comes effortlessly to me. As in Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success it relates to #2, “The Law of Giving.” It was really fun to make illustrations that would help children learn reading and history.
Need to look up
by Margaret Coxall, Australia
Today I sat in my studio with a couple of students who were struggling with their work and I looked up and out to the ocean horizon. The clouds streaming toward me had come from Africa all the way across the ocean to my shore. Storm tossed birds fled in relief to the land. I wanted my students to see the elemental force that swept before us and over us but to little avail as they concentrated on their “work.” This is a lesson for me their teacher to help them to look up, breathe in the gale force winds as they rock the sky and let go.
by Coulter Watt, Quakertown, PA, USA
Having sailed the oceans of the world, helmed large ocean racing yachts, earned a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s License and studied meteorology for both ocean voyaging purposes and over land, and because I love soaring too, I can tell you that the application of Deepak Chopra’s Law of Least Effort is dead wrong about clouds and nature. There is no “effortless ease, carefreeness, harmony and love” in nature. The energy forms and masses that create weather are anything but effortless, nor are they in harmony, and love has nothing to do with the elements, that is a human emotion with no application within the events of nature. Between humans is a different matter, thank heavens.
If a guru-type person cares to debate this reality, I’d be happy to debate them on the subject of the Spiritualization of Science. On the other hand I’d be happy to listen to their observations on the beauty of nature, as beauty is an outgrowth of observation, appreciation for, and creative expression of that observation is holy to me. I ‘d be happy to expand my appreciation of the magnificent wonders of the human experience, anytime.
Unbounded bliss in daily life
by Marney Ward
Deepak Chopra’s principle of least action comes from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation. He formulated certain principles into a course called The Science of Creative Intelligence over thirty years ago. Chopra studied with Maharishi, who calls this principle “do less and accomplish more.” The idea is that if you base your actions on a level of consciousness that is close to the deepest level, the source of thought, where all the laws of nature reside, then your thoughts and your actions will have the support of all the laws of nature and will come to fruition effortlessly. You won’t have to struggle to succeed because Nature will help you along. Since intuition is a deeper or more refined level of thought than intellect, and artists tend to work intuitively, they are often more familiar with these subtle levels of consciousness, and do their best work when they “go with the flow.” Meditation is one way of making regular contact with these powerful and often blissful levels of consciousness. Once one is experiencing them regularly, everyday experiences such as watching clouds or walking by the sea help enliven the unbounded bliss in daily life. If we are established in these more blissful levels of consciousness when we paint, then our paintings will exude harmony, bliss and spontaneity as well. And at the deepest levels of consciousness, we can fly with the clouds as well as paint them.
In art and life
by Norah Bolton
I needed to be reminded of the “Law of Least Effort.” Right now my art can take a leaf from my life. The purpose of a recent visit to British Columbia was to meet a former husband of 22 years from whom I had been separated for an additional 22 years. Now a widower, he wanted to share the beauty of B.C. with me and after resisting coming for a long period, I finally gave in, taking the risk to laugh, to cry and to let life happen. Nature’s intelligence worked its full charm and we look forward to remarrying in the very near future.
One of the pleasant consequences will be spending much more of my life in B.C. near sea and clouds. It’s not that there are no clouds visible from an apartment building in the centre of Toronto. But that distractions of other things preclude taking the time to draw and paint, stopping the fuss over right methods and techniques, and getting down to the business of practice and commitment. I am looking forward to trying that out on Nanoose Bay — both in art and in life.
The painting draws you in
by Elsie Kilguss, North Kingstown, RI, USA
Clouds are one of my favorite subjects. While illusive to capture, it is necessary to become one with your subject. I just relayed that thought to a student and told him that it requires a singular effort to experience these things. A large painting can draw you into it as you work and when you let go, you are the subject and only a means to its end. How exhilarating to be caught on the wave of a seascape or float away on a cotton candy cloud! How profound to be able to see, feel and experience all of nature’s wonders and to take that precious time and share it all through painting.
Learning nature’s language
by Mona Youssef, Ottawa, ON, Canada
It is so true that Nature’s intelligence functions with “effortless ease, carefreeness, harmony and love.” Accepting the clouds/nature as they are is a mysterious fact and the inspiring motive behind a genuine artist. Floating/working in harmony with surrounding nature is what gives us the strength. The more we get close to it, the more strength we possess, and with strengths, time and experience, anything can be done effortlessly. Only limitations are behind struggling but freeness with serious sense of responsibility creates harmony and love. A baby can walk with efforts and struggles, even he would fall many times, but once he learns how to walk properly, he would possess the abilities, with time, even to run effortlessly, in worldwide golden medal! Trying to walk or run against nature or against the winds, we would only be seeking struggles and unnecessary efforts. Upon learning nature’s language, there is success, joy, harmony, strength, peace of mind and love.
Wabi-Sabi for artists
by Linda Saccoccio, CA, USA
Yesterday I returned from a week in Big Sur. Your letter on Haiku or “Eyeku” was inspiring. I felt I could really expand my creativity by making a habit of writing these verses of observation, and sharpen my eye and understanding simultaneously. With this in mind I went to my studio in search of the haiku I wrote this past year after a workshop on the “Tea ceremony” that I attended. The haiku I wrote was filed in a book called, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, by Leonard Koren. This is what I wrote:
“The raked earth, stones, lines
Water, sounds, in steps touch sand
Proceeding in Light”
My experience of Big Sur was truly Big. I can see why Henry Miller and other artists thrived there. There is a mutual respect between humans and nature. It brings up feelings of a calm and steady awe. Here is an eyeku to attempt to share the richness of the experience.
A fine line moon appeared
Remarkable above us
Swiftly it sank below
(RG note) Thank you so much to all who continue to send “Eyeku,” “Haiku,” and “Kuku.”
Free book winner
by Lorrie Williamson, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, USA
Just a note of thanks for the Stephen Quiller book, Acrylic Painting Techniques. I’m enjoying it immensely, and have recommended it to my students. I’ve learned one very important thing from it that somehow I had missed all these years; and that is that alcohol will dissolve acrylic paint that is left on plastic palettes. How did I miss that one?
(RG note) Lorrie won the book for sending in the winning photo of a “wizard hat application.” Right now we are also sending a free, signed copy of The Painter’s Keys to anyone who sends in the names of eight or more new subscribers to the Twice-Weekly Letters. This offer is open until midnight PDST, Sunday, September 12, 2004. In many areas this is the beginning of the student year, so it’s an appropriate thought. To be fair, please tell your friends about the letter first so they have an idea what to expect. We need their first and last names as well as their email addresses. And we need your regular mailing address so we can send you your free book. Thanks for your friendship.
by Robert Genn
The idea of Renga, as described by Marion Barnett in the last clickback, is that one person tosses a line into a stream. Somewhere down the stream another picks it out (presumably wet) and adds a line. When five separate poets have put in their line then the Renga is complete. Thank you to everyone who tossed a line into the stream. Here, through the magic of email forwarding, are a few of the results:
Of all the wonders we’ve together seen, (RG)
The sea, the sun, the sky, (NG)
I tuck my pain into my pocket (SG)
I do it on the sly (LL)
That’s why I’m forever green. (LTF)
Of all the wonders we’ve together seen, (RG)
Patterns of leaves that blanket the ground (LD)
And little kids just running around (HD)
And new painting tricks that we’ve just found (ST)
Have made our paintings mighty mean. (LJ)
Of all the wonders we’ve together seen, (RG)
Piles of laundry after guests depart (JA)
Getting back in the studio to do some more art (SS)
Is where it’s at for you and me (WR)
Who cares if our laundry’s clean? (PT)
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Luce Myers, who wrote, “I have been using Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success with my elementary and college students for 10 years.”
And also Vic Mastis, who wrote, “I found CDs of Deepak’s poems so moving.”
And also Linda K Blondheim of Florida, USA who wrote, “Here in Florida, we like to refer to clouds as our ‘mountains’ because they are particularly spectacular to paint.”