The Art of the Middle (...and Laura McCollough's Art and Faith Creative Retreats...}

This is how Italy greeted me. I literally stepped off the plane, dragging my carry-on, headed to the airport Sheraton hotel, and walked right across this stepping stone:

Bellagio Milan airport step stone.JPG

Given the fact that I didn’t pick up a paintbrush until I was middle age - well past my mid-forties, and I am only now almost 52 - it can seem like a kind of miracle that I traveled to Bellagio, Italy to teach art last week! Consider this quote: “The great victory, which appears so simple today, was the result of a series of small victories that went unnoticed.”

As late as 2011, I discovered art as a means of processing life, of quieting the static in my mind, of clawing out of a dark place. So I made bad art, every day, for a long time. I posted heartfelt blog posts for a very long time - posts that were read by about 12 people.

More recently, I have had to let go of relationships, because there is a path set before me - on many levels - that I must pursue, for the sake of others who will come after me. There is a path of conviction, of living in authentic community, and a path of certainty of what “life in the middle” is to look like. There is an artistic path, a path of family (and even financial) restoration, and a path of very personal growth that has to be walked one step at a time, and it does consist of a series of small victories that not only go largely unnoticed: when they are noticed, they are often diminished by those who call themselves friends and should be genuinely celebrating them.

I can’t begin to tell you of the people (who I thought were friends) who made off-hand remarks about the fact that I posted much of my life, art, and thoughts to social media. “Whatever Sheila is up to, I am sure we will see it on Instagram…” {insert an eyeroll}

…not realizing that to share myself in that way was a very vulnerable and courageous thing for me to do; not realizing that there is no other way to build a creative business.

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I share all that by way of the “front door”, as my opening remarks, hoping that you will understand (if you don’t already) that to invest in your true, authentic gifts is important…but it isn’t easy. It can be a hard and sometimes lonely road. You need a creative community.

If you are at all struggling with the idea of 1. discovering what your real gifts are (as opposed to the way you wish you were gifted) or 2. giving your gifts the time and weight of attention and investment that they are worthy of, regardless of what others think, or 3. struggling to find your art AND FAITH creative tribe…

…may I encourage you to attend one of Laura McCollough’s Art and Faith Creative Retreats?

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Meet my friend Laura. (She isn’t that much taller than me. We were standing on the most beautiful cobblestone steps you’ve ever seen!)

At one of Laura’s “Art and Faith Creative Retreats”, it isn’t really about the art - though you’ll make art. It is more about the beautiful alchemy of stirring your own time, attention, investment, and intention together with beautiful scenery. It’s about taking that mixture, and adding in a dash of jet lag, and folding in the courage it took to even GET to where you are going. Then, it’s about throwing in scoops of new friendships and last of all, some paint. Then, you sit back and see what explodes!

 (Laura, speaking during one morning’s devotional)

(Laura, speaking during one morning’s devotional)

 (That warm feeling you get, when you see that someone has anticipated your arrival…)

(That warm feeling you get, when you see that someone has anticipated your arrival…)

Women who attend one of Laura’s creative retreats are lavished beyond all measure.

We were treated to meals by Italy’s top chef. We were treated to live music, the best gelatto, the best gardens, the most amazing vistas, invigorating walks, and relaxing boat rides on exquisite Lake Como.

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We saw Bellagio through the eyes of some of its people - we met some of Laura’s friends who live there. If there is a better way to really experience a place like Bellagio, I can’t imagine what it would be. There’s truly no one better than Laura McCollough to introduce you to Lake Como.

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Best of all, I got to experience it with my best friend, my boyfriend, and my pastor all rolled into one:

 (oh, hey…it’s just us…you know. We are so hurt and mad.)

(oh, hey…it’s just us…you know. We are so hurt and mad.)

 (that time at the Villa Carlotta, when we became a classic oil painting…)

(that time at the Villa Carlotta, when we became a classic oil painting…)

If you only have the time and resources for one “once-in-a-lifetime” - I would be remiss not to ask you to at least consider Laura’s “Art and Faith Creative Retreats”. (click the link to be taken to her FAQ page)

I will never forget last week. Coming home to my people was pure joy. But coming home to ordinary life was hard, you guys. Never have I ever been so lavished with beauty and joy and friendship.

 (this beautiful art studio made me weep…I will still cry over this spot, at the drop of a hat. The spirit of this room will haunt my heart forever - and I promise, that is not drama or overstatement. Something about standing here changed me.)

(this beautiful art studio made me weep…I will still cry over this spot, at the drop of a hat. The spirit of this room will haunt my heart forever - and I promise, that is not drama or overstatement. Something about standing here changed me.)

 The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord! I have had to let people go this year. But look what the Lord has done! Can you see me back there, waving at you in pure wonder and surprise?  The Lord does not take away, but what He does not give, more and better! And He will not take away, but what He will take what is left behind, and deepen it and sweeten it!

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord! I have had to let people go this year. But look what the Lord has done! Can you see me back there, waving at you in pure wonder and surprise?

The Lord does not take away, but what He does not give, more and better! And He will not take away, but what He will take what is left behind, and deepen it and sweeten it!

Bellagio me teaching.JPG

I taught an altered tin class, focusing on having fun with composition and atmospheric perspective. Another day, I taught a plein air class, breaking down some of the surrounding scenery into a do-able, manageable “art vocabulary”. Then, we all went for a walk, and when we arrived at our destination, we painted in our art journals:

 (my beautiful plein air class!)

(my beautiful plein air class!)

Bellagio lake view diving board.JPG

Find and follow Laura McCollough on her blog, akissonthechic.com and on her IG @creativeretreats And by all means…please go to one of her retreats or workshops! But you have to follow her blog and/or IG feed to know what is on the horizon for you!

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And, for the hundredth time, a huge thank you to my sweetest friend Jeanne Oliver for making the connection between Laura’s heart and mine. (And for continuing to show me what is possible when I keep shaking off limitation, when I keep on going in spite of my critics, and risk everything to pursue the gift and call of God on my life…even when the stakes are real. I love you, friend!)

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I am told I will be teaching art again in this space. Can you even believe that?! And in other spaces, in other places! Maybe I will see you there, and we can encourage one another in this all-important middle place!

“Bella mezza eta!” - a toast, to our “beautiful middle age”!