In anticipation of a painting and collage workshop with Holly Roberts at Arrowmont, I pinned, printed, jotted down ideas in a sketchbook, and otherwise tried to plan ahead. I was going to do some pieces revolving around my experience in the work world as a middle-age female in a millennial-overrun, male-focused specialty—as both an employee and a job applicant. Two years of applying for jobs, crafting cover letters, customizing resumés (I must have a dozen or more of them with different emphases), and answering ridiculous questions from rookie HR screeners prompted ideas for several collages based on my perception of (hopefully) unconscious age biases.

Among them:

  1. We don’t think you can “keep up.” (Translation: middle-age workers are just playing out the string and can’t learn anything new. Collage idea: something to do with running like mad while staying put.)
  2. We don’t get your career path. (Translation: you’re old enough to have had more than a single career path, so we don’t understand you and doubt your commitment. Collage idea: something about which box I should put myself in.)
  3. Another candidate more closely matched our needs. (Translation: younger, likely cheaper, more malleable. Collage idea: your number not being chosen, like a lottery, referencing the automated resumé software that eliminates qualified candidates before a human has even looked at you.)

I worked out in my sketchbook what visuals I could use for each collage, and collected some photos.

After day one, I had to scrap my plans.

Holly doesn’t teach that way or work that way. You paint, and let the brush and paint tell you what it wants to do. You let the painting tell you what it wants to be. In other words, you LISTEN.

I confess, warning bells went off in my head. “Oh, this is not going to work” I told Holly. I don’t think I can wing it like that.

Painting of a circle and lines.

I call this one “Barbed Wire.”

Having gotten that off my chest, I plunged in. Looking back on the pieces I did, it’s clear that the psychological themes that were rattling around in my head came out in the work. It’s just that they were expressed from within the process, not imposed by a logical plan: Going around in circles, feeling trapped, being boxed in, not knowing which way to go, feeling threatened and confused.

A little chaos. One of the last two pieces I did at the end of the week without thinking.

A little chaos. One of the last two pieces I did at the end of the week, without thinking, just doing.

Acrylic painting.

Honestly, I should have let this one go before adding the fork and knife, but I had a ball doing this one!

The more I tried to plan and impose structure, the less successful the pieces were. What I took away from the week is to put more trust in your inner voice, to listen and be okay if something doesn’t come out the way you “planned” or even very well.

Aside: I also found out how much work you can produce despite having no blue paint to work with for much of the workshop!)